A Cause for Hope
For much of the last several years I have struggled with my relationship to my country. I began life as a Mormon and, thus, a Republican. And as devout a Mormon so too a devout Republican. I decried Bill Clinton, though I didn't necessarily understand everything that occurred, as a morally reprehensible wastrel who failed his responsibility to lead the country as an upright and righteous leader. I plumped for George H.W. Bush before, and supported George W., though I didn't vote for him as I was in the middle of my mission for the Mormon church and figuring out the absentee ballot proved problematic for someone who wasn't allowed to communicate with home by any method other than the handwritten letter. Snail mail didn't lend itself to political activism.
But by the time the 2004 elections came around, I had already experienced my first psychotic break. I spent a year dealing with the guilt and despair imposed on the victims of crime by Mormon clergy (regardless of the fact that I hallucinated the whole thing). During that time of disfellowshipment, I began to separate from the church. I remember I disagreed with something the stake president said and walked out of the meeting. I was more and more immersed in history and saw the flaws in the Mormon narrative, the mistreatment of women, blacks, pretty much anyone who wasn't a white male. I had denied my homosexuality when the cleric asked if I was gay, said no because the way he asked it signified that to say yes would be to damn myself to hell, but by the early fall of 2004 I had put enough distance between myself and the doctrines mentally that I was able to come out to myself and begin the actual process of coming to terms with homosexuality and my childhood faith.
While it wasn't the first chink in the wall, it was a big one, and in totality the movement I was making away from the church led me by November of 2004 to a much more liberal place than I'd ever been in before. I not only voted Democrat in that election, but I brought along a parcel of residents who I oversaw as an R.A. and talked through the ballot guides with them. I easily brought four votes to the Democratic Party that election, though it failed to right the wrongs of four years of George W. But my political awakening had begun. I had switched from the party of my birth and was now a declared member of the Democratic Party.
But George W. won reelection and the increasing liberalization I experienced as I attended law school and learned about the laws and how the president tended to ignore them, led me to decry George W. the same way I'd done Clinton. I also saw the ups and downs of a fickle California politics as same-sex marriage first became a reality and was taken away and became a reality and was taken away. The response of the voters in the state to gay marriage in 2008 when Obama won the election soured my hopes, and, unfortunately, Obama largely failed to do much. Yes, he saw Obamacare into being--though that policy fails on so many levels--and he opened the military to gays. But little else of much significance occurred, other than his mere legitimacy brought international respect once more for our country. Ultimately, aside from dignity, the partisan treatment of Obama's policies left progress in the dust.
And then Trump . . .
When Biden was elected I felt a renewal of hope, like the country might actually begin to heal from four years of hatred and bigotry and despair. But Biden and the Democrats have become little better than the Republicans, focused on impeaching Trump, twice, on investigating actions during Trump's presidency (see January 6) and, in general, spiting Trump more than actually accomplishing anything. Biden has failed to successfully cross the political divide and the government has fallen prey to partisan hacks who are more concerned about their ideas of righteousness than about the good of the country.
John Adams wrote long ago about that "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." By moral and religious he meant subservient and white, but still, the idea that the people had to possess a certain minimal standard of virtuousness in order for the constitution to work remains important. Without trying to sound like the demagogues of radical faith, the United States has ceased to be the "moral and righteous people" of whom Adams referred. We have fallen into a morass of pettiness and hatred, of sniping judgment and insuperable spite. And as Adams predicted, our government has largely stopped working. Partisan politics has become the most important virtue and the dignity and civility that allowed for conversation across the spectrum of beliefs that has on occasion reigned has disappeared.
This is, unfortunately, less an American problem than a human problem. Political bickering and backstabbing has existed from before the founding, though it seems endemically entrenched in America as the first modern country to allow a wide franchise and the freedom to express opinions. From the beginning, Americans have abused that freedom by abusing their opponents, and by opponents I mean anyone who thinks differently than them. That we have devolved into a hateful and obnoxious race is something whose seed existed in the very soils of the founding. From the genocide of the Indians to the enslavement of millions of Africans, from the self-righteousness of the puritans to the narcissism of the Jacksonian era, from Jim Crow to anti-Communist witch hunts, America has little claim to actual righteousness.
