Where does the U.S. go from here?
E Pluribus Unum by Glenn Shockley – gh note – a good and thoughtful read. I encourage all to take the time to do so.
This was sent to me recently by an acquaintance who encouraged me to read it and kept encouraging me to read it until I did. And when I did, I was glad that I did. Please take some quiet time to read and think about this…the historical context is important. I thought it well worth the read…which is why I post it here.
E Pluribus Unum by Glenn Shockley
Disagreements and the ability to express them lie at the heart of Democracy. Because this is the case, it is difficult to imagine a system of government that espouses disagreement to be able to exist. The eternal question regarding the development of governments is why do they exist at all? Why do people get together to live when it would be so much easier to live alone and make their own decisions without the bothersome process of consulting with others for their approval?
There are a thousand books that are written on this subject so this document will not bore the reader with the complexities of the answer to this query. Suffice it to say that people through the ages have found it convenient to get together to form societies because they have found that there is safety in numbers and that, with the establishment of rules, the possibility of societies to exist comes to be. The safety that society provides is not from wild animals or other natural disaster, but from the many oppressing the individual either physically or in any other imaginable manner. Numbers of people have always made the difference in the establishment of society. In the past, the larger the number, the more likely one group could overcome another group. Wars have been a constant throughout history. In ancient history, the larger number of a group fighting a smaller group would always prevail. (Thermopoli) It is only in recent history that the smaller group could prevail because of the development of technology.
What are the hindrances that confront society that prevent it from advancing to its highest achievable level? When the founders of the United States first contemplated forming our union they constructed a document called the Articles of Confederation.
That document emphasized individualism and decried federalism. The emphasis on individual power was evident throughout the document and exemplified the rugged individualism it sought as its highest goal. This concept did not only apply to the individual citizen but was elevated to the individual states decrying federalism making individual states the source of power in the union of the states. The concept of individual power and authority was huge in the construct of this nation. Individualism and the strength of individual rights superseded the concept of union and the values that society could bring. The concept of the “commons” and the “common good” was overshadowed by the concerns for self and individual liberties. The feeling of self and concern for self-preservation dissuaded many from considering the impact that such considerations would have on the social state that this country was striving to be.
Concentration on the individual and individual rights seemed to work prior to the American Revolution. It also seemed to work during the American Revolution but after the war, a huge problem arose when it became obvious that the union could not pay its bills. The union tried going around to the individual states to ask them for help in paying the bills that the union incurred during the war. Naturally none of the states in the union volunteered to help. During the war, the individual states continued to tax their citizens during the four years of the war so when the patriots who fought the war returned home, they found themselves in a financial bind. The federal government, which promised them pay for fighting those four years in the war, thought it was only proper to supplant the money lost by those patriots through farming and the like, found that they could not do so. Because of the principle of individual states being sovereign, the federal government could not raise the funds to pay its debts which included the salaries for the American patriots who sacrificed their time, blood and in some cases their lives for the country. They did not possess the taxing authority to do so because the several states saw this authority as an infringement on their individual state powers. Because of a man named Daniel Shays, a man who led four thousand other patriots in a rebellion after the Revolutionary war against the United States because the United States reneged on their promise to pay their salaries for their service to this country, George Washington and the other founding fathers recognized that the non-payment of those salaries to those patriots was an egregious wrong, yet they were unable to correct that wrong because the Federal Government did not have the capacity to tax, therefore, did not have the revenues to satisfy the debt that they owed to those men.
It must have been fresh in the minds of the founding fathers that these men were not merely flag saluters, or men who brazenly wrap themselves in the flag feigning patriotism or that stood at attention when the flag was in view again feigning patriotism. These men who were actual patriots who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to this country. That is the definition of a patriot direct from the Declaration of Independence. Those men went to war and many of them died or were wounded in the war. They shed their life’s blood for this country. They gave up the livelihood that their farms produced for four years, so that this country could exist.
