Friday, February 14, 2020

Those Who Forget History

In Congress, July 4, 1776…

Whenever I mention certain subjects, people shout at me to read the Constitution.

…The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America…

That’s right. Read the Constitution.

The Constitution of the United States of America.

The Constitution, the foundation of law and government in this country.

…When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…

But that’s not what they actually mean.

No, what they actually mean is the Declaration of Independence.

That’s what they want me to read.

…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…

We hold these truths to be self-evident.

Constitution. Declaration. Whatever. It’s all the same thing. Probably.

Most Americans can’t with any reliability recite the first paragraph of the Declaration, or the later paragraphs for that matter, but that part they know by heart. We hold these truths to be self-evident. Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness.

By the Great White Christian God, that’s America. Life. Liberty. Happiness. That’s right.

And maybe a bit of the next part:

…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Consent of the governed! Consent of the governed! Yes! Yes! That! Consent. That’s what we’re talking about. You gotta have our consent. It says so right there in the Constitution of Independence. Or the Bible. Or something. It’s right there.

Because, otherwise:

…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…

There it is. That part. That’s the part we Americans love. Revolution. Bang Bang! We get to shoot something! Hot damn, Revolution!

Whenever I ask which article in the Constitution grants Americans the right to overthrow their government by violence, through force of arms whenever they please, that’s the part Republicans and Democrats alike quote at me. The right of the people to overthrow the government! Revolution. Rebellion. Shoot down the government. Consent of the governed. That’s it, right there. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Second Amendment, whatever, man, the point is Americans have the inalienable right to shoot down the government whenever they want.

That’s every American’s inalienable right.

That’s what all the guns are for. That, right there.

And that’s where Americans’ knowledge of their founding documents usually ends. Right about there. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, shoot down the government, guns, freedom to be a Christian, something something gazpacho and that’s why America is better than everybody else. Can I get an Aaaaaamen!

And really, what more do you need, right?

What more indeed?

But, funny thing, there is more:

…Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed…

Wait, what? Prudence?

Prudence? The quality of being prudent, the exercise of wisdom, caution, judgement, sagacity. Prudence. From Americans? That’s hilarious. And government should not be changed for light and transient causes? What the hell is that? Because that sounds like our ancestors were putting some conditions on our inalienable rights. And what exactly are the founders saying here? That violent overthrow of government is more likely to result in disaster than in a better nation? But, but…

Weird how you never hear those eager for revolution quote that part, isn’t it? Prudence.

…But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security…

Ah! Good. Good. Throw off the government and we’re back on track. Cool.

…Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world…

Okay, I think that’s pretty much all of it … wait, where’s the John Hancock?

There’s supposed to be a John Hancock.

What’s that you say?

That was only the introduction? A Preamble?

Yeah, that’s right.

You see, the parts most Americans are at least passingly familiar with, life, liberty, etc., that’s just the opening statement.

That’s not even the actual point of the document.

What actually led to America declaring itself independent from England wasn’t all that stuff up above, but rather some very specific grievances with the government of that nation. That’s actually the heart of the Declaration of Independence, those specific grievances.

Quick, how many are there?

How many can you name?

Don’t know? Yeah, that’s the really ironic part.

Because most Americans can’t recite a single one of those grievances.

Maybe some vague handwaving about taxation without representation – a phrase that doesn’t actually appear in the Declaration at all. But beyond that? Nothing. They’d have to go to Google.

But, when you read the whole Declaration of Independence and you look beyond those opening paragraphs and you read that very specific list of grievances, twenty-seven in total, well, then you can see pretty damned quick which part actually mattered to our Founders and which part was just flowery window-dressing.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

That’s the first one.

That’s what started it, the Revolution.

He, King George III, has refused his assent to laws.

