Monday, April 24, 2006

Re-Uniting the States

Hope is rising that happy days will soon be here again, as the rule of Republican right-wing ideologues and cronies wanes inexorably, yet the reality remains that the nation is divided and in need of social glue.

The fact of division can be gleaned superficially from the elections of 2000 and 2004 in which, despite a conservative judicial fiat in one instance and Republican ballot box mischief in the other, razor thin majorities voted for the Democratic candidate. Clearly, there remained a large minority of Americans willing to vote against their own best interests for a variety of reasons.

The phenomenon has been long known as "American exceptionalism."

It includes the baffling spectacle of the underpaid, overworked Southern blue-collar worker voting for the party dedicated to enriching American plutocrats further at the expense of schools, old age retirement, layoff assistance, safety and health regulatory protections, not to mention the growth of working wages on a par with inflation and prosperity.

In exchange for progressively greater impoverishment, job insecurity and a vanishing social security for the majority of Americans, this "red state" worker gets the pretense that he is somehow advancing "family values" or a crusade to abolish abortion or defending the primacy of (Protestant) Christianity. Oh, yes, somewhere unspoken, signalled discretely through winks and nods, he gets to advance white supremacy.

This swindled American isn't fazed by the facts that the family values of his political heroes have been long unmasked as false, that the anti-abortion campaign is a ruse and that active Protestantism is a minority religion in a secular society committed long ago to pluralism. If he can wear an American flag on his jacket and nurture his biases, the Exceptional American looks the other way at the mischief carried out in his name and at his expense.

Tempting as it is to make fun of the poor yokels picked clean like cotton by the Republicans with their clever demagoguery, it is now time to find compassion in one's heart and think of ways to build bridges to these fellow citizens of ours. The indignities they suffer are not the ones they imagine, but they are indignities none the less.

The numerous minority of "red state" voters see the same thing the rest of us do.

Community values that briefly bound the wealthy and the working to the same social contract are nowhere to be seen. There is a callous disregard for life in our wars, the poverty to which we acquiesce and, yes, abortion. It is also true that with the social demise of Christendom we have lost a common language in which to approach the great questions of human existence. Finally, with respect to minority rights, those who were born White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant might want to embrace them, as they are already a minority; notably, the disproportionate privilege of the group does not accrue to the majority of WASPs.

What we need is a new and unifiying language that allows the majority of Americans, of any color or political party, red state or blue state, to unite in defense of the common good.

The wealth held in common needs to include education for careers, jobs paid at living wages, with the security that allows families to plan and grow; it also needs to include help for those who can't care for themselves, those whom society can't or won't employ gainfully. A commonwealth devoted to the well-being of all would include, of course, care to avoid wasting our most precious human resource, our youth, in wars that serve the very limited interests of a few. Similarly, a caring society will enable means to support the choice of bringing new life and prevent abortion.

As to our common understanding and language, I would point to the U.S. Constitution. By design the Constitution prevents the establishment of a religion. Yet in the constitutional values, which are not taught as widely and deeply as they should be, there are values that should unite us as Americans. They are, uniquely, the values that historically have held the nation together as the oldest self-governing people on Earth.

The true new patriotism must be a dogged advocacy for the return to the democratic experiment begun in 1787 and for its expansion to all dimensions of human living.


Anne said...

Can the US Constitution _be_ taught progressively and in depth in our schools?

If so, what a phenomenal initiative it could be.

Anonymous said...

Was it a democracy in 1787 since Blacks and Natives were not citizens ?

Cecilieaux said...

The preceding comment is incorrect.

The original text of the U.S. Constitution approved in 1787 did not define who was a citizen; that was not added until 1868 in the XIVth Amendment.

The commenter may be referring to the apportionment of representatives in the House, under Article I, section 2, paragraph 3, which counted "the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons." That last reference, "all other persons" referred, obviously, to slaves. There is no reference to the race of the slaves.

It should be noted that the ambiguity was even greater than would appear at first glance. Women were "free persons," but no state allowed them to vote.

In sum, it is false that the constitution denied citizenship to "Blacks and Natives." The document was silent on the subject. I will agree that the net practical effect, by custom and state law, was that African American slaves (distinctly from freedmen) and Indians did not enjoy the benefits of citizenship.

Me said...

It makes me think - you some wonderful points.