Trump World Grab-Bag--A Collection

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Aspiration Nation

There's something that seems right to me about the celebration of the independence of the original thirteen colonies from the motherland as being based on the date, not of any victory in battle or even the end of the war, but with the date of the airing of the Declaration of Independence itself. The text of this most fiery "Dear George" letter, sounds off on the lack of access of American colonists to the British government they thought they should rightly have had access to, but also states a fairly quaint principle that seems utterly of the Enlightenment and remains an aspirational thought:

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, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--

 The idea of the equality of men (implying also womankind), the idea of the basic rights of mankind, and the idea that government is a man-made machine for the benefit of people, are aspirational goals. At the time this document was written, and even in the fabric of the Constitution, chattel slavery was viewed as a fact of life. The language is centered on men--the idea that women were deserving of the right to vote or serve juries or participate in government did not come until later. We still labor to determine how we partition our voting districts and ensure who has lawful access to the voting franchise of our government to ensure that our government does represent the consent of the governed.

And we fall short today, as we ever have, only a bit less. We have represented in the parabolic asymptote to something like actual equal treatment under the law (an ideal that was only enshrined in our Constitution in 1868, but which existed in embryonic form, in that wonderful phrase that "all men are created equal") a study in perpetual struggle, a contention among people who sat eternally in the same frame of revolutionary grace as the Founders that there were some injustices that should not stand.

So they did not stand them. They may have held strikes or sit-ins. They marched. They rioted. They got jailed and they got wise. They held though, this wonderful ideal of improving our United States, and creating the "more perfect nation" our Constitution is all about.

There have been failings, but what compels me to celebrate the birthday of this nation, the one that speaks my language, the one where I lay my head, is simple--this country is not perfect, and in the name of this country's security-state, terrible things have been done, from the attempted genocide of the First Nations peoples to the torture at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo.

But I still think we have it in us to better, and we have to. We can recognize what that ideal of "all men are created equal" truly, revolutionarily means, and that it includes those who are not men, or whose gender is even undeclared. We can recognize in the life blood of a fallen citizen anywhere to police brutality, a new understanding of why representative government needs to mean respect for the lives of all our citizens. We can understand that when it is time to change laws to be more inclusive, we should not retcon our religious texts to prevent us from allowing that inclusivity, because once again and always--all of us were created equal. We can and should and will do better, because this is the United States of America, and we are an aspiration nation.

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