“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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . .”
—from ¶2 of The Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1776
Some random thoughts on this national holiday . . .
The coinciding of the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, that cornerstone and launching pad event of the American Revolution of which we Americans are justly proud, with another massive wave of revolutionary fervor in Egypt and the second ouster of that ancient country’s head of state in two years, makes us wish for a more vigorous liberal revolutionary spirit here in the nation that likes to call itself “the world’s oldest democracy.” What we wish for is a revolutionary spirit—a constructive energy—among those who would spread and defend liberty for the common folk, for the downtrodden poor, the near-exhausted middle class.
Especially on this day of all days in the year there is a strong yearning to glory in the specialness of our nation, to love our country and wish it a happy birthday with a childlike simplicity and sincerity, to love it not only as it can be but as it is, now, today. Increasingly, however, this amor patria is a difficult feeling to sustain while also facing the facts of our nation’s recent history.
This country is composed of states, but they are far from united. Two political parties hold power, but, though similar in their dependence on money, they are far apart in their governing philosophies. One seeks to govern, to administer programs for the general good, while the other seeks power, control.
When the most powerful, aggressive political energy is that of conservative reactionaries fired by a zeal to abolish longstanding functions of government, to abolish programs and departments, to roll back liberties hard-won by the common folk and minorities, to make life for the poor even harder, to scorn the less fortunate as undeserving even of the little that they have . . . then indeed it is hard to love the actuality, and one is driven to nostalgia for better times that once existed (“the greatest generation,” etc.), and to hope and pray for better times to come. And who will lead us?
There is a revolutionary spirit at work in this country, but rather than pushing for greater freedoms for the average citizen it is a spirit of reactionary zeal, like that of the Jacobins such as Robespierre and his dreaded Committee on Public Safety that became known for a Reign of Terror after the French Revolution. The revolutionaries now at work in the U.S. do not wear overalls or rags but Brooks Brothers and Armani suits. They are not grassroots organizers but are funded by conservative billionaires, acting in the name of the average Joe. They do not recognize the legitimacy of the popularly elected executive; since his inauguration they have plotted massive resistance to his moderate, centrist agenda; and seek the repeal of his publicly supported, and needed, legislation.
The two Supreme Court decisions last week that received the most attention in the press, on June 25 and June 26, concerned the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and marriage equality, or “gay marriage” rights. One decision was disastrous for this nation’s democracy, and the other was a positive step forward in the establishment of equal rights. Though we applaud the marriage equality decision, we wish it had not come so soon after the deplorable ruling against the Voting Rights Act, as its publicity and celebrations wiped the Voting Rights story off the screen—and the poor and disenfranchised are already ignored too much.
The week after these decisions, delivering more bad news for the average worker, the Obama administration announced a one-year delay—from 2014 to 2015—in the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that larger employers provide coverage for employees or face a penalty. The Commerce Department felt business’s pain—but what about the suffering and anxieties of 0ver 45 million uninsured? The health care reform law, passed in 2010, was already overly gradual in its deployment of benefits for the public—a politically calculated “time-release capsule.” Although the administration downplays the practical significance of this new delay, Republicans jumped with joy—See? The whole damn thing should be abolished!—and health reform advocates are disheartened by the Democrats’ latest display of cowardice in advance of the 2014 midterm elections. (The New York Times quoted Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University and an advocate of the law: “I am utterly astounded. . . . It boggles the mind. This step could significantly reduce the number of uninsured people who will gain coverage in 2014.”)
And in mid June, the Obama administration, which had been admirably cautious about getting involved in the very complicated Syrian civil war, announced that the U.S. would begin arming certain groups of Syrian rebels. Officials claimed, without showing proof, the Bashar al-Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people. This was a public announcement of what had been secret U.S. policy for some time. There is always a war (or wars) beneath the visible war.
What does it take, foreign visitors often wonder, to get the Americans out into the streets? Perhaps one day we shall see . . . Till then, we have patriotic marching bands and awesome fireworks displays . . .
“I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” —Thomas Jefferson, letter (from Paris) to James Madison, January 30, 1787
“Democracy . . . a challenge” found at Think Progress. Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800.