Monday, July 2, 2018

Spirit of '76, Pt. I: Despair is not a success strategy

Inscription outside the National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

     Two-hundred and forty-two years ago this Wednesday, American revolutionaries formally broke away from their mother country, England. They issued a Declaration of Independence, boldly stating: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
     By "all Men" they really meant "white men" — not women, naturally, certainly not black men, who would later in the Constitution be established as 3/5 of a person, when enslaved, to increase the power of their drivers in Congress.
     In a sense, the founders were unintentionally signing a check they had no intention of cashing. They were like a man at a bar offering to buy everybody a drink, not realizing just how many people were crowded into the shadows.
     But they were there, and then began to come out of the shadows and claim their due — our nation's domestic history over the past 242 years in a nutshell: bloody Civil War followed by 150 years of struggle nudging up the personhood of blacks in the eyes of the state to somewhere above 60 percent but still somehow lagging beneath the full 1.0 status that whites automatically enjoy. Meanwhile, women rose up, first battling slavery, as leading abolitionists, as if practicing to win their own freedom. Then, a half century after Emancipation, casting off their own chains, earning the right to vote.
     At no point in the past was this struggle not being fought, by one group or another, but always returning to the central question: who is this Declaration of Independence for? Who belongs in this country?
     Those who believe that the United States of America was, is, and should always be a white Christian native-born clique, saw where our country is going, uttered a cry of alarm, and in 2016 elected the most unfit, dishonest, petty, vindictive, vain, ignorant man ever to call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home. After 18 months of spinning his wheels, more or less, issuing hourly Twitter rants, last week his tires caught and we were all projected forward toward the nation he wishes to see. A nation that bars immigrants because of their religion. That abuses children. That starves unions. And with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, that lurches jurisprudence rightward for the next generation.
     On Facebook, my Democratic brethren are liquid with terror. This is the worst thing ever! They repeat their empty promises to flee abroad, the same bleat of preemptive surrender heard two years ago.
     Please. Fifth-seven thousand Americans died in the Vietnam War. That was worse. As for threats to leave: how can we miss you if you don’t go away?
     If you stay, stop whining and get serious.
     In their defense, we are leaderless. What is needed is a Democratic Winston Churchill, to eloquently muster courage, to light these dark hours. Yes, there is a steady flow of defiance and reason from some, like our own Sen. Dick Durbin. But these are times that call for supreme eloquence. In The New Yorker, George Packer suggested the cool reserve that ushered Barack Obama into office failed him as he left. “Obama was always better at explaining the meaning of democracy than at fighting its opponents.”
     That difficult task falls to us. A fight for democracy. Will voting rights and the concept of truth be further eroded? Both must continue for a right-wing minority to exert its will over our more liberal nation, over a reality that exists whether they recognize it or not. Will the media holding a mirror to the administration’s ugliness and lies continue being denounced as “fake,” the precursor, make no mistake, to suppressing it, the way other totalitarian states do?
     The Fourth of July is Wednesday. With that in mind, I’ve been reading the Declaration of Independence adopted that day. Useful stuff. Reminders that this is not a time to feel bad about the United States of America, nor to abandon her, nor reject patriotism, nor forget hope. This is a time to gather up all those precious things that made this country great, to protect them so they can continue to protect us. Just because millions of Americans have lost sight of what this nation is about doesn’t mean everybody else must follow suit. Despair is not a success strategy.


  1. It will take a monumental effort to get the “non voters” to step up and join the effort to overcome the entrenched, gerrymandered, citizens united-backed powerblock in place at this point. It has to happen this election upcoming, or the future of the system is seriously going to be damaged. At this point we are surly not the “shining city on the hill” that all the world envies. That image needs to be resurrected, or we’re in deep trouble.

  2. That crackpot Greene Family that owns the Hobby Lobby stores ran one of their full page ultra religious Christian ads in Sunday's papers around the country.
    They quoted a few judges & even a couple of Supreme Court justices in opinions where they stated this was a Christian country.
    Of course, the most recent opinion was from the 1880s!

  3. hear! hear! while we are attempting to combat this scourge upon democracy in the current administration there is also a struggle within the Democrat Party for primacy . we need to make it quick, not fight with each other too vigorously or for too long and get on with the more important business. retaking the house or senate. send money to democrats in the red states! voter registration drives are expensive. the votes are out there we need to get them to the polls this fall.
    complacency will wreck this country

  4. We too often forget the meaning of those opening words of the Declaration. It is a self-evident truth that we are all equal and we all have certain rights. Those rights are not dependent upon being legal citizens but belong to all individuals. Note also that those rights are not limited to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Keep that in mind when someone claims that certain groups of people don't deserve to be treated like human beings or be given due process. Surely separating crying babies from their mothers goes against everything in that founding document.

  5. It's easy to make mouth music about leaving the country. Doing it is something else again. That kind of trash talk comes from the keystrokes of the successful and affluent. Emigration is neither cheap nor easy...even Canada doesn't want the elderly and the poor. You'd better be fairly young and be in possession of a lot of those Yanqui dollahs. Or else you need to be an entrepreneur whose business will bring jobs to Canadians.

    And just try going to a European country if you're not fairly well-off and don't want to live a student life-style...or worse. Western Europe is already overrun with refugees from the countries to the east and the south. English is not always spoken everywhere, so you'd better be conversant in at least one other tongue.

    Fleeing one's homeland may not be an option for many, or even most, and those who can afford to do so may face a multitude of difficulties and obstacles. If you still have any living relatives who immigrated to America, ask them how it was. Better yet, if you're fluent in Spanish, ask any of the refugees in Texas how their journey has been.

    Canada is just across the lake from me. I'd go tomorrow if I could...or even this afternoon. But my wife wants to stay and fight. Whether that word choice ("fight") remains figurative or becomes literal is still a toss-up. Soon, it may not be.

  6. So true about the Dems needing a Churchill like figure and I'd blood in leadership.

  7. The Founders did not create a true democracy. We came closer to that ideal through time, the high water mark coming in last quarter of the 20th century. Anti-democratic forces have been fighting back ever since and making great inroads. If the democracy is not in mortal jeopardy, it is not far from the edge. President Obama knew that the opposition had completely closed out any cooperation and in is second term he refused to push back. He had nothing to lose yet he was mostly silent. If he had any Winston in him, that was the time to stand in the pulpit and speak out strongly against the enemies of the democracy. That he didn't is his greatest failure.

  8. Great article--last line perfecto!


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