18 March, 2011
“What it’s really all about is despite the things that are wrong with our country there are too many good things worth saving to let the whole thing go down the drain. So I think we should get together as much as we can and bring about change.” John Kay - Steppenwolf Live
“Once the religious, the hunted and weary
Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
Came to this country to build a new vision
Far from the reaches of Kingdom and pope
Like good Christians some would burn the witches
Later some got slaves to gather riches”
In its origins, America began as a quest by some for freedom from the dominant powers of European civilization. This was not an all-embracing freedom, but a more limited self-regarding freedom. The Puritans wanted the freedom to impose their brand of Christianity on anyone they could bring within their sphere. Some like the Quakers in Pennsylvania and Roger Williams in Rhode Island wanted a more expansive freedom for all Christians. None of the English colonizers cared much about freedom for people with darker skin or the different physical features typical of Native Americans. Nonetheless, they were building a new vision despite the blind spots of superstition and racial bigotry.
“But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands, to court the wild
But she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light”
For much of Western Europe, America was the secular version of the Promised Land. It was still the new world. Immigration was constant and massive. Whatever risks and hardships were entailed did not discourage Europe’s tired, poor, tempest tossed, huddled masses, from taking the chance and making the journey to what would shortly become the United States of America.
“And once the ties with the crown had been broken
Westward in saddle and wagon it went
And till the railroad linked ocean to ocean
Many the lives which had come to an end
While we bullied, stole and bought a homeland
We began the slaughter of the red man”
From the Crisis of Valley Forge in 1776 to the “World Turned Upside Down” of Yorktown in 1781. America, as we know it, emerged from the mind, not from the mist. Within the splendid prose of the Declaration of Independence lay the promise of a new kind of nation and a new kind of nationality. Americans were not all from a common homeland; they did not all have the same ancestral customs and traditions. They often spoke differing first languages. A shared set of ideas and ideals about what it meant to be a human being and how to govern human beings properly bound them together. After winning the Revolutionary War, the Framers quickly realized the political arrangements needed strengthening and rationalization. Despite the squabble that ensued, the American mind triumphed again and produced the Republic and its hallowed Constitution.
Then, growth rapidly took off. Despite the brilliant ideas and shining ideals, bigotry, avarice, and ambition still prompted and excused a near genocide of others who stood in the way of our so-called “Manifest Destiny.” True, blue Americans bought, bullied, and stole the continent from the western slope of the Appalachian Mountains to the Pacific shore. While slaughtering the red men, women, and children, these same idealistic, high-minded Americans continued the crime of slavery and through trickery, treachery, and truly unprovoked aggression conquered the northern provinces of Mexico. As some Hispanics say today, “We did not cross the border the border crossed us.”
The actions of Americans, therefore, often fell far short of the aspirations expressed in the Republic’s founding documents. Nonetheless, those ideals were still there for all to see. Like an inextinguishable beacon, the radiance of these ideals penetrated the gloom of hubris pervading the mid-nineteenth century. Relentlessly, a furious storm approached that would “test whether this nation or any other nation so conceived and so dedicated would long endure.”
“The Blue and Grey they stomped it
They kicked it just like a dog
And when the war was over
They stuffed it just like a hog
And though the past has its share of injustice
Kind was the spirit in many a way
But its protectors and friends have been sleeping
Now it's a monster and will not obey”
When the storm broke, the Republic was one of five that existed on the planet. Virtually all other lands were governed as kingdoms or empires. If the Union split asunder, government of, by and for the people well may have perished from the earth. As the titanic struggle raged on to its high tide on Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, its nature changed from a war for Union to a war for Union and Liberty. From the brave men who struggled on that hallowed ground, we the living inherited a solemn obligation and an enduring debt. It is for us, even 148 years later, to ensure by our actions that they shall not have died in vain. We must wake the protectors of the Republic and join their ranks ourselves. There is a monster abroad in the land, but it does not as some would have us believe, reside in Washington, D. C. It is not a Leviathan. It is a Hydra. There are many heads to this monster and they sit on necks that stretch back to a body lurking well beyond the bounds of government.
“The spirit was freedom and justice
And its keepers seemed generous and kind
Its leaders were supposed to serve the country
But now they won't pay it no mind
Cause the people grew fat and got lazy
Now their vote is a meaningless joke
They babble about law and order
But it's all just an echo of what they've been told”
The Republic’s spirit was and still is freedom and justice. The leaders most assuredly were to function by the consent of the governed, and regular, free, fair elections were intended to ensure that the individuals who gained our consent to lead us did not endeavor to rule us. As Jefferson warned, however, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and the more successful the nation became, the less vigilant the citizenry remained. Furthermore, powerful parties with enormous reach and resources, from the Liberty League and the DuPont brothers of the 1930’s to American Crossroads and the Koch brothers of today, diligently worked to manipulate information and influence votes among both the electorate and the legislators. This is not something the government did, but something that was done to and through the government. Several distinct, but compatible, individuals and groups have pursued the objective of capturing the hearts and minds of the populace so that the government would thoroughly serve the interests of the wealthy and the corporations. This is not and never was a conspiracy, but a common cause unifying the uncommonly affluent. Money fights hard and money fights dirty. Over the last eighty years of American political life, this has been repeatedly demonstrated.
