Tag Archives: our forefathers

“Cowboy Capitalists” and the American Dream


Our forefathers, educated in the classics and the writings of their contemporaries in the fields of economics, philosophy, science, farming, and trade, created a government for our nascent America that surprised the world. It wasn’t that it was unprecedented. It borrowed from ideologies as antique as those of Greece and Rome. But just consider how amazing our Democracy is since it was created in an age of monarchs, of nobles, of serfs.

Do you think those kings and queens, who claimed “divine right” to rule, wanted anyone to spread the credo that “all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights” – the very rights we hold dear – life – liberty – the pursuit of happiness.

Our forefathers started a trend. Their modern anachronism went, as we would say these days, “viral”. Western Europe became mad for Democracy. They went to war for it, they demoted their kings and queens for it.

This trend, as we know, did not catch on so much on other key continents. And so we inherited today’s situation where countries with differing ideas about governance have to coexist. We haven’t had to respect theocracies for some time. They existed but they kept the rest of the world away.

As with every culture we have come to value our form of government so highly that we often have been guilty of acting almost like missionaries, wanting to spread our Democracy (and, still, for some, our Christianity) everywhere. Even now I hold the belief that someday people everywhere on our planet will enjoy Democracy in one form or another. Except, not everyone is so gung ho to have their traditions replaced. And we have come to understand that respect for others means letting them chose their own government (but not letting them choose ours). As for religion, I believe that our forefathers, many fleeing religious persecution, were quite adamant in their belief that people should be free to worship as they please and that the only way to insure this was to keep religion separate from government.

Today many argue that our forefathers were only thinking about freedom to pursue different forms of Christianity and they might have hedged their bets if they knew we might have citizens who worship in so many different ways or do not worship at all. This is the cusp of our current dilemma. Do we reinterpret the things our forefathers said? Do we simply revise our documents to fit some people’s ideas of what they think our forefather’s meant?

Are we perhaps in shock that our Democracy does not seem to be trending the way it once did? Historically, change takes time. If we can wait we might find the ideas of liberty and equality gaining popularity once again. They are looking a bit tarnished as our economics has sort of usurped our governance. Capitalism can be a bit aggressive and overbearing. We have just been letting it get out of hand a bit. If we can tamp down those rampaging Capitalists who have been so busy buying up everything in sight (including our government) and cornering all the world’s wealth then our freedom might shine forth once again.

So we need more economic regulation, not less. We need more taxes on the rich, not less. And I’m thinking that if a Progressive wins and starts to rein in Capitalists-gone-wild – our new economic “cowboys” – then we the people will probably have to put up with a bit of punishment before things level out a bit.

Donald Trump, one of those “cowboy” capitalists doesn’t seem to mind putting American ideals aside to win against radical “Islamistic” terrorists. The “all men are created equal” part of Democracy never has sat well with Capitalists. They sort of adapt it to say that we may be created equal but we don’t all turn out equal. Those who turn out on top of the heap, they imply, are there because they are actually better than others (not luckier, not born with silver spoons). The fact is that these folks interpret being better as having more money even if they stole it by manipulating laws. If we let these “Capitalist Cowboys” sidestep our Declaration of Independence and our U.S. Constitution won’t that be the end of the real America Dream? That dream is really not at base a materialistic dream at all, but one of freedom of the mind and of the person (within reason) and of governance “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

We can’t exclude all Muslims without forever debasing what America has stood for around the world and what it is still struggling to stand for. Our previous lapses may have been grandfathered in, but this time we are fully aware of the harm from tarring an entire group with the same brush. We cannot even use religion as an excuse to overturn laws that respect the beliefs of any segment of our population.

If we do these things, and it is entirely possible that we might (fear being very powerful) they can we ever put the best parts of the American Dream back together again? If we want to show the world the way a Democratic society brings out a person’s best self then we must be our best selves. Or we can do what Donald J Trump (did you notice he started using his middle initial) suggests, but will we still be America afterwards?

By Nancy Brisson

Morality in America: Secular or Religious?

America wants to be and believes that it is a moral nation, at least as moral as flawed humans know how to make it, but we are in the midst of a tug of war to decide if our morality will be secular or religious. It is unclear why we are even having this argument. The Constitution and our forefathers clearly come down on the side of religious freedom for American citizens and they have left enough written documentation to convince most of us that the founders of our nation felt that the best way to insure religious freedom is to separate government and religion. This would seem to negate the formation of a Theocracy.

However, some in present-day politics are trying to walk back our traditional understanding of what our founders intended while claiming that they can channel the actual intentions of those who wrote our founding documents. They argue that America harbored only sects of Christianity in Colonial times and that, if our forefathers had been faced with Muslims, or Buddhists, or other global religions that have found a home in modern day America, then they might have written about religion and government in a different way, or they might have made America a Christian nation. But wishing it, or even positing it as a logical conclusion, does not make it so. I would like to think that our founders were far-sighted and wise, but think the 3/5 rule which turned some people into objects, and think about the blatant elitism of our forefathers, which suggest that they were products of their times, perhaps overseers rather than seers.

