amari_z: (sun voyage)
Happy Independence Day to all my US f-listers. This day seems an appropriate one to muse on something that’s been on my mind a lot in recent years, but which was particularly triggered by a truck I’ve seen parked outside my building for the last week. As I might have mentioned once or twice before, there’s a big construction pit right outside my door. One of the trucks stationed to collect debris has stenciled across the front: “AMERICA LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!!!” The sight of this demand (threat?) sours my mood each day as I approach home. This sort of rhetoric is a sore point, especially now when it has become commonplace in our political discourse to call any criticism of the government unpatriotic and a betrayal of the country.

On this, the day we mark the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I find myself wanting to remember that this country was founded by the revolt of people who, whatever their other faults and virtues, were deeply distrustful of the power of government. They in fact were so wary that the first national government they created was so weak as to be disastrously ineffective. It was only after this failed attempt that they drafted the Constitution that is the basis of our government today, and its Framers had to work hard to convince the suspicious nation to accept the stronger national government it created. The Constitution, which provided for a far weaker executive branch then we’ve come to have today, is built on a concept of checks and balances, a theory that embraces inefficiencies in government and pits separate, equal branches of government against each other. The Framers viewed this systematic inefficiency as preferable to the danger inherent in a more streamlined, and hence more efficient and effective, government. They feared the danger of power collecting into one person or groups’ hands. None of the Founding Fathers would recognize the concept that debate and dissent were unpatriotic--in fact they would argue the opposite. Debate and dissent (if one disagreed) were the responsibility--the duty--of the citizenry, which would be informed by a free and vigilant press.

This is not a controversial reading of early American history. To truly love this country, to protect its founding ideals, is to be willing to take the time and have the courage to scrutinize the actions of those who hold office and to voice support or dissent. A state where the government’s policies must be supported without debate and dissent is not in keeping with the Republic declared on this day over two centuries ago; it is instead the foundation of a fascist state.

We’ve all heard the excuses for the abuses of the current administration too often: that we’re fighting a war like no other; that drastic measures are necessary for survival; that unless we hand over some liberties, the enemy will win.* But this is bullshit. It’s an excuse that echoes the rhetoric of the Nazi party when it took control of Germany. And even if it’s correct--if preserving our ideals, our free state, costs us something in safety--is the alternative really preferable? What, then, are we are seeking to protect? Ben Franklin once wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I’ve thought of this often in the last seven or so years.

So on this day of barbeques, fireworks and celebration, let’s not forget what it means to be truly patriotic. I say this not so much for you, my fabulous f-list, for I realize I’m largely preaching to the choir, but for myself, as a reminder that, while I find so many activities of the United States’ government morally, ethically, and legally repugnant and am made ashamed and afraid by them, I do love this country for the ideals it is supposed to stand for. The Framers called it the quest for a more perfect union. It is a quest that recognizes that democracy, liberty and justice are fragile aspirations that a vigilant citizenry must constantly define and strive for, and not something that any administration, party or politician can complacently claim to possess.

“Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”
~George Washington

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
~Abraham Lincoln

Happy Birthday, America.



*But lest it be thought that there’s no need to fret on these matters, since it looks possible that the Democrats will gain the White House in the next election and that the last years will come to be an aberration, a nightmare, from which we will awaken, remember that it was a Democratic Congress that recently passed legislation immunizing telecom companies from their illegal spying, that the passed the wiretap law legitimizing the administrations’ ability to tap our conversations without judicial supervision, that has permitted the Guantanamo incarcerations and “trials” to go on, and that has failed to act to prevent what any rational person can only call state-sanctioned torture.

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