American Dream: A Hub For Petra on Why America Really is Different
My Promise to Petra
RECENTLY, I HAD THE PLEASURE OF DISCOVERING Petra on the hub network; a wonderful writer of prose and beautiful poetry. She had a captivating story to tell about coming to America and the trials and tribulations she faced both with the communist regime of her previous home country of Romania and her adopted home of America. She fought a long and heartbreaking struggle to bring her son to America which ultimately failed until after he was an adult. She fought a long and equally heartbreaking struggle with American bureaucracy in trying to become an American citizen which, though ultimately successful, left her bewildered by the broken dream of what she thought America was. Through the prism of those and other experiences and what she sees currently unfolding in America, Petra has written that she has lost interest in voting and doesn't really see much practical difference in the governments of what she left in Romania and what America presents her with today.
My goal with this hub is to share my views of what I believe America truly stands for, despite her experiences to the contrary, and to show a bright line of differentiation between the theory and practice of the communist regime she left (as well as any other totalitarian regime) and the constitutional republic of which she became a citizen ... a country that seemed to hold out to her a promise of freedom and fair play unlike any other in the world. A promise that seems to have been shattered in the cold light of reality. I hope to show her that she can be proud she became an American citizen.
Some Might Call Me Bi-Polar!
AN INTERESTING SECTION TITLE, ISN'T IT? BUT TO LOVE AMERICA the way I do, you have to be a little bi-polar or schizophrenic or "of two-minds" or to use the current political vernacular, a "flip-flopper". Why do I say that? Because I hate America to death and I love America to pieces, both at the same time. What's more is that I don't see any contradiction what so ever in this view.
America, because of national policy, has two unforgivable low points in its history which are the basis of the "hate" I have for America. Clearly, these aren't the only low points; there are, sadly, many more, but these two stand out in my mind. The first low point is America's official acceptance of slavery and its show of support for such an ignoble position by its entombment in the US Constitution. This official and abhorrent national policy was exacerbated by the vigorous support it received from the very people who should be out front condemning it, the pulpit of Southern and Mid-Western Christian churches! I am quite aware, on the other hand, that IF the writers of our Constitution hadn't found this unfortunate compromise, there would have been no America at all, just 13 states which would be at war with each other, more often than not. In my readings, it is clear to me that even slave-holding Southerners like George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson we under the impression and had the desire that slavery would be abolished soon after importing slaves became unconstitutional. Little did they know it would be many decades before slavery, as a legal institution would be done away with, and then only after a civil war. I must believe as well, they are turning over in their graves with the knowledge it would take about 150 years for civil rights to become an achievable goal.
The second unforgivable low point was the decades long campaign by the American government of genocide and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. The 1800s in America was no better than the Serbians of the 20th century with regards to Asians, blacks, and Native Americans. What makes both of these intolerable affronts to human decency all the worse is that they fly in the face of why this country was founded in the first place. They make a mockery of all of the arguments used to convince people that America should have ever existed!
Lesser crimes for which America should not be proud but which nevertheless are cause for celebration today are two wars initiated by the United States. One, the war with Spain, was at the behest of our business interests and the second, the second invasion of Mexico, was the final piece of our Westward land grab to secure California, New Mexico, and Arizona. These are part of the reasons why I America disappoints so much; more so because there are segments in American society that see nothing wrong with our history and, in some instances, would probably repeat it.
That Was The Bad, So Here Is The Good
NOW THAT I HAVE YOU (and me) IN A BLACK AND SOUR MOOD, it is time to bring ourselves out of it. What has happened has happened, it can't be undone, but we need to refrain from doing it again. We, as a people, should try very hard never to do it again. It is now time to point out some programs that have made America great (and not "again"), where America lives up to the ideals which sets America apart from the rest of the world.
