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Federalists, Public Trust, Institutional Guardrails, Baseball, and the Malfeasance Of the President


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a long and exhausting day, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, but it has been rewarding, if nothing else because I was able to speak truth to power and provide personal help and counsel to those without power. I tend to like jousting Against windmills and sticking up for the little guy.  So I am reposting an updated and edited version of something I wrote two years ago.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

Alexander Hamilton wrote:

“If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws – the first growing out of the last . . . . A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.”

The late conservative political commentator Micheal Novak once wrote about baseball connecting it with the heart and soul of the American political system. What he wrote is important for we who live in this day and age to understand, and which all too tragically our President does not. Novak said:

“Baseball is as close a liturgical enactment of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant myth as the nation has. It is a cerebral game, designed as geometrically as the city of Washington itself, born out of the Enlightenment and the philosophies so beloved of Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. It is to games what the Federalist Papers are to books; orderly, reasoned, judiciously balanced, incorporating segments of violence and collision in a larger plan of rationality, absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.”

The American political system, like baseball is, to use the words of Novak, “absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.” This is something that our founders understood as have the vast majority of America Presidents and other political statesman regardless of their political party or whether or not they were a conservative or liberal. The fact is, that the interiorization of public rules, or rather, how we incorporate public rules, norms of behavior, traditions, customs, and the unwritten yet imperative rules of our social contract into our lives and behavior.

Our current President cannot fathom Novak’s meaning. The man flagrantly flaunts every norm of our American social and political contract that have existed since the days of the Continental Congress. That is why documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States, the Gettysburg Address, and the Four Freedoms are so important. None have the power of law, but all are essential to the functioning of the American political system. The American system is not a business contract, nor is it an Ayn Randish descent into a malstrom of hyper-individualistic social Darwinism. Instead it is about the enlightenment, it is about reason, it is about freedom and responsibility.

In the past two years  the President has continued his assault on that social and political contract drawn up by our founders. At the commissioning of the USS Gerald Ford he urged active duty military personnel to lobby their congressional representatives for his agenda, he turned a Boy Scout Jamboree into a political rally. He did a similar thing when he addressed the CIA at the beginning of his Presidency. But these are not new. Since his campaign began the President has done everything that he can in order to subvert the American political system, and his words and actions show that he has no respect for the Constitution or laws for the land. In the two and a half years of his presidency he has not wavered from his course of destruction. The list of actions that he and his administration to override the Constitutional and institutional guardrails that our founders and their successors cobbled in our laws and system of government is too long to list. In the words of Conservative political advisor Rick Wilson, “Everything Trump Touches Dies.” 

I do not say this with any malice, nor do I say it for any gain. I only say it because the President has stepped so far out from the norms of the American political system that it is impossible to say what he will do next. Our system of government is resilient but at the same time fragile. Unless the GOP majorities in Congress stand up to him our system will not survive in the way that our founders intended. Sadly, I have little hope that they will do so now because for years most of them have fanned the flames of anti-government and anti-Federalist passions that there is no room in their hearts for the very thing that holds our system together, that is the interiorization of public rules, norms, traditions, and behaviors; that is, the interiorization of liberty. As Judge Learned Hand wrote:

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”

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“It Used to Be We Stood For Ideals” Independence Day 2019, the Trump Show

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in Springfield, Illinois on June 26th 1857, nearly 162 years ago:

“They [the signers of the Declaration of Independence] did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right; so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.”

They are part of a continuum in the development of his philosophy of liberty and how he understood the words of the Declaration of Independence, and how he believed that the authors 0f that document understood the words that set the United States apart from all other nations. The words “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” were revolutionary for their time and the Jefferson understood them in that manner.

Though at the time they words of the Declaration only applied to white men, the words and writings of many of the founders were uncomfortable with the actual condition of black slaves as well as Native Americans. The had enough integrity to understand that what they wrote was a proposition that had universal implications which were not yet realized and would take time to happen. Those who mocked the document, the proposition, the founders, and the new nation understood that as well. It was a watershed moment for all of Europe was still under the control of Kings and despots. Thomas Jefferson understood how these words threatened despotic rule around the world and in 1821 he wrote to John Adams:

“The flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them.”

