The United States of America was never a sure thing, and it still isn’t.
A little epiphany for me today, on Veteran’s Day:
240 or so years ago, British colonists in America rebelled against their mother country over an idea. An idea! An idea that had been much talked about but little acted on in that era, which is stated succinctly in our wonderful Declaration of Independance:
“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”
(We don’t need no stinkin’ monarchy! We pick our own leaders, dammit!)
At that time, America’s colonials enjoyed perhaps the highest standard of living in the entire world, and British subjects enjoyed political freedom that was unique among citizens of major powers. Benjamin Franklin, no lover of the British monarchy, thought that rebellion was @#$%^ing nuts to give up such a good thing, and it took him quite some time to fully buy into the idea of splitting off. But despite having much to lose, our country’s first army came together and took up arms for the right to turn that idea into practice. There was great hardship and suffering, ambivalence and antagonism from many fellow colonials, but in the end they earned what they asked for.
Today, we thank those brave soldiers and their families for their suffering in the service of creating a noble experiment in government of, by, and for the people.
80 years later, brave Americans were again at war, this time over the question of whether the young country was a country; were we The United States of America, with laws that applied to all inhabitants? Or were we simply a confederation of smaller states that banded together when convenient to each state? Were we one, or many? The proximal cause of this war was the ghastly insistence by some states that man has an unalienable right to own another human being, and to use that human being in whatever manner they wished, and that this terrible practice should expand in contravention of our Constitution.
Would the Constitution hold? There is no more perfect description of that struggle than President Lincoln’s opening address at the dedication of a vast cemetery filled with the dead from one battle in that war. It begins:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us… that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The noble idea again prevailed, through the blood, sweat, and tears of soldiers under arms, and today we thank them and their families for their suffering in this service.
After another span of about 80 years, our founding principle was again under attack, by oligarchs at home and fascism abroad:
“They had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs and we know now that a government by organized money is just as bad as a government by organized mob.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Taking back our own government was effected virtually without bloodshed thanks to the revolutionary weapon given to us by our Founders: the vote.
But the situation abroad was another matter, and Americans again took to arms in a brutal global struggle against tyranny. And again, those Americans were successful, and today we thank them and their families for their suffering in this service.
Once again eighty years have passed, and again we find ourselves in a familiar predicament: government of, by, and for the people has been replaced by government of, by, and for organized money. America’s 99%, indeed our planet’s 99%, have become the the food, the pawns, and the playthings of a small group of people, many deeply depraved predators, more interested in filling the gaps in their wine collections than in feeding the hungry. They have purchased the majority of those who make and enforce our laws, and have spent vast amounts to divide and weaken the populace so that we have become unable to leash their depredations.
I have been watching our inexorable decline for decades, and it has been frustrating beyond words, so very, very sad. At first I tried to do what I could to stop the slide, but the thing was too large, and it was obvious that my efforts were but a flea fart in a hurricane. So I stopped trying.
And now we spiral the drain.
Month by month, things grow worse for the 99%, better for the 1%. We see the homelessness, the despair. The American Dream is now just a distant dream for most Americans. We once were a great country where each year brought greater prosperity for most, where there were wrongs, but these were righted with time. We are now the Hunger Games, the prey and the preyed-upon.
Sometimes I just want to walk away. To pick up stakes, to take my family and go to another place, to one of the few remaining countries which are organized around the collective good of all of their residents. I’ve thought about this a lot recently: today’s United States of America is no good place for our teenaged son to enter adulthood. Perhaps it’s time to seek better conditions elsewhere, as my ancestors did, and as did their ancestors before them.
But here’s what I realized today, on Veteran’s Day: I am surrounded by people, some alive and some as spirits, who went out there and fought the good fight. Some gave there lives, some returned with grievous wounds to body or mind, and some served at a desk. But they served. They got up off their asses, joined a cause, and they got the job done. It was never a sure thing, but they fought through the uncertainty and got it done.
What kind of a person am I if I quit the fight now? Not much of one.
And so, I will give it another shot. Instead of slinking off, I will try to live up to the ideals of our veterans.
I will fight. I’m not sure of what to do yet, but I will damned well fight.
And I hope that you will fight, too!
It will be tough, but we can win. We must win. We owe this to our posterity, to our future, and to the future of our children.