The first event that comes to my mind is our involvement in WW I. That was a war in which we really didn't need to get involved; and in fact, tried hard to stay out of. At that point in history, American was pretty much an isolationist country and somewhat self-sufficient, at least within the Western hemisphere. We could get along without Europe if push-came-to-shove. Instead, our leaders, going against public sentiment, took America into war in support of our allies; and soon public sentiment changed such that most Americas got behind the effort. Though it was clearly in our interests to do so, and therefore it wasn't a totally selfless action, it still wasn't something that was necessary for us to do at that point. We could have let Europe fall; maybe England would have fallen with them but then again, maybe not. More than likely, we could have dealt with the resulting German Empire, whatever form that might have finally resolved itself into, and a new economic understanding would have emerged. My guess is, Europe would have remained unstable and war of one sort or another would have continued has it had for the preceding 1000 years. America was still pretty well insulated at that time and would have continued to grow, in my opinion.
Two other instances of America going above and beyond what was needed happened after WW II. Again, in both cases, it was in our interests to do this and therefore not totally selfless, but it is the way we did it and the extent to which we did it. One was the Marshall Plan on the rebuilding of Europe and especially Germany and the other was, for a lack of a better term, the MacArthur plan for the rebuilding of Japan. In both instances America did something that was unique in the history of warfare as far as I know (maybe somebody can point out some other instances). Instead of decimating our vanquished enemy, as is the norm after war and what happened to Germany after WW I (and which led directly to WW II), we embraced both Germany and Japan. We nurtured them and rebuilt them. We didn't "lord" it over them, instead we made them two of the strongest allies we have in the world today, 65 years later! These two instances and our involvement in support of our allies are three of America's proudest moments among many more, and are part of the reason why I love America so much.
HATE, LOVE. LOVE, HATE, Which one wins out. Right now, if I understand Petra correctly, hate (not literal hate but literary hate) wins out for her. She sees America as no better than Communist Romania, which in my opinion has very few redeeming values at all. For me, however, love does and that is why I will keep on voting no matter how many Gingrich's and Delay's (and now Donald Trump) get back into power. I will keep trying to vote them back out. Here is why.
My Reason to Love America is the IDEA of America
AMERICA IS, WITHOUT A DOUBT, IS UNIQUE. It was on June 21, 1788 when New Hampshire, the ninth state to do so, ratified the Constitution thereby fulfilling Article VII contained therein which formalized the adoption of this unique and historic document as the framework of the newly created United States of America. It nevertheless took two more years, on May 29, 1790, did the remaining four States decide to join the Union. The 13th state was the fiercely independent Rhode Island; the State who gave us Separation between Church and State.
What emerged from this document was a government created out of whole cloth. A government that was founded on the principal, the idea, of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness which can be traced back not to John Locke, the person normally given credit for espousing this principal but 2100 years earlier to Aristotle. This new American system government was unique with it's radical concepts of checks and balances (opposed hard by the anti-federalists by the way), a bicameral Congress with a feisty, quick turn-around House and a deliberate, long-term Senate, a sometimes strong and sometimes weak Executive branch (which was both opposed by some and thought was the only thing needed by others), and an independent and strong judiciary (again opposed, as it is today, by the anti-federalists). Today, many nations attempt to copy it but none really catch the true essence of what our founders had crafted.
This is not to belittle other free and liberal (in its original meaning) governments and nations such as those of the British Commonwealth, Europe, and Japan. Theirs provide for high ideals and principals worthy of the name as well. But in my view, it is the American experiment that brought to reality all of the philosophical ideals regarding human liberty, the role of the State, the role of the legislator, and the interaction between the State and its citizens that have been developed from Plato to John Locke.
No other nation on earth, until the communist experiment was first attempted in Russia, had the idea of a nation been thoughtfully born and implemented out of a philosophical framework; not even France of the same period. All new governments that evolved from the tyrannical rule of the Catholic Church over most of Europe or the Barbarian tribes to the North were the result of violent revolution whose new governments were as dictatorial as the ones they replaced; and that includes the French Revolutions. It was only the "slow" revolution starting in the 1600's that took place in England and later in France, did tyranny finally start being replaced by some form of representative government. Both movements in England and France were based on philosophical ideas of "natural law" and human liberty but neither were sea changes to a new system and neither made the full break from royal rule. For that matter, America almost didn't either, but, in the end, the United States Constitution and the government that resulted from it was a more or less non-violent political sea change the world had never experienced.
