Publius Speaks

Publius Speaks
Become A Follower

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Who Are We?

A Year past; a New Year starting.  Life goes on.  But it goes on with a mixture of fulfillment and lost opportunity.  This is a time for this political Blog to look backward to what has been and forward to a .New Year of Opportunity.

It is also a time to assess whether we are opening opportunities, stressing our positive common history and heritage, broadening our concept of community, and building a worthy legacy for our children and grandchildren. Or, on the other hand, are we denigrating heritage, preventing fulfillment, erecting barriers and obstacles to a real hope for new opportunities?

Let us take a look at some of our political negatives from this last year:
n  There has certainly been an overdose of denigration of groups of people: immigrants, minorities, unions, the poor, LGBT, women, Muslims, the homeless, to name a few.  (To be fair, there has also been some lack of charitableness toward the rich, toward gun rights advocates, pro-lifers and toward conservatives).
n  We have likewise seen some of the worst aspects of our own system of government.  Instead of seeking common ground as our Founding Fathers expected us to do, we have seen too many office-holders standing down, failing to speak out against false claims and personal slanders, all the while protecting their political and ideological ground and turf.  Worse than that, we have witnessed the failure of every branch of government to do its best work on behalf of the People.  The Legislature has gone to war with the Chief Executive, and taken every opportunity to block, chastise, denigrate and destroy any chance we might have had to make any great progress since 2010. 
n  The very structures of government have been used to undermine the purposes of government
o   First, has been the denigration of government itself which is contrary to our Constitution, and to the oath of office taken by every office-holder (see my discussion of fiduciary responsibility in my last post). 
o   Second, we have witnessed the use of committee hearings, resolutions, budgets, regulations and rules of order, not to maintain order, but to produce chaos into the legislative process.  The admitted use of committee hearings in an attempt to destroy the political standing of both a President and a presidential candidate has taken us to a place of calumny and conspiracy that eats at the fabric of our Republic.  
      But the use of rules to change the manner in which legislative business is done is nearly as bad.  Not only have rules been changed at the whim of the Speaker of the House, but the use of the filibuster in the Senate (with the little understood rule of cloture vote by a 3/5s majority) has changed the way major legislation proceeds through that body.  Instead of needing just 51 votes to pass a measure, the new norm has become the 60 votes required by cloture as every major piece of legislation has faced the dubious filibuster rules. 
n  We have witnessed something that has not ever occurred before in our history, simply because we have never before had a President of African descent; a person of color in the White House, not as attendant or servant, but as our President.  While many voters were able to celebrate that history-making prospect, and to re-elect President Obama to a second term, there remained a minority in Congress and throughout our land who were unable to bring themselves to an acceptance of that fact.  In fact, it was not just non-acceptance that we witnessed, but outright bigotry and prejudice in the form of:
o    planned opposition to every piece of major legislation proposed,
o   attempts to provoke scandals where none existed (the birther controversy; the IRS hearings; the Ben Ghazi hearings, the roll-out of the ACA legislation, etc.),
o   the attempt to paint Barack Obama as a Kenyan Muslim who stood outside the mainstream of our society, 
o   the unseemly delay of almost every major (and most minor) appointment sent to the Senate for confirmation,
o   the destruction of every budget the President presented throughout his two terms, and the actual shut-down of government as a means of retribution (the authority for which is not contained or envisioned in our Constitution)
o   the on-going opposition to health care reform in the form of an extraordinary number of repeal votes taken.
o   Worse, we witnessed outright acts of racial bigotry and prejudice shown in TV ads, by a rodeo clown and other dress-up characters, in depictions of the first family as monkeys, and in the hatred expressed for this President by voters who had never been given any cause for such hatred, except the color of this President’s skin.  And we have not seen the last of the planned destruction of this President’s legacy, as the haters will continue their bigoted attacks even after he leaves office, because that is the nature of their prejudice:  they cannot stand the idea that this (or any) Black man might achieve a positive place in the history of this nation, in spite of the accomplishments of his administration.

