America’s place in the world (Who we are; external relationships and history)
To identify what moves us into political positions, perhaps we can start by laying down the positive ideals of both Republicans and Democrats followed by a look at their underlying visions of America.
Republicans, conservatives, and traditionalists typically imagine their political vision through a historical narrative. America as the Grand Experiment, leaving behind all that went wrong in the European West, from corrupt and crazy monarchies to the overarching reach of the Catholic Church, America would seek to be freed from the shackles of the authority of Kings and Popes into a New World of self-determination never before granted to individuals. This great moment in history is seen as the primary ground from which has sprung so much that is great about America, that all of the evils attributed to her can be seen as having been overcome because of the American experiment rather than caused by it.
Republican’s and traditionalists value America’s place in history, warts and all, because in the context of the history of the world, they believe the United States, through the formation of a Constitutional government has created a society more just, more free and more wealthy than any other state before or since. In the words of Ronald Reagan:
“If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth.” RONALD REAGAN, speech in support of Barry Goldwater, October 27, 1964
Freedom here is freedom from government interference with one’s practice of religion, pursuit of one’s livelihood and with a respect for private property. America’s place in history is unique, fragile and sets us apart from all else that has gone before and is itself an important historical progression that requires protection from invasion by outsiders and subversive undoing from insiders. The operational myth here is that of, the warrior who divides the world and all things into two; saved or damned, us or them, material or spiritual, with us or against us. At its worst, war becomes a terrible necessity, at its best, the freedom of the individual to pursue purpose and meaning gave us Steve Jobs, Ben Franklin and so many other greats.
The battle will always be with us and ever growing with bigger and more harmful ways to conquer perceived enemies. We must remember that freedom isn’t free, but we cannot impose freedom on others and it is not in our best interest to attempt to do so. Warriors in pursuit of the enemy tend be wanderers, never at home, and so never belonging anywhere. The world, all of nature and even ourselves become one more thing to conquer. The enemy is always with us.
Democrats, liberals and progressives see the American experiment as something that for any of its positives, is still very much in the red. Any greatness America can claim has come about only at the expense of others; Native cultures, women, African slaves, children and immigrant laborers. The movement toward progress or change is seen as a much needed improvement of the American experiment, a carrying on of the vision of freedom that our fore fathers would support. Progress is a struggle too, but instead of warriors in battle they see victims and oppressors. At its worst, every failure is someone else’s fault, every success causes another’s failure; at its best the weak and marginalized among us receive the protection and opportunity necessary to thrive.
“The world is my country, and to do good my religion.” Thomas Paine
Progress then should include all the peoples of the planet, for who does not deserve the good that we envision? Ultimately though, a true progressive vision would necessarily include abandoning the protection of private property, borders, boundaries, countries, states, as these are the cause of separation, privilege and discrimination between peoples, as well we must also abandon the notion that America has a privileged place among nations.
Absolute equality of outcomes for the many and the implementation of said ideal can only come about through the use of force. When the victims arise (or would that be lifted up?) to take their just and rightful place in the world by eliminating the oppressors they will by necessity become the oppressor or at the very least need to hire one. The powerful among us, regardless of their ideals, will always make their way up front to lead those who by necessity of their character, can only follow.
By laying out distinctions between political identities I don’t mean to imply that we are all either in one camp or the other. I think many of us have blended both traditional and progressive ideals in our world view and experience change in our political perspectives over time. But I do think the highly mediated American culture of television, radio and internet tempts us to make an unnecessary choice between opposing views. I believe too, that many, if not most of our fearless leaders in government are happy to play the part of cheerleaders and are thriving off of the battle between political identities. It serves them well, as their service is then defined by saving us from the enemy.
Seeing ourselves through the lens of opposing political identities will perhaps polarize us to the point of absurdity. Perhaps as we come to recognize that our current political positions offer us nothing more than a stalemate (or another form of entertainment) we may begin to look for the bridge to some, as yet unknown place where our vision of America and the world is restored and renewed.
Human satisfaction and contentment are rare gems and America’s wealth and success as experienced in the 20th century is a great witness to what little affect wealth and freedom have on our personal happiness. In America it’s Christmas everyday and everyone is a King relative to how the rest of the world lives, but we remain the largest consumers of prescription drugs for relief from both mental and physical afflictions. If America’s abundance of wealth and plenty has failed to make us happy, healthy, loving and wise, why and what, if anything, would?
Is it possible to structure laws and civil interactions to facilitate the best outcomes for the highest number of people? That question will move us to a later discussion of the particulars mentioned here.
Here is a link to today’s theme song: Thank you Arlo and Happy Thanksgiving everyone!