Communist Russia and those that followed were like-wise created based on a well laid out thoughtful philosophy. The implementation, unlike America of course, was anything but non-violent. But, more importantly, there is a fundamental difference between the two sets of ideas each system were founded on. And it is here we start getting into the fundamental reasons of why one should never give up hope on America.
America was founded on the Ideal that ALL Peoples have a natural right to Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. Now I need to caveat this by saying this is the "Ideal" to which we strive for. Clearly, America started out on the wrong foot in a practical way by endorsing slavery, the subordination of women, and the disenfranchising of non-property owners. Those were black-eyes for America from the get-go. What mitigates this horrific beginning is that forward looking, and dare I say it, progressive and liberal (in today's meaning). Americans, along with a few courageous political leaders of the same mind, strove to work toward the IDEA of what America stood for and reversed all three of those wrongs, and many more, through the course of history in the face of mighty opposition, primarily from what I would have called Right-wing Conservatives of the day and.fundamental/evangelical religious leaders.
Petra, that was no small achievement by the American system of government that nevertheless did you so much wrong on a personal level. Through the dent of will (and one civil war) of a few strong American citizens, like yourself and selfless politicians such as Abraham Lincoln, slavery was abolished as an official American policy. Women and non-property owners were also brought into to the political process over time; they were made whole Americans even though all three groups still suffer unofficial discrimination up to today.
Earlier I said that America was founded on the Ideal that ALL Peoples have a natural right to Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. This is a Positive point of view; America was founded on "positivism". Communism was founded on "negativism". Communism by its basic philosophy was founded on discrimination between the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie. American growth is based on all parties pulling together (one of these days the Democrats and Republicans will hopefully figure that out) while Communism is based on continual Class Struggle, The American Constitution simply set the stage for all of it citizens to have the opportunity to grow on their own with as few obstructions as reasonably possible and still maintain order and the common good. Communism was designed to tear down Capitalism, to direct how its citizens should grow because the State knows better. In America, the State (larger sense) is to protect and govern.
Petra, as flawed as our system of justice and bureaucracy maybe, it was "designed" to provide true justice and to help make a better life for American citizens. That is the goal, that is the Ideal. The reality is that the justice system and the bureaucracy are run by people, not robots. They are supervised by other people who have agenda's, political or otherwise, and so it goes up the chain. You have Republican Presidents who appoint Supreme court justices like Clarence Thomas who is so unyielding in his thinking as to be useless and dangerous sitting on the bench and you have Democratic Presidents like Roosevelt who attempted to pack the Supreme court with justices who he wanted to legislate from the bench which, while not useless, is equally dangerous.
Our founders knew this to be true, they understood human nature and built into our Constitution mechanisms that allow change over time; which some on the Right disagree with. Presidents of differing parties come and go appointing judges and justices along the way to bedevil those who might follow them. But over time you generally get a reasonable mix of conservative and liberal leaning thinkers (even though they sometimes shift hard Left, late 1960's or hard Right, 2000's on. Chief Magistrates, a term Alexander Hamilton liked to use, appoint those to lead the various governmental departments, and therefore for that period of time bring their particular brand of political flavor to the bureaucracy while they are in office, but it changes with the passing of the administration. If I were to hazard a guess, the Republicans were in power when you initially tried to get your citizenship.
On the other hand, in the Communist system, things don't change. They aren't meant to. The Communist system is designed to CONTROL its citizenry, an anathema to the American way of thinking. I probably don't need to expand very much on the ills of the Communist system as you know it much better than I because you suffered through it. But the point I am trying to make here is under the Communist philosophy, there is no "ideal" of individual Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Those rights are guaranteed only to the State, not its citizen. In America, it is just the opposite, even though sometimes it doesn't look like we are achieving it. The difference is we still WANT to achieve it and we, as its citizens, need to keep trying, even though those we, as a people, have elected are not carrying out our will. I just hope you can see how these are different.
Each and every one of us must keep trying to get it right and we can only do that by 1) not dropping out, 2) doing something active, 3) encouraging others to be active, 4) educating ourselves, 5) thinking for ourselves and not regurgitating the polemic of the day, and 6) keep on believing in what America stands for, not necessarily what it did yesterday or what it does today, but what it can do tomorrow.
© 2010 Scott Belford