As America’s 2020 Independence Day fades from memory, many things are clearer. Americans love to go to beaches and bars as their petri dishes of choice, masks are a better idea than they were before Independence Day, there will never be a national pandemic response as long as Trump is president, and it is beyond time for Trump to wear a ball gag in lieu of a mask. It is also clear that way too many Americans know way too little about the history of their nation and even less about the birth of the nation.
Independence Day is celebrated on July 4, the date in 1776 when the Continental Congress ratified the text of the Declaration of Independence. However, it is a safe bet that most Americans know more about the contents of a margarita than they do the Declaration of Independence.
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Some will note Thomas Jefferson’s stirring words near the beginning of the document: “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.”
Practically no one will know that immediately following these words, the Declaration goes on to state: “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.”
Much of the rest of the document is a list of grievances against the British king and his minions leading to the conclusion that the colonies should be free and independent states absolved of any allegiance to the British Crown and free of any political connection to Great Britain. So there you have it, a quick history lesson. But before moving on to the US Constitution, pause a moment and actually think about what should be the cornerstone of this document: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
We know that the “self-evident” language was never actually self-evident, and that the notion that all men are created “equal” remains at the core of America’s living historical lie, birthed even before there was a Declaration of Independence. But the part that presents the solution, the path forward, is a declaration that government deriving its powers from the consent of the governed should be how a nation organizes itself to provide for and protect its sovereignty and its people, how it defines and enables life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Now with America’s national government completely broken, the consent of the governed nowhere to be found, and the actual right of the people to alter or abolish their government at issue with every new and imaginative effort to suppress voting, the Declaration of Independence rings hollow. But if it means anything today, it is to be found in the concept that human beings living within some demarcated landmass should be free to institute a “new” government around a set of principles and organizational mandates required to protect public safety and provide some foundation for societal well-being.
There have been times before, and surely now it is America’s time again — the time to wrest power from the corrupt and corrupted, the venal and the vengeful. There is Trump’s Independence Day performance, practically begging the nation to again take up arms against itself. There is significant social unrest because aged institutions have failed for centuries to include a huge swath of those supposedly equal folks. There is the daily inventory of undermined governance rendering the present government incapable of protecting public safety and promoting social well-being.
And most of all, there is the sight of our government “leaders” standing by unmasked as the fools that they are, while death and disease permeate the land. I want to be clear about this: Trump has blood on his hands, McConnell and most Republican politicians at the national and state levels have blood on their hands. And, those around Trump who have enabled his vile ignorance to prevail have blood on their hands. America’s present government is literally draining the life from this land.
Today’s catalog of legitimate grievances is even stronger than those of 1776, for they demonstrate just how far the nation has strayed from its lofty ambition. Today, when we well know that the words “all men are created equal” rang hollow then but seem even more devoid of meaning now, the failure to fight hard enough for that ideal in modern times dwarfs the earlier willingness to fight for words that meant so much less then.
A New Revolution
Without wishing for a renewed revolutionary war, I do wish for a new revolution. The time has come to stop America’s national retreat from an imperfect union to an even more imperfect union. In a nation that loves its Constitution, just reading the Preamble should be enough to know that the text to follow has failed us miserably: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.”
Not one objective set out in that Preamble to the US Constitution is happening now. The institutions brought to life by that document in the text that follows are not working today to meet any of the lofty goals set forth in the Preamble. Think about it, read each one carefully, reflect on gaping societal divisions, reflect on today’s attorney general, reflect on marchers in the streets demanding racial and social justice, reflect on US allies discarded like vermin, reflect on poverty and lack of access to meaningful health care laying waste to many, and reflect on warriors in our streets supposedly “protecting” us from ourselves.
It is truly unfortunate that the world had to watch a black man die in the street before our eyes amid a raging tableau of disease and despair for many finally to see what America has become. When national institutions born centuries ago fail so completely to protect lives and save lives, they have failed in their original purpose.
Now is the moment for we the people to argue loudly that the time has surely come to fundamentally alter what we have and replace it with something much better.
*[A version of this article was cross-posted on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.