“We shall all hang together,” quipped the savviest of our founders, Benjamin Franklin, “or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Unlike us, Franklin found unity against a single, outside, mortal danger to Founders – British retaliation. We aren’t so fortunate, as a myriad of ill-defined threats loom. That merits a new, updated Pledge of Allegiance that redefines a national commitment for a 21st Century super-power.
“Allegiance” to government is harder to find than death panels – and not by chance. Can we sustain prosperity when unhinged Americans sabotage consensus at every crisis – denying we’re in the same boat, the same (polluted) gulf or planet? Sustained disarray produces the stagnation of ungovernability, fed by mass denials, leadership bereft of vision, and structural quagmires (read: the Senate).
You have to be taught to hate (your minority, jobless, or immigrant) neighbor. Today’s center isn’t holding because well-heeled operatives exploit historic values that once cemented disparate colonies, then miraculously melded incredibly diverse newcomers into a whole. Despite hitherto unimaginable 24/7 media-connectivity, political schism and cultural fissures typify America, as rarely before, with minefields everywhere.
Certainly, nothing cracks inside and outside seams better than losing a chain of reckless, overseas wars that deplete our treasury, leaving the homeland doubly vulnerable (broke and dispirited). Paradoxically, as corporate franchising refashions every hamlet to look alike, entrenched powers inflame divisiveness. While ad billions push us to consume the same products, partisan broadcasts achieve the opposite, channeling bigotry and “us against them” simplifications.
Out of Many, Schism?
What happened to our illustrious motto, “e pluribus unum” (out of many, one), now, like a grandfather clock, chiming a distant past when unity overcame disparity? Predictably, a nation obsessed with self-reliance and radical individualism will sabotage its mutual interests, oblivious when “getting what’s mine” contradicts “preserving the whole” on which prosperity depends.
Case in point: the Tea Party, kept afloat by far-right zealots, presents Disunity on Parade, on the way to disintegration. So full of outrage but with nary a constructive proposal, these sorry souls defend the very GOP decimating their own middle-class. And the leaders fed this trend: an upcoming Sarah Palin biography, from a Christian press that targets 9-12 year olds, will praise her “guts, character, [and] determination.” Right, guts and character, as in desertion of duty, lying, and demagoguery? What a model for American youth! Perhaps she’ll teach children of “mama grizzlies” all knowledge is opinion (or faith-based), and all you need is sex appeal and a deficient education for solid middle-class entry.
O, Say, Can “We” See?
Isn’t it time to recast our foundational commitment? How about revoicing our dated Pledge to offset the onslaught of Nativist-Birther-Truther-Secessionist-Confederate-Militia-Tea Party heresies? The original, circa 1954, reads:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
Together, we pledge allegiance to the best of America, its democratic principles and economic opportunity, its many freedoms, and high standards of true justice for all. We believe America’s destiny co-exists within the community of civilized nations, enriched by the culturally-rich dreams, cultures, and divinities of all lands. Thus, we commit to sustain all living things and the inherited, good earth on which human and animal life and survival depend.
Okay, I dropped the flag (a war relic) and went ecumenical and international. Removed God (under or wherever, by definition beyond our commands), and the “indivisible” ploy. One may invoke national unity as a goal but logic fades when proclaiming anything man-made (temporal and geographical) “indivisible,” as if immutable.
Community Grows – or Withers
What most depresses me isn’t bad news per se, but ruthless assaults against a hard-won legacy of what Americanism can stand for, symbolized by education for all, barn-raising and taking care of the other guy in need. Divided and alienated, even if we elect courageous leaders, insufficient critical mass won’t address continent-sized dilemmas. Ransacking the environment is bad enough, but calculated torpedoing of the national consensus guarantees stalemate. As Einstein teaches: “You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.”
It’s no mystery, from our genes and history, why egocentric, tribal tunnel vision overdoes it, time and again, whether across local backyards or those half a planet away. Combine discredited Yankee exceptionalism with Biblical misreadings and voilà! – a global, resource rampage. Rationalized self-interest fabricates “profits” that ignore real, total costs (called externalities). So, gasoline isn’t so expensive, unless you figure in wars, invasions, bloated military budgets, death, oil spills, and pollution. Will capitalism, or democracy, endure another 500 years if it’s no more “than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner”?
I fear mankind, or today’s rendition, is missing the evolutionary switch that restrains compulsive predation. We use energy and arms like sugar-crazed addicts in the candy aisle. Where’s the gene, genie, or genius that re-ignites the only possible solution – a healthy, literate, tolerant community, in law and fact? Other than peer pressure and public restraint, what inhibits rampant, economic self-interest from consuming itself, leaving drastic oil spills in its wake?
Equally distressing is how conspicuous gaps in income, assets and opportunity parallel conspicuous gaps in justice. Especially since Bush-Cheney, and nearly unchanged under Obama, “some are more equal than others,” with no more accountability in government than business, the media, or the military. Standing in judgment remains Daniel Webster’s daunting linkage: justice is “the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.”
Shredded Social Fabrics
On point, last month’s bleak verdict from constitutional law professor, Jonathan Turley, entitled, “Do Laws Even Matter Today.” Nothing less than a “crisis of faith” ensues when foundational rules are “arbitrary and deceptive.”
Our leaders have led us not [only] to an economic crisis or an immigration crisis or an environmental crisis or a civil liberties crisis. They have led us to a crisis of faith where citizens no longer believe that laws have any determinant meaning. It is politics, not the law, that appears to drive outcomes — a self-destructive trend for a nation supposedly defined by the rule of law.
Likewise, Bertrand Russell warned that disembodied law is simply “codification of the power of dominant groups” unrelated to anything we’d called “justice.”
Can we sustain an unjust and an unequal country once committed to economic mobility when caste systems reify? No, says insightful, ex-Labor Sec’y, Robert Reich, this week:
“None of us can thrive in a nation divided between a small number of people receiving an ever larger share of the nation’s income and wealth, and everyone else receiving a declining share. The lopsidedness not only diminishes economic growth but also tears at the social fabric of our society.”
[DS added the video]
Bernie Sanders: Ending Tax Breaks for Billionaires
SenatorSanders | July 13, 2010