The actions of this symbolic beast contradict the expressed hopes of many of the Republic’s Founders. As Jefferson expressed them, “I may err in my measures, but never shall deflect from the intention to fortify the public liberty by every possible measure and put it out of the power of the few to riot on the labor of others.” It is odd that a slaveholder should think this the proper role of government, but the sentiment is no less instructive because it originated with one whose life seemed partly to contradict it. Incidentally, Jefferson used the term riot to mean, “Unrestrained indulgence”.
Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into the noose
And it just sits there watchin'
The Hydra keeps trying to advance toward its goal of transforming the Republic into a predator state that uses legislation and the police power to make cannon fodder and twenty-first century serfs out of the great mass of the populace. The distorted conception of the proper configuration of society that the Hydra has been spreading in books, speeches, and broadcasts has placed unrestrained economic activity at the center of the social desideratum. Usually this is expressed as reverence for and homage to the Market. To the extent this arrangement is implemented, some individuals and corporations approach complete freedom from the boundaries of nations, the burdens of taxation and regulation, and the bonds of patriotism. They are unrestrained in the pursuit of ever-increasing profits and fortunes. Everyone else is simply a resource for the voracious engine of unbridled, globalized capitalism.
The cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is stranglin' the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can't understand
We don't know how to mind our own business
'Cause the whole world's got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who's the winner we can't pay the cost"
The supplanting of the Republic by the Market in the hearts and minds of the people and in the procedures and preferences of our society yields a deterioration of the cities and a debasement of civic life, most especially in political discourse, decisions, and policymaking. Surveillance becomes a priority and Constitutional limitations are regarded as quaint and impractical in the panic induced by the poisonous influence of reactionary prejudices and grudges against people who are alien. This panic is not simply a heightened variant of the reasonable concern about properly identified and authenticated adversaries. It is much broader and impervious to rational argument. The purpose of the panic is not to promote security, but to induce submission. The consistent theme pushed by the Hydra with all its multiple heads and pervasive fuming is “be afraid, be very afraid.” Do not stop to think. Do not ask questions. Do what you are told. Whether the topic is war against some purportedly hostile power or cuts in government programs there is no time to think. Action must be taken! Liberties must be foregone; rights must be surrendered. The nation is in mortal danger!
Despite the clanging alarms and the frantic appeals to give up rights and share sacrifice, all patriotic citizens must pause and reflect. Rash action will almost surely prove to be wrong action. The Republic was not set up to facilitate rushing to judgment. It was set up to cultivate and effectuate considered action by an informed and unified people. Therefore, we must send forth the call --
“America, where are you now
Don't you care about your sons and daughters
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster”
This call goes forth not to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, but simply to citizens. Now, party labels only deepen divisions. For far too long and far too much, those who would lead the nation have operated based on positions they think popular rather than principles they hold true and purposes they deem vital. The denigration of politics, the degradation of public discourse, and the distortion of the Republic into a caricature called “government” has allowed the Hydra to rant and rampage across the land almost twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. This clarion call needs to pierce the din and traverse the chasms. It needs to remind every man, woman, and child that “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
The Hydra has tried to set us against one another. It has played on our petty fears, our private suspicions, and our personal jealousies. It has tried to make us see ourselves as atomized consumers struggling in the war of each against all for the drops that trickle down from lavish banquet table of the elite. In the process, Americans lost the meaning and vision of America as the last, best hope of humankind.
Now is the time to reclaim and reassert this meaning and vision. To do so we must heed the appeal of Thomas Paine in the February 1776, Third Edition of Common Sense [slightly paraphrased], “instead of gazing at each other with suspicious or doubtful curiosity, let each of us hold out to his neighbor the hearty hand of friendship, and unite in drawing a line, which, like an act of oblivion, shall bury in forgetfulness every former dissension. Let the names of Whig [Liberal} and Tory [Conservative] be extinct; and let none other be heard among us, than those of a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the RIGHTS of HUMANKIND, and of the FREE AND INDEPENDENT Constitutional Republic of the United STATES OF AMERICA”.
America, where are you now
Don't you care about your sons and daughters
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster
The only honorable response is we are right here! You need not fight alone. Then, “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”