Reflections about a Nation Returning to its Roots

Carol A. Hand

Nations, like people, grow older. I remember the words of a former professor. “Many believe that people change as they age – that older people become more fearful and conservative – but the research says otherwise. As people age they only become more of what they always were.” I’ve not read research about aging for decades, so I can’t verify the truth of that statement, but my observations suggest it holds true for many people. I wonder if it holds true for nations as well?

This morning when I awoke, I found myself thinking about the nationwide push to limit who will be able to vote, and I remembered the words of Noam Chomsky.

“A decent democratic society should be based on the principle of “consent of the governed.” (p. 43).

He adds,

“Those who hope to understand the past and shape the future would do well to pay careful attention not only to the practice but also to the doctrinal framework that supports it” (p. 43).

Carefully screened history texts and public relations firms have done an impressively effective job perpetuating the myth that all citizens of the United States are “free” and collectively are the driving force in the governance of their republic. Successive generations have been taught to believe that this was the original intention of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. But Chomsky presents compelling evidence otherwise.

The framers of the Constitution, like the British they fought to gain independence, believed that governance was the role of “men of best quality.” Alexander Hamilton, Chief of Staff to General George Washington, and the first Secretary of the Treasury during Washington’s presidency, opined,

“The people are a ‘great beast’ that must be tamed” (as cited by Chomsky, p. 46).

Chomsky adds crucial historical context.

“Rebellious and independent farmers had to be taught, sometimes by force, that the ideals of the revolutionary pamphlets were not to be taken too seriously. The common people were not to be represented by countrymen like themselves, who know the people’s sores, but by gentry, merchants, lawyers, and other ‘responsible men’ who could be trusted to defend privilege. The reigning doctrine was expressed clearly by the President of the Continental Congress and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay: ‘The people who own the country ought to govern it.’” (p. 46).

Political power should be kept “in the hands of those who ‘come from and represent the wealth of the nation,’ the ‘more capable set of men,'” not from the “fragmented and disorganized” unpropertied masses (p. 48).

Voting rights were not gained without a struggle, and for some devalued groups it took more than a century to be recognized.

voting slide blue

Photo Credit: C. Hand Social Welfare Class Power Point Slide – more information here

In the  context of growing economic disparity, the 1 % is once again asserting the old beliefs of the framers of the original Constitution. Under the illusion that the party that is in power for the next two years will be a game-changer, well-funded corporate-sponsored efforts have been able to undo the hard-won voting rights of people who are more likely to vote for “liberal” candidates in many states. Although there are some notable differences in the brutality and speed with which the remaining remnants of a social safety net will be dismantled to please the ruling elite, I would argue that we will only see more of the same regardless of which party governs until we honestly decide to adopt a wiser vision for the future.

As Annie Leonard argues, the most compelling question we face at present is which path to pursue – “more or better.” Is it feasible to expect that we can continue to pursue the foolish goal of unceasing economic expansion at the cost of destroying people, cultures, and the environment? Neither party has really addressed this question. It is time to realize that our very survival as people, as communities, nations, and world depends on our willingness to embrace a different vision for the future. More oil and coal, more plastic goods and “stuff,” will not make life “safer, healthier, or more fair.” Learning to live in harmony with our environment and neighbors has a much better chance of reversing the social and environmental damage that has already been done.

Annie Leonard’s Video ‘ The Story of Solutions:

I know this is wishful thinking, but my horoscope messages for the day say it all. (Born on a cusp, I have two.)

“… differentiating your thoughts from those around you is tricky business, so it might be a lot more pleasurable to indulge your dreams while you can” (Pisces).

“Remember, tomorrow’s reality begins with today’s thought” (Aquarius).

Today’s thought? I still believe that it is even more important given the current political context for people to exercise their right to vote in all elections and to fulfill their responsibility to be well-informed about the real issues when they do so. It is in our power to choose the “better” path.


Photo Credit: Vote

Work Cited:

Noam Chomsky (1999). Profit over people: Neoliberalism and global order. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press.