What’s that mean? Well, in those days it meant that for legislation to become law, the King had to give his approval. And he often refused, either through pig-headed stubbornness or from neglect of his duty. Even when the legislation was “the most wholesome and necessary for the public good” and was something overwhelmingly desired by the population, the King refused to give assent. When our forefathers were considering bloody violent revolution that might very well end with their own precious selves swinging from a gallows, this was their first complaint.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

When they sent the Declaration to King George III, they wanted him to see this first.

Failure to pass laws necessary for the public good.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

As of January 1st, 2020, there are more than 300 bipartisan bills, legislation most wholesome and necessary for the public good, that have passed the House and are right now gathering dust on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

McConnell openly refuses to bring this legislation to the floor of the Senate.

McConnell, Trump, and their supporters in Congress, not only refuse to give assent to these laws, they won’t even allow the legislation to be debated by Americans’ elected representatives.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

They openly refuse to do their duty.

And they maliciously prevent others from doing theirs.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

And that – that right there – was the first and most important justification our own forefathers used to throw off their government and declare their independence from it.

I read that list, government refusal to make and pass laws for the public good, representatives who refuse to meet with the people, a tyrant who demands obedience and compliance from state and local governments, leaders who hold themselves unaccountable to the people, and I can’t help but think of Donald Trump’s tweet yesterday: “I’m seeing Governor Cuomo today at The White House. He must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment [sic], start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!”

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, our own ancestors were fighting with a mentally ill xenophobic autocrat who wanted to ban immigration and put conditions on who could be an American and the more things change, right?

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

Trump himself said this morning that even though he supposedly never asked the Attorney General to do anything in a criminal case, “This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!”

He doesn’t. He is not a king. He has no more rights than any of us. The power of his office was limited by design, because our ancestors daily lived under a tyrant whose power was without limits of any kind and they detailed in the Declaration of Independence the very abuses which resulted.

I don’t know if our ancestors would be surprised by courts whose verdicts depend on a tweet from the President or just sadly familiar.

The Attorney General himself announced this morning that he would be personally reviewing the case of General Flynn, a Trump crony who literally pleaded guilty not just once, but twice. This on the heels of the resignation of four US Attorneys who quit over interference from the Justice Department in the sentencing of yet another member of Trump’s inner circle. Trump surrounds himself with criminals and louts of all stripes, but it is those who brought them to justice that William Barr would prosecute.

Again, with the enthusiastic help of Mitch McConnell, Trump is stacking the courts, appointing judges who are grossly unqualified, openly partisan, and absolutely dependent on himself. 

We will suffer the consequences of this for generations.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

For a political ideology that claims to hate government, who violently opposed government when it was helmed by a black guy, this administration has suddenly developed an abiding love of Executive Orders and compliance with federal authority. From Blue Lives Matter to the Border Patrol to the Transportation Security Administration to School “Resource” Officers, you’d damned well better knuckle under, keep your eyes down, be respectful, show your papers.

Meanwhile, Trump’s proposed budget would slash the very social safety nets nearly every American depends on to survive.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

We long ago gave up the idea of not maintaining a standing military force. The nature of the world made a permanent professional army a requirement of our national security. But, that requirement has grown into an all-consuming monster. We have reached a point where our military doesn’t exist to protect our society, but our society exists to feed it.

I’ve written extensively about America’s increasingly dangerous tendency towards mandatory worship of the military, a trend that has accelerated under Trump and Republicans. We have an entire generation of Americans who have grown to adulthood since 9-11 and in those two decades they have never known a single moment when America was not at war. Three thousand Americans died on 9-11, and for that we have embarked on 20 years of revenge. 20 years. Tens, hundreds, of thousands dead as a result. We are trillions of dollars in debt.

And yet – and yet – the world is no better off and victory is nowhere to be found.

Trump brags about increased military spending, about spending $2 Trillion dollars on new tanks and invisible planes with no missions and warships that will never engage an enemy on the high seas.

Three thousand dead Americans and we’re entering the third decade of war as a result.

We do this, supposedly, so that no more Americans will die from terrorism on American soil.

