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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

“Happy Days” And the Other Side of the Coin (Part One)

(Editor’s note:  This is the first segment in a new multi-part series. …)

Ten years following the Mayflower, a prominent landholder named John Winthrop organizes what would become a 20,000 strong, great migration to New England by 1642.  Before landing, Winthrop delivers a sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity,” in which he asserts:  “We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill; the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Does today’s America seem like a City upon a Hill, as the metaphor suggests?  Or is America more like a gated community trying to divert its eyes from those in need?

The historical context is sobering.  Over a period of 350 years, some 10 million blacks would be transported to the Americas.  This fact stands as a testament to the greatest forced migration of a people against their will in the history of Western Civilization.  Consider that when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, nearly 50% of the inhabitants of his home state of Virginia, fully 500,000, were African American.  Yet, the interpretation of his political writings in those days seem to ignore that particular demographic reality.

A recent film depicts Washington’s crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night of 1776 and the ensuing Battle of Trenton.  The film and the valiant struggle it represents are emotionally moving, but the eerie feeling about this version of history is that there are no blacks in it.  No black civilians, no black soldiers, no black slaves or body servants --- just white people bravely and busily creating a new nation.

The cast of Happy Days!
Similarly, the popular TV show, Happy Days, depicting life in the good old days of the 1950s, also has no black characters.  The “other side of the coin” is not be depicted, almost as if it doesn’t exist.  Perhaps, it is wishful thinking. 

Indeed, Jeffersons own writing indicates that his earliest memory is of being carried on a pillow by one slave riding on horseback to the day he’s lowered into the earth in a coffin made by another.  Yet, he finds it impossible in his domestic culture to effectively denounce, let alone attempt to eradicate, the institution of slavery, in a life cushioned by the subjugation of others.

In 1807 the US legally abolishes the slave trade, which only seems to make slave “breeding” more desirable and profitable to their white overlords.  In the mid-19th century, the question lingers on what to do with the African American slaves, if freed.

Many in the South favor a mandate to simply send them back to AfricaThe nation of Liberia in western Africa is founded, but only for those who wish to return to a part of their ancestral homeland.  But the plan is scuttled, when it becomes understood that African Americans like it here, too, and aren’t going anywhere again, involuntarily.

Yet following the conclusion of Civil War hostilities through the Reconstruction Era, Frederick Douglass, perhaps the most famous black abolitionist, notes in 1882 that the newly freed slave “was free from the individual master but a slave to society.  He had neither money, property nor friends.”

One may be assured that a man who is guaranteed the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” after toiling away, displaced for hundreds of years as free labor --- possessing neither money, property, nor friends --- faces a stark reality indeed.

(Editor’s note: The second segment of this multi-part series continues this survey from the turn of the 20th century to the two World Wars to the turbulence of mid-century and the 1960s.)

-Michael D'Angelo

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Restoring Balance And Harmony (Part Five)

(Editor’s note:  Should a lawmaker be permitted the right to serve indefinitely, for unlimited term or duration, in many instances for life?  The final segment --- Part Five --- in this multi-part series on Restoring Balance And Harmony addresses the back end of the legislator’s term of service. 

The solution for reversing the greatest concentration of wealth disparity in American History is no simple task, targeting reform of the legislative branch at three critical junctures: first, before the legislator is elected; second, while the legislator is serving; and third, on the back end of the legislator’s term of service.

The solution’s first component calls for the abolition of gerrymandered districts, the second for an end to the filibuster custom.  This final segment brings us to the third and final component.

Third, on the back end of legislative service, George Washington’s precedent of executive term limit must be extended on a constitutional basis to the legislative branch.

If lawmakers are made to understand that they are out of office after a time certain --- returned to private life with strict, transparent limitations on future economic dealings at government expense --- they will possess little incentive but to act conscientiously in the affairs of the people.  Their perpetual concern about re-election as a distracting self-interest proposition and corruptive force will have been effectively removed.

In both the House of Representatives and the Senate, a limitation of twelve (12) years in elected office is suggested as a flexible starting point for discussion.  Those who come to view their place in the federal government as a hereditary or privileged entitlement will be removed by the regular operation of law, so that fresh, new, ordinary blood can renew the people’s fight.

Theodore Roosevelt did not believe

that any man should ever attempt to make politics his whole career.  It is a dreadful misfortune for a man to grow to feel that his whole livelihood and whole happiness depend upon his staying in office.  Such a feeling prevents him from being of real service to the people while in office, and always puts him under the heaviest strain of pressure to barter his convictions for the sake of holding office.  A man should have some other occupation … to which he can resort if at any time he is thrown out of office, or if at any time he finds it necessary to choose a course which will probably result in his being thrown out, unless he is willing to stay in at cost to his conscience.

Steering this proposal into law will serve to render a legislative seat more responsive to the will and strengthened vote of the ordinary citizen and not to concentrated economic power.  Consequently, lawmakers will regain their rightful place as the impartial umpire in the affairs of the people’s business set on a level playing field.

This proposal does, however, contain one catch.  And it is a major catch.  Unfortunately, lawmakers cannot reasonably be expected to legislate away in regular session privileges they have devised, perfected and come to expect and enjoy for themselves by tradition over the course of more than two centuries.  This is to be anticipated in the context of human nature’s important lesson --- that reasonable people will act reasonably in their own best interest.

To implement change for the greater good, we must provide favorable conditions without the constraints of today’s competing, partisan ideologies.  It is apparent that these reforms simply cannot be accomplished, therefore, absent a national constitutional convention called specifically for this purpose.  Delegates to the convention must be pledged solely to the great unfinished business of the nation, not to partisan, special or self-interest.

Therein lies the problem.  Does the ordinary citizen possess the courage to meet this challenge?

-Michael D’Angelo