But this was something that the people of the United States would have to wrestle with for decades before the most glaring aspect of inequality, that of slavery was overthrown. Frederick Douglass understood the importance of the Declaration even as white Americans on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line crafted compromises that left blacks in slavery and gave unfettered access for slave owners to go to Free States to recover their human property. In 1852 he wrote:

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

It is that ring bolt and it must be understood in its universal application and people in the United States and in countries which have embraces some portions of the concept and fight for it, otherwise it could be lost. Harry Truman noted this danger in 1952 when he said:

“We find it hard to believe that liberty could ever be lost in this country. But it can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases.”

Today the rights, protections, civil liberties, and opportunity to advance themselves of Americans are being rolled back in a manner that a few decades ago most of us would have found unimaginable. They are under threat many ways, too many to mention today and they must be continually fought for or we will lose them.

On this Independence Day we are witnessing an American President commandeering the holiday for his own aggrandizement and making it a display of military power versus the understanding that our independence was founded on the proposition on a proposition, an ideal yet to be fulfilled that “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.”

The symbolism of what the President is doing, shrouding the Lincoln Memorial so the statue of Lincoln is not visible from the Capital Mall, spending millions of dollars on military displays and flyovers, and making it a celebration of him is what men who are bent on establishing authoritarian rule have done for millennia. The best seats are reserved for his family, friends, diners, and V.I.P.s something that mocks the words of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

General Martin Dempsey, the former Chair Of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted:  “It used to be we stood for ideals,… Our national pride wasn’t based on the power of our military or how dominant we are over others.” Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni said: Put troops out there so we can thank them – leave the tanks for Red Square.” 

The President is turning the celebration of our Independence on its head. But that is not surprising because for him this is not about patriotism but his own power and the use of nationalistic images of American power as an expensive substitute for the ideals that he does not believe in. Instead of being a display of patriotism this is going to turn in to a display of toxic nationalism.

Historian Timothy Snyder warned us when he wrote:

The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.”

But the issue is greater than the President. Many Americans have either forgotten or are willfully ignorant of what it is to be a patriot. Many Americans are becoming less knowledgeable about our own history while embracing authoritarian concepts completely antithetical to the ideals of the Declaration, and the understanding embodied in the preamble to the Constitution:

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.

George Will rightly understands that the situation at the present time is tenuous.

The equilibrium of James Madison’s constitutional architecture is currently in disarray, with congressional anemia enabling presidential imperiousness, the architecture was designed to “secure” — the crucial verb in the Declaration’s second paragraph — the natural rights the Declaration affirms.”

Judge Learned Hand, probably the most brilliant American jurist never to sit on the Supreme Court wrote something very pertinent to our day:

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

I am afraid that the spirit of liberty is dying in America, it certainly has in the Republican Party and I am not too sure if the Democratic Party is that far behind.

As Independence Day passes I will continue to write about this subject even as I write about other subjects including civil rights, the Holocaust, Gettysburg, and other historical and political subjects.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Ring-Bolt to the Chain of Our Nation’s Destiny: The Declaration of Independence at 242 Years

The Thirty Three Star Fort Sumter Flag

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is July 4th and the 241st anniversary of the declaration by the leaders of 13 colonies of their independence from Britain and the founding on a new nation. It was a nation founded on a principle of the Enlightenment, the principle that all men are created equal, and as their Declaration of Independence noted that as such are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Seventy-six years later the darkness of 1852 not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included an enhanced Fugitive Slave Act, it would be Frederick Douglass, the foremost Black abolitionist leader and himself an escaped slave would speak. The laws dictated that Northerners had to cooperate in the recapture and re-enslavement of blacks residing in their own states, regardless of their own state and local laws. While the Southern majority that crafted these laws always played the part of the aggrieved minority whose “states rights” were being threatened. But the reverse was true, with their majorities in the House and Senate which also included some Northern Congressmen and Senators, an always compliant White House, and a majority on the Supreme Court the Southerners used the threat of secession and civil war to enforce their mandates on the Free States.

On July 5th 1852 Douglass spoke these words these words to people who at the time were refused citizenship and who were enslaved:

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

Douglass understood this far better than many Americans in the South or the North. It would take a great and bloody war for most Americans to realize just how important the Declaration was to the destiny of the nation.  It would take far longer for the principle of an ever expanding understanding of liberty that included Blacks who were considered in law and statute as less than fully human.

One of the most notable of the apologists for White Supremacy was George Fitzhugh, a major Southern slaveholder and apologist for not only slavery but the inequality of poor whites and women. Fitzhugh spoke for many when he wrote against the principles of the Declaration:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.

