I’ve spent a lot of time on the road. Traveled by train, by auto, by boat, by thumb and foot, and a few times, kicking and screaming, by plane. Some of that time was as a wandering troubadour, some of it as an itinerant fencing master, and some of it as a penurious knight-errant. A small but memorable portion of that time I spent utterly lost.
No band I was in ever looked this clean-cut.
As anyone who’s ever been lost can tell you, you’ll never get to your destination unless you figure out where the hell you are now and how you got there from where you started out. The best thing to do is backtrack as far as you need to go until you find the place where you went wrong, and then get on the right road. But before you can get on the right road, you have to be able to admit that you’re lost in the first place. Some people can’t seem to do that. Most of them seem to wear testicles. For those readers I hasten to add that I have on several occasions admitted to being lost and I can reassure you that I suffered no discernible diminishment of either penile dimensions or work capacity.
I believe that any rational and reasonably objective analysis of our current situation in the United States would compel one to conclude that we are careening toward hell in a handcart. The hell, in this case, is a brutal, oppressive fascist police state, the technological capabilities of which make Hitler’s Nazi Germany look like a meeting of the Society of Friends. I’ll spare you a litany of tyrannies. The list is not identical to the one offered in the Declaration of Independence, but it is substantially the same.
The very handcart we're going to hell in.
When you consider that our stated destination was to be a Republic with government “by the consent of the governed,” a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” resulting in a country “with liberty and justice for all,” I think it’s reasonable to pause a moment and ask,” What the hell happened?”
As usual, the answer you get will depend on whom you ask.
If you ask a Republican, chances are they tell you that the signpost marking the off-ramp to hell was the election of Barrack Obama to the Presidency. Democrats, on the other hand, exhibiting an extraordinarily crippling case of selective blindness, will backtrack a bit further and identify the wrong turn as the Supreme Court’s effective installment of Republican George W. Bush as President over Democrat Al Gore.
Folks who are a little more savvy might backtrack to Bill Clinton, remembering, as well one should, President Clinton’s responsibility for the Waco (Branch Davidians) Massacre, the fairytale cover-up of the Murrah Building Bombing in Oklahoma, and the resultant AEDRA (Anti-terrorism and Effect Death Penalty Act) of 1996, that laid the precedent groundwork for the passage of Dubya’s “Patriot Act” of 2001.
They're all in it together.
A few are astute enough to follow the trail back to George H.W. Bush, the evil CIA mastermind who presided over the hoodwinking of Saddam Hussein, justifying the first Gulf war and other earthly delights, during his two terms in the oval office – three if you include he was effectively President during Ronald Reagan’s second term of office, even though Bush failed in having his boss assassinated. Some may point to Reagan, himself, while he was briefly lucid, and his busting of the PATCO union as the catalyst of our national descent toward the scent of sulphur.
The rare genius will make it back as far as the Kennedy Assassination in 1963, noting that the subsequent three presidents -- Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford – were all involved eyeball-deep in JFK’s murder and/or cover-up. While I congratulate those who trace the thread of our republic’s demise back to that point, I nevertheless have to beckon, “Go back farther.”
“How much farther?” you might ask.
“Sorry to tell you, “ I might reply, “but you took the wrong turn coming out of your driveway.”
Friendly colonists providing British troops with directions back to Boston.
Once upon a time there were 13 little colonies of England, back in the good old days when all you had to do to get a nice piece of land for yourself was shoot another Indian or two. To understand where we went wrong, you first have to know what a “federation” is. According to Webster (the dictionary, not the sitcom), a federation is a union of organizations, or an “organization made by loosely joining together other organizations” for a common purpose. Some examples are: The National Wildlife Federation, the Federation of American Scientists, the International Sailing Federation, the National Federation of Music Clubs, The International Federation of Library Associations, the International Fencing Federation, and it’s closely related organization, the United Federation of Planets. If there isn’t an International Federation of Federations, there should be.
What the hell was our prime directive again?
What is important is that you understand the difference between a federation or a federal government, and a nation or a national government. They are NOT the same thing. The difference lies in the relationship between the central government and the state governments, and between the central government and the people of the various states.
