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Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams go, life is a barren field, frozen with snow. --Langston Hughes
Listen, you might hear the footsteps of those who would defy a government-ordered curfew to step outside their own front door in broad daylight and risk being shot.
The sensations just described are only cursory vignettes of the powerful democracy movement sweeping the Middle East right now. The so-called “Arab Spring” that began in Tunisia earlier this year is an enormously significant, grass-roots demonstration of exactly what Jefferson articulated in the American Declaration of Independence when he penned:
“...We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
From Cairo to Syria to Yemen and Libya, we are witnessing a great mobilization led by urban professionals and students who hope to replace authoritarian rule with a more democratic system. Last week, thousands of ordinary people gathered together in the former Soviet bloc country of Belarus and did something extraordinary. Threatened with brutal reprisal should they speak at all in public, and surrounded by a menacing security force, they found a way to convey their cry for human liberty without uttering a single word. They gathered en masse and marched through the streets - clapping their hands.
The world looked to the up-start American Colonies in 1776 initially as a bizarre and doomed curiosity. The whole idea of the American Enlightenment - which began as a liberal revolution - was literally just that - an IDEA. Oh, but what a completely ridiculous and astonishing idea it was! The Founding Fathers referred to their impossibly brilliant task as “The Great Experiment”. Why did they do that?
The simple answer is because it was. The concept was entirely new. America is the first nation in the history of the world whose inception was based on an IDEAL instead of blood-lines or tribal affiliation. It wasn’t easy. The patriots knew they were committing treason against THE supreme power on the face of the planet. They also knew they were dedicating their all to a totally un-tested theory. No one had ever heard of a country tied together in loyalty to a principle. They felt the dreadful weight of that painfully small window of opportunity to orchestrate the greatest coup of all time. Not only was the world watching, but this unbelievably gifted gathering of men (seemingly at random drawn together), pondered a great deal about future generations of Americans yet unborn who might look to them with gratitude or regret. Indeed, the Founding Fathers felt they would one day answer to God, and to the family of man for what they were about to do.
We forget distracted by our modern comforts of satellites and central air and "Dancing With The Stars" episodes, how totally alien it was in World History up to that point for anything to get done anywhere without a King, dictator or some other autocratic power calling all the shots and the accompanying ruling class supported by the labor of the masses.
In our current familiarity with Constitutional rights, we forget that our daily walk out in the open - buying, selling, traveling across state lines and saying just about anything we want to in total confidence - is in debt to what they did for us as they argued and negotiated and agonized about some really crazy, really radical new ideas for how people might organize themselves.
We forget, too, that our freedom to worship “according to the dictates of our own conscience” was also a principle vigorously defended in that hot, humid room in Philadelphia while the Second Continental Congress butted heads together week after week. Everything the Founders did, was with an eye to the future, and a prayer to Heaven, because the odds were miserably against them.
The first shots of the American revolution at Lexington and Concord truly were heard around the world. The “Great Experiment” achieved the unthinkable. We won. We won! Thirteen fractious, tiny, undisciplined little rag-tag colonies fiercely defended their right to the “Pursuit of Happiness”, and negotiated two of the most influential documents in History. The ideals of the Declaration of Independence are about as perfect as they can be. The ideals set forth in the United States Constitution are absolutely breath-taking for their scope and flexibility. The Constitution is the world’s longest-lasting, most imitated written political document. When it was all finally said and done, John Adams marveled that they had by the Grace of God somehow been able to “...form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can conceive.” Time would tell how the national and world culture would gradually begin to honor those ideals so conceived.
223 years later The Constitution thankfully is still with us. Democracy is thriving in more countries than ever before. The standard of living has never been higher now that Globalization has brought the world family together with a casual click of a button - and still people leave somewhere else to come here. Amid many complaints and complicated growing-pains we hear at present, we may say - “Wait!”
We must not forget the brilliant foresight of our Constitutional framers who intentionally designed a document to survive a totally unknown future! We should acknowledge that they were undoubtedly moved upon by a Higher Power.