Fitzhugh also wrote:

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.

A greater contrast of views regarding the Declaration is hard to be found. Abraham Lincoln would say about the contrasting views of liberty at a speech in Baltimore on April 18th 1864:

“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names–liberty and tyranny.” 

Unfortunately these starkly contrasting views of liberty are still on display today. The President called Mexican and Central American refugees an “infestation” using a word that would to describe rats, insects or other disease carrying species. Members of his administration, Republican Congressmen and State Representatives, and members of various “conservative” media outlets, including their allies in the Alt-Right use the same language as Fitzhugh to declare for the superiority of the White race, to dehumanize Blacks, Mexicans, Arabs, and various dark skinned Asians and argue that darker skinned people are less than human and not entitled to liberty, equality and justice. A constant barrage of what quite literally amounts to state sponsored propaganda demonizes minorities, women, gays, the media, long term allies and alliances, and any potential political opponent.

Our Republic, its institutions and our freedom hinge on what Douglass called “the rig-bolt to the chains of our nation’s destiny,” and its principles “saving principles.” We must be dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal” or submit to tyranny.

The proposition in the Declaration that all men are created equal is essential to understanding or appreciating liberty. If we view others as below us, as even less than human then we cannot say that we believe in liberty. If we decide to limit the right of citizens to speak out because of their color, their national origin, their race, their religion, their gender, or sexual identity then we are not for liberty, we are no better than George Fitzhugh or others, even the Nazis, who enslaved, imprisoned, and exterminated others in the name of their power, and their right.

If our concept of liberty is so limited by our ideology that we cannot accept others having it or being equal to us then we stand against the very proposition that the United States was founded and we should bury the American experiment and stop lying about a proposition that we no longer believe in. The eminent American jurist wrote these words, which for me are like the Declaration, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech are secular scripture that are sacred to my understanding of being an American, and something that I will never yield. Judge Hand said:

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

With that my friends I wish you a happy Independence Day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“No One is Bigger than the Game” Baseball, America and the Rules Trump Hates

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This afternoon I will be attending an exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and their Triple A minor league affiliate the Norfolk Tides at Norfolk’s Harbor Park. The Tides won’t open their season until April 6th and while this is not the home opener it is for people like me a harbinger of goodness, as the late Commissioner of Baseball and President of Yale University A. Bartlett Giamatti said; “There’s nothing bad that accrues from baseball.”

Baseball is a game where the game itself is sacrosanct and is more important than any commissioner, team owner, manager, player or group of investors. In a way it is much like how our nation’s founders and many of our greatest political leaders, President’s, Justices of the Supreme Court, Senators and Congressmen, military leaders, civil rights leaders, and academics viewed the United States, its Constitution, and the very proposition upon which it was founded, the proposition that “all men are created equal.”

Fay Vincent who succeeded Giamatti after the Giamatti’s sudden death in 1989 noted:

“As all of us are aware, and no one more than I, Bart had a singular skill as a public speaker. He spoke well because he thought so well. But I point out to you that the most often quoted remark of Bart’s brief tenure as Commissioner is a very simple declarative sentence. That sentence is the cornerstone on which I will build my own administration. Bart said very simply, ‘No one is bigger than the game.’ I repeat today what Bart said in August, no one – no player, no executive, no owner, no Commissioner, no umpire is bigger than the game.” 

Today the United States has a President who truly believes that he is bigger and more important that all of our public norms and who has no respect for the Constitution or our form of government.

Alexander Hamilton wrote:

“If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws – the first growing out of the last . . . . A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.”

The late conservative political commentator Micheal Novak once wrote about baseball connecting it with the heart and soul of the American political system. What he wrote is important for we who live in this day and age to understand, and which all too tragically President Trump does not. Novak said:

“Baseball is as close a liturgical enactment of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant myth as the nation has. It is a cerebral game, designed as geometrically as the city of Washington itself, born out of the Enlightenment and the philosophies so beloved of Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. It is to games what the Federalist Papers are to books; orderly, reasoned, judiciously balanced, incorporating segments of violence and collision in a larger plan of rationality, absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.”

The American political system, like baseball is, to use the words of Novak, “absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.” This is something that our founders understood as have the vast majority of America Presidents and other political statesman regardless of their political party or whether or not they were a conservative or liberal. The fact is, that the interiorization of public rules, or rather, how we incorporate public rules, norms of behavior, traditions, customs, and the unwritten yet imperative rules of our social contract into our lives and behavior.

