The Japanese internment camp at Manzanar, California
A long rant. Forgive me, but I’ve got a lot to get off my heavily burdened chest this holiday.
I had plans to make a big elaborate post full of fine art for Independence Day, and then I decided to scrap it. The USA sucks right now, and I thought about posting an angry protest letter that said we don’t deserve a birthday party because we sold out. I still feel that way, but I scrapped that one too.
Jingoistic patriotism rings especially hollow this year, since we have thousands of newly minted orphans whose crime was to accompany their parents as they fled violence in their home countries. Despite the official line from the White House, dismissive assurances from state television Fox News, and a court order, a lot of those kids will never see their parents again. Men and women will never see their children again. And it’s all because of a pointlessly spiteful policy clumsily implemented by Our Beloved Leader and his minions. How can anyone who’s not completely drunk on the Trump Kool-Aid feel anything but shame over something like this. And this crime will haunt us for decades and generations as children, grand-children, parents, grandparents, and descendants spend decades, generations, trying to find each other, or what happened to each other. Future generations of American citizens will pay out a lot in reparations. And this is just the worst and most recent of many examples of the current regime trashing the liberal democracy that is the whole reason for the USA existing in the first place.
The GOP and Trump successfully gamed election law and parliamentary procedure to produce what will probably be the most far-right Supreme Court since Chief Justice Roger B. Taney sent Dred Scott back into slavery. And all of us over 25 might live with this court and its decisions for the rest of our lives despite whatever we decide in the voting booth. I expect that this new Court will try to roll back a century’s worth of civil rights and social reform decisions. Since I and so many people I know are beneficiaries of past Court decisions now in peril, I worry about my future and theirs.
Then I remembered this famous line from Mark Twain: “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” I waste no loyalty on the current regime and its apologists. As far as I’m concerned, they sold out on the mission statement of the USA as contained in its founding document, The Declaration of Independence: "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…”
I’m still loyal to this statement (what Dr. King called a “promissory note”), and to its many restatements and expansions in The Gettysburg Address, Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus, Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, among many others. The American Revolution was an opening salvo in the creation of the modern world. An idea that separates the modern era from previous history is the conviction that the conditions of human life can be changed, that we are not necessarily divinely ordained to win our bread in sweat and toil, and that kings are not necessarily our foster fathers and queens our nursing mothers for all eternity. We can make up our own minds and our own lives as we see fit, as individuals and as communities. That idea first gets launched in the USA. The American Revolution remains unfinished, its promises unfulfilled. And now it’s betrayed.
I remain loyal to this mission statement despite our history full of crime from African slavery to Native American genocide. We betrayed our mission statement in order to build a White Man’s Empire. Contrast that to Nazi Germany (whose campaign to conquer and remake Eastern Europe through genocide and slavery was inspired by the American conquest of western North America; Hitler wanted to make the Volga River into a “German Mississippi”). When they killed people in the millions they fulfilled their mission statement; to forge a racist empire and to kill or enslave all non-Aryan humankind. As far as I’m concerned, since 1865 and since 1945 you can have the Empire of the Frightened White People, or you can have the United States, but you can’t have both. In those two respective years, we defeated efforts to create racist empires here and abroad, and in doing so rejected that course of history. We paid a tremendous price in blood in both of those wars as the USA fought for its life. It’s a racist Empire or the United States, only one or the other.
History is mostly a record of crime. The great Protestant theologian Karl Barth described history as nothing more than the biological struggle for survival and domination projected into the social sphere. Where Barth made this observation to point out the failings in human nature, others now embrace that description of history. For them history is a chaotic struggle to the death for supremacy in a world whose only law is domination and submission. They would agree with the current academic view that just about every thought and utterance is a form of aggression (Derrida is one of Steve Bannon’s favorite philosophers); only unlike the academics, they are out to win. These are the people who are serious about returning the USA to the White Man’s Empire as it was in the 19th century. They see a return to social hierarchy and military aggression as necessary to national survival; the American Empire must always expand or die. Society must be stratified along lines of race, gender, sect, and class; and militarized to accomplish this imperative. America must be clearly made into a White Christian Nation or dissolve in internationalist cosmopolitanism in their view. I reject this imperial project as a betrayal of the promise of the American Revolution to everyone. I also reject it as a betrayal of the Christian Gospel.
Each of us must decide for ourselves if the USA is or is not more than its history. I’ve made my decision. In the end, if we love our countries, we do so not because they are so superior, but because, like our families, they are ours.
The current regime will end someday. Maybe in 2020. Maybe forty or fifty years from now. I may not live to see that end, but I know it will come sooner or later. As I live, so I anticipate that I will die still loyal to my country and its continuing revolution, loyal to my fellow citizens (all of them) and to my neighbors (documented and not), loyal to the once and future USA.
The Selma to Montgomery March, photo by Matt Heron