We must not forget that The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance. We must never forget
that We Are Americans because we Choose to Be. We cannot afford to forget that our precious liberties are still a standard to the world. What they did here, and what we do here, shouts loud and clear to those who likewise long for human freedoms amplified in this, “The Great Experiment”. Neither can we forget this sobering responsibility: the American Flag is the most iconic symbol the world has ever known. It is instantly recognized anywhere. It may not always be welcome, but it’s red, white and blue is definitely understood to symbolize a FREE PEOPLE. THAT is a voice that will not be denied.
Listen, the voice of Freedom is a whisper, growing louder.
Taste, the beauty of this, the “American Dream” that we are all blessed to enjoy and evolve within.
Feel, the momentum of this amazing, tumultuous and Divinely-inspired time in which we are witnessing a surge of the common man, grasping at Liberty and a way of life which he first observed - in us.
This week’s TIME magazine features a picture of the Constitution getting acquainted with a shredder, with the cold caption, “Does it Still Matter?” One of the concluding sentences of this thoughtful essay is genius:
“The Constitution does not protect our spirit of liberty; our spirit of liberty protects the Constitution.”
May it always be so. God bless our families and our sacred honor, and God bless America!
World Current Events, Spring-Summer 2011
The Spirit of America by William J. Bennett
This Nation Shall Endure by Ezra Taft Benson
Time Magazine, "One Document, Under Siege" by Richard Stengel 4 July 2011
Anthony Lewis’ review of Stephen Breyer’s book Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View is a thoughtful insight to the American judicial system, the public’s interaction with it and what sustains the court’s viability even when the ruling by the court is unpopular. Lewis endorses the work of his friend, Justice Breyer, as “a remarkable contribution to educating the public about our constitutional system and those whose job it is to guard its boundaries.” Lewis introduces his review by quoting an inspirational 1998 statement by Justice Aharon Barak of Israel. Barak recalled the lessons of the Holocaust reinforce the necessity of democracies honoring self-restraint of their political majorities in order to protect the minority populations. The process of keeping the majority power in-check requires a system of judges who can make impartial, objective decisions.
Breyer’s discussion of “democratic legitimacy” draws valuable attention to a peculiar and brilliant aspect of American democracy, which is the general public acceptance of Supreme Court decisions and an historical respect for the rule of law. The body of Lewis’ review includes historical examples of important judgments by the Court and the legacy of those decisions on the American perspective. Some of the rulings are acknowledged as timely and righteous and unquestionably loyal to the Constitution, such as school desegregation and the Guantanamo detainees suits. Others are exposed for their constitutional short-comings, as in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Japanese relocation case of Korematsu v. United States, and the Bush v. Gore
Lewis and Breyer ruminate cultural and sociological features of the evolving role of a court system that must adapt to meet the problems of each new generation while adhering to the intent or values of the Constitution. The conclusion of Lewis’ review highlights Breyer’s hope that the function of the Court would be more fully realized as the understanding of the people it serves increases. Breyer cautions that public acceptance is never a “sure thing,” and “can never be taken for granted.” However, Lewis offers his final thoughts with a negative interpretation of what public acceptance means today. He ponders how judges keep their faith in the system when “they are consistently outvoted by an intransigent ideological majority.” Lewis complains “ultraconservative” judges have an agenda counter to their purpose as interpreters and keepers of constitutional law. His final appeal for continued common dissent and criticism by members of the judicial system and the public at large imply a conspiratorial air to the current American political scene.
His abrupt and judgmental conclusion seems inconsistent with the earlier emphasis of “democratic legitimacy.” Additionally, Lewis assigns corruptive forces to the Court’s idealistic function as coming from one source; ultraconservative ideology. He does not define ultraconservatism, but instead implies its detrimental effects as a force that is changing both the American judicial system and the purpose of the American Constitution. Lewis on one hand applauds the equity of majority rule in the country, yet trashes it in the end by dismissing whatever a majority influence is only in as far as that majority is “ultraconservative.” Majority influence many times in American political history came from a liberal persuasion. However, the author ignores this fact and focuses instead on a specific court case from that time period.