Neither President Trump or his most loyal supporters can fathom the meaning Novak’s words. The President flagrantly flaunts every norm of our American social and political contract that have existed since the days of the Continental Congress and is cheered and even given theological cover by his supporters.

That is why documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States, the Gettysburg Address, and the Four Freedoms are so important. None have the power of law, but all are essential to the functioning of the American political system. The American system is not a business contract, nor is it an Ayn Randish descent into a maelstrom of hyper-individualistic social Darwinism. Instead it is about the enlightenment, it is about reason, it is about freedom and responsibility. It is about obeying unwritten rules, rules that are placed upon our hearts.

Last year the President has continued his assault on that social and political contract drawn up by our founders. At the commissioning of the USS Gerald Ford he urged active duty military personnel to lobby their congressional representatives for his agenda. A few days later he turned a Boy Scout Jamboree into a political rally. He did a similar thing when he addressed the CIA at the beginning of his Presidency. But these are not new and they have continued, less than two weeks ago the President addressed Marines in San Diego and to their cheering delight he castigated the press and called them “enemies.”  It was a direct assault on the First Amendment and the Marines cheered him. I wondered what the hell was going on.

Since his campaign began the President has done everything that he can in order to subvert the American political system, and his words and actions show that he has no respect for the Constitution or laws for the land. If only there was someone who could call him out, as Bill Veeck said: “Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.”

I do not say this with any malice, nor do I say it for any gain. I only say it because the President has stepped so far out from the norms of the American political system that it is impossible to say what he will do next. Our system of government is resilient but at the same time fragile. Unless the GOP majorities in Congress stand up to him our system will not survive in the way that our founders intended. Sadly, I have little hope that they will do so now.  For years most of them have fanned the flames of anti-government and anti-Federalist passions so vehemently that there is no room in their hearts for the very thing that holds our system together; the interiorization of public rules, norms, traditions, and behaviors; that is, the interiorization of liberty. The President show no evidence that he understands any of this.

Judge Learned Hand who has been called the greatest American jurist to have never served on the Supreme Court wrote:

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”

That is why I think that baseball serves to enlighten us to bigger things and why I welcome it with an open heart.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Baseball, the Federalists, and Freedom: The Interiorization of Public Rules


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Alexander Hamilton wrote:

“If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws – the first growing out of the last . . . . A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.”

The late conservative political commentator Micheal Novak once wrote about baseball connecting it with the heart and soul of the American political system. What he wrote is important for we who live in this day and age to understand, and which all too tragically our President does not. Novak said:

“Baseball is as close a liturgical enactment of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant myth as the nation has. It is a cerebral game, designed as geometrically as the city of Washington itself, born out of the Enlightenment and the philosophies so beloved of Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. It is to games what the Federalist Papers are to books; orderly, reasoned, judiciously balanced, incorporating segments of violence and collision in a larger plan of rationality, absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.”

The American political system, like baseball is, to use the words of Novak, “absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.” This is something that our founders understood as have the vast majority of America Presidents and other political statesman regardless of their political party or whether or not they were a conservative or liberal. The fact is, that the interiorization of public rules, or rather, how we incorporate public rules, norms of behavior, traditions, customs, and the unwritten yet imperative rules of our social contract into our lives and behavior. 

Our current President cannot fathom Novak’s meaning. The man flagrantly flaunts every norm of our American social and political contract that have existed since the days of the Continental Congress. That is why documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States, the Gettysburg Address, and the Four Freedoms are so important. None have the power of law, but all are essential to the functioning of the American political system. The American system is not a business contract, nor is it an Ayn Randish descent into a malstrom of hyper-individualistic social Darwinism. Instead it is about the enlightenment, it is about reason, it is about freedom and responsibility. 

In the past two weeks the President has continued his assault on that social and political contract drawn up by our founders. At the commissioning of the USS Geral Ford he urged active duty military personnel to lobby their congressional representatives for his agenda, and then on Sunday turned a Boy Scout Jamboree into a political rally. He did a similar thing when he addressed the CIA at the beginning of his Presidency. But these are not new. Since his campaign began the President has done everything that he can in order to subvert the American political system, and his words and actions show that he has no respect for the Constitution or laws for the land. 

