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Monday, December 1, 2014

Map Keys ... a Milestone

“It is impossible to make a man understand something if his livelihood depends on not understanding it.”

-Upton Sinclair, muckraking author

Map Keys, a signature expression of the Life among the Ordinary blog, surpasses 1,000 page views.  It can be found here:

-Michael D'Angelo

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Preserving the American Dream ...


Preserving the American Dream through meaningful equality of opportunity.

Certain conclusions may be drawn about the umpiring when the 400 richest Americans possess more wealth than the bottom half (150 million) combined.  And the conclusions are not all positive.  In the end, society's unrest may be traced to a failure to uphold Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism ideal of basic social justice which puts human welfare first.

Life among the Ordinary: Completing our Nation's Great Unfinished Business presents a rare, independent voice which celebrates the pursuit of happiness through the lens of our imperfect yet predictable human nature.  The product of comprehensive, multi-year study sets the reader upon a course to explore the provocative question:

Is there a practical solution to preserve the American Dream
which empowers ordinary citizens to do it themselves?

-Michael D'Angelo

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Life among the Ordinary: Completing Our Nation’s Great Unfinished Business (Most Popular Blog Posts)

Here are the five (5) most popular posts from the blog dating back to its inception in November 2011:

1.   Map Keys (996 views):

2.   Theodore Roosevelt and Noblesse Oblige (871 views):

3.   The “Unnatural Alliance (622 views):

4.   An Independent Voice (538 views):

5.   Thomas Jefferson’s Personal “Pursuit of Happiness” (507 views):

Happy reading!

- Michael D’Angelo

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Life among the Ordinary - Press Release

(Editor's note: The publisher's press release announcing the publication of Life among the Ordinary: Completing Our Nation’s Great Unfinished Business, is re-printed below.)

Local author publishes a comprehensive study of the American Dream: a “love letter to the ordinary citizen”

SARASOTA, FL – July 29, 2014

Local author Michael D’Angelo has announced the publication of his first book, Life among the Ordinary: Completing Our Nation’s Great Unfinished Business, a multi-year production which celebrates the pursuit of happiness in Western Civilization from the Founding Fathers to the present. The book, which has been published and released by Sarasota-based independent publisher Suncoast Digital Press, Inc., is currently available for purchase via Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats and in a special premium hardcover edition via IngramSpark.
It presents a rare, independent voice which permits the freedom to tell a story through a different lens, using only the eyes of an ordinary citizen within our imperfect yet predictable human nature. In 2014 the US middle class is under unprecedented duress.  D'Angelo examines the specific trend of human welfare throughout American history—courageously identifying the root cause of society's unrest. He explores a provocative question—is there a practical solution to restore meaningful equality of opportunity and preserve the American Dream which empowers ordinary citizens to do it themselves?
The book is acclaimed as “a significant contribution to the perennial dialogue about reform in American life” (Jeffrey R. Orenstein, Ph.D., political scientist and author), a "relatable, authentic and accurate assessment of where we are as a culture" (Tom McManus, co-editor, Journal of Management Development) and "a very powerful source on human behavior and how we evolve" (Dr. Paul Forti, consulting psychologist). D’Angelo's presentation is equal parts academic analysis and opinion, artfully balancing the need for change against the obligation to protect the status quo as we plan today for the challenges of the future.
More information about D’Angelo and his work, as well as how to purchase it, can be found at or contact the publisher via email

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Life among the Ordinary: Completing Our Nation's Great Unfinished Business

(Note:  Readers are treated here to a sneak preview of the write up which is printed on the hardcover version’s front and rear dust jacket inside flaps.  A formal press release announcing the book’s publication will follow.)

Is there a practical solution to preserve the American Dream which empowers ordinary citizens to do it themselves?  Life among the Ordinary is the product of comprehensive, multi-year study to find out.

Happiness is the aim of life, and virtue is its foundation.  Hamilton’s plan uses the forces of human nature to create an artificial class of wealth with privileges to its benefactors which are not the right of every citizen.  Jefferson says the system flows “from principles adverse to liberty” and is “calculated to undermine and demolish the republic,” narrowing the government into fewer hands and approximating it to a hereditary form.  Washington’s fateful decision under man’s creation envisions the greatest good for the greatest number.