Their solemn oaths to this country could not be cast off as though they were nothing. They risked all of their personal well-being for the good of the commons. Our founding fathers could not ignore their sacrifice nor slough off those men’s contribution to this country. The result of the Shay’s rebellion was the construction of the Constitution of the United States and the discarding of the Articles of Confederation that ruled this country at its inception. There was no more individualism. There was no more individual state autonomy. It cannot be overstated how difficult this change was. The Federalist papers took 6 chapters (16 – 22) to convince the American people to accept the concept of a “more perfect union”. Most Americans did not want their individualism challenged.
They could only understand that their individual selves were being threatened by the concept of the commons or the common good. It is understandable that they could not see beyond themselves. The eternal question, “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” was difficult to explain in the face of individualism. The concept of the “commons” and union was foreign. The explanation “union” was an admirable goal of social society that needed to be brought to the attention of the American psyche and needed an educational program for the American people to understand how the application of the concept of “union” would be of major benefit to Americans. That is why the Federalist papers were written. “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Each and every reason for the establishment of the Constitution is a social reason and a recognition that the commons as a concept lies at the foundation of any country or society. There is no promotion of the individual and individual causes because it was recognized that the individual has a natural inclination to take care of himself. Greed and selfishness are natural to man. The individual does not have an inclination to take care of the commons. Therein lies the problem that the founders recognized that needed solution. Citizens of the United States had to understand that the country needed to actually unite if there was to be a country. They needed to focus on the commons, not the individual. The result of the construction of the Constitution has led to over 200 years of prosperity for the United States. That miracle remains today only because the understanding of the citizens, that social goals need more attention than individual ones. Taking care of the commons has provided the stability that this country needs to progress towards the preservation of the “blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” and to continue the experiment in democracy that the United States represents to the world.
This country cannot be taken by any external enemy. That notion has been tested repeatedly throughout the history of this country. World wars have threatened this nation, economic catastrophes have done the same, but through it all, this country has persevered and in each instance come out stronger than when the threat initiated. However, when internal divisions arise, our country has suffered its greatest test of unity. In 1860, a war ensued when United States citizens could not overcome their differences. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” was challenged as a principle construct upon which this nation was established. A segment of our population had built an economic engine that required slavery for its existence. Without slavery, that engine could not exist. Slavery violated one of our precious founding principles. Because we could not all agree to that founding principle in 1860, this nation went through a civil war that took over 600,000 lives of its citizens. The residue of hate of that war remains to this day. From 1865 to 1896, this country went through a period euphemistically called “reconstruction”, where there was supposed to be “malice towards none”. The section of the country that was vanquished in that war never felt that “malice towards none” was ever achieved as a goal of the conquering side. Too many profiteers of that war made it impossible for the winning side to secure from the vanquished a requisite reconciliation that would heal the wounds of the nation that the war had inflicted upon the body politic. Monetary collapses worsened the prospects for reconciliation in the 1870’s and the worsening situation came to a head in 1896. A blond blue eyed man named Homer Plessy bought a first class rail road ticket to travel in Louisiana. His problem was that despite his Caucasian appearance, the black porter on that train perceived that he was partially black and refused to permit him to take a seat in the first class section of the train. In fact, he was sent back to the cattle car where all black people traveled in those days.
Homer took his case to the Supreme Court of the United States. That court attempted to reconcile the matter by trying to avoid a confrontation of either side in Plessey v Ferguson. That case established the doctrine of “separate but equal”, a legal position that certified segregation. No citizen of the United States could be denied accommodations for which he has paid for so if first class seating were available to whites, then there had to be first class accommodations available to blacks. This blatant disregard of the “equality” founding principle lasted for 58 years. Via judicial review, a process requiring a unanimous decision, Plessey was overturned in 1954 in a case called Brown v the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled the obvious, in that during the 58 years that Plessey was the law of the land, the principle of “separate but equal” was never implemented outside of the court house. White society never provided separate but equal facilities in any of its daily living standards. Not only was that the case, but, the concept of segregation of the races violated the principle of equality of men, another founding principle that this country was built on, making whites superior to blacks and all other races.
