In reviewing some of the mail I have received over the last month or so it is very clear (and sadly so): both the far right and the far left argue as they either skipped or failed 8th grade civics — faux historians! Let us look at some of the more important inconvenient facts that keeps American political discourse at its ignorant fever pitch, a tenor that often times finds “class allies” worlds apart as the two “sides” yell and scream about a nation they seemingly know so little about. Unlike many post-feudal, post-colonial European countries who sought to distance themselves from aristocracy (at least rhetorically); the United States was openly founded as a class-based society!
Fact: America’s colonial establishment and growth was primarily that of a British penal colony.
Neo-“libertarians” conveniently omit the part of America’s founding that after the relatively brief period of “pilgrim” settlements, the actual founding and growth of the American colonial period was that of a penal colony where the majority of [white] inhabitants were subjected to indentured servitude within the tobacco, cotton and other colonial plantation enterprises.
The “Tea Party” loves to cloak itself in revolutionary regalia and nostalgia be they tricorn hats or Gadsden flags, these are images of our America so they say. But the America mythologized by these merry modern “patriots” belies the facts; that America was founded not for the betterment of all living in the colonies, rather for a select class of aristocrats tired of being subjugated by King George III. The revolution was indeed fought by aristocrat, indentured servant, and at times slave alike (the half-Black, ex-slave Crispus Attucks being the first to die in the name of American freedom), but the beneficiaries of the war were primarily those aristocrats who had “skin in the game”; property and position. Furthermore, having won their “freedom,” the newly minted “Americans’” first impulse was not one of universal liberation; to free the slaves, empower women or native peoples, or release the white indentured from their servitude (though some were), no, their first impulse according to some accounts was to reform the monarchy in their image and for their purposes by naming General Washington their king!
Fact: “Common” citizen empowerment by way of “the franchise” (the vote) was a long-lasting effort beginning in the 19th Century and continuing into the 1970’s, limiting or making impossible full economic enfranchisement and obviously full expressions of citizenship!
- Non-landed White men: progressively from 1812 to 1860,
- non-White men: 1870 (the 15th amendment),
- women: 1920 (the 19th amendment),
- Native Peoples: 1924 (de facto),
- residents of Washington, D.C.: 1961 (for presidential elections),
- the poor: 1964 (the elimination of poll taxes),
- certain “minorities” in certain states: 1965 (the Voting Rights Act),
- adults 18-21: 1971 (the 26th amendment),
- . . . as well as a number of other small, constituent-based statues in affirmative voting legislation.
Fact: “Liberal” and “Conservative” have been amorphous titles bestowed upon changing political parties in American history!
We can see that Republican President Lincoln “freed the slaves” while it was Democratic President Johnson who “freed the vote” and subsequently universal participation in the national body politic. The “far-left” fails to remember that the Republican Party for much of its history was actually the more progressive of the two major parties! I will concede to my far-leftist friends that “progressivism” is indeed on a very distinct sliding scale with the Quakers (Benjamin Franklin et al.) perhaps setting the best and earliest example of what a genuine “liberal” democracy would look like in the hands of suffragettes, labor unions, civil rights, farm labor and other similar organizations in the 20th century. Indeed, America’s greatest economic output and its creation of a virtually unknown “class” in world social structure, the middle-class, was virtually created during this 20th century period in American history!
While the colonies turned into states, the economic engine that created and expanded a nation was primarily that of White Anglo-centric capital and Black (and sometimes Native) slave labor. Later, Chinese would be indentured to help build the railroads and by the twentieth century colonial Spaniards (Hispanics) would help to settle the agrarian West only to then move ever eastward by century’s end. One cannot, nor should not forget the millions of European ethnics (Irish, German, Scandinavian, etc.) that too lent their labor to both the expansion of the agricultural sector as well as the development and solidification of urban life. Herein, we find the genesis of the “liberal” America we know today.