Jackson stakes his popularity on a common man oath.  Government must grant no privilege that aids one class over another and act as an honest broker between classes.  Prosperity abounds in a land of opportunity.  But the new standard of worship for American society is and remains money, moral issues aside, as the war which Lincoln so deplores came.

The Industrial Revolution produces enviable physical results.  But at the dawn of the American century, Theodore Roosevelt reflects that there have been “two great crises in our country’s history: first, when it was formed, and then, again, when it was perpetuated … .”  The third great crisis is upon us, the struggle “to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity.”  He concedes the vitality of faith:

 Friends, perhaps once in a generation, perhaps not so often, there comes a chance for a people of a country to play their part wisely and fearlessly in some great battle of the age-long warfare for human rights.  The doctrines we preach reach back to the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount.  They reached back to the commandments delivered at Sinai.  All that we are doing is to apply those doctrines in the shape necessary to make them available for meeting the living issue of our own day.

A handicapped president helps vanquish a Great Depression and restore the ordinary citizen’s faith in democracy, making capitalism more humane.  Some criticize F.D.R., calling him a socialist and his New Deal socialistic.  But the aim is merely to multiply the number of American shareholders.  “Is this socialistic?” he asks with a hearty laugh.

Yet despite the achievement, what has really changed, if anything?  “For the many,” Robert Kennedy observes, “roots of despair all feed at a common source.  …  Our gross national product … measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worth while.”

America enters the 21st century with record wealth and income disparity.  The fight for change among people who can't speak for themselves appears to be no match against the power of the entrenched status quo to restore the failed, old order.  At the crossroads the great crisis is in full view.

It’s along the “dimension of economic opportunity,” President Obama notes, “the chance through honest toil to advance one's station in life,” that the goals of the civil rights era “have mostly fallen short.”  The “measure of progress” is “whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many ... .  To win that battle, to answer that call --- this remains our great unfinished business.”

Is there a practical solution to restore meaningful equality of opportunity which empowers ordinary citizens to do it themselves?  The book sets upon a course to take the reader on a journey to that place.

-Michael D'Angelo

Note:  To learn how to purchase the new book in the reader's choice of hardcover, paperback or digital formats, see links to the right.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Publication Announcement !!!

Life among the Ordinary: Completing Our Nation's Great Unfinished Business --- the book, a product of comprehensive, multi-year study --- is published !!!

Here are the important links to purchase in the desired format ...

... hardcover:

... paperback:

... digital (kindle):

A formal press release regarding the book's publication will be issued shortly.  Please keep an eye out for it!

And thanks for all your support!

-Michael D'Angelo

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Liberty and Equality of Opportunity

Beneath every truth and appearance there seemingly lies a measure of paradoxical opposite --- take "Liberty" and "Equality of Opportunity" for example ...

Liberty and equality of opportunity make for interesting bed fellows.  Bed fellows?

Liberty --- together with life and the pursuit of happiness --- are without question the most cherished rights of US citizenship.  Generations of Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice defending them.  Equality of opportunity --- the notion that each is entitled to the same access to the American economic opportunity structure --- has been more elusive.  It is in this area of economic opportunity --- the “chance through honest toil to advance one's station in life” --- where the goals of our nation have fallen most short.

Yet liberty and equality of opportunity, each a desirable principle, are often at odds.  Insofar as equal rights are freely exercised, they are bound to result in inequalities, made to be perpetual.  As one leading progressive thinker has pointed out, the “marriage” --- which the free exercise of equal rights is designed to consecrate between liberty and equality --- “gives birth to unnatural children, whose nature it is to devour one or the other of its parents.”

One of the most interesting challenges in American democracy involves the delicate balancing act which liberty encounters when confronted with equality of opportunity.  Give the people liberty, and all is well.  Give them too much liberty, and equality of opportunity is at sufferance as wealth begins to concentrate and perpetuate unacceptably in the hands of a few.  Give the people too much equality of opportunity, on the other hand, and our nation may devolve to an undesirable societal status which lacks the proper incentive to advance on merit.

Perhaps it was easier in Jefferson’s time on an 18th century Virginia farm.  The farmer would bring his bushel of wheat to market and receive whatever the market would bear at any given point in time.  In current times, however, when the economic system of capitalism incentivizes speculation --- making vices such as greed and pride appear as virtues --- it’s not so easy to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Beneath every truth and appearance there seemingly lies a measure of paradoxical opposite.

