“Our Founding Fathers risked their lives to defeat a tyrant. Lincoln gave all to defeat tyranny. Can we, in good conscience, do anything less?”
Philip Drucker, Constitutional Law Professor
I start by positing a simple proposition. There are not two Americas. There are, however, two separate tribes of people living in America. One faction understands and follows the rules as laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. These are the people that have always and will continue to make America great. Their sacrifices in the name of social justice, equality and humanity are the stuff of legends and the reasons we continue to enjoy the rights of our forefathers. Their exploits are the tales from which other countries less fortunate than our own weave dreams of streets lined with gold, and of prosperity and freedom. To be free from want, free from tyranny. To become part of a world dedicated to sharing and spreading the gifts of peace, progress and democracy for all.
The second clan has a decidedly different view of America, focusing not so much on what America is, but on what it has supposedly lost. These kindred souls have always been here and continue to live side by side through thick and thin with their fellow immigrants who also followed the siren call of economic and religious autonomy to settle the land in a new world, free from secular and political intervention and interference. This lineage believes America was founded as a Christian nation. It was not. They believe their ancestors came to America to find religious freedom. Partly true. For the most part the early settlers of colonial America were religious zealots who wanted to practice their own religion. As for the concept we understand today, religious freedom for all regardless of belief, this, not so much. It was their way or the highway. Meaning exile and death in the wilderness because there were no highways. No serious historian would argue that the United States at its inception was not a nation of mostly Christian citizens. Significantly, no serious scholar of early American history or the constitution would argue America was founded as a Christian nation.
Separation of church and state? At best an interesting, but misguided suggestion by the radical deist Thomas Jefferson. This horde bent on believing prefers the ark of the covenant to a document meant to limit the power of a monarch while providing a roadmap for a nation of equality under rule by law. As it turns out the US Constitution is not anything more than a non-binding social contract, revocable at any time under the doctrine of States rights. America has always been this way. It was this way before the US Civil War, and was this way after the Battle of Gettysburg and Appomattox. Though, in many ways, the Civil War has never ended. Hearts and minds were never changed. A legacy of slavery, torture and inhumanity became The Lost Cause. A series of overly romantic exaggerations and outright lies meant to preserve a time and a movement that never was. This is what happens when the losers get to write their own history. Only in America would Robert E. Lee, a vicious slave owner and traitor to America be revered in hushed tones never reserved for the likes of Ulysses S. Grant, a true American war hero or William T. Sherman, the man remembered mostly and unkindly for burning Atlanta to the ground. War was hell as so was the continuation of Confederate propaganda and misinformation – the campaign coming soon to a social media site near you.
America is not a mythical land where racism doesn’t exist. Protesting, fighting and eventually overcoming the hateful, harmful institutionalized effects of racism, as opposed to embracing it, giving in to it and its adherents is what makes America great. When we overcome, we build a level playing field where all are welcome to live their lives learning to be the best person they can be. Eventually paying back the social loan in the form of hard work and achievement for the greater good. This is the American way. We value people based on their accomplishments, not on the color of their skin or their place of origin, only where they are going. Together. The America I know is only better when everybody, based on their innate skills, talents, ambition, sweat and grit can do better without the artificial interference of “privilege.”
Recent events in the form of presidential tweets have proven the current occupant of the White House to be a racist. Take it or leave it, but that is what he is. He’s not the first or even the second president to embrace racism as a basis for immigration policy. Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson both immediately come to mind. His tweets are not, I repeat, not profound. They are not revelatory in any sort of “who knew” discovery. They do not unmask a hidden, heart of darkness at the center of our collective national soul. They are the arrogant ramblings of a narcissist seeking attention in all the wrong places. A pandering dribble of poison nectar for the hateful and gullible among us. He feeds the beast. He is not righteous or even right. Those who desire his removal are not wrong. His ignorance of American history, its most honorable traditions and everlasting glory lost upon him is unforgivable. His insistence on leading his followers down a rabbit-hole of misinformation, misplaced pride and self-interest, as in his own personal interest, not theirs is a failure of basic leadership and morality as to shock the conscience of those with eyes and belief in what they see. America is not rich when Donald J. Trump is rich. Why look to the “deep state” to fuel your paranoia when a conspiracy to overthrow America is hiding in plain sight?
He runs roughshod over the Constitution. He seeks nothing but to divide and conquer the House of Lincoln under the banner of the GOP in a blatant attempt to validate his undeservedly high opinion of himself based solely on the loyalty and approval of those who would define “American” along the lines of race, nationality, gender, who you love, what church you go to and even what you wear.
Ask yourself, why have these recent tweets regarding the Squad kicked off such a furor? We all know what “if you don’t like it here, go home” means. It doesn’t mean change your attitude. It means leave. Now. Because you, not what you do, or what you contribute to society, but who you are, never belonged here in the first place. If the events at Charlottesville taught us anything, it’s blood and soil have meanings for your average MAGA hat rack far beyond hemoglobin and dirt.
