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"TRADING DREAMS” WON’T WORK: Activism in 21 st Century America  

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The following (italicized) paragraph is an abstract from my recent book, Reversing America's Decline . It is included here to introduce the arguments summarized in the body of this article.

America is in a state of crisis. It is declining politically, economically and morally. The messages of this book are, first, that America 's decline is not part of an inevitable cycle. It could have been avoided and it can be reversed. Second, the present strategy for reforming the US government and reversing America 's decline is futile. Reformers complain about our government, protest its policies and actions hold rallies, petition Congress to pass laws or propose constitutional amendments and "occupy" it. This strategy is nonsensical and ironical. It is nonsensical because federal civil officers have neither the inclination nor the power to reform our government. It is ironical because the complainers dohave both the motivation and the power.

The article that follows expands upon the points made in the above abstract.

21 st century American activism needs rethinking. We not only ask our civilofficers to "shoot themselves in their collective feet."   We ask them to do things they have no power to do -- and no business doing.

Human nature and contemporary fiction

In J. L. Morin's patriotic novel, Trading Dreams , the protagonist (Jerry) becomes disillusioned with the dishonesty required of her by her job on Wall Street. She is also disgusted by the tendency of our financial system to further enrich the wealthy at the expense of ordinary Americans. She trades her dreams of wealth and power for dreams of virtue for its own sake - to be experienced, she supposes -- by leaving her job and joining the Occupy Movement.

Human nature and contemporary activism

Morin's book presents a view of human nature consistent with the strategies of the Tea Party on the right and Occupy on the left. The Tea Party proposes to reform our government by electing civil officers from its ownranks. Occupy believes it can persuade our present civil officers to voluntarily trade their dreams of happiness to be gained through wealth, celebrity status and high living for dreams of happiness to be gained by subordinating their short-term self interests to the interests of their employers -- the people. Public Citizen believes we can persuade Congress to propose a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC.

These strategies are both ineffective and irrational

They are ineffective because, at best, they can produce only incremental improvements. Further, incremental improvements come at a high cost. They sapthe public energy for bringing about genuine reform.

They are irrational for three principal reasons. First, genuine reform would include such unwanted (by civil officers) changes as term limits, "money free" elections and strict impeachment provisions. Second,genuine reform would require constitutional alterations. And our forefathers wisely withheld the power to amend our Constitution from the civil officers of our federal government. Third, our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution (as interpreted by the federalist papers) give us (the people) this power. Is it not irrational to ask our civil officers to make reforms which are contrary to their personal short-term interests (and which they have no power to bring about) when we, the people, both stand to benefitfrom genuine reform and, further, have the power to accomplish it.

Jefferson 's approach to true democracy

Jefferson wrote that twenty years should never be allowed to pass between constitutional conventions. Had we listened to him, these periodic conventions would have allowed us to correct original flaws in our Constitution and keep it current and effective. We could have guided our government so as tomeet our long-term needs as well as the short-term needs of our country's wealthy ten percent.

The consequences of our neglect

The federal government has taken it upon itself to illegally re-write the Constitution. This has contributed to our country's political, economic and moral decline. Only sixteen years after ratification, for example, the Senate rewrote the Constitution when it exempted itself (and, in effect, the House) from the impeachment provisions.

Our justices have long been deciding constitutional cases on the bases of out-dated and faulty judicial precedents -- instead of consulting theConstitution itself. This is due to congressional neglect. It has failed to give them guidelines for adjudicating these cases. Our presidents, much to our revulsion, have turned us into a nation that tolerates torture and assassination. Instead of taking corrective action, we do nothing but complain.

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Neal Herrick is author of the award-wining After Patrick Henry (2009). His most recent book is (2014) Reversing America’s Decline. He is a former sailor, soldier, auto worker, railroad worker, assistant college football coach, (more...)

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