We Need an American Evolution

I thought of titling this The Second American Revolution…..

The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarri...

The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring and Feathering. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

but a revolution is what those on the far right see as necessary.  They even have their own Tea Party.   Our revolution to free ourselves from England had a lot of “no” in it, too.   “No taxation without representation” for example.  It is much easier to organize around a “no” than it is a “yes”, though.   And the creation and state by state ratification of our constitution may have been  even more amazing than the revolution itself.  When you organize around “yes” you have to make compromises and many painful ones were made to forge the constitution.

Isn’t it ironic that the Tea Party, who act as if they own the constitution, have no inclination to compromise?  Among the compromises the founders had to make was to allow slavery to continue, hopefully to be gradually phased out, without which there would have been no United States.

The TP’s as I’ll call them, dream of a more simple past, which allows for simple solutions.  But our real world is much more complicated.  To paraphrase  H. L. Mencken, a libertarian of nearly a century ago:    For every complex problem, there is a simple solution….  and it’s wrong.  (#1).

TP’s have that simple solution.  Less taxes, less government, and less government intervention in our lives (#2).  Do you think I like all the government red tape, and wasteful spending (though if it’s boosting jobs in my area, well then….)?   Wasteful bureaucracy comes with the territory.  Sure it can be trimmed, but THAT IS NOT THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING.  True, the national debt must be dealt with, but it is a question of exactly how and when, and the simple solution the Tea Party has in mind is simply wrong.

The 1790 census, our first, counted roughly 3.9 million of us.  Now we are over 300 million.  That’s a hell of a lot of people to keep from just running over each other.  Bureaucracy which makes us all fighting mad frustrated is inevitable, though of course it can be improved upon,  but the situation is not helped by the increasingly dysfunctional nature of our institutions.

Take the Supreme Court.  Our founders did a great job, but their world was about as similar to ours as ours is to that of Star Wars.  Justice Kennedy’s defense of the Citizens United 5-to-4 decision in 2010 that opened the flood gates pouring money into Super Pacs had the aura of Dorothy in Oz.  It makes no sense for our contemporary world.

Essentially Kennedy argued there was no reason to believe the allowance of unlimited contributions by corporations and unions would corrupt (further?) our political process (#3).   Huh?  This presidential campaign already offers abundant evidence in that regard and will become more expensively ugly than ever by the time we all gasp with relief when it ends in November.  Thanks judge.

What we need is not a revolution, but an evolution whereby much of what we are accustomed to must be changed, including our sense of what it is to be an American, that sense of entitlement, not just in terms of what our nation owes us, but the privileged position we have been accustomed to for decades, that of having about 5% of the world’s population and consuming about 25% of its resources.  That’s not our God given right you know.

Evolution in contrast to  revolution takes much more time to develop, and that is reflected in this blog.  If it seems to be heading nowhere fast:  It is.   I think that while we have more information than ever, we are less aware of where we are and where we need to go than ever.  Our national identity is a residue of what we’ve been rather than where we are.

We have been swept along by various trends which have much to do with making money and winning power games, but strikingly  little to do with understanding who we are and what we need as a people.  The internet and social media have thrown those trends into warp speed.  The desire to go back is understandable, but an illusion.  The path forward is murky.   It will take much time and attention to forge,  a huge obstacle right there in these increasingly crazy busy times.

And it will take trust.  Trust that we can figure out a way forward, rekindled trust in knowledge and thought resources to illuminate that path, trust in our capacity to develop a political force that is shaped by common beliefs as opposed to power brokers with special interests.

A recent cable pundit panel discussed “the end of trust”.  I think that’s a good place to start and will expand upon that thought in my Friday post.


(#1)    According to A Dictionary of Quotations (1989), Mencken actually said:  “There is always an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible and wrong.”  What I used is actually a paraphrase I saw on a poster, which I think is snappier.  Hey, maybe it wasn’t a paraphrase.  Maybe someone just made a similar point.

(#2)   You might say “they” want to interfere with our sex lives, but that would be the Christian Fundamentalists, not the Tea Party…..a problem with grouping all on the right together.   Also, because the Tea Party has a common agreement on a set of  “no’s,” is it easy to lump them together as if they were cuttered cookies .  Undoubtedly there is at least one young, black, Fundamentalist in the Tea Party, who might even be gay, though I do think it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, as most seem to be white and over 55.  On second thought, he or she wouldn’t be  hard to locate after all .

(#3)   In the current New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin has an interesting piece tracing the surprising evolution of the Citizens United decision titled:  Money Unlimited.