With a federal government, each sovereign state retains all powers granted to it by the people of that state, except those powers that the states delegate to the central government in order to further the interests of the people of the various states. With a national government, the central government is the sovereign and holds all powers except those it delegates to the states or allows to the people. This may be a subtle distinction, but it is, without doubt, a critical one
When our 13 little colonies figured out they could get a big discount at Sam’s Club if they pooled their orders, they formed a club called “The United States of America,” described in a document called “The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.” In this document it clearly asserts that the individual member states maintained their individual sovereignty and all powers except for those powers specifically delegated to the central government of the federation. “Each state,” they wrote, “retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated." This document was ratified by all the 13 colonies, after 3½ years of wrangling, in 1781.
The ACPU did NOT create a nation, indivisible or otherwise, or a national government to rule over the states and to which the individual states and the people thereof were to be subservient. To the contrary, the individual states simply recognized that there were some things that they could accomplish better by acting together, than by acting individually, and to that limited extent empowered the central (federal) government to act on their collective behalf.
They wrote, in the ACPU: “The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever."
The ACPU had some shortcomings, principally related to money, and the ability of the central government to carry out the functions assigned to it by the states. In 1787 the Confederation Congress called a convention of state delegates to meet in Philadelphia to re-write the second act. That is, their sole and express purpose was to revise the Articles of Confederation. What happened was similar to getting a crew together to shoot a no-budget 60-second anti-freeze commercial, and ending up with a 20 million dollar, 2-hour long, gay film noir spaghetti western.
It is at this juncture that I think we can identify exactly where we took the wrong fork in the road.
Gratuitous suggestive photo that has nothing to do with the article.
Then, as now, there were two kinds of people in the world: those who want to have power over others, and those who don’t want anyone to have power over them.
Then, as now, there was a small minority of people who were wealthy and therefore powerful. They wanted a nation, not a federation, a nation with a very strong central government, and relatively (power being a zero-sum game) very weak state governments. This minority included the aristocrats, the big land-owners (and therefore the big slave-owners), the major merchants, the lawyers and judges, and, of course, the bankers. They wanted a nation that would be a major player on the world stage. They wanted George Washington to be King. (After all, there’s no more powerful or more centralized government than a monarchy). They wanted to “expand the economy,” i.e., accumulate more riches for themselves. In short, they wanted what greedy, selfish people always have wanted and still want: more. A couple hundred years later, George W. Bush would refer to these folks as his “base.” Some folks might refer to them as the “1%.”
The overwhelming majority of the residents of the states -- the 99%, if you please -- were farmers and tradesmen whose ambitions were substantially more modest. They wanted a federation, not a nation, with strong state and local governments and a relatively weak central government, a central government limited to only certain very specific and narrowly prescribed powers. These were the folks who had been most heavily taxed, impressed into the army, most brutally oppressed, abused by the King’s soldiers, and never even invited to tea. Some of them eventually threw a tea party of their own. Let’s call these folks the common people, for lack of a bitter term.
Now, cagey as the aristocrats were, they knew perfectly well that most folks did NOT share their dream of a nation of, by and for the rich. Most people wanted a federal government, not a national government. The nationalists knew that they couldn’t very well call themselves nationalists, or they’d be doomed to political failure. So they called themselves “federalists.”
Nationalists in Federalist clothing.
This named implied, to the average person, that the "federalists" were in favor of federal government, ie, a very loose organization of sovereign member states with a very limited central government. This was exactly the opposite of what the so-called “federalists” actually wanted.
The “Federalists” lied.
From the very beginning.
It was an epic lie of staggering scale and unsurpassed malevolence. It was as if the Rolling Stones had called themselves “The London Symphony Orchestra.” It was as if the Ku Klux Klan had called itself the “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” It was as if someone had written an extremely draconian piece of legislation to oppress the People and strip them of their constitutionally-protected civil liberties and entitled it the “Patriot Act.”