While many European ethnics were fighting for worker dignity (banning child labor, 40 hour work weeks, overtime, unionization, etc.) others were hoping to draw on the morality of Franklin, Jay, Hamilton and the sadly small handful of “founding fathers” who dared to demand the abolition of slavery. Other efforts can be seen in the women’s Suffragette movements, farm-worker movements among others. These efforts would be driven through the 20th century by “liberals” and their attendant organizations that hoped to distance America from its paternal, class-based, and aristocratic founding, putting the founders’ rhetoric into actual practice.
From my obscure and humble position I view “Capitalism” as the logical, rationalized “pseudo-science” devised by and for the post-colonial, post-monarchal elite. This group, after the fall of Feudal monarchies now needed a rationalized systematic approach to justify privilege and the acquisition of land and resources. Gone were the “spiritual” justifications that “God” ordains kings and subsequently other royalty and lords, no they now needed a structure one that looked and operated the same but that could be cloaked in modern, rational science. I find it very telling that indeed the structure looks the same with today’s kings being multinational and other corporate executives whom, often operating beyond borders and often in spite of the national sovereignty and/or the will of the local population, install puppet governments to do their bidding and all-the-while expand their reach. Their vassal lords are politicians and media pundits all well compensated for doing their king’s bidding, primarily keeping the serfs and peasants misinformed but entertained. Is it simply coincidence that the current, commonly accepted ratio of wealth to population is that 90% of America’s wealth is held by 10% of its people – sound familiar? Feudal perhaps? One might argue, “but Oprah proves that hard work and time rewards effort!” Really? First, one can surmise that for every dollar she has made in her work her distributor has made three shuffling the paperwork which gets to my second point; it wasn’t unheard of for a serf or peasant, in pleasing his king in battle or in loyalty, to be elevated in rank/class.
It is at this point I would ask my fellow middle-class brethren of all political stripes: what the hell are we doing?
Those on “the right” can continue to be shills for and to those “conservatives” (Romney’s “meritocracy,” ALEC, Paul Ryan, the Koch Brothers, the Club for Growth, the US Chamber, et al.) who wish to resurrect a neo-feudal order (as outlined by Ayn Rand, a disgruntled daughter of a pre-revolutionary Russian aristocratic family) as well as the right’s rabidly renewed interest in voter disenfranchisement, efforts that will affect poor and rural Whites too by the way. You can continue to hate Obama for what he truly stands for: America’s continuing journey into the future as shifting demographics and census data inform us. But beware, you do so at your own peril! Just as “the aristocrat” had no interest in empowering you until well after the formation of the American nation-state and then at the behest of “liberal forces,” so to will any post-post “conservative” colonial structure seek to remind you of your “place” within their world. We see this already as they have no qualms about repealing the 20th century — we hear this in every new “plan” Ryan and others roll out. Just remember that that per Dictionary.com: conservatives are “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.” Most of you, most of us, didn’t fare that well before such 20th century enlightenment!
Those of you on the “far left” can continue to deny that though the United States clearly had dubious beginning, this country has come farther faster than any nation known to man and that to bash as opposed to seek to “reinvent” this country’s rhetorical aspirations is indeed antithetical to what those who came before us sought: to usher in a more perfect union! To arrogantly pontificate, to lecture on her evils as opposed to enlighten on her possibilities, is what continues to distance us from those in our class we hope to extend hands to, experiences and illustrations mutually beneficial to their desire too in seeking a more perfect union!
Divide and conquer is a tactic as old as man as it seeks to play on human frailties and ignorance. We see it in Rove, Limbaugh and other operatives on the right but we also see it in some, perhaps not as high profile, on the left. The only solution is to begin a dialogue starting with the facts of the American experiment, devoid of manipulative mythology, and then to encompass the dreams, passions, and aspirations of all of America’s people not just those who can afford it or those who can subsidize those to yell loudest longest. Fissures like those are seen throughout history and can be called nation killers.