Meanwhile, in that same time, in the same decades that we have been sending our children to fight and die in a foreign land, something like 600,000 Americans died from gun violence. And we do nothing. We spend not a single penny to prevent such deaths in the future.

Out of 330 million Americans, 537,000, give or take, will die from cancer this year. Some, perhaps many, could be saved. But cancer drugs are expensive. Hideously so. Sometimes upwards of $20,000 per month for specialized treatment. How many of those Americans would $2 trillion save?

How many Americans die from hunger, preventable sickness, homelessness, every year? How many of them would $2 trillion save?

How many abortions would $2 trillion prevent, if those expectant mothers knew they could get support, medical care, financial aid?

Why is it that Trump crows about spending vast sums on the military, but not a single penny on the very people he swore himself to defend?

Why is it that Trump defends those in uniform convicted of terrible crimes and abuse, but dismisses and attacks those who serve with honor and integrity and a sense of duty above self?

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

This week, Republicans led by Trump and McConnell rejected three separate bills designed to secure our democracy against foreign interference.

Trump repeatedly sides with dictators and foreign authoritarians over Americans.

Republican judges, legislators, and the president repeatedly defend vulnerabilities that give foreign actors undue influence over American lives, and repeatedly block any attempt to defend America from this manipulation.

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

What would the men who wrote that, who literally went to war and fought a bloody revolution because of that, think of Trump’s trade war?

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

I suspect if our ancestors were writing that line today, it might say something like “For imposing the entire burden of national support on the poor and middle class while the wealthy pay little to nothing, while billionaires pay a lower tax rate than a Walmart greeter, while mega corporations reap billions in yearly profits and not only pay no taxes at all but receive a return from the government. For imposing again upon the poor and the middle class the entire burden of repeatedly bailing out Wall Street when bankers and investment company CEOs who are wealthy beyond imagination yet again destroy the economy without consequence to themselves and again wipe out our savings, investments, retirements, college plans, homes, jobs, healthcare, sustenance, and livelihoods, all the while lecturing us about ‘responsibility.’”

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!

We live in a country where people of color are shot down by the government in the street for the crime of being black. Where selling loose cigarettes on the street is punishable by summary execution.

We live in a country where the president uses his office to publicly accuse an athlete of being a criminal, again a black man, for not being respectful enough.

We live in a country where that same president daily suggests his political enemies are traitors, criminals, and unamerican.

We live in a country where a Republican congressman is suing a social media account that pretends to be a cow because he thinks criticizing a congressman should be a crime – well, so long as that congressman is him.

We live in a country where the Senate, whose very job is to act as a check on presidential power, just acquitted the President of abuse of that power without calling a single witness or reviewing a single piece of evidence and where Republican senators openly bragged about receiving donations from the president’s own defense attorneys before their vote.

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

Trump certainly didn’t invent Rendition and Detention, but no president has embraced extra-constitutional measures in the name of National Security the way he has. He daily suggests that he has unlimited powers granted by some imaginary article of the Constitution – the very thing the Constitution was literally created to prevent – and Republicans let him get away with it. And now, post-impeachment, he is made bolder in his abuse of power and believes himself without limit. He has publicly sworn revenge on those who accused him and openly suggested that the military criminally prosecute those who testified against him. How long then, before Trump declares these people enemies of the state, terrorists, traitors, and uses such extra-judicial tools against them?

Remember, this is a man who tried to use the power of his office to extort a foreign nation into attacking the family members of his political opponents and who sent his own personal lawyer to oust a US ambassador from her office up to and including conspiring to have her assassinated by a foreign agency.

And who got away with it.

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

We’re probably safe, at least at the moment, from Trump dissolving the government of Quebec and installing his own puppet state in its place. But this is where I remind you of his repeated attacks on US states that he doesn’t like, California and New York chief among them, and how he compares such states to those which support him. This is where I also remind you again that Trump is using the power of his office to right now extort New York into dropping its investigation of his taxes and business practices.

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For fundamentally altering the forms of our governments.