Although there is much more that could be mentioned in terms of negative words and actions, let us conclude this year-end review with the attack of the GOP ‘elephants’ on some of our cherished constitutional rights, freedoms and standards, led as much by an ultra-conservative majority on the Supreme Court as by a radical conservative Republican majority in Congress, state houses and state legislatures.  Working in tandem, the conservative majority on the SCOTUS and in state legislatures have essentially undermined certain protections and long-cherished and carefully preserved tenets of our Constitution and laws.
1.      One person, one vote – undermined by decisions giving the speech and votes of the rich much more weight than allowed to the ordinary voter by allowing them to use PACs and super-PACs to distribute their wealth without full disclosure) to a degree never before tolerated. Citizens United and McCutcheon have essentially destroyed all attempts at fair and open elections.
2.      Right to Vote – voter restrictions enacted in over 30 state legislatures have reduced the ability of several groups to have free and fair access to registration and the franchise.
3.      Fair Elections -- Gerrymandering of congressional districts has resulted in ‘safe’ districts mostly for Republicans throughout the nation.  A failed attempt to alter the method for counting Electoral College votes will undoubtedly come around again.  
4.      Equal Justice -- Supreme Court decisions have perhaps done irreparable damage to: the necessity of properly executed warrants, resulting in unreasonable search & seizure; unreasonable and unjustified targeting of minorities and the disproportionate length of incarceration (cruel and unusual punishment); outlandish and unwarranted power for district attorneys to escalate charges and to control the justice system without proper oversight; incarceration of children as adults; over-incarceration of persons of color for non-violent offenses.   
5.      Separation of church and state -- Congress and the SCOTUS have again worked in tandem to threaten our long-held tradition and standard.  The Court has assisted by allowing Christian prayer at public meetings.  Congress has pushed the idea of Obamacare legislation overriding freedom of religion and the Court has backed them up by Hobby Lobby and other decisions that basically allow individual religious convictions to override laws passed.  In the Hobby Lobby decision is the tacit approval allowing employers’ religious objections to override the ACA’s provision for coverage of contraception in medical insurance plans.
6.      Because we have talked about it at length in other posts on this Blog, we will but mention the travesty of the lack of a comprehensive immigration policy, including a path to citizenship for those who arrived undocumented.  Naturalization policy and procedure is a constitutional requirement that has been ignored by this Congress.  The recent lack of empathy for Syrian refugees by the Congress has only added to its neglect on this matter.
7.      Abuse of labor rights (collective bargaining and strikes) is a travesty, but of equal importance is the attack upon women’s rights and health concerns.  Having mentioned them, it is important to also emphasize the neglect and abuse of children that has been a hallmark of this Congress.  Their failure to protect all our children from hunger, homelessness, diseases, poverty, inadequate pre-natal and day care; their failure to provide a world-class education; their inattention to adequate health care and insurance for children, and their absolute refusal to address the epidemic of gun violence which is killing or wounding an average of 50 children every day that passes is anywhere else fairly described as neglect and abuse.

This may be an appropriate time to begin looking carefully at three major questions for examining our lives, not only as individuals but as citizens of this nation:

Who are we?
Why are we here?
Where are we headed?

1)      WHO ARE WE? It depends….
It depends on how you perceive it, and where you look; the angle from which you view “US.” In the last year, we have been subjected to a viewpoint that basically skews our perceptions of who we are.

