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