A journalist recently complained that I don't quote the nation's founders in my blogs. I responded, "I take enough heat for speaking outside my expertise, I can't imagine quoting ancient legal text." She said, "Quote other people." She's right of course, but as I once again perused the Declaration of Independence, my true feelings clarified. I realized the real reason is that I feel squeamish about saluting the genocidal, sexist, racist, slaveholding imperialists of my ancestry.
I read several July 4th blogs commenting on freedom, democracy and our frisky founders. I hail the Declaration of Independence as a rudimentary good beginning, though not much advanced from ancient Greece given its exclusionary principles of racism and sexism.
I do appreciate that it enumerates the wrongs committed by King George III, which are not much different from what we face today. But, I can't dismiss the fact that our nation's founders suffered from a myopic view of democracy that did not include indigenous people, anyone of color, and women. It's not irrelevant that they were slaveholders, or that they and their heirs successfully withheld the right to vote from women for nearly 150 years. They are hardly shining examples of egalitarianism, and "justice for all."
justice for all
Wouldn't it be "intellectually dishonest" to quote people who were obviously, if not willfully, clueless about gender, racial and social equality? It was not simple semantics when they radically suggested, "all men are born equal." They meant white men who owned property not indigenous tribes, not people of color and certainly not women.
Surely, we critics of corporatism are ruthlessly honest enough to admit that while the idea of democracy was used to justify dissolving our allegiance to King George III, our forefathers did not exemplify it. The American Revolution started because middle class merchants sought to break the East India Trading Company monopoly.
The idea of democracy has grown considerably in 250 years. It has been much better described in the modern era, and taken to its logical next step in the concept of a world parliament. Given that elections are being run all over the planet in many nations, we can likely glean a more inclusive take on democracy from modern examples.
Quoting our nation's founders should only be done sparingly, as we seek to inspire Americans to join today's global democracy movement. Jefferson may cause some to pause in reflective awe, but I know at least one entire family who lived in the shadowed shame of his shenanigans with one of his slaves. With apology to those revolted by slaveholders, I quote him below; he did have some good ideas.
I applaud those who can discuss the Declaration of Independence in ways that include all citizens. Dave Berman's 4th of July piece is carefully worded:
"The Declaration of Independence is the master change manual. It notes that it may be human nature to endure suffering, and that 'Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.' And yet it defines not only 'the Right of the People to alter or to abolish' their government, but indeed their 'duty' to do so when the government has failed to secure our unalienable rights and derive their 'just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.'"
It is his call to action, to "peaceful revolution now."
More often, tho, I think about the U.S. Constitution, which I've made myself read a few times since November 2, 2004. In particular, because current interpretation adversely affects me today, I often review the Amendments. I doubt anyone could convince me that the 14th Amendment allows gays and lesbians to be specifically excluded from constitutional rights in this country; that somehow, the term "nor deny to any person" means, except gays and lesbians.
I doubt even the most superb writer could justify judicial interpretation of the 14th Amendment to mean that corporations are persons. If what was once an artificial and temporary construct, created to carry out a specific function, is then to become an immortal person with little liability, shouldn't something in the 14th Amendment indicate that to reasonable minds?
Thomas Jefferson must be spitting worms, given what he wrote in 1816:
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
We'll have to crush "the aristocracy of our monied corporations" in its prime, it seems. Maybe the easiest way to do this is to rescind corporate charters, as the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy suggests. Let's do it now, all of them, and renew only those that detail a specific project for a limited time. While we're at it, we should also remove all constitutional rights since corporations, after all, are not people. It's not as if we're going to lose a huge tax base. In 2004, the IRS reported that the overall share of federal taxes paid by corporations was less than 10%. And many corporations that do owe taxes don't pay them (yet their charters remain intact).