Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy Fourth of July to the Treason Party


      Things must be looking up. When I wrote this reflection on the Fourth of July three years ago, the Tea Party/Nutbag Wing of the Republican Party seemed very strong. Now, with Southerners ditching the Confederate flag, the Supreme Court putting on a rainbow boa, and Donald Trump representing the more idiotic strains of their thinking in stark, undeniable form, it seems like the Republican wave has crested and is leaving behind a beach full of flotsam. 
     Still, I like this piece, and think it gives something for us to chew on during this long holiday weekend. Have fun. Be safe around fireworks. 

     What history we recall on the Fourth of July typically involves stirring words of freedom, and rightly so.
     But why stop there? After all, not every colonist in 1776 was a patriot, and at this particularly fractured political moment, we might do well to remember that, according to contemporary accounts, one third of Americans wanted revolution, one third were loyal to the crown and one third could go either way. Loyalists did more than talk; they formed Tory regiments and fought alongside the British, against their fellow Americans.
     Even those who did support breaking from Britain could be surprisingly lax about it, at least at first. As late as January 1776, George Washington was still leading his officers in raising a glass to toast King George III every night in his mess in Cambridge.
     Common wisdom holds that had Americans known what they were getting themselves into when they declared independence, they would never have done it.
     "Had Americans been able to anticipate the length and difficulty of the war," wrote historian Samuel Eliot Morison, "they probably would have forced the Continental Congress to end it by compromise in 1776."
     It says something of our national character that we celebrate Independence Day, not when independence was achieved on Sept. 3, 1783, when the Treaty of Paris ended the war, but when the real struggle had just started in 1776. A reminder that we both tend to underestimate the effort needed to accomplish anything, and overlook how fractured our nation invariably is while attempting change.
     We wave the flag and dab a tear now. But hundreds of thousands of Americans alive during revolutionary times listened to the words of Jefferson and were unmoved, stayed Loyalists, and some 80,000 celebrated American victory by fleeing to Canada, tipping that nation away from the French.
     So how surprising should it be that now, in times that try men's souls to a far lesser extent, Americans are also broadly divided when it comes to, well, just about everything.
     When I look at the Republicans, I am tempted to dismiss them as the Treason Party. Seriously, were a band of traitors to concoct a series of positions deliberately designed to weaken America, they would be hard pressed to beat the current GOP dogma—hobble education, starve the government by slashing taxes to the rich, kneecap attempts to jumpstart the economy by fixating on debt, invite corporations to dominate political discourse, balkanize the population by demonizing minorities and immigrants and let favored religions dictate social policy.
     What gave me pause, however, is that they beat me to it—for 15 years the Republicans have been treating Democrats as if believing in a government that addresses our common public problems is a form of sedition. Given how uniformly wrong they are, I'm loathe to use any of their tactics, even one that has been so stunningly effective, convincing millions of Americans their best interests lie in coddling the rich and their champion is a stiff, dressage-riding multi-millionaire.
     And I am reminded that, often in American history, from John Adams to Rosa Parks to the anti-war movement, being branded a traitor turns out to be a badge of honor.
     To be honest, I have no concern that Republican ideology will prevail. It can't. The 11 million illegal immigrants will not be expelled. Gays will not go back into the closet. Religion will not trump science. In fact, the only thing that worries me is the triumph of corporate power—then again, wealth always seems near triumph, but government usually has been a dog yipping at its heels, woofing business in a more humane direction, a little bit. We seem in danger of losing even that.
     But the American people will correct this misstep—they usually do, eventually. Most Loyalists did not flee after the Revolution, and many who did leave came back with surprisingly few hard feelings. One was elected mayor of New York City. Philip B. Key, whose nephew would write the "Star Spangled Banner," had fought with a Loyalist regiment. After the war, he served as a federal judge while drawing his British military pension. If when our country was new, citizens who had just fought a war for their freedoms could turn around and embrace those who opposed them, how can we do any less now?
     The best way to celebrate the Fourth is fly the flag and raise a toast to this country, all 311 million people. All of us, even those so afraid of the future they try to mandate the past. From the Leftiest, most wild-eyed, Occupying, I-wish-there-would-be-a-revolution-so-I-could-be-king radical to the Rightiest, wild-eyed, Bible-waving, Tea Partying, I-wish-society-would-break-down-so-my-guns-would-make-me king conservative. All join in one United States of America. Like it or not, we're all here, all free, and though we don't often listen to or respect each other, we are all bound up in one common enterprise.
                                    —Originally published in the Sun-Times, July 4, 2012


  1. Good one, Neil.

  2. A thoughtful piece Neil. Good to be reminded that what we learned in elementary school about our country's origins is, to put it mildly, oversimplified. As Napoleon famously asked: "What is history but a fable agreed upon?"