Although confounding at times, that which has one guessing keeps life interesting, as we strive to create a more perfect union.  Americans value self-reliance and individual responsibility.  But we also have empathy for those in need.  Many who are weak have been in need for a long time.  Why does it take so long for some of us to hear them?  In a more perfect union we strive for that elusive balance --- all in the nature of things.

-Michael D’Angelo

Monday, May 26, 2014

T.R.’s New Nationalism and the Central Condition of Progress

“Give me this day my daily bread …” --- is this the familiar prayer we learned --- once upon a time?  How are ordinary citizens to measure their progress?

In 1910 Theodore Roosevelt was still a young man (51) by historical standards but already a former president.  His term had run from the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 through 1908.  After completing an administration featuring an agenda of activist, progressive reform, T.R. declined to run for a third term in the election of 1908.  He was honoring the tradition of George Washington.  Instead, he threw his overwhelming popular support behind his then-Vice President and hand picked successor, William Howard Taft.

To be progressive in 1910 was to belong to America’s middle class.  But Mr. Taft had botched T.R.’s progressive agenda and was now the nation’s top reactionary.  The effect was akin to a political about-face.  Systematically, Mr. Taft began to roll back T.R.’s progressive reforms in a bow to the Republican Party’s affluent, conservative base.  T.R.’s alarm was palpable, his political unrest deepening.

In August 1910 T.R. was to make a case during a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas which would become famous for what he had called “New Nationalism.”  Some labeled it “Communistic,” “Socialistic” and “Anarchistic” in various quarters, while others hailed it “the greatest oration ever given on American soil.”

In his New Nationalism speech, T.R. reflected that there had been “two great crises in our country’s history: first, when it was formed, and then, again, when it was perpetuated … .” The third great crisis was upon us, the struggle “to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity.”

T.R. insisted that only a powerful federal government could regulate the economy and guarantee social justice.  His central tenet was government protection of property rights, a traditional approach.  But he elevated human welfare, the second critical component, to a higher priority. T.R. understood that the success of any presidential administration must be measured by this and would be impossible otherwise.

“At many stages in the advance of humanity,” T.R. said, the “conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress.”  The goal was “to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will.”

As was the case 100 years ago, today it can be expected, however, that the privileged classes will be hospitable only to those reforms which spare their privileges.  Nevertheless, it would be intriguing to view the vexing problem of inequality of opportunity through the lens of human welfare ahead of any other legitimate interest.  The goal would secure the benefits of the existing organization, while casting the net of opportunity over a larger social area.

Conservative principles, traditions and national history require only the gradual alteration of adverse social conditions in the name of progress.  Perhaps a people can best exhibit its common sense so clearly as to be contemporary without breaking the ties of historical anchorage. To move too suddenly by uprooting any essential element of the national tradition would come at a severe penalty, as ordinary citizens discovered when they decided to cut slavery out of their national composition.

It is assumed that ordinary citizens wish to escape the need to regain their health by means of another surgical operation.  They must then consider carefully how much of a reorganization of traditional institutions, policies and ideas are necessary to achieve a new, more stable national balance.  They must also consider that any disloyalty to democracy by way of national policy will in the end be fatal to national unity.

The book, Life among the Ordinary: Completing Our Nation's Great Unfinished Business, undertakes such an exercise.  T.R.’s extraordinary 1912 presidential campaign provides a working blueprint.

-Michael D’Angelo

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Publication Date Announced!

Suncoast Digital Press, Inc. is excited to announce some great news for readers: Life among the Ordinary is scheduled to be published June 2014!  The book will be available in digital, paperback and hardcover formats.

Here's an excerpt from the back cover:

Certain conclusions may be drawn about the umpiring when the 400 richest Americans possess more wealth than the bottom half (150 million) combined. And the conclusions are not all positive. In the end, society's unrest may be traced to a failure to uphold Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism ideal of basic social justice which puts human welfare first. Life among the Ordinary presents a rare, independent voice which celebrates the pursuit of happiness through the lens of our imperfect yet predictable human nature.

