the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

February 1, 2006

What I Want.


Being out of touch with “mainstream America” is unpleasant in today’s United States, but I believe it’s better to walk on a path that both my mind and my heart have convinced me is correct, that to listen to voices that lie to me with every breath. It is better to look for the rocks in the path with my eyes, rather than with my nose stuck in any one of a number of books devoted to someone else’s dogma. I know from painful experience that it’s better to remember the past, than to pretend it never happened.

I want to be an American, in America.

What does that mean? I look to a few critical pieces of writing in our history, informed by the events that surrounded them to answer that question. The documents cited below are made by human beings, and therefore flawed - in some cases critically. But it gives me hope, because there is proof that mistakes can be corrected, which we’ll get to. To begin, the words of Jefferson are instructive.

From the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Don’t get distracted by the modern controversy over the mention of god. It will be specifically addressed later, but it is not an affirmation, so much as a finely-honed negation of one of the time’s mainstream principles of governing. Remember, the Declaration of Independence was a letter to George III, who ostensibly ruled by “The Divine Right of Kings.” The assertion Jefferson makes here is that there is no “Divine Right” which sets one human being above another.

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.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Ah, a recitation of facts, after establishing what governments are and are for, and that real, solid grievances against them are things to be acted on. After naming and defining the scope of such action, and the moral and ethical basis for it, long before he calls for proceeding with those clear principles fully in mind. Even as a pacifist, I respect the case laid out here - that reason is not possible with the unreasonable. I do believe that we are not yet to the point Thomas Jefferson was when he wrote this document - we are not at a point where armed insurrection is necessary or productive. But a whole lot of hell-raising is in order, and we’re doing it.

Facts are what we get when we watch our path, and remember what happens to us. Mr. Jefferson establishes that grievances will be addressed based on a real assessment of the facts, laying out both the ends and the means you intend to use to achieve them. Truly a reality-based manifesto.

The dangerous and destructive belief that reality itself can be shaped or ignored at whim can not be allowed to retain its power over our government for one more minute after we, as citizens of this nation, have the power to remove its hold with civil means. If those civil means disappear… then the government is placing itself in a position where the only possible expression of dissent is conflict.

Remember that revolution was decided on after all available options had already been exhausted. We are not at that point - the rules make it more difficult, but HB3 is unconstitutional on its face, and I suspect will not stand a XIVth Amendment challenge - even in the Roberts Court. It is too naked an abuse of the rules, and the rules are what give the Supreme Court meaning. Public campaign finance laws in Arizona have shown their teeth, and proven them sharp. I do have hope.

If I believed there was something there to pray to, I would be praying right now that I am right.

Now let’s turn to the Constitution. We’ll be looking at this document for a while - as we should. Because it is, after all, the document which lists the ground rules under which we act as a nation.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

That is it. A statement of purpose that is the envy of the world, when we act upon it. What more is to be said, besides the bill of rights, and the other Amendments? Not terribly much, but the XIIIth, XVth, XIXth, and XXVIth are particularly instructive - one moral and ethical flaw can hold within it a thousand more that are dependent on it, and take a great many lifetimes and actions to fix, and do horrible damage. It’s still not completely fixed.

But Article V of the Constitution, and Amendments IX and X, spell out what we as human beings should already know - that no document covers everything, and every set of rules must have within it the adaptability to survive over time.

The advocates of Strict Constructionalism ignore the historical significance of when the Constitution was created, and the Framers’ awareness of it. They could see the Industrial Revolution across the Atlantic, and knew it was coming for us, and that it would present changes they did not yet have the context to comprehend fully. This is why the Constitution is, indeed, a living document.

There is something else to consider. Again from the Constitution:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

This is a problem, because it lets the President to write law based on the treaty-making powers of the office, subject only to ratification by the Senate. It has allowed corporations to sue for “profits lost,” and created or worsened economic injustices world-wide. But it is a double-edged sword, and has done much good.

From the Treaty with Tripoli, signed by President Adams and ratified unanimously by the Senate, here is one of the wisest and most insightful set of words to become “the supreme law of the land” in this fashion:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Yes, this is what I want. A nation that has no reason to make war or give offense based on prejudice or creed. A nation that does not determine the fate of a human being based on specious claims of junk science or the alleged determinism of gender, but on what they say and do. A nation that acts on facts, not fantasies. A nation that keeps its word to others. A nation that can recognize its own mistakes, and act to correct them.

This is what I want, and this is what is in danger.

With thanks to Dr. Tom Moylan, Dr. Cynthia Fuchs, Dr. Debra Bergoffen, and my grandfathers.

Crossposted at My Left Wing, Page Paradise, and home.


  1. Great post. I have nothing to add. Great. “The dangerous and destructive belief that reality itself can be shaped or ignored at whim can not be allowed to retain its power over our government….” Perfect.

    —Jesse • 5:09 pm, February 2

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