I do not say this with any malice, nor do I say it for any gain. I only say it because the President has stepped so far out from the norms of the American political system that it is impossible to say what he will do next. Our system of government is resilient but at the same time fragile. Unless the GOP majorities in Congress stand up to him our system will not survive in the way that our founders intended. Sadly, I have little hope that they will do so now because for years most of them have fanned the flames of anti-government and anti-Federalist passions that there is no room in their hearts for the very thing that holds our system together, that is the interiorization of public rules, norms, traditions, and behaviors; that is, the interiorization of liberty. As Judge Learned Hand wrote:

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Stand by Those Principles, Against All Foes, At Any Cost: Independence Day 2017


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is July 4th and the 241st anniversary of the declaration by the leaders of 13 colonies of their independence from Britain and the founding on a new nation. It was a nation founded on a principle of the Enlightenment, the principle that all men are created equal, and as their Declaration of Independence noted that as such are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

That founding principle was revolutionary and regardless of how badly it was many times lived out in the history of our nation, it was and still is the first time that a nation was not founded on the basis of ethnicity or religion, but rather a principle, a proposition that no matter how noble was, and still is often despised by Americans. 

One of the most notable was George Fitzhugh, a major Southern slaveholder and apologist for not only slavery but the inequality of poor whites and women wrote: 

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.

Fitzhugh also wrote: 

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.”

But he was not alone. In 1860 South Carolina led a procession of 11 states out of the Union based on the proposition that only certain men were created equal. Every declaration of secession had at its heart the statement that the institution of slavery was to be protected and expanded with the implication that African American slaves could never be equal, free, or enjoy the slightest legal protections of citizenship. These states were willing to fight a war for this and even at the end of that war many of their leaders resisted any call for granting emancipation to blacks, and then when that was over use terrorism and law to again strip away the rights from newly freed blacks through lynching, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow. 

In 1852 not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included an enhanced Fugitive Slave Act which dictated that Northerners had to cooperate in the recapture and reenslavement of blacks residing in their free states, Frederick Douglass preached one of the most damning sermons about what July 4th meant to slaves. He said:

“I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.” 

Even so men like Fitzhugh would proclaim: “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.”

Of course such is not liberty, it is tyranny and it is the seedbed of dictatorship. The word liberty is often abused by those who seek total power and control over the lives of others. Abraham Lincoln said as much when he noted: 

“We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” 

The proposition in the Declaration that all men are created equal is essential to understanding or appreciating liberty. If we view others as below us, as even less than human then we cannot say that we believe in liberty. If we decide to limit the right of citizens to speak out because of their color, their national origin, their race, their religion, their gender, or sexual identity then we are not for liberty, we are no better than George Fitzhugh or others, even the Nazis, who enslaved, imprisoned, and exterminated others in the name of their power, and their right. 

If our concept of liberty is so limited by our ideology that we cannot accept others having it or being equal to us then we stand against the very proposition that the United States was founded and we should bury the American experiment and stop lying about a proposition that we no longer believe in. The eminent American jurist wrote these words, which for me are like the Declaration, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech are secular scripture that are sacred to my understanding of being an American, and something that I will never yield. Judge Hand said: 

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

So today, on this 241st anniversary of our independence when the rights of citizenship, the rights of suffrage, the rights of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech are under assault for the man occupying the highest office in the land I do not despair. I do not despair because the spirit of liberty still lives in my heart as it does many others who still believe in that sacred and revolutionary proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

In the darkness of 1852 Frederick Douglass said these words to people who at the time were refused citizenship and who were enslaved:  

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

May we not forget those words on this day when the founding proposition of our country is under attack. 

Cherish our independence and never stop believing in or fighting for liberty. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In a few days we as Americans will be celebrating the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As the day approaches I’ll be writing more reflections on what it means even as I intersperse some articles on the Battle of Gettysburg, a victory that helped ensure that the Union would survive and that helped to pave the way for the understanding that the Declaration must be understood in its universal sense. In a day like ours where many localities, states, and even the Federal government appear to be working to limit those rights, often based on the religious beliefs of a powerful, well-funded and militant minority of conservative Christians, this all the more important.

For me it is the truth both of a concept of Liberty which must continuously be advanced or expanded, and the still imperfect embodiment of that concept in the land that it was born. The authors of the declaration wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”  Eighty-seven years later while dedicating the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg noted that the new nation was “conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

Lincoln understood from the reality of war, and the statements of European leaders that the whole concept of a country being founded on a proposition like this, not race, not class, not religion, not station in life, was bound to be opposed, and was incredibly fragile. He confronted a rebellion which based itself on the belief that African Americans were less than equal, in fact subhuman and deserving of being enslaved by a superior race. Likewise, there were those in Europe who cheered the rebellion and believed that it proved that such experiments were doomed to failure, a belief that is still widely held, but more often by American elites than others.