Yet we assume we are a good people, a righteous people, blessed of God and a light on the hill. We believe we are so upright and moral that we have the privilege of imposing our values on everyone else. We have made the same mistake as the Spanish in their Inquisition and of northern Europe in the crusades and imperialism. We have failed to learn that a different thought does not deserve to be extinguished by our superior one, but to be evaluated and considered, to be discussed in thoughtful conversation, to be valued as that most beautiful of things: a human idea.
Almost two years ago now I struggled with a depression brought about by America. It originated not in the violence and hatred of Trump's America, but in the twin crimes of the country's foundations. Genocide and slavery. I began to believe that America had never been worth redemption let alone was it now, and that I must give up all association with the country as the only way to deny the terrible evils committed by my forebears. I mourned the patriotic visions instilled in me as a youth as lies and untruths. I condemned the founders for their myopic vision and their failure to accommodate the Other, that massive majority of women and people of color of poor and propertyless who waged no influence in Constitution Hall as the founders debated.
I felt then, and I still think, that the United States needs a revolution. Thomas Jefferson died thinking that the occasional revolution was a healthy thing, that ideas and politics needed to be revised and revisited once every generation. I do not propose a violent revolution, quite the contrary, but a revisiting of the basic principles that have for too long been held inviolate at the foundation of our politics. The Constitution is not God's word writ through the pen of righteous men, but a self-interested document created to embrace the elite control of a new country by the few, politically savvy aristocrats of plantation and college trained mien. That we treat that document with the awe that a Christian treats the Bible or a Muslim the Koran is a mistake. That we revere the founders as demigods of whom we will never again see the likes is as much a sin as adultery.
We must start over. We must scrap everything from the three branches of government to the voting districts that have become increasingly gerrymandered over decades of manipulation. We must scrap even the concept of states versus nation, taking into account only population centers and allocating the vote of each man and woman equal status. We must, using those measures of population, appoint new representatives who represent the people sans party, to anoint a new government through the drafting of a new constitution, only this time to include women and blacks and Asians and Hispanics and every color of mankind.
I have heard the arguments that the founders were wiser and more in agreement than we could ever be today, that the population today is not as intelligent or as brave. To that argument I say B.S. The founders were as quarrelsome and bigoted as any of America's citizens in 2022. That they tended to be better educated than the populous is a signal of their elite status, not of the state of the population of the country at the time. To ignore that people have the ability to reason and to contemplate important things if they are allowed to do so without the push and pull of partisan hate is to condemn all humanity as incapable of transcending their baser instincts and rising to the levels of thought that have proven possible for centuries.
But I am not ignorant, nor deluded (anymore), into thinking that such a revolution is actually possible. I know that such drastic measures will never happen no matter how badly they are required. There is too much self interest among those in power and too much power among those with antagonistic interests. What we are left with, then, is a smaller, less effective, more mundane hope. We must look not to a political upheaval but to the day to day interactions between those who would bridge the divides and the sooth the hateful breasts of right and left to create a country that might, one day, emerge from the swamps of spite and rise to the potential that once illuminated immigrants from all over the world to join our ranks.
And it is an immigrant who brings me hope. I recently reconnected with a friend from college. A man who grew up in war and who has struggled with various hardships. He has told me he intends to go to law school so that he can fight the injustice of government run amok, to help the helpless and to lift up the poor. He has said he is too committed to abandon his adopted country even though he knows things might be better elsewhere. He is valorous in his zeal to do all he can to try to right the ship of state that has for so long listed dangerously low. It his this man, and others like him, immigrant and native, who give me hope. While I am not deluded in thinking any one man can actually effect major change, if enough men and women seek to enlighten their brothers and sisters, to change the world, then the cumulative effects of such efforts might shift the balance. It is really our only hope, as we cannot rely on governments or industrialists, entrepreneurs or men of capital. We should not even rely on those few who seek to make things better, but to believe that most individuals might become enlightened and reach across the lines of hate is a mistake. We must rely on those few, after all, and encourage as many as we can to enter their ranks. An army of individuals is our only hope. And seeing one man who is joining that ragtag force in hopes of beating the enemy is perhaps the thing which brings me more hope politically than I have had in a long time.