For all their wisdom and brilliance, the Founders gave us a country bound to divide itself into two competing factions. What else could they do? America is not so much a territory with borders as it is a social experiment cooked up by hopefully enlightened thinkers. A shared ideal that when individuals are given the opportunity to interact with each other on a level playing field, allowed to pursue happiness without undue government interference, the mixture of diversity, bluster and guts will result in a better life for everyone. In its simplest form, the concept is that we all do better when we all do better.
For its part, the South fought to keep a significant segment of Americans in abject servitude. Labeled them as property. When that didn’t work, it made them a bit less than human. To be precise, about 3/5 of a human. Their premise of inferiority was based on an all too convenient and familiar fallacy of color as an accurate indication of predetermined intelligence, ability and fitness for political franchise (the right to vote). The top of the southern states social food chain maintained their faux superiority by placing artificial limitations on the natural rights of their brothers and sisters followed by institutionalizing those practices by the imprimatur of the state. This practice continued long after the end of the Civil War, through the Black Laws of the Reconstruction and continuing into the separate but never equal world of Jim Crow.
The North chose a different route. In its simplicity, America is not free unless everyone is free. The Declaration of Independence with its guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot be achieved when these basic human rights are systematically denied to men, women and children based upon nothing more than the color of their skin. And so, a group of Americans who were already free fought to defend the rights of those who were not. Is there another historical example of this phenomena of humility, selflessness, spirit of truth and understanding? Of inclusiveness to the point of extending a helping rifle holding hand to the oppressed by soldiers who were themselves not similarly denied their freedom? This is what makes America truly exceptional, truly great and so long as we continue to protect the rights of everyone regardless of minority or majority status or all points in between we will always be great.
In the final analysis, long after Herr Trump is but a bitter memory of paradise almost lost, there will still be one America. Abraham’s Lincoln’s America. Where a person, a president of 19th Century sensibilities knew the value of protecting at all costs, the sanctity of the Union, our Union. It was our greatest asset, the strength upon which all else was built. Abe knew America could never truly be the land of the free when so many were not. We could not be the home of the brave unless we fought for those who wished for nothing more than to pursue their own happiness without interference from the state, the minority and if necessary, the majority.
Tyranny comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes we see it in foreign leaders in distant lands. Sometimes we see it in the hallways of Washington DC. It is tyranny none-the less. Our Founding Fathers risked their lives to defeat a tyrant. Lincoln gave all to defeat tyranny. Can we, in good conscience do anything less?
Lincoln would recognize the party and tactics of Trump. The difference is Lincoln ran as a self-professed abolitionist. He did not attempt to make the ballot nor did he campaign in the southern states instead he bet he could win the electoral college with just the North states. He won that bet,without dividing the nation, by healing the nation. The party of Trump? Well, that’s another story now, isn’t it?
America is not great when a discrete class of the population advances and prospers at the expense and detriment of another identifiable class of society. We are better when everybody, based on their innate skills, talents, hard work, ambition and grit can succeed without the artificial interference of “privilege.” That’s why when the racists, misogynists, xenophobes, religion intolerant, spiteful, hateful and violent among us win, America does not. The Union does not. The Constitution does not. Democracy does not. We the People do not.
America, the shining city on the hill has no wall on its southern border. It does not have a “Whites Only,” “No Jews Allowed,” “Irish Need Not Apply” sign on its front door. The only sign we ever need to see is “C’mon In We Are Open For Business.” In America, children of all shapes and sizes are not artificially separated into different schools or classrooms. Side by side, they all learn to read and write together. Diversity is the opportunity for love, laughter, caring and understanding with someone who is different from you, until you realize they are not.
Freedom cannot be based on the slavery and servitude of another. Master and servant binds one another in an unholy alliance of ultimate misery and debasement. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot be based on the death, constraint, confinement, regulation, sadness or sorrow of another. It only takes one noble legionnaire to change the world. To set one bird free.
If there remains at least one person of conscience willing to fight the good fight, there will always be an America. It is only when persons of good conscience stand idle in the face of obvious evil do we risk losing the moral high ground. Americans are not quitters. It is only when we lose the will to do the right thing, simply because it is the right thing, that we lose the right to call ourselves Americans. Only then do we lose the right to live free in our America. This we must not do.
[Ed’s Note: Here’s your opportunity to listen to and ask questions of Dean Drucker, whose expertise is Constitutional Law. The other panelists are excellent lawyers, as well. One a Public Defender, the other a Social Justice Activist. In all, I think you’ll enjoy this forum as the Democratic Women of the Desert are known for assembling interesting and expert panels.]