The Pursuit of Happiness ... Preserving the American Dream and completing our nation's great unfinished business through meaningful equality of opportunity!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Business Success and Civic Virtue

Among other achievements, F.D.R. exposed once and for all “the popular myth that business success was a guarantee of civic virtue.”  The rich man’s “material position” had not been harmed, “but his moral prestige is gone.”  …

The national economy struggles, as wealth disparity increases.  Millions of full time American workers earn wages at or below the poverty line.  One simple take away is that wealth disparity --- of which poverty is an ominous measure --- restricts economic growth.  It’s just math.

Consider the following example.  The average CEO pay in the nation’s fast food industry more than quadrupled from 2000 to 2013 to about $24 million per year.  That’s more than $11,400 per hour --- or $190 per minute.  For sake of comparison, the average pay for the fast food restaurant worker has increased by only .3% since 2000.  He earns about $19,000 per year, assuming he is full time and earns $9 per hour.  For what it’s worth, the US government fixes the poverty line for a family of four at $23,850 per year.

While the effect on the economy can be debated, the effect on human welfare cannot.  How many flat screen TVs --- or iPads --- does the CEO need in his comfortable residence?  How many can he realistically buy to keep him happy?  One would think the saturation point would be reached rather quickly.  By contrast, imagine the boost to the economy, if each and every full time ordinary worker had the means through his paycheck to own a modest car --- or educate his children.

The privileged class objects to raising the minimum wage for ordinary workers.  It also objects to payment of higher effective tax rates.  The reason given is that both are job killers.  But the empirical data over the past 60+ years points in a different direction.  It seems that retaining or putting more money in the hands of the privileged class has not created more jobs.  What it has done is simply put more money in the hands of the privileged class.

Mitt Romney, the successful business man, should have been given the chance to lead at the highest political level, the argument goes, because he is truly a decent man whose objective was only about service.  Okay, so maybe we are talking about moral standing here.  Was any light shed in that regard during the 2012 presidential campaign?

The popular belief is that Mr. Romney, the Republican nominee, came up short because he was caught making a poorly timed private comment that nearly half the population (47%) could essentially be written off as lazy dependents.  While not helpful, the comment was not decisive.  What undid Mr. Romney, rather, was his opinion expressed in one of the debates that it was “fair” for his effective tax rate (on nearly $20 million of unearned income) to be lower than that of his $40,000 per year secretary.

Let’s measure Mr. Romney’s opinion against the twin pillars of national social progress, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt, one a Republican and the other a Democrat.  While it is true that both came from money, it may be a fallacy to labor under the assumption that the rich hated each on the simple charge of a Roosevelt turning his back on them.

Joseph Kennedy, father of the Kennedy men and himself a rich man, identified a more penetrating charge.  The elder Kennedy was of the opinion that F.D.R. exposed once and for all “the popular myth that business success was a guarantee of civic virtue.”  The rich man’s “material position” had not been harmed, “but his moral prestige is gone.”

What happens then?  A land of opportunity exists only to the extent that the ordinary citizen has the freedom to an unfettered pursuit of happiness unassisted by special privilege of his own --- and unhampered by the special privilege of others.  “No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another,” Theodore Roosevelt had said, “can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.”  Nor can he reach his own true potential.  It’s a lose-lose proposition.

Perhaps a number of developing countries today do not dislike the US because we are a democracy --- but rather because we only masquerade as a democracy.  Perhaps the joint rhetoric of the two major political parties tells them that the moral prestige of the men behind the curtain may be lacking.  Does America continue to be a promised land, as once envisioned?  Or just simply another in a long line of crusader states lost in search of empire, with little regard for the inhabitants of its own house?  Actions typically speak louder than words.

-Michael D’Angelo

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Equal Access to the American Economic Opportunity Structure

How will our contribution be judged by future generations?  Will the ordinary citizen be prepared for the demands of Judgment Day?  …

Wave after immigrant wave to our shores fantasize about realizing the American Dream.  When it comes to obtaining better, more equal, access to the American economic opportunity structure, the stakes are high.

Factually, the unemployment rate may be hovering around 7% of all Americans, but 20% of American teenagers, and 50% of American black teenagers.  In such times, the ordinary citizen may feel an urge to reflect.  At the end of the Civil War, blacks were so impoverished, so illiterate, and for the most part so lacking in skills that freedom meant little more to them than the ability to leave the place to which they had been bound by slavery.  The post-war records are replete with tales of blacks who took to the roads and retraced their paths back to the plantations from which they had been sold, in search of the families they had lost.  Surely there were blacks who were so battered by the system of slavery that they became sexually promiscuous or irresponsible parents, and apparently remain so, today.

