"We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
What a paragraph! This sparse, 52-word opening of our Constitution did not merely launch a fledgling nation -- but a bold experiment in democratic idealism. The rest of the document consists of details, but this carefully considered Preamble set forth our nation's purpose. It declares to all the world that the BIG goal of America -- its very reason for existing -- is to create a society that embraces and fosters such egalitarian values as justice, tranquility, common effort, the welfare of all, and liberty.
As Benjamin Franklin put it at the time, "America's destiny is not power, but light." The light is our historic commitment to the common good, shared prosperity, and a government of, by, and for the People.
Whatever happened to that audacious reach, that grand vision, that proud progressive purpose? We know, of course, that our nation has never attained the fullness of this ideal, but over the decades, generation after generation has at least strived to get closer to it -- and made impressive progress. But today, some 224 years after the penning of the Preamble, America's corporate-financial-political establishment is fleeing the light, insisting that it's no longer possible or even desirable to pursue those democratic ideals that make our country important -- and make it work.
What's happened is that, from Wall Street to Washington, we have too many five-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets. As a result of their dimness, America's uniting and constructive ethic of "We're all in this together" and "Together we can" is being supplanted by a shriveled, dispiriting ethic that exalts plutocratic selfishness and scorns the public interest as intrusive, wasteful, ideologically impure, and morally ruinous. They're pushing us toward a forbidding Kochian jungle in which there is no "we" -- money rules, everyone's on their own, and such matters as justice, general welfare, tranquility, and posterity are none of society's damned business.The nation of no-can-do
In recent years, acolytes of the far right have contrived yet another litmus test of ideological purity to divide "real Americans" (themselves) from those who obviously hate America (all who do not agree with them). "American exceptionalism," they call it.
America has most certainly been exceptional in many ways, thanks to the pluck and democratic determination of grassroots folks. But that's not glorious enough for these extreme nationalists, who insist that ours is a God-ordained exceptionalism. They preach that ours is both a Christian nation and one bathed in the blood of free enterprise, thus God has blessed us with a moral superiority that lifts the USofA ever-sparkling above all nations that ever existed.
Never mind that our national morality has a few conspicuous hickies on it (ask a Native American, for example), the believers believe ... and that makes it true. They're also demanding that others believe -- or be branded un-American. To get right with the rightists, such current seekers of the presidency as Mitt, Newt, Herman, Rick, the other Rick, and Michele have bowed to the exceptionalists and are blissfully spreading this new gospel through their campaign speeches and websites. (Really, friends, how credible is America's claim to exceptionalism with those six carrying the flag?)
The cruelest irony is that America's genuine exceptionalism (our historic striving for a more egalitarian society) is under relentless assault by the political army of the hokey exceptionalists. These are the holy crusaders of the plutocratic, autocratic, theocratic, and kleptocratic right -- an army that includes the laissez-fairyland Koch brothers; the Boehner-Cantor-Ryan triumvirate in the US House; off-the-wall senators like Jim DeMint and Jim Inhofe; the gaggle of goofy governors wreaking havoc in Arizona, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, and elsewhere; Grover Norquist, Karl Rove, and other slash-and-burn political operatives; corporate front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Cato Institute; and such ceaseless propaganda pushers as Rupert Murdoch's line-up of Fox TV yakkers.
Far from fostering exceptionalism, these heavily financed forces are rumbling throughout the country to crush the union movement, eliminate wage protections, privatize everything from schools to Social Security, kill poverty programs, un-regulate Wall Street, repeal environmental rules, suppress voter turnout, stack the courts, corporatize elections, and de-legitimize the democratic values expressed by the founders in the Preamble. They are dynamiting the underpinnings of the middle class and taking away the public tools that ordinary people must have to do the extraordinary things that truly make America great.
So here we are, the wealthiest nation on earth with massive needs and an industrious population eager to get working on those needs, yet our leaders throw up their hands and say: "No can do."
The "leaders" have given up on greatness because there's no greatness in them. Most of those at the top of the corporate and political establishment (excuse the redundancy there) are so narcissistic that they no longer see beyond their own good fortunes, equating America's progress, well-being, and greatness to the size of their portfolios. The fact that they could invent phrases like "jobless recovery," "too big to fail," and "the new normal" reveals their spiritual constipation and self-absorption.
They've even fabricated a pious ethic of "austerity" to cloak their shameful abandonment of America's common good. Using the ongoing economic collapse, which was caused by them -- their Wall Street recklessness, profligate tax giveaways to the super-rich, unbridled corporate greed, and the multi-trillion dollar wars put on the national credit card -- the people in charge now lecture sternly that America (i.e., you and I) must cut back.
Candidate Romney spelled it out: "I think it's time for programs that we like but that we simply can't afford, to be stopped ... and I'm going to do that," listing the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities , PBS and NPR, and Amtrak.
These are abstemious times, we're told, so workaday people must lower their expectation of having a middle-class existence. And, they scold, stop looking for either corporations or governments to do anything to lift people up or rally the nation to achieve any sort of grand national goals. In twisted language that would cause even George Orwell to gasp in disbelief, they tell us that America's corporate and political leaders must be big enough to be small -- and bold enough to see that the only way forward is to go backwards.