30 thoughts on “Reflections about a Nation Returning to its Roots

  1. O.k. what I wrote earlier was that I like the way you wove the true non-egalitarian and non-democratic intentions of the “founding fathers” and climaxed to the weapon we do have, the vote and how hard we have had to get it. And the other thing we have to do is work to broaden the base of those who can run for office, by pushing for public financing of campaigns and the constitutional amendment to end the lie that money deserves free speech rights. I will be re-blogging this on Monday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for raising such important issues, Skywalker. Although there are so many barriers, I am convinced that people really will respond to new possibilities of hope, as they did to Obama in 2008. And there need to better ways of getting the word out…


    1. I appreciate your thoughtful comments, and sincerely hope that you win your bet – I hope more legislators take a clear, visionary, principled stand on the environment. 🙂


  2. I’m always a little dismayed when history is painted with a broad brush. America’s founding fathers were not of a single mind on any significant issue including the prospect of violent revolution against the King. Washington, the contemporary Cincinnatus… Franklin, the enlightened new aristocrat… Hamilton, the bastard nationalist… Thomas Paine, the visionary and rebellious humanist… they all had their quirks. That they were able to overcome their personal differences and create a nation-state having an unprecedented form of governance is a stunning achievement by any measure.

    Their first attempt failed under the Articles of Confederation. Their second attempt – the U.S. Constitution – was compromised by the practical realities of the day. Just as social conservatives are resisting equal rights today, so too did colonial sensitivities resist giving citizenship to blacks and the vote to non-whites, women, and the working class.

    However, the groundwork was laid down in principle for the advances which followed. Jefferson, in particular, established this foundation with his monumental declaration:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

    And, it was Jefferson who advocated most strongly for democracy supported by an educated and participant populace:

    “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

    America’s founding fathers were not perfect human beings… none of us are. But, in their deeds, they gave us the tools to create a more perfect union. Whether we use those tools, or not, is completely up to us.


    1. I appreciate your honest, eloquently-argued perspective, Robert. I suspect we will have to agree to disagree on this topic. Like all things, one’s perspective about history is interpreted through the lenses of positionality and experiences. Although Jefferson’s words may be noble and prophetic given his historical context, I question if they meant the same things to him as they do from a universal ethical perspective. Even replacing the word “men” with “people,” his words raise two crucial questions for me. Do the means justify the ends – ever – no matter how visionary the ends many be? Do words carry more weight than actions? What do these sentiments mean to someone whose privileged is based in part on land speculation (the destruction and disinheritance of Indigenous peoples) and the work of slaves (kidnapped and transported in chains to be sold like cattle)? To someone who chose to agree to the Three-Fifths Compromise and continue to own slaves rather than hold strong to the ideals embodied in the statement “all men are created equal?”

      When I read history, I do so from the lens of the descendant of both the colonized and the colonizer. People are both visionary and flawed. Yet for me, what they do is more important than what they say they believe. From my perspective, what this nation of diverse peoples has done to operationalize these lofty sentiments throughout its history needs to be seen through critical lenses if we are to find more peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable ways for living in the future.


      1. Carol, your perspective carries great weight and is shared by many these days. I not only understand it, I feel it viscerally as well. No one with compassion could possibly ignore the egregious horrors in our nation’s history.

        But, here we are in the 21st century looking back and judging people who lived over two hundred years ago. We are applying our sense of morality, not theirs. If judgement by one’s peers has significance, then would that include us? Today, Jefferson would be a criminal. Obviously, he was not treated as such in his time.

        If we cannot make a distinction between the principles established by historical figures and their personal behaviors, then we must logically discard them. Ergo:


        Do you think this is wise? Should we ignore the importance of the Code of Hammurabi? The Magna Carta? Has history no intrinsic meaning? Is not the advancement of humankind performed incrementally and progressively?


        1. Robert, I am grateful that you are willing to engage in dialogue – this is such an important issue and I do so value your thoughtful attention to and knowledge about issues about which I have much to learn.