And Republicans under Trump have most certainly done that. From gerrymandering to blatant voter disenfranchisement – including voter ID requirements that are impossible to comply with, closing of voter registration offices in minority neighborhoods, purging of voter rolls, open intimidation at the polls, refusal to reinstate the voting rights of former felons who have successfully completed their sentence – to utter refusal to secure election systems, to dark money and superPACs, to stacking the courts, to submission to religious fanaticism, to open nepotism, to walled borders, etc., Republicans seem determined to alter our Republic into a form unrecognizable to a free democratic people.

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

And we’re back to a Senate Majority Leader whose desk is buried under a mountain of dead legislation and who has essentially seized absolute power and daily refuses to do his duty despite overwhelming protest from both sides of the aisle. And McConnell holds the Republic by the throat solely at the behest of Donald Trump.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

Trump hasn’t sent the army against us, yet, though he has certainly threatened to do so. And you have only to listen to his works, listen to his rallies and speeches, read his daily Twitter feed to see that he absolutely believes we are the enemy. He is not the President of the United States, he is the CEO of TrumpCo and only those who pay fealty to him are granted protection.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

No British warship, no Redcoat, ever posed as great of threat to the American people as the looming disaster of Climate Change. Our seas, our coasts, our towns and cities, our very lives, all stand in danger. This grave threat is more and more apparent, and more imminent, every day. Even Republicans can no longer deny it. And, yet, every day Trump does nothing. Worse than nothing, he denies the threat even exists – not because he doesn’t believe that it’s real, but because it might cut into profits. He refuses to take action in any form. He’ll be dead long before the bill comes due, but our children and the generations who follow will have to deal with the self-serving foolishness of this malicious inaction.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

And again, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Trump might not have started the practice of outsourcing America’s wars to hired killers, but he embraced the concept whole hog and he not only promotes the use of mercenaries and the corporate privatization of war (and thus its profit), he ushers mercenaries right into the White House.

As the men who declared our independence noted, this is the practice of the most barbarous of ages and utterly unworthy of the head of a civilized nation.

We shouldn’t be offering outfits like Blackwater a job, we should outlaw their very existence.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

Impressment of US merchant sailors on the high seas probably isn’t something we need worry about at the moment, but it’s damned telling when out of the 27 grievances which led our ancestors into a bloody war for independence, it’s only this one that doesn’t apply today.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

While we likely don’t need fear Trump encouraging Native Americans to slaughter the rest of us – and in fact, Native Americans are a hell of a lot more likely nowadays to rise up in protest against a government intent on driving oil pipelines across their land and fracking their water tables – Trump has most certainly excited domestic insurrections among us. You have only to look to Neo-Nazis marching in the streets of our nation’s capital, you have only to look to Charlottesville, you have only to see the III% Militia recruiting booths at every fair and gathering across our country, you have only to notice the sudden prevalence of Punisher skulls on the backs of pickup trucks flying Confederate flags to see it. You have only to listen to Trump’s own words, watch his rallies, read his Twitter feed, encouraging hate and violence against those he considers not American enough.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

Substitute “Republicans” for “British brethren” in that last paragraph.

Compare “We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations […] They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity” to the recent impeachment proceedings in the Senate and tell me honestly that you don’t see the similarities.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Two and half centuries ago, our forefathers sent that Declaration to the King of England and said of themselves in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Today, the very Americans who quote the Preamble of the Declaration as justification for their unwavering support of Donald Trump are utterly and completely ignorant of the rest of that document and the actual reasons our forefathers rose up in rebellion against tyranny.

The Republicans of today fancy themselves patriots and champions of freedom, but they would not be those Minutemen who answered the call of liberty and pledged their sacred honor to each other. No, those who support this government are the same sorry sons of bitches who two centuries ago would have cheerfully knuckled under to a King solely in order to own the liberals.

They tell themselves they would gladly hang, together or separately, but that is a lie.

Instead, they are the ones pulling the rope.