But like it or not, the proposition that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights; a concept so imperfectly practiced by the very men who drafted it and those who followed them, still is right. That proposition was universalized as a political philosophy by Abraham Lincoln, is the basis of all hope for humanity. Tyrants, despots, dictators, terrorists, religious zealots of every sect filled with messianic visions, as well as madmen all desire to trample this proposition. Some desire to believe that those rights can simply be maintained by the power of a Constitution, but unless the people who swear to uphold that Constitution are dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal that very Constitution can be perverted and used to enslave people, as it was by the men who drafted the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Fugitive Slave Laws, and the Supreme Court decisions in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson cases ruled that African Americans were less than equal as human beings, and therefore not entitled to the same rights and liberties as were white people. It is the same constitution and laws that were used to deny citizenship and rights to Chinese immigrants until 1942, that were used by the government to interment native born Japanese American citizens in concentration camps during the Second World War, which drove Native Americans off their ancestral homelands, massacred them by the tens of millions, and placed them on reservations without any rights of American citizens until 1924; and which denied suffrage to women until 1919, and denied basic civil rights to LGBTQ people until recently; rights that in many states are still denied by state legislatures. But without equality, freedom is an illusion.

Judge Learned Hand, perhaps the best qualified man ever to not serve on the Supreme Court wrote,

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of othe men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.” 

That is why the proposition in the Declaration which was universalized by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address is still of the utmost importance. It is why it must be fought for, especially when politicians like Donald Trump and others threaten its very existence, and whose followers see it as only as Liberty for themselves and their interests. That proposition is under duress today, there are millions of followers of Trump and the demagogues who would deny Liberty to others based on race, religion, ethnicity, economic status, gender, or by them being LGBTQ. But, Liberty is a perilous thing, but once that proposition of Liberty dies in our hearts, there is nothing that can save it, no constitution, no law, no court; and those who place their trust in it the demagogues will find that they will eventually lose their Liberty as well.

In 1858 Lincoln spoke in Chicago, and in that speech he linked the common connection of all Americans share, even recent immigrants, through the Declaration. It was an era of intense anti-immigrant passions, the American Party, which sprang from the Know Nothing movement which founded upon extreme hatred of immigrants, and Roman Catholics, and violence against them, had run former President Millard Fillmore for election as at their candidate in 1856 following the collapse of the Whig Party.

In opposition to this party and movement  Lincoln proclaimed that immigrants, “cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel a part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find those old men say that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,… That is the father of all moral principle to them, and they have a right to claim it as if they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in the Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and Liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.” 

Lincoln was absolutely correct, it is that love of freedom, liberty, and equality that echoes in the Declaration, and it is still a revolutionary idea. We hold these truths to be self evident…

As a historian I cannot get away from this. Whether it is in my study of European history, particularly the Weimar Republic and the Nazi takeover, or the American Civil War, especially the times I visit the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg and talk about the Gettysburg Address with my students. The breadth of my experience, having visited Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, having watched the unadulterated adulation of crowds of Germans chanting Sieg Heil!,  having grown up in this country at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and having walked so many battlegrounds where American men have died fighting such tyranny makes me all too sensitive to why this proposition is so important.

That is why the quest for the fulfillment of that proposition is something that cannot be given up, it is in the words of Lincoln, “it is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who have fought for have thus far so nobly advanced. That it is for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead should not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” 

For me it is this proposition, the proposition mocked by the elites of Europe, the proposition that any republic founded on such a proposition was doomed to fail, this proposition that says “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal” is what Independence Day is about. That is why in my remaining service to this country I will rededicate myself to seeing that “new birth of freedom” is fulfilled for every American.

That may seem a pipe dream to some people, and even impossible to others; but it is what far too many of the men and women who served before me gave the last full measure of devotion to duty to bring to fulfillment. Learned Hand was right, if Liberty dies in our hearts, no law, no constitution, no court, can save us.

Have a great Independence Day and please remember it is not about the day off, the picnics, or displays of military might, it is about that proposition; the one that is so easy to forget, the proposition that all men are created equal.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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