          It’s interesting that you ask if I question the statement “all men are created equal.” Cheryl (my blog partner) and I were just talking about this on the phone. If I think critically about this statement, I become very picky about word choices to convey my perspective. And I’m not sure I will be able to say what I mean with clarity.

          I don’t believe all people are “created.” From my perspective, they’re born from the union of two people of different genders (although that has already changed in recent years so I may need to rethink and revise the wording.) Although I believe all children are born in a state of original sanctity (as opposed to original sin), each unique with special gifts and abilities, I can’t label that as “equal.” I do believe all people have equal rights to the nurture and support they need to develop their full potentials, to equal opportunities to express and be recognized for their contributions to the world as a whole. In my life, so of my most profound teachers were the children and adults I worked with who were confined to institutions (schools for people with mental retardation or nursing homes), rather than renowned professors who never tired of listing their awards and accomplishments. They are equally human, all have unique gifts, but they are not equally valued.

          With regard to judging historical figures in terms of the consonance between words and actions, I think it’s a crucial foundation for learning from the past. As a child I remember being appalled when the other children in the neighborhood bullied the little boy with Downs Syndrome. Just because the morals of the time and the “crowd culture” conveyed it was right, it didn’t make it so. Slavery and genocide may have been accepted as appropriate by the privileged classes at the time, but through the eyes of the Indigenous and African victims it was certainly immoral. There were also those among the privileged classes who applied different moral standards at the time.

          Does that minimize their contributions or the systems that they’ve left as a legacy? It depends … In my reflections on the next chapter of the book I’m working on, I am struggling with exactly this dilemma in more recent history. How does one explain the admission from a State administrator that he often chooses to do what he knows is expedient rather than most just for the Native American people he is responsible to serve? It would be pointless for me to blame this individual, although I don’t agree with the choice he made. It’s far more productive to look at the context that gave him few other options – not enough time, money, of staff to do otherwise. Yet the consequences are still the same. Some people’s lives and futures will be forever diminished as a result, affecting generations yet to come. (I routinely judge my own actions from this critical perspective.)

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Okay, I appreciate where you’re coming from. And, as previously stated, I have similar feelings on morality.

          Regarding Jefferson, he was addressing the civil rights of human beings in the Declaration of Independence and not their individual qualities or how others might see them. Furthermore, Jefferson’s use of the word “creator” implied no religion since he was a deist and secularist who advocated strongly for the “separation of church and state” in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.


          Liked by 1 person

        3. Robert, thank you for sharing your knowledge and passion on these crucial issues. One of the things I miss from college days are opportunities to engage in fascinating dialogues. I will concede that as flawed people, we do leave important contributions to guide the future such as those you listed, and Jefferson did leave many important works as a legacy 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. It would be lovely if governments could be more representative as well, when it comes to who gets voted for. Hard to expect people who have lived more privileged lives to relate to poor immigrants, and not all groups of people have govt representation. I wonder how this can eventually happen?


  4. “As people age they only become more of what they always were.” I believe this is correct. I, like many, started out as an innocent naïve child of peace and love. I loved animals, nature and my friends; the world was a magical and mystical place that held so many wonders, and I loved it.

    It was fascinating to study nature in an unscientific childish way; the plants, the insects, the animals, the water ripples in the puddles during a warm summer rain, the cloud shapes slowly drifting across the bright blue sky, all this and more held enchantment, a magic for me to examine and come to know and love, to be one with.

    Then came the grownup influences, the indoctrinations of culture, tradition, religion, schooling, and the custom of practicality and dependability, and a learned disregard for the animals I once loved as nothing more than a resource to be ate; to accept our patriotic duty to God and country, to go to church and give thanks, to say grace at dinner for the now spiritless body that lay lifeless as a center piece, to divorce from nature and set strict and narrow guidelines on right, wrong, and love; to pay taxes, vote, and become model citizen.

