Two great American pillars compromised
History will recall of the American project only two distinguishing ideas, in practice, the experiences that made us unique among countries: it is the first place democracy and the idea of a socio-economic haven were tried.
Granted, we have also had our special arts, sports and technology. Only here could “Moby Dick” and “Huckleberry Finn” and “Death of a Salesman” have been written; could “Appalachian Spring” and the pumping Jazz-Age anthem “Rhapsody in Blue” have arisen; could Robert Johnson have suffered so artfully his moment of Jim Crow. Historians will never forget the West Los Angeles dream factories where Mount Olympus, gods and goddesses glowing, was rebirthed; nor its fellow-traveling mass media and their opportunistic life-partners, consumerism and advertising. But those are not the everlasting civic accomplishments for which America as a political experiment will be remembered.
We were the first polity to attempt applied democracy, to aspire as a nation to the continuing goal of being ruled by its people. Although it is an ancient idea, on American soil was democracy first tried; only here did it first successfully root. Our classically educated founders, reacting against Old World tyrannies and other absolutisms, envisioned a responsible, informed citizenry capable of sustaining such self-rule.
We also invented the idea of socio-economic haven. This continent’s abundant resources, combined with its geographic immensity, beckoned adventurers willing to invest their lives endeavoring betterment. Pennsylvania, for example, not even among second-ranked states in size—like Montana, Wyoming and Nevada—is almost as large as Great Britain. When “chartered” to William Penn in 1682, it became the largest privately owned property on the planet. Penn not only embraced agreeable Swedes, Finns and Dutch already established on the lower Delaware, but also invited persecuted Europeans and Brits especially to join in commonwealth. That pattern fed the Colonies with people: originally Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics, but soon everyone from everywhere seeking a better life and willing to contribute talent and labor to community for the purpose of creating it.
These twin themes of America’s greatness are compromised. Our Electoral College, instituted to prevent demagogues and manipulators from reaching highest office, now votes along party lines in blocs concentrated by gerrymandering, which purposefully nullifies individual votes. Immigration is currently being restricted based on religion, a practice specifically forbidden by Article VI of our Constitution: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Haven and asylum are granted “public Trusts.”
We are tyrannized not by princes, popes, inquisitors and witch-hunters, but by our own despotic greed, ignorance, fear and hate—not by any means any less oppressive.
[Anthony Splendora is a resident of Milford, PA.]