An ordinary citizen may be urged to reflect further.  There are a multitude of decent Americans, who not only are unmoved by the fact that 40% of black children are living in poverty, but use that fact to buttress their own convictions about black inferiority.  Is it reasonable for an ordinary citizen to consider that blacks should constitute 49% of America's prison population?  Is it reasonable for an ordinary citizen to ignore persistent disparities between black and white health, income, wealth, educational attainment, and employment?

Opposing arguments aside, is it also reasonable for an ordinary citizen to consider that a significant number of decent Americans regularly assert enormous efforts to destroy affirmative action?  Is there empathy for the fact that the fragile affirmative action program was enacted in the 1960s and 1970s to compensate for deep injuries sustained over 350 years of legally sanctioned subordination?  Some label the campaign to do away with affirmative action as “brilliant rhetorical propaganda.”  But Cory A. Booker, the black mayor of Newark, NJ calls on the ordinary citizen to consider the economic reality that, in fact, “Yale is cheaper than jail.”

One scholar has warned that his

recurring nightmare in recent years has been that there will be such a significant separation of the black upper and middle classes from poor blacks that when America declares total victory over anti-black racism, substantial numbers of well-off blacks and members of other minorities will be complicit in the deceit.  We will then have a society much like that found in Brazil.  We could tell ourselves that we have a ‘racial democracy’ here, and overlook the fact that the only thing the blacks at the bottom have in abundance is misery, made permanent by their virtually complete lack of access to the national opportunity structure.  We will have put the finishing touches on our national scapegoat; an untouchable, impoverished caste of permanent mudsills, filling a role not at all unlike the one John Smith had in mind for Native Americans almost four centuries ago.

When it comes to civil rights, history does suggest a sort of rather dim view of prior times.  But what about the present?  Put another way, how will our contribution be judged by future generations?  Today, the 400 richest Americans possess more wealth than the bottom half (150 million) combined.  Does this sobering statistic uphold the basic ideal of social justice which is this nation’s moral foundation?

While there will be time later to contemplate “tomorrow,” for now, it is understood that if America stands for one thing, more than any other, it is the following.  America provides the ordinary citizen with the opportunity to make something of himself.  The ordinary citizen may accomplish this by exerting his God-given abilities to engage in struggles for decency, discharging the responsibility to hold up his own end of the challenge.  In the end, Judgment Day may demand nothing less.

-Michael D’Angelo 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reasonable Regulation and the Old Boat

If the test is not how big or small government is but whether it works, what fate awaits the old boat?  Must the ordinary citizen look to science for a marine finish superior to that of plain varnish?  …

Franklin D. Roosevelt was well known for a series of “fireside chats” over the radio airwaves.  He explained his programs to ordinary Americans in plain, simple terms, telling the people to have “confidence” and “courage.”  F.D.R. warned ordinary citizens that unless they rejected fear, they would never be able to pull out of their malaise.  Instead, he urged them to embrace its opposite: hope.  His confidence in his own determination to defeat the disease of polio, and rise out of his wheelchair with the aid of heavy metal braces, inspired the ordinary citizen.  Ultimately, F.D.R.’s New Deal offered a consistent message of encouragement which began to take hold on the American psyche.

In foreign policy, F.D.R. guided America through the uncharted waters of World War II, the Second European Civil War, and the atrocities of Hitler ‘s Nazi Germany.  He implored ordinary Americans to cherish and hold onto the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.  Shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, F.D.R. announced the controversial “lend lease” policy, promising to help the British and Russians through the lease of American military equipment.

What was lend lease?  F.D.R. assessed the situation using a metaphor that ordinary Americans could easily understand:

Suppose my neighbor’s home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away.  If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him put out his fire.

In the same way, the US Constitution can be seen as a classic, old, wooden boat.  The wood is fresh, hard, pristine --- and beautiful.  It is built to last but would need protection from the corrosive elements.

The US Constitution did not endorse nor contemplate a particular economic system.  President Washington chose capitalism as recommended by Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury.  This was over the objection of Jefferson, Secretary of State.  Government’s initial foray into economic matters gave the boat a handsome finish stain which transformed the wood’s appearance.

