Thursday, June 11, 2020

Fairness and equality: the spirits of 1776 and 2020

  A version of this was published in the Winter Park Times, July 3, 2020

The 4th of July will always be traditional and patriotic,  but this country is still trying to live up to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence.  At work in 1776 and 2020 are similar  underlying human yearnings, a desire for justice,  and fair and equal treatment by a government.   Those are lofty ideals, indeed, similar in spirit which humans had always harbored. Like 1776, and 2020,  they are nearly as hard to live up to now as they were then. We have made progress, but in the era of George Floyd protests, more citizens are beginning to realize how much we have fallen short.  
        The reasons for declaring independence from England in 1776  were couched in philosophical ideas of the Age of Reason. It was an obvious truth, the Declaration begins, " 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 was radical thinking in those days of Divine Right of Kings.
      In 1776 those rights in the Declaration did not extend to women or to slaves. Some of the signers were slave owners themselves. and the issue of abolition of slavery almost scuttled the Declaration of Independence on July 3, the night before the scheduled signing of the Declaration.  Thomas Jefferson who penned the words of the Declaration was a slave owner, too. While he called slavery an "abomination", and he had written in a clause abolishing it in the original draft of the Declaration, abolishing slavery was eliminated from the final draft in order to get the signature of the other southern colonialists. Jefferson found himself in a moral versus financial dilemma that he never resolved and is a blot on his biography since he never abandoned slaveholding.  Only his advocating the condemnation for humanitarian reasons of the international slave trade fostered by England remained in the Declaration version signed July 4, 1776.
      Slavery and how to treat descendants is bedeviling this country to this day and was responsible for our bloody civil war. By 2020,  reforms had been made, but while civil rights laws have been written, and the Bill of Rights and other amendments were institutionalized in the Constitution,  abiding by them is another issue.  Demands that the ideals listed in the Declaration be taken literally in theory and in practice in policing and the justice system are fueling the rage we have seen these past weeks expressed in the protests. 
     In the past weeks, there has been a realization by more and more Americans, that America had indeed failed to live up to its promise in establishing justice, that all men should be treated equally. The video of a murder of a black man by a White police officer was so graphic it could not be ignored and many wondered how many murders of black people by cop had happened before the advent of smartphones. The realization was an earthshaking shift in public opinion and Black Lives Matter was the slogan heard 'round the world.  A Monmouth University poll found, 76 percent of Americans, including 71 percent of White people called racism and discrimination “a big problem”. a 26-percentage-point spike since 2015. 57 percent said  (the George Floyd) demonstrators’ anger was fully justified, and another 21 percent called it somewhat justified.
       There are other issues that were listed as complaints against England in the Declaration of Independence that sound familiar today. We are not out of the woods yet from being governed by a king.  Trump constantly attempts to ignore checks on his executive power placed on him in the Constitution. He asserts that we have "a unitary" executive branch that also controls the administration of justice and how funds appropriated by Congress are spent. Complaints about the King controlling the colonial judiciary with his own appointments were included in the Declaration 's list of grievances and reasons for the revolt.   "Controlling judges" by appointing enough of ones loyal to him is one way to end democracy by destroying our checks on his power and another is misusing Congressional appropriated and designated national security funds for his own political purposes to build his wall. A federal court ruled against that attempted action of using money for the military to build the wall last week.

     Update: July 9, 2020:  Some in the GOP are losing sympathy with demonstrations.
However, most voters do understand that defunding police means shifting funds to other services, not eliminating police. An ad being run by the GOP attempting to show what happens if you are raped, etc. and police are defunded, response time would be put on hold has not gotten traction.

Trump was asked in a recent FOX interview what he would do in his second term, and he rambled and failed to answer that softball question. Eugene Robinson cited his tweets in the past few days regarding the White Power salute from a retiree in Florida and a couple branding guns as Black Lives Matter marched peacefully before their home, that " in his desperate campaign to win reelection, Trump has decided to position himself even more explicitly as the defender of whiteness and all its privileges. Certainly, in his ideologically flexible career, maintaining the primacy of whiteness is a rare constant."

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