    And the final thrust of your piece brings to mind what Winston Churchill said about us: "Americans can be counted on to do the right thing...after they've tried everything else."

    Tom Evans

  3. That's a good line, Tom, I'll have to remember it.

  4. I can't and won't defend the Tea Party or GOP on social issues. And I disagree with them on most economic issues. That said, for people so "consistently wrong," their predictions on the 2013 sequestration budget cuts they forced were a lot better than the doomsday predictions of their opponents. Today President Obama frequently takes credit for reducing the budget deficit without mentioning those cuts or who was responsible for them (Obama gets credit too for saving the economy from a depression - no small thing - but the budget cuts did not bring doomsday and have had an effect on the deficit). Hobbling education? Items on the Tea Party education wish-list have more evidence backing them up than those on CTU's. Look how well public school choice did in its limited trial run under NCLB. Check out the merit pay study in Chicago Heights where the bonuses are paid up-front. If nothing else, it seems a little unfair to attack conservatives on education when they haven't been up to bat yet: anti-Tea Party governments and elected school systems have controlled big city school systems for decades.

    We've fulfilled the promise of the end of this column from 2012. TodaytheTea Party (correctly) complains about President Obama's expansion of executive power. Too bad they were mute when George W. Bush started it (though President Obama has gone even further) and ot was the Democrats were making similar arguments. Democrats will be making the same protests if the GOP wins the White House and maintains control of Congress (and few of them will be quick to relinquish the filibuster in order to end "gridlock"). When it comes to "only in opposition" debate where the ends justify the means, we are a country united.

    1. You're wrong. NCLB resulted in the opposite of its intent, and more children are left behind as a result. Instructional time has been lost to non-stop testing. This was the conservative model. It's interesting they now oppose Common Core. As usual, like with the health care model they once supported before Obama did, they now oppose what they originally fronted.

    2. Well said, Wendy.

    3. Wendy - no, I'm right :-) But that's because I didn't defend NCLB as a whole - I said the limited amount of the public school choice portion of the bill that was ultimately permitted to go forward did very well. The big problem with NCLB as a whole was that the best parts of it were ultimately unfunded and/or not enforced, and thus didn't happen. Remember Ted Kennedy was a co-sponsor of the original law!

      And whatever else you say about the Tea Party, you can't say they once supported the Obama model of health care. They were just as ferociously against "Hillarycare" in the 1990's (and remember, Obama adopted the main feature of Hillary's health care proposal - a universal mandate - after running strongly against it in the primary). You can criticize them for lack of alternatives and/or being hypocrites for having no problem with Medicare, but to the extent they have a "model" it's allowing health insurance companies to compete against state lines and capping medical malpractice lawsuits.

  5. Even if you have some valid points,you're a Republican at heart, ANA.

    1. I haven't voted for a Republican in over 30 years. I did withhold my vote for Carole Mosley Braun's reelection due to her continued support for the Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and was very tempted to withhold my vote from Quinn this last election due to how corrupted by power he had become and in protest of Madigan/Cullerton's rule, but ultimately I held my nose and voted for him.

  6. Perhaps ANA doesn't like our Democratic Pres. now because the President is African-American. I haven't seen him say a good word about this President yet, on these blogs. ANA never met a conservative he didn't like.

    1. Right Anon @10:19 - that's why I campaigned for him, gave him money, and have voted for him in six different elections. Maybe you missed the part of that post where I credited him with saving us from another Great Depression? Thanks for playing.

  7. I've never heard this stated so matter of factly. I'll be using this in the future. Thanks Neil.

    "...for 15 years the Republicans have been treating Democrats as if believing in a government that addresses our common public problems is a form of sedition."


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