Indeed, even when a conservative majority elects a president who may appoint conservative Justices to the Court, or when the Congress is filled with a conservative majority, it’s not reasonable to cry “unfair” as Lewis does in this article except a profound suppression of all other viewpoints actually exists. Unless he is prepared to first dismiss whatever public election was rigged - and prove it was - which elected so-called “ultraconservatives,” and secondly to show evidence a minority liberal influence either on the bench, or in Congress, or on Main Street, U. S. A. is completely impotent and silent, he is without basis for his ominous opinion about the preservation of constitutional law. Breyer’s work reviewed by Lewis sufficiently demonstrates how American society historically has ebbed and flowed interchangeably in a conservative or liberal or moderate direction. The vigor with which public sentiment or outcry effects lasting impact has never been a speedy process. Americans honor the judicial system because it is law and because the law offers them redress on some level even after a final decision is issued.
Curious - how Lewis can be willing to give due attention to the brilliant foresight of Constitutional framers who intentionally designed the document to survive a totally unknown future metamorphosis of the new country barely founded to successfully serve generations of Americans, yet narrow his vision of current rights and liberties to be under assault by one and only one ideological emphasis. For the first time in over a century, America could see three major political parties in the next presidential election contending equally at the polls instead of two. This is only one example to show how consistently the original intention of the framers is alive and well; Americans are flexing their right to an opinion in a free society. True, more people could and should be better informed about the Court’s function. More people should more involved in the PTA or at the local soup kitchen, too. The fact that there are not more citizens engaged in their communities and the political process is also a by-product of the greater good: citizens are free to choose. The ability to engage in open disagreement is an essential part of what grants liberty a healthy and secure place in society. Lewis can’t applaud the intrinsic chorus of different voices in the American public to consistently and by his own admission, remarkably cleave to the rule of law in spite of personal differences and sucker-punch the system as dangerously monotone! The entire article illustrates how the system breathes and thrives with the give and take, the checks and balances, even the growing pains of old standards expiring as new, more constitutionally pure ideals are gradually embraced by the American culture and then the world. Nevertheless, Lewis is unhappy that ideologies different from his own are given any latitude at all.Lewis’ meticulous review and his complaint, as well as Breyer’s supremely competent expositions and advice, are welcome to enter the arena of vigorous public debate in America ably protected by the genius of a cherished document that appropriately begins, “We the People . . .”.
The article describes a variety of scenarios in which the association of victimhood profits people in specific ways. Epstein offers the example of Gandhi as a precedent-setting case of a real victim who patiently makes his cause public. His non-violent protest inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., and his quest for black equality in America. Epstein reminds us that both these causes were successful because they appealed “. . . not to guilt but to the conscience of the nation.” Both causes in other words, were noble and correct and drew attention to the need for societal change by appealing to the public’s sense of justice.
Epstein illustrates the difference between righteous appeal as with the American civil rights movement, and the cheap-shot of laying blame, as with the violent American black militant movement. It’s one thing to reach out for what is morally right and another thing to angrily posture, demand and threaten others to make a point. Black militants openly called for a race war to the death and punctuated their agenda with bloody conflicts with police, an armed appearance at the State Assembly Chamber in Sacramento and incendiary marxist ideology and public statements.
Epstein asserts personal responsibility and even grace under pressure are the hallmarks of a healthy, functioning society. The bigger the impact of a particular social movement, the more flexible the ticket to opportunistic rewards and privileges as a companion complaint. In other words, Epstein describes worthy causes for redress such as the civil rights movement as the impetus for victim-wannabe advocacy (as in American black militancy), which has neither the moral or practical weight as civil rights but eventually wields considerable power through the phenomenon of imposing a sort of collective guilt. If the rest of society can be persuaded to feel responsible for someone else’s loud complaint,Epstein suggests a welcome mat is extended to practically anyone who might promote a new cause they feel will further themselves.
According to Epstein, an extremely persuasive element of modern victimhood is the art of declaring yourself one. He discusses the natural consequence of the human thought process: if someone is persistent enough in telling himself and everyone else he is a victim, he eventually becomes one. The pseudo-victim or pretend victim is motivated by the status victimhood generates. A victim must stand out from everyone else and receive “sympathy, special treatment even victory.” The modern victim-wannabes also defers responsibility for their own situation to others. In the process, they often assume a position of “moral superiority,” a move which lends a certain justification to their cause and excuses them from personal accountability for their circumstances.