Judicial review was conceived in the 1803 case called Marbury v Madison which gave the Supreme Court the power to determine what is and what is not, Constitutional. It was predicated on the finding that any law that violated any of the founding principles of this country egregiously, or otherwise, would be so very easily recognized that any Supreme Court would find that matter unconstitutional and do so unanimously. That is what happened to Plessy. It violated the principle of equality, egregiously, and was struck down via a unanimous vote. There was a problem with the rendering of that decision. It did not change the minds of those who supported segregation, despite the fact that it violated that founding principle. The question then was, how does the Supreme Court get citizens to comply in sprit to its rulings despite the disagreement that they may have with that decision? That problem remains to this day. It is the source of all of the discontent among our populace today. The simple answer to this problem is that there must be an agreement among all citizens that those founding principles must be taken to heart by all. It must be recognized by all that those principles protect us both individually and collectively from the tyranny that would result if we ignored those principles. Without respect for those principles, we do not have a society. Without society, there will be no domestic tranquility and without domestic tranquility each and every life in this country is threatened. The rule of the mob becomes the order of the day. We, then, will have no country and society is destroyed. There is no current remedy for the defiance of our founding principles among our people. The destruction of this country and the waste of the sacrifices that those who came before us, those who sacrificed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to preserve this nation for us to enjoy, cannot be tolerated merely because we cannot learn to get along and learn to respect the politics of others. Is the destruction of this country such a wonderful goal that getting our own way must be the preeminent exercise of what we consider to be an individual’s inalienable right to express his opinion and coerce others to follow that opinion? Hopefully not. The patriotic society disdains that notion. We join together in society to work together in this country to achieve societal goals, not kowtow to those who want to destroy the will of the majority to impose their monarchy upon the rest of us. We know that majorities are fleeting; I hope, and that one election may elevate one candidate to victory but that elevation is temporary. The natural reaction of the loser in that race should be to reach out to the electorate with a platform that appeals to the majority in the next election. That is not happening in our present electoral process. The loser in that election is trying to impose his monarchical desire to rule forever, as a divine right, never mind the fact that he not only lost the popular vote by 7 million but he lost the electoral vote by double digits. Is not this country predicated on majority rule? Does this country now tolerate a monarchy?
At the core of the problem that we are experiencing today is the age old question of “Are we our brother’s keeper?” The short answer is that in a society, we are all our brothers’ keepers. The major problem that we are experiencing today is that no one wants to be his brothers’ keeper. At present, we are totally engulfed in selfishness, greed, and self-aggrandizement. Our economic system; capitalism, tears us away from the tie that binds society together. One of the major posits of that economic system is that each person is responsible for himself, ie. Personal responsibility. The problem that faces us is that we have carried the concept of personal responsibility beyond the intent of its original meaning. Personal responsibility is not intended to tear society apart. Personal responsibility is ascribed to the notion that each member of a society has an obligation to care for himself, provide for himself, and pursue the work ethic.
Raw individualism, a notion of the wild, living in the wild without society, seems to have taken over the psyche of those that are living in polite society today. It is an anachronism. Society demands that concern for others be the norm of the day. This concept is identified in the Constitution of the United States where, in the entirety of the Preamble, it speaks of unity, the commons such as the common defense, social welfare, justice, which is a social concept, insuring domestic tranquility, which in and of itself projects social discourse because there must be more than one party to have tranquility between parties, and looks forward to the future in terms of our posterity which eschews individualism, and promotes socialism and the concept of the commons.