Materially, the nation prospered, as the boat skimmed across the smooth surface.  But the horizon foreboded turbulence and rocky shoals.  As the boat rocked, a Civil War which was almost the nation’s undoing was matched by a Great Depression.  In the wake of the old order which had failed, F.D.R.’s new order of reasonable regulation restored the ordinary citizen’s faith in capitalism and made it seem more humane.  This provided the boat’s necessary protective varnish.

Over time, the protective varnish would become one with the wood, such that what was once new and strong became old and brittle.  Following the Great Recession of 2008, some do not see the point in applying another coat of varnish over the old, that there is already too much reasonable regulation.  They merely advocate stripping the varnish and then leaving the old boat to fend for itself.  Yet in such instances others trace history’s destructive path of individual excess in proclaiming a warning of dire consequences.

Common sense does seem to suggest that merely putting another coat of varnish over a failed coat --- that layering new reasonable regulation over existing regulation whose properties have been compromised  --- serves no useful purpose but to buy time.  When the new coat also fails, a day of reckoning with even greater upheaval surely awaits.  Common sense does also seem to suggest that, eventually, the layers will have to be stripped and the surface re-finished.

If the test is not how big or small government is but whether it works, what fate awaits the old boat?  Perhaps the varnish which is needed has yet to be discovered, that sophisticated scientific hurdles remain in search of a superior marine finish, that buying time is a reasonable approach.  Wouldn't it be ironic if a prototype for what’s needed --- the performance of duty which is faith in action --- has been with us all along for more that 2,000 years?

-Michael D’Angelo

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Harnessing the Properties of Light (Part Two)

(Editor's note:  This is the second and concluding segment in our two part series introducing readers to the US Constitution of 1789  To view the first segment, click here.)

With so much at stake in the present, can anyone well imagine a bloodless, under the radar revolution to table the US Constitution and replace it on the fly with another?  The truth is it's been done before ...

The dilemma of the founding fathers in 1787 was intriguing.  The stakes were no less than the continuation of the great American experiment in democracy, at grave risk as it attempted to leave the station.  The flashlight of the existing constitution from the nation's first 11 years was too weak, unable to illuminate the path forward --- the path to continued enlightenment.  Clearly, it had to be strengthened.  But there was equivalent danger at the other extreme --- should the flashlight be transformed into a destructive laser beam.

From this dilemma, a delicate yet efficient balancing act was necessary.  What was needed was something between two undesirable extremes.  The flashlight's batteries had to be replaced with new, more powerful ones --- strong enough to illuminate the path.  At the same time, the light still had to be kept weak enough, filtered to counter direct contact and avoid injury or plunder as with a laser beam.  Somehow, the strengthening of the flashlight had to match the gentle diffusing of the laser.  What was needed, perhaps, was “a government that was too weak to aid the wolves, and yet strong enough to protect the sheep.”

James Madison devised his great doctoral thesis from this vantage point.  Here, of course, we are speaking of his authorship of the US Constitution, America’s second and latest attempt at true democratic self rule: a solemn, permanent, social compact among the states to operate with individual sovereignty but within the framework of a collective federal system.  The creation of the US Constitution was molded, set forth and argued in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Madison’s review of all such prior human efforts at harnessing effective democratic rule, coupled with a series of compromises as a result of the founders’ debate, forged a system of checks and balances.  The result was creation of our present system of current government, with three equal branches, each independent of, yet answerable to, the others.  The legislative branch would make the laws, the executive branch would enforce them and the judicial branch would provide interpretation where necessary.  No one branch, nor the people themselves, would be able to grab all the light at any one time.  However, a sufficient concentration of light would still be permitted to protect the rule of law and permit progressive social change to occur.

In the legislative branch, a compromise denied the big states (House of Representatives) the ability to swallow up the small states (Senate).  That is, the legislature itself would be split into two distinct branches, creating what was referred to as a bicameral chamber.  The assent of both would be required to enact a new law.  Even the president, the one direct representative of all the citizens, would be elected not directly by a majority vote of the citizens but rather indirectly by what would become known as an electoral college.

Seeking to ensure that a lone rogue state or small minority of states could not stalemate the process, the founders also made a shrewd agreement for implementation of the new US Constitution.  When the affirmative vote of 9 of the original 13 states had been given, the new constitution would become the law of the land in all 13 states.  The necessary ratification figure was thus accomplished two years later in 1789, and in the end, all 13 states would vote unanimously to ratify the new constitution.  It was a bloodless revolution, or, as the French might say, a coup d’├ętat.  Compared to the way things had been done previously, it could be said that the revolution to create a new US Constitution turned our old system of government on its head.