Epstein’s analysis of the negative effects of manipulated guilt via modern victim mentality is difficult to ignore. He proposes a common sense rebuttal to those who posture the angry, offended and morally superior victim for personal or political reward: a mirror. His challenge to examine our core motivations is simply good old-fashioned advice. His conclusion that legitimate victims do not emotionally bludgeon others into accepting responsibility for their condition is spot on. Justice is legitimately served when those who falsely accuse and selfishly manipulate are exposed for the cowardice that inspires them.
The Archangel Michael by Guido Reni
The title of the article sets the scene for Epstein’s exposition of the self-serving theatrics that go with the territory of popular victim-making. The author points out the new guiltless, or the “privileged” and “morally superior” oppressed are shallowly and happily devoted to a party of one - themselves. The article strikes a nerve and the proverbial yawn at the same time when speaking here of basic human nature; if individuals are not responsible for themselves, “. . . they therefore have to find enemies.” This is unfortunately an iconic truth. Turn the pages of history and there is enough harsh evidence of man’s quest for power and resources back to the dawn of time with bloody and appalling results. There has always been a thirst for dominance, for personal advantage without conscience, the practice of seeking and engaging the enemy. Arbitrarily blaming large segments of society, the government, world history or whatever for current personal circumstances is a tawdry deflection of individual responsibility. Assigning adversarial status to the same is a gross narcissistic binge.
Successful societies safeguard the core values which promote and protect the viability of the society. A core value of
any social organization is an expectation of personal integrity and accountability by each member of the society. The more we accept blame for something we shouldn’t, the more license for irresponsibility we give to those who should. It’s more convenient for pretend victims to accuse everyone who does not agree with their cause or their claim to being a victim. They do this by slinging sloppy accusations of “homophobe,” “hater,” “bigot” or “racist.” Language such as this is never a successful dialogue-opener. They are, however, ever-present weapons of choice in the competition for pretend victimhood and its companion influence of attempted guilt transference. Neither tactic would carry much clout if the accuser assumed more personal responsibility for his own circumstances.
Recent examples of the accountability denial epidemic in American society range from defrauded fortunes on Wall Street to predictable chaos in the lives of Hollywood celebrities. The banking crisis of 2007 did not, for instance, generate faulty balance sheets, failed financial institutions, a massive corporate bail-out and a global financial fall-out of estimated trillions because of an inanimate computer-glitch. A critical domino-effect of individual people facilitated bad lending practices that eventually influenced the entire U.S. housing market. The classic primal appetite of human greed powered a movement of illicit practices on all levels, including the imprudent homebuyer who responded to the lure of a bigger and better house. The chain-reaction of relinquishing personal accountability and crying victim at the same time followed foreclosed home-owners who said they were taken advantage of, to the bank loan officers who said they were only following standard guidelines, to the parent financial institutions who blamed federal regulations. The government essentially accepted blame for the bad results and made new victims of conscientious Americans who were responsible with their finances by issuing the infamous bail-out with tax-payer money.
The public melt-down of one of television’s top earning sitcom stars, Charlie Sheen, is a bizarre and pathetic tutorial on the consequences of personal irresponsibility. Fired from his winning show for erratic behavior, Sheen responded by
filing suit against the studio. He then immediately grabbed as many interview opportunities as possible to get the word out: there was a new victim in town, and he was it. Sheen refused culpability for any of his outrageous actions which ranged from drug and sex orgies to threatening to gut his wife with a knife. Virtually in the same breath as his denial, he boasted that his drug use was “more than anybody could survive.” In spite of a string of incredibly bad behaviors, the actor’s popularity appears to be at an all-time high. He launched a very successful web series and a line of Sheen tee shirts. Record ticket sales accompany a series of his scheduled live performances. His continual claim that he was a victim had no real basis in fact. However, it carried influence in his favor the longer he simply said it was so. In Sheen’s case, there definitely are rewards for victimhood.
Public figures like Sheen may generate millions of “hits” on Youtube, but flamboyance or bizarre utterances are more than entertainment in America. The extremes of human behavior tolerated for morbid curiosity’s sake are often a reflection of a deeper, wide-spread sickness in the national patient. In such an environment, victimhood is one of the irresponsible human behaviors that naturally flourishes. Guilt and victimhood are dark and defeatist companion mind-sets, and as such are precarious standards to live by. Anything that alters the national consciousness to the point that it becomes a new cultural reality is truly a