So, let’s start with who we are not, simply because our Constitution does not give us either direction or authority to be any of the following:   We are NOT:
·         A pure democracy.  We are a representative democracy, and when our representatives focus elsewhere (on political war and serving other constituents such as the wealthy) and do not perform their duties to the benefit of their constituencies, they should be voted out of office because they violated their sworn duty.
·         The policeman of the world or the arbiter of all conflicts.  We do not have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders alone.  We should attempt to lead through cooperative and coalition efforts, using the resources at hand such as the U.N., NATO, and other associations of nations, to approach world problems on a strong and united front.  This has been an important principle aptly demonstrated during the Obama administration.
·         A militaristic super-power that has to constantly prove our superiority.  Being a super-power should mean being first a humanitarian nation and second a giving nation.  We are a generous nation and our foreign policy should emphasize and demonstrate that fact.  Reacting to every world crisis or problem with a militaristic stance is not who we are or who we should be.  We need to emphasize our compassion, our social action, our charitable giving, our humanitarian nature.  Let’s get back on the air-waves as The Voice of America and take that message to the Middle East, along with a rejuvenated and expanded Peace Corps, because the messages we are currently sending are not in our best interests.  Perhaps we could try to win friends and influence people by a greater emphasis on our real nature.
·         The White European nation of our Founding Fathers – we are now truly a diverse nation, made up of many ethnicities, cultures, religions, racial groups and backgrounds.  In fact, by 2043, it is predicted that we will reach a milestone where racial minorities added together will equal more than half of our total population.  Right now, in many areas (and probably as an overall demographic), our total public school population is already experiencing a majority of children from racial backgrounds other than white European.  Those who see this trend as a detriment rather than a source of many positive opportunities will find themselves wrestling with out-moded issues that can only be a source of frustration, alienation, and negative outcomes for them.
·         A Christian nation, in spite of attempts to so designate.  There is no mention of Christianity in our Constitution, and no allowance for such a designation.  Religion is mentioned once in the First Amendment (which is the basis for our long-held norm of the separation of church and state) in the form of restrictions on the Congress: it may not make laws establishing a national (state-supported) religion and it may not prohibit the free exercise of religion.  Top of FormBottom of Form
In 2014 a National Landscape Study by the Pew Research Center questioned more than 35,000 Americans from all 50 states about their religious affiliations, beliefs and practices, and social and political views.  Within a margin of error ranging from less than 1% to a bit less than 10% (for smaller groups), the results are probably close to reality for the nation.  First, of those claiming to be religious, 70.6% are Christian, with Evangelical Christians the largest sub-group at 25.4% (Catholics came in second at 20.8%).  But remember, these numbers are only related to the Pew sample of just 35,100 people interviewed.  What is most astonishing is the fact that within that sample, the percentage of non-religious people (those who do not associate themselves with any religious group) is at 22.8% -- almost as large as the group of Evangelical Christians and larger than the percentage claimed for Catholics!  (In other studies, it is claimed that the non-religious group now out-numbers Evangelicals). 
Perhaps it is time to realize that no one group is qualified to claim a Christian status for this nation based on their numbers, and certainly not on constitutional grounds!  Moreover, according to this report, only about 1/3rd of those who claim Christian affiliation or membership actually regularly attend church worship services (and this number is fairly consistent across denominations).  My point?  If only a third of those calling themselves Christians are actually practicing their religion, how can any group claim a majority status for designating this nation as a “Christian nation” since “being Christian” by its own terms (biblical and church teachings) claims to be most valid when words are put into actions.  Finally, this study confirms the percentages of other religions than Christianity in our nation.  Granted, together they make up a small minority of just 6%, but one of the standards of our Constitution and of our law-making is that minorities not only have all the rights and privileges of citizenship, but that minority participation is to be encouraged, revered and protected (such was the original reason for the Senate filibuster rule!).  
  •   An oligarchy, led by a few in charge.  And yet, we have let our relatively small group of representatives and a few of their very wealthy supporters and clients, appear to be an oligarchical cadre making major decisions that promote their self-aggrandizement, instead of an elected legislature of citizen representatives making decisions on behalf of the People. 
  •   A perfect form of government.  We are rather a work always in progress; always in need of reform and restructure; always a target for correction when failing to carry out government duties and responsibilities in a just and fair process.  
  •  A confederacy of sovereign States.  Supposedly, we resolved that issue with a bloody Civil War, but there are those radicals who still believe that states have a right to declare federal laws null and void in their State when those laws don't please, comfort or comport with their own cherished beliefs or traditions.  Some even think that an organized militia can legally override federal law and authority and seize federal land and property that they claim was taken from them (being demonstrated right now out West).
    • Way before the Supreme Court declared that federal law is sovereign over State law, there was something way back at our beginnings as a nation that demonstrated quite clearly that the early confederacy of colonies was little more than a "friendship" between states but all but unworkable in actual practice.  The existing Congress called a special (secretive) meeting in Philadelphia in 1787 to deal with the crisis by amending the Articles of Confederation (ratified in 1781).  
    • However, many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, felt a strong national/central government was a necessity for the preservation of the Republic. Some compromises had to be made to preserve some state privileges (such as equal representation in the Senate), but the concept of confederacy was essentially rejected by the Constitutional Convention, and the delegates emerged with a whole new Constitution that allowed for an Executive with somewhat limited powers as well as a Judiciary, both of which were absent from the Articles of Confederation. 
    • Unfortunately, we still have to abide periodic assaults upon our central government by states' rights advocates who still speak the venomous language of invalidation, nullification and even secession.  At a lesser volume, we still hear the old saw about having government returned to the states so it will be closer to the people.  It is all for naught.  We simply are not a confederacy.

 So,  just who are we?  More next time….