“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere,
diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies” – Groucho Marx
Who doesn’t like the Fourth of July? The inspirational speeches, the patriotic music, Tchaikovsky’s’1812 Overture with its booming cannons, the hot dog eating contests (gag) and the evening sky filled with colorful and noisy fireworks.
But some don’t feel like celebrating this year, especially the Republicans. The political landscape has changed so much since January 2017, that the values we once held as inviolate are being challenged and disparaged. The stench of authoritarianism has wafted across the country from coast to coast and border to border bringing prejudice and hate and fear mongering. Except for the military, our fundamental institutions are being challenged. We have insulted and unfriended our allies. We have betrayed our constitution and weakened the rule of law. We have people in positions of power who have never held public office and are unfamiliar with both the concept of public service and the meaning of their oath of office.
As a country, we are too big, too populated, too complex, too ignorant, too broke, too impatient, too smug, too racist, too fat and too divided. We should have already collapsed under the weight of this ever growing dystopia.
The object of the 4th of July celebration, of course, is for the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But the Declaration contains one of the most troubling and debated phrases in the history of our nation, namely,
“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.”
Looking back now, it was patently, if not painfully, obvious that equality and unalienable rights were not universal at that time. Women, along with African Americans, Native Americans, and those who were not white, not Protestant, not of European descent, and not property owners, were denied those most basic liberties.
However, what’s lost in all the noise is the very next phrase – the one that in my opinion that is the most important in the whole document:
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed.”
That is the glittering diamond in this old parchment. Governments are to be controlled from the bottom up, by democracy, by we the people. While standing in the killing fields of Gettysburg in November, 1863, president Lincoln concluded his famous speech with the resolve:
“. . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
So the underlying importance of the Declaration of Independence was not just to proclaim a separation from Great Britain, though that was certainly a critical part, it was to turn the prevailing form of governance in Europe and in the colonies on its head. No more Divine rights of Kings, no more monarchies, or autocracies, or oligarchies, or plutocracies, or dictatorial, megalomaniacal tyrants. Ours would be a government that must acquiesce to the will of the people and the people alone.
That, then, brings up the question that should be asked every Fourth of July: Is our country operating by the consent of the governed as intended, or have the governed been replaced by the lobbyists, the trade associations, the political parties, the military industrial complex, the too-big-to-fail banks, the self-serving politicians looking for a lucrative quid pro quo?
The only way to combat or at least neutralize these influences on our elected officials is through an informed electorate. But on that point we have found that, ironically, naturalized citizens – immigrants – know more about our government than the average native-born man and woman on the street.
To wit: a 2012 report by Xavier University’s Center for the Study of the American Dream found that only 66 percent of native-born citizens could pass the citizenship test, which is a solid “D.” That’s in stark contrast to the 97.5 percent pass rate among immigrants taking the same test, which is an “A+.” (A similar test by Newsweek in 2011, found that 62% of native-born could pass, as shown in the graphic.)
Further, the Xavier report found that:
- 59 percent of natural-born citizens could not name one power of the federal government,
- 62 percent could not name the Governor of their state,
- 85 percent did not know the meaning of the “the rule of law,” and
- 75 percent were not able to correctly answer “What does the judiciary branch do?”
Natural-born citizens are therefore mostly illiterate when it comes to civics, whereas naturalized citizens, in contrast, are experts. Therefore, the ease with which the electorate being mislead by unqualified and incompetent public officials is at least understandable – but not excusable.
Speaking of unqualified and incompetent public officials, the electoral college, but not the voters themselves, gave us a president who fits that description to a tee. His mental condition has been described as “psychopathy.” This mental disorder explained in an article dated October 10, 2013, by Christopher Bergland that appeared in Psychology Today. Mr. Bergland explains:
“Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by ‘a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow affect, glibness, manipulation and callousness.’ When individuals with psychopathy imagine others in pain, researchers have found that brain areas necessary for feeling empathy and concern for others fail to become active and connected to other important regions involved in affective processing and compassionate decision-making.”
That condition can also manifest itself as narcissistic and authoritarian. (See “A Couple of Problems with Wannabe President Donald Trump” herein.
The president’s sycophants seem to be drawn to him because of his despotic personality. The twentieth century gave us a couple of examples of other authoritarian leaders.
In 1951, philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt authored “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” There, she writes, in part,
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
Ms. Arendt’s description seem to fit the supporters of our current president and many in his administration.
Never before in the history of our country has a president been the subject of so much litigation and controversy.
Many prominent Republicans dislike the presidents behavior and the decisions he has made (and continues to make) that they see as contrary to policies and values that the GOP is supposed to represent.
As a result, many Republicans are abandoning the party, saying, in effect, the party has abandoned them. Prominent Republicans who have left the party include Steve Schmidt, campaign manger for John McCain, Mary Matlin, chief of staff for VP Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol, neo-conservative founder and editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard, David Frum, speechwriter for President George W. Bush, the entire Bush family, Mitt Romney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Representative from Florida Joe Scarborough host of Morning Joe on MSNBC, 11 Republican governors, and 11 GOP senators, among many others.
Uber-conservative and former Republican George Will (he left the party in 2016) in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Vote against the GOP this November,” excoriates House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress for their cowardice. And he calls the president the “Vesuvius of Mendacity.”
And Steve Schmidt tweeted,
“It [the GOP] is corrupt, indecent and immoral. . . . it is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party’s greatest leaders.”
Hanna Arnendt again:
“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion, fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”
Given the ongoing investigation of the president’s involvement in the Russian interference with the 2016 election (as of this writing) and the number of lawsuits alleging his disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law, some have called him a traitor. So, the longer he is in office, the more damage he can do. It’s not the enemy at the gates we need to fear as much as we need to fear the enemy within.
On that point, I’ll let he Roman emperor Marcus Tullius Cicero have the last word:
“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared. The traitor is the carrier of the plague.”
Tragically, given the treats to our values as a country as described herein, the genius of our Declaration of Independence is fading away and we are the worse for it.
Think about that on the Fourth of July as you wave the flag, listen to the speeches, sing the patriotic songs, eat the hotdogs, and watch the rockets’ red glare.
This is a revised and expaanded version of an Op-Ed titled “Genius of Declaration of Independence fading away,” published in the Joplin Globe on July 1st, 2018