Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
After the high-profile failure of a Congressional “supercommittee” to trim America‘s budget deficit, one could be forgiven to conclude that there’s nothing the divided House of Representatives can agree on. But that would be wrong.
Among the few topics on which Democrats and Republicans in the Republican-dominated House see eye-to-eye: the official motto of the United States is “In God We Trust”. That has been the case since 1956 but as the supercommittee wrangled with the thorny deficit problem, lawmakers found time to vote on a resolution reaffirming the motto. Why that reaffirmation was deemed necessary speaks volumes about congressional priorities and Washington‘s peculiar political climate.
According to two polls taken before the supercommittee failed to find a compromise, the American public’s faith in Congress stands at historic lows – a 9-percent approval rating according to a CBS/New York Times poll and 13 percent according to Gallup. In October, Gallup forecast that disenchantment with the people’s representatives would further deepen in the absence of agreement.
Not to harp on the negative, let’s revisit the resolution on America‘s motto, passed 396 to 9 on November 1, with two legislators voting “present” and 26 not voting. Randy Forbes, the Republican who sponsored the measure explained it had been necessary because “a number of public officials … forget what the national motto is.” He named President Barack Obama as one of the forgetful officials, referring to a speech in which he cited E Pluribus Unum as America‘s motto. (Latin for “out of many, one”, those words are emblazoned on the official seal of the United States and engraved, along with “In God We Trust”, on 25-cent coins. E pluribus unum served as the country’s de facto motto until 1956, when Congress passed a law making In God We Trust the official motto).
In the floor debate on the matter, one legislator, Arizona Republican Trent Franks, portrayed failure to reaffirm the motto in apocalyptic terms. “If … man is God, then an atheist state is as brutal as the thesis it rests upon and there is no reason for us to gather here in this place,” he told his fellow members. “We should just let anarchy prevail because after all we are just worm food.”