Fast forward almost 230 years to the present.  With so much at stake, can anyone well imagine a bloodless, under the radar revolution to table our constitution and replace it with another?  The feat would present an extraordinary testament to the people's yearning to be free.  It's been done before.

-Michael D'Angelo

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Harnessing the Properties of Light (Part One)

(Editor’s note:  This is the first segment in a new two part series introducing readers to the US Constitution of 1789.)

How frequent is the observation made that the team which appears to have the superior talent does not win the contest? …

…  Primarily, the loser offers up the excuse that the players simply did not perform up to their capabilities --- as a team should.  Instead of a bus, it is said, they take 25 individual rides to the ballpark.  Typically, in baseball as in representative government, the outcome is fatal to success.

In a democracy which exceeds 300,000,000 people, the objective of keeping the citizens content in the pursuit of happiness requires considerably more expertise.  How does the American government keep the game and its players functioning so smoothly?  How is the officiating kept separate and unbiased in a low key, unassuming manner?  Wasn’t it always this way?

This question suggests the response.  In 1787 the founding fathers were faced with quite a predicament.  Flying under the radar would appear to have been rather impossible then, given the scope and magnitude of the crisis which was upon the young nation and their proposed remedial social science project.  Today, however, this seems lost on the ordinary citizen.  But it is worth remembering.

The young, fledgling democracy was in danger of failing, just 11 years into the experiment.  Under America’s then and first constitution, known as the Articles of Confederation, each state (there were 13 at the time) retained its own individual sovereignty and the corresponding power to veto any law with which it happened to disagree.  Given the diversity of regional and economic interests, this meant that no truly uniform or effective law could reasonably be enacted.  An effective army could not well be raised for national defense, nor taxes either levied or collected to pay for it.  Nor could the commerce of the national economy be effectively regulated.

Unfortunately, the setting did not make provision for a team bus.  Rather, there were to be essentially 13 separate cab rides to the ballpark, and social chaos was the potential imminent consequence.  The experiment in democracy was in acute danger of failure, the patient on life support.  Accordingly, there was an urgent sense to maintain a state of order and control, or as it has been couched in political terms, to preserve internal political stability.

But what if there were too much order and control?  The corresponding fear in that instance was that the mass of ordinary citizens would be left with a one man wrecking ball, serfs to what we otherwise know as a dictator.  The people of France were to learn this lesson painfully, when their popular revolution, corresponding in time more or less with our own American Revolution, degenerated into mob rule and then eventually the dictatorship of Napoleon.  The French Revolution would later conclude with the anomalous result of the near ruin of Europe in continental military conquest and its people subjected to a military tyrant.

Either extreme presented the founding fathers with vexatious concern for the survival and continuation of the great American experiment in democracy.  The situation was analogous to harnessing the desirable properties of light.  On the one hand, the founding fathers viewed the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation as the futile attempt to illuminate the path with a flashlight which contains failing batteries.  This light simply had neither power nor strength sufficient to provide even minimal let alone adequate illumination.

On the other hand resided the “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” comparison with the ongoing French Revolution, as described in Charles Dickens’ novel, The Tale of Two Cities.  In that situation, the light of democracy had become so supremely concentrated in strength as to represent the immense power of a pure, unfiltered laser beam.  That is to say, if anyone were to fix a gaze directly into the beam or somehow end up in its path, the result would conceive a wrecking ball of disaster.

(Editor’s note:  The second and concluding segment in this two part series guides readers through the horns of the dilemma to its solution.  What was needed was something in between the two undesirable extremes ...)

-Michael D'Angelo

Monday, February 10, 2014

Andrew Carnegie and the Gospel of Wealth (Part Two)

(Editor’s note:  This is the second and final segment in a two part series, introducing readers to the Industrial Revolution and one of its iconic heroes.  To view the first segment, click here.)

What, if anything, is the duty of the rich man to society, according to one of the most iconic and storied rich men of early industrial America?