Our Declaration of Independence, our only founding document, tells us what the purpose of government is. Besides taking care of the needs of the commons, the primary purpose of government is to protect and guarantee the civil rights of its citizens. While the Declaration of Independence does not posit the existence of society, it assumes that society is the basic structure that humans have constructed to use to provide the benefits that we find convenient to live together with remembering that the previous governing structure was a monarchy and that document notes how the previous societal structure; monarchy, oppressed the people that existed in that political structure. Of course there is the question of whether man is social or not. It is indisputable that he is. The very fact that the Constitution speaks of “posterity” tells us that man is a sexual being, making him a social construct. The fact that man has developed language to communicate with others supports the social character of man. Additionally, man longs for human contact and that contact extends beyond his family. There is no other option than to acknowledge that man is indeed social. Because that is the case, any notion that man is to return to the wild to exercise his natural rights; that of murder, robbery, rape, greed, and pillage, must be discarded. We are constrained by the interests of others in society for safety, peace, and tolerance. There is no such thing as opting out of society and pursuing one’s own natural dictates as a result. Man is social because he wants to be social. There is not another option.
As man finds himself in the predicament of having to get along with his fellow man, skills in toleration, negotiation, compromise and understanding become the governing characteristics in social discourse. There can be no “my way or the highway” position on any issue. There must be a respect for the rights of others in our society. The definition of what is a “right” was not left to the imagination of the different factions in our government nor from the different perspectives or different points of view that are the trademark of societies. The rights of man were defined by Thomas Paine, one of our founding fathers, and he explained that the rights of man must conform to two components: 1). Rights, to be legitimate, must be able to be claimed by all of the citizens of a state universally, and 2). The rights of one person cannot infringe upon the rights of others in the society. If a claimed right does infringe upon the rights of others, then it is not a legal right in this country. These conditions were outlined in his work entitled “The Rights of Man”, a work that needs to be read by every American citizen. This work is as important to understand as is the Constitution of the United States for every American. In the United States today, certain religious groups claim that their freedoms are infringed upon by the behavior of non-believers. They claim that their freedom of religion is compromised and infringed upon because non-believers practice homosexuality, engage in homo-sexual marriage, have abortions and practice birth control. According to Thomas Paine and his definition of what a right is, these religious groups are wrong because a right cannot exist if it infringes upon the rights of others. In our legal system, sexual preference, the practice of birth control, and the acquisition of an abortion are civil rights that cannot be suppressed or oppressed by another’s religious beliefs. If a religion can dictate to non-believers how they are to live their lives, then that religious group must understand that other religions (or those that do not believe in any religion, may demand that they follow other dictates and those religious individuals may not like the dictates of those other opinions. It is dangerous, then, to coerce one’s religious beliefs on another.
Tolerance is the primary lesson that Thomas Paine is trying to teach the America people. The right to religious exercise is enshrined in the first amendment to our Constitution because many of our founders started this country to escape religious persecution, religious bigotry and religious oppression. Therefore, if a religious dogma states that abortion is a sin, then those that adhere to that dogma have a religious right never to get an abortion. No one can coerce them to get an abortion. That is religious freedom. If a religious dogma states that homosexual sex and homosexual sexual unions are a sin, then those that adhere to that dogma cannot be forced into homosexual acts. That is religious freedom. If a religious dogma states that birth control is a sin, then those that adhere to that dogma cannot be coerced into using birth control. That is religious freedom. What is not religious freedom is the forcing of non-believers to stop their right to abortion, to stop their right to homosexual relationships, and to stop their exercise of birth control. That is the definition of religious suppression and oppression; the exact acts that our founders sought to prevent in the establishment of the first amendment to the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
In times past, there have been discussions in this country as to what civil rights actually exist. These discussions arise precisely because of the adversarial nature of the law. When trying to establish a social entity, there will always be disputes about who has the right to exercise a right and who must yield to that exercise. The previous discussion about religion is an example of the adversarial nature of the law.