    I’ve since reverted to my childhood, to what I always was, a person of peace, to love the animals, nature, and my friends. To understand that life, all life, desires love, to give and receive, and all deserve this. And anything contrary to peace and love, no matter how slight and no matter the species, is a representation of war, and opposed to my childish nature.

    And I believe the same holds true to this nation, a maturing aging monster.

    Carol, we will agree to disagree on one fundamental point of your post, and that is voting.



    1. Peter, I love the way you describe your childhood innocence and the forces of acculturation that demanded changes. And I’m so grateful that you were able to reconnect to that peaceful curious, loving child. The disagreement about voting is so minor, and I honestly had to think long and hard about whether it really matters as I wrote this post. I still think it does, but that may change with time 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is always a tension between voting and not voting. I am somebody who sees little difference between Republicans and Democrats and who sees social movements as the path to change, not the voting booth. Yet I just voted in a general election as I have every year and wouldn’t dream of not voting, although the Green Party and socialist candidates I vote for don’t win.

        But voting results, in part because they are over-interpreted, do have an effect. Liberals, as we now know, did stay home because Obama and the Democratic Party ignored their base while unsuccessfully chasing after the Republicans’ base. The same mistake they have been making for more than three decades.

        So perhaps where I am getting to is that we can vote and we can join activist groups and need not choose between the two.


        1. An astute analysis of the distinct roles elections and social movements play in social change, Systemic Disorder. The aftermath of the Reagan years are particularly discouraging, yet as you point out, media do overplay the significance of elections. By touting the “GOP triumph,” many citizens believe the recent election results signify a popular agreement with policies that are mean-spirited and ignorant.


  5. Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    Another great post. I was thinking about the elections and how the candidates from both parties have very little differences between them–for my area, both candidates are spouting the oil and coal companies’ mantra of “jobs and price increases” for limiting their ability to poison us. My state pours 17 million pounds of toxins into our waterways every single year, and its killing us softly.
    I think those of us whom are discouraged should go to the polls, and write in the name of a leader you admire–not necessarily someone who is a candidate, nor someone whom is alive. It is a way to protest the lack of choice, the lack of leadership, and taking the $100,000+ salary while doing absolutely nothing.


    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Dolphin, and for reblogging this post. Your encouragement for people to become involved in elections and change efforts is so important!


  6. Always intrigued about the happenings on our southern borders. This is alongstanding debate, and there has so far not been consensus – towards what do we transition? We’ve tried differebt socio-economic and political models and we’ve recognized the flaws. Next step? By the way, I’m also on a cusp.


    1. I love the context of what has been tried in Central and South America and the Caribbean, Shery. It seems the best hope is to keep trying. I think the answer is at the local level yet as I look at this new community I’ve lived in for only 3 years, the challenge feels overwhelming. Most people here don’t even recognize what’s going on in the world, and the small elite group in local positions of power are vigilantly guarding their privileges and competitive oppressive agendas. How does one build a shared vision and weave a sense of community in such a context? The culture here is too individualistic and competitive, and too reactionary.

      So for now, I’ll focus on learning how to be better at gardening, saving seeds, and learning ways to preserve food that require less energy and water. (Freezing requires electricity, gas, and lots of water, as does canning.) If each one of us focuses on learning low-tech practical skills, it’s a start… It’s not enough to just think and talk… What do you suggest as the next step?

      (Just curious – what cusp?)


      1. Since I’m in now in Canada, south for me includes the US! Indeed, if we all do our part, things may gradually change. I live in a city by choice, closer to work, so that I do not have to own a car, can walk, take public transportation or use car club facilities. Every little bit helps!

        Cusp? you mentioned you were on the cusp of horoscopes, so am I! 🙂


        1. Funny – directions are always so relative :-). It does make sense to live close to work. Although I still have a car, now I only drive when I need to haul groceries of other supplies. I prefer to use the bus when I travel around town. It does make sense to do what we can…

          (I like having a choice of horoscopes and an excuse for being eccentric.)


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