While the industrial robber barons of the Gilded Age were said only to flash their great wealth to the masses, Andrew Carnegie, for one, articulated a call for these wealthy business titans of industry to return their wealth to society.  This illustrates Lesson 3 (of 4) of US History.  The king of steel strongly believed that the rich man had not the option, but rather a corresponding duty, to voluntarily return his wealth to society from whence it came.

Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth writings set forth a model of how the wealthy man should conduct his life.  First, the capitalist’s primary goal was to make money.  But he should then live only modestly, so as to bring no undue attention to himself.  Then, since the rich man had figured out how to achieve great wealth in the first place, he alone should choose how to spend that wealth.  Whether on charity, society, science, or any other worthy cause, in his sole discretion, he should accomplish all this before he dies.

According to Carnegie, it would be a curse for a rich man to die with money in the bank, and which the government could then get its hands on by mechanisms such as the inheritance tax.  In the end, if all went according to plan, the rich man who made it would, in turn, give it all away freely, the government involved neither while making the money, nor spending it in the end.

And Carnegie acted.  As part of his considerable financial legacy, Carnegie, the king of steel, donated substantial sums for a pension relief fund to the families of killed and injured workers, based on merit, and not given indiscriminately.  Additionally, he made bequests to build 67 libraries forming the backbone of the venerable New York City public library system and some 1,689 public libraries in the US during his lifetime.  The program was expanded to include church organs.  Lastly, he made a gift to establish the International Court at the Hague, in support of a world court of arbitration, where international disputes could be resolved without resort to war.

As the so-called “Apostle of Peace,” Carnegie has been quoted as saying: “We have abolished the duel.  Let it be our race that truly takes the first step to abolish international dueling.”  And Carnegie (remember, the year was 1910, before the World Wars) had also stated:

The whole matter is so simple  …  Germany, Great Britain and the US coming together (somewhat covertly) to form a joint police force to maintain peace is all that is needed.

But the impact of the Industrial Revolution on American society was not all positive.  Neither were the results all pretty, nor without a heavy price.  Consider that the process generated a sink full of dirty dishes.  The growth of corporations and trusts raised immense amounts of targeted capital but, importantly, decreased social responsibility.  Materialism was pronounced over all other values.  Natural resources were exploited, despoiling the land, to increase profits.  Wealth and industry, over production, people and politics, became overly concentrated.  This, in turn, led to corrupt political machines led by party bosses, the overcrowding of cities, the straining of resources and services.  It also necessitated the combination of diverse cultural groups which were unfamiliar with American city life or each other.

Moreover, American industrial workers faced deteriorating labor conditions.  Women, children and the unskilled immigrant factory worker were exploited, suffering work conditions which could perhaps best be described as unsafe, inhumane and produced substandard products.  Hours were excessive, on a daily and weekly basis.  Wages failed to keep pace with the cost of living.  Still, the abundant supply of cheap, new, unskilled immigrant workers greatly exceeded the supply of new factory jobs in the nation’s big industrial cities.

Workers also faced strong opposition not only from their employers but also the courts.  Government policy and judicial decisions fiercely protected not the industrial worker but the entrepreneurial spirit of American businessmen to lead by way of innovation.  Sweatshop working conditions and stagnant wages stimulated a movement toward the formation of labor unions.  However, attempts at unionization led to violent confrontations between big business and government in tandem against the interests of labor.

One thing was clear: America was making more products than it could consume.  This factor, added to the free-for-all, further stimulated unstable economic cycles of boom and bust that produced unrest on farms.  Due to increasing productivity, farmers faced declining prices for their crops, as well as a diminution of their land, with laws and government interest in protecting neither.  Land foreclosures skyrocketed.

Instability spawned a first of its kind political movement, a populist wing of the Democratic Party traced to the protection of the nation’s agrarian and common man labor interests.  Dramatized by William Jennings Bryan, “The Great Commoner,” “on the wings of a single great speech about a cross of gold,” it rose briefly to political prominence but ultimately failed and was swept away by 1896.

In cities, living conditions degenerated into tenement slums filled with crime and poverty, racism and nativism.  Advances in transportation, specifically the railroad, exacerbated segregated living arrangements for an increasingly diverse cultural society.  And the entire process, given the magnitude and swiftness of the forces of change, fueled a painless escape to drugs.

The ultimate result and impact, it has been said, was a society in chaos, seeking reform.  This was the state of affairs as the American industrial machine rolled into the 20th century.

-Michael D’Angelo