Now, the folks who actually did favor a very loose organization of sovereign member states with a very limited central government, were caught flat-footed, a day late and sixpence short, and had to play catch-up. But as we know, action beats re-action. They couldn’t call themselves “Federalists,” which was what they really were, because the name had already been stolen, and everyone knows you can’t have two teams playing in the world series, both of which are called “the New York Yankees.” What’s a poor federalist to do? They decided, if they couldn’t name themselves for what they were for, they would name themselves for what they were against: those guys, the so-called “federalists.”
Arise, Sir Anti-Federalist.
The Federalists included John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton (who, rather than getting a burr under his saddle, was saddled with a Burr). Benjamin Franklin was their starting pitcher. James Madison, alas, became the principal architect of the new draft of the ACPU, which was to become known as the Constitution of the United States.
The Anti-Federalists included John Hancock, Sam Adams, and Patrick Henry, who felt it was a moral imperative to swing at every pitch.
A long train.
In the Declaration on Independence, principal author Thomas Jefferson noted a “long train of abuses and usurpations” by the King of England (their lawful King, by the way). Some of those abuses may sound disturbingly familiar. The list included:
· He has refused his Assent to Laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
· He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
· He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
· He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the civil power
· … quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
· … protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
· …cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
· … imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
· …depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury
· …transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
· …abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these states
· He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
· He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
· He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
One might think that, after fighting a 5-year war (effectively from 1776 to 1781 although the formal treaty wasn’t signed until 1783) over these (and some other) abuses, the framers of the new government would take great pains to ensure that the new boss wouldn’t wind up being just like the old boss.
And one would be wrong.
There is not one word in the seven articles of the Constitution that specifically addresses any of those abuses or usurpations.
That’s where the “anti-federalists” (actually the true federalists, remember?) ride to the rescue. They didn’t trust the Federalists’ (nationalists) assurances of, “Gosh, the government wouldn’t DO that,” and “Oh, don’t worry, that goes without saying.” The nit-picking pests insisted on having it in writing. Then and ONLY then would they give their vital votes in endorsement of the Constitution.
In the end, they struck a deal: We’ll support the Constitution NOW, but we damn well better have a Bill of Rights before the ink is dry on the parchment.
That’s why we have the “Bill of Rights,” consisting of the first ten amendments (additions to or changes in) of the Constitution. The Federalists had never considered it, had never even mentioned it. And the only reason they agreed to add the Bill of Rights was to get the Anti-Federalists to vote for the Constitution. The Bill of Rights was added by James Madison, largely cutting and pasting from the work of George Mason, from Virginia. It was little-known Mason who was the actual godfather of our civil liberties.
With a Bill of Rights in place, we should have lived happily ever after.
But we didn't.
I think the Federalists were lying again.
I think the Federalists saw the inclusion of the Bill of Rights as a scam, something to placate the Anti-federalists, but never to be taken very seriously by the Federalists, who assumed that they would be the ones in power, and once in power could twist legalese around when necessary in order to circumvent the spirit, if not the actual letter of the law. After all, they were the lawyers. They were the judges. And they had the resources to get their way.
And that’s still the news.
Ever since 1791, it’s been a running battle between those greedy psychopaths who love power – the “Federalists,” the “Conservatives,” or whatever name the 1% currently call themselves – and those who love freedom. Caught in the middle are the 90% who will bend whatever way the wind is blowing, going along to get along.
And ever since 1791, there has been a more or less steady erosion of the Bill of Rights. Oh, yes, we've had a bright moment now and then. But it's possible to win an occasional skirmish, and still lose the war.
And so we seem to have done.
TSA gropes child at airport. Hey, she could be a terrorist...
There seem to a lot of people, a lot of basically good and decent people, who believe that the US has just recently lost it’s way and we’ve got to “get back” to that supposed golden age when we stood by our “traditional values.”
Trouble is, there never was such a time.
But that’s not to say there couldn’t be one.
Personally, I’d love to see it. To get there, though, I think we’re going to have to backtrack to where we took a wrong turn and admit we took one.
As the saying goes, “No matter how far you go down the wrong road, turn the hell around.”
Liberty & Justice,