Tag Archives: American values

Declaration Of Independence– From Trump

Anyone who follows the news even superficially recognizes that America is at a watershed of sorts.

Intellectually honest people know that we frequently haven’t lived up to the ideals of our founding–“liberty and justice for all” has been and remains tantalizingly elusive. I would argue, however, that so long as we at least aspire to the values of liberty and equality, so long as we recognize when we fall short, and try to address those failures, the country is moving in the right direction.

We fought a Civil War over the idea of equal human worth. As we are seeing, that war–and the debate over that idea–isn’t over. The Americans who voted for Donald Trump, who endorsed his attacks on immigrants, who “overlooked” his encouragement of the so-called “alt-right,” applauded his vitriol against Muslims and elevated him to an office for which he was manifestly unfit, did so because those sentiments resonated with them. They are the philosophical heirs of the slavery apologists and the thugs who beat and killed civil rights workers.

The good news is that the rest of us aren’t going along with this effort to define “American” as White Christian.

The most gratifying response to the election has been the enormous groundswell of civic engagement by people who had not previously been politically active. Marches and protests haven’t been confined to the big, blue cities like New York or San Francisco; businesses and churches and nonprofit organizations have spoken out forcefully against the re-emergence of the KKK and Nazis, and in opposition to Trump’s heartless decision to rescind protections for the Dreamers. New organizations have been formed–in Indiana, Women4Change, created in November after the election, has some 14,000 members. “Resistance” chapters dot the national landscape.

I recently came across another of those new efforts, Declaration 17.

Declaration 17 is an open alliance of private individuals who have joined in opposition, challenge and resistance to the policies and practices of President Trump.

Our goal is to rekindle public commitment to the founding documents that first articulated America’s core values.

If you share our faith in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the core American values we hold to be self-evident, please add your name and stand with us in opposition.

I don’t know how robust this particular effort is, but I really like the fact that it is emphasizing what makes us American–and what makes us American is not the color of our skin, not the God we worship (or don’t), not the geography of our birth. What makes an American is allegiance to the values of those founding documents.

Those of us who understand America in that way are engaged in a struggle against people who want to change the very essence of our system, who want to define Americans by their identity rather than by their willingness to embrace this country’s principles and values. They are a loud and destructive minority, but they are a minority.

As the description of Declaration 17 puts it,

We want the people to have hope—not despair. We want the people to remember that throughout our history, when America’s values have been threatened from without or within, we have prevailed in upholding those core values—and we will prevail again.

Tribalism Versus Americanism

Permit me a “Sunday morning meditation”…

We Americans are a cantankerous and argumentative lot. We hold vastly different political philosophies and policy preferences, and we increasingly inhabit alternate realities. Partisans routinely attack elected officials—especially Presidents—who don’t share their preferences or otherwise meet their expectations.

Politics as usual. Unpleasant and often unfair, but—hysteria and hyperbole notwithstanding– usually not a threat to the future of the republic. Usually.

We are beginning to understand that Donald Trump does pose such a threat.

In the wake of Trump’s moral equivocations following Charlottesville, critics on both the left and right characterized his refusal to distinguish between the “fine people” among the Nazis and KKK and the “fine people” among the protestors as an assault on core American values. His subsequent, stunning decision to pardon rogue sheriff Joe Arpaio has been described, accurately, as an assault on the rule of law.

It’s worth considering what, exactly, is at stake.

Whatever our beliefs about “American exceptionalism,” the founding of this country was genuinely exceptional—defined as dramatically different from what had gone before—in one incredibly important respect: for the first time, citizenship was made dependent upon behavior rather than identity. In the Old World, countries had been created by conquest, or as expressions of ethnic or religious solidarity. As a result, the rights of individuals were dependent upon their identities, the status of their particular “tribes” in the relevant order. (Jews, for example, rarely enjoyed the same rights as Christians, even in countries that refrained from oppressing them.)

Your rights vis a vis your government depended upon who you were—your religion, your social class, your status as conqueror or conquered.

The new United States took a different approach to citizenship. Whatever the social realities, whatever the disabilities imposed by the laws of the various states, anyone (okay, any white male) born or naturalized here was equally a citizen. We look back now at the exclusion of blacks and women and our treatment of Native Americans as shameful departures from that approach, and they were, but we sometimes fail to appreciate how novel the approach itself was at that time in history.

All of our core American values—individual rights, civic equality, due process of law—flow from the principle that government must not facilitate tribalism, must not treat people differently based upon their ethnicity or religion or other marker of identity. Eventually (and for many people, reluctantly) we extended that principle to gender, skin color and sexual orientation.

Racism is a rejection of that civic equality. Signaling that government officials will not be punished for flagrantly violating that foundational principle so long as the disobedience advances the interests of the President, fatally undermines it.

Admittedly, America’s history is filled with disgraceful episodes in which we have failed to live up to the principles we profess. In many parts of the country, communities still grapple with bitter divisions based upon tribal affiliations—race, religion and increasingly, partisanship.

When our leaders have understood the foundations of American citizenship, when they have reminded us that what makes us Americans is allegiance to core American values—not the color of our skin, not the prayers we say, not who we love—we emerge stronger from these periods of unrest. When they speak to the “better angels of our nature,” most of those “better angels” respond.

When our leaders are morally bankrupt, all bets are off. We’re not all Americans any more, we’re just a collection of warring tribes, some favored by those in power, some not.

As the old saying goes: elections have consequences.