There are those who insist that the only rights that do exist for the citizens in this country are those that are enumerated in the Bill of Rights. During the famous confirmation hearings for the appointment of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court of the United States, the question arose about other rights that may exist beyond those that are enumerated. Judge Bork insisted that no other rights exist outside of those that are enumerated. James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, understood that every right that can be possible for our citizens to exercise could not possibly be recorded in a finite document. He felt those rights are infinite. As a result he included the ninth amendment to the Bill of Rights that made sure that non enumerated rights were all reserved to the citizens of this country. Judge Bork said that he could not read and interpret the ninth amendment because it was like an inkblot that over shadowed the meaning of the text. He made the famous statement that reading the ninth amendment is therefore impossible. What Judge Bork failed to realize, was that the Constitution was not an academic exercise to be pored over by lawyers and college law professors. The Constitution was intended to be read and understood by the everyday American citizens to guide them through everyday life. There is no question that all of the rights of our citizens were not included in the Bill of Rights. The unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness declared in the Declaration of Independence are not in the Bill of Rights. The right to marry is not in that document.
The right to form families, establish homes and raise children are not included in that document. The right to travel is not included. The right to vote is not included. The right to run for office is not included. These are among a myriad of rights that are obvious to the common citizen but seem to be incomprehensible to an academic like Judge Bork, hence, the statement that the common citizen is more cognizant of the meaning of the Constitution, and that is the way it should be.
At issue, then, is, “what is glue that binds our country together?” The answer to that question is the sole key to how we are to proceed if we wish to remain the United States of America. Our pledge of Allegiance speaks to liberty and justice for all. Other sources identify truth, justice and the American cause as the glue that holds us together. One of the great conservative minds in American history, Russell Kirk, who was confounded by the news that American soldiers did not know what they were fighting for in the Korean War, took it upon himself to try to explain what it was to those soldiers that they were fighting for. He wrote a small book called “The American Cause.” That book focused on the founding ideals and principles that made America the preeminent democracy in the world. Those principles include equality, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, government instituted at the consent of the governed, and that a government that is long established not be changed upon the whim of a few. All of these principles emanate from our founding document, The Declaration of Independence. While there are a myriad of problems that we acknowledge do exist that tend to rend us from each other, our founding principles have always bound us together as a people because we know that other forms of government have failed in protecting our rights as men. The last pronouncement in our founding document is that we all have a duty to throw off government that devolves into despotism and fails to protect our civil rights. The question that all Americans need to answer today is “Have we arrived at that position now?” The distrust that pervades our politics; the political discourse between Democrats and Republicans, has tended to treat the other political party as an enemy of the United States rather than just those that hold differing opinions about how to govern. Americans need to be reminded about the value of the government that we have used for over 200 years. We no longer think in terms of negotiation to arrive at an amenable compromise, we have devolved to calling the other side “stupid” when they do not accede to our political decisions. We have come to the fork in the road that says “my way or the highway” and refuse to accept the possibility that the other perspectives on any issue may have legitimacy in the solution of our perceived political problems.
It needs to be noted at this point that our government has not failed to protect our civil rights. It is illegitimate, as a result, to over throw that government. Too many patriots have sacrificed too much blood to give us the government we currently enjoy. Americans need to recognize and appreciate what they have. It must be remembered that majority rule is one of the enigmatic features of our governing process and that majorities are not permanent. Losers in any election must work to change their platforms to attract the majority to their perspective. The solution for the rending of our nation is to reinforce and reinstate the skills of tolerance, the skills of negotiation, the skills of compromise and the skills of understanding the other point of view. There must be a revival of mind, soul, and spirit to the founding principles that we all hold and for which there is no substitute. We need to understand that there are many perspectives on each issue. We need to forge those perspectives together. From many, one. E Pluribus Unum” [the bold print is my emphasis].
Banner image – I don’t know the source, but I love this image of what the U.S. can be.
Wishing you and all you love peace, happiness, & health as we move forward together in 2021.