Examining the differences between secular morality and what advocates mean when they long for religious morality might help inform of us of which way we would like to go. The right wing Conservatives, with a preponderance of Evangelical Christians offer us some insight into religious morality. We get an impression of an Old Testament sensibility, a return to the rules as laid down in Leviticus. We have the Ten Commandments, of course, but when we turn them into very literal rules for our nation they would change America a great deal. I won’t go through them one by one.

The Commandment we are most caught up in right now is Thou shalt not commit murder. Here is the Pro Life argument in a nutshell. How will we ever get around the moral argument about whether or not the killing of an unborn baby, whether it is a mere blob of cells, a possibility of life, or whether it has taken fetal form and resembles a child is murder or whether that Christian concept is not the business of our government. We know women have aborted unwanted children since the beginnings of time and at great risk. Sometimes the timing of a pregnancy is so wrong or the circumstances of the pregnancy are so repugnant that a woman is almost obsessed with stopping the pregnancy. Sometimes a woman knows or senses her own life will be in danger if she gives birth to a child or even shows anyone that she is pregnant. Since pregnancy falls within the female realm, the decision about aborting a pregnancy should fall within the female realm and the process should be as safe as possible and should definitely not involve rooting the fetal cells out with a stick or a coat hanger. If the GOP truly wants to end abortion then they need to set up humane systems to help women through to term and to find parents for the children that are the result of unwanted pregnancies. Until these systems are in place I don’t see how women will agree to ending legal abortion.

Besides adopting a literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments, we have those who suggest that we need to heed things that are often incidentally described in the Bible as the Christian traditions that pertained at the times when the Bible was written, although quite a few centuries passed before we had both the new and the old testaments. So we have those who admonish women to be submissive and to allow their husbands to control the lives of the family. I’m not sure, given what we now understand about the way this can lead to domestic abuse of wives or children or both why we would ever want to take power away from women ever again, or why women would freely give up their position as equals.

Those on the religious right argue that having women once again assume a submissive role in relation to their husband would restore the nuclear family, end crime, end immorality and end sexual and gender “deviation”, in other words, would put LGBT people back into the closet or put them in danger of being punished for their “immoral” behavior. And then, they (these new patriarchs) argue we could end all this political correctness crap and, in fact, life would be good. Society’s rules would be simple and clear, and right and wrong would be spelled out according to God and Jesus [or to someone’s interpretation of acceptable Christian protocols for living a Godly life].

The Bible does not talk about evolution, so we would just bury centuries of scientific inquiry? Science, in fact, comes up with so many conclusions that appear to be at odds with the Bible that we can expect that abandoning scientific pursuits will bring us all closer to the heaven. Will we punish those who have curiosity built into their psyches? Well we will certainly have to pass laws against such investigations of our world and decide how we will punish those who persist. Can you see how this could all get out of hand very fast? Do you want an America that lives out the dream of the Puritans? Do we want to measure our government’s laws by any particular religion? Will we have a democratic government if it is “God” (as interpreted by man) calling the shots?

Clearly sticking with secular morality grants us the freedom to maintain a democracy. But what rules apply to secular morality? That is what makes it all so difficult to enjoy freedom because a citizen must frequently judge what will offer maximum freedom to the most people, while doing the least harm. This is an enormous task. We often get the balance wrong. Here we rely on the dialectic to set things right. When things go too far in one direction forces drag events back towards the center.

So take the case of campaign finance, which most of us agree is totally out of whack with the very foundation of democratic government. Once our Supremes agreed that corporations were people we gave our elections back to the very elite who argued for ascendancy at our nation’s founding. We gave our elections to the wealthy this time, not the landowners, although I’m sure they all own land (perhaps not in America, though). President Obama’s election proves that small donors have some power, but the right wing is trying hard to negate that. Republicans have more milestones on their agenda to turn our governance over to the wealthy. Now individuals can give as much as they wish. Republicans manufactured an IRS scandal and raised such a ruckus that no one can reevaluate the use of 501 C-4’s again. Even the ploy to pass a flat tax needs to be examined very carefully because it is most likely a political IED. In fact Republicans would like to simplify our government right to death.

We are trying to make sure that secular morality, that old golden rule of ‘Do Unto Others as You Would Have Others Do Unto You’ is still a guiding force in our nation. We are trying to practice a new American Exceptionalism that relies on diplomacy and a ‘live and let live’ spirit (whenever possible) rather than the old idea of exceptionalism that says we must loom over everyone and threaten to beat them into submission because fear is the only emotion people really understand.

The American experiment to respect each other and to share power is still an exceptionally idealistic one and, in that sense, our exceptionalism still lives and, if we were allowed to cooperate with other world governments to help lift people around the globe and turn the planet into a safe, stable, and healthy world the morality of that would far outshine any Puritanical rule of lockstep religious practices and prejudices that could ever come out of the atavistic longings of the right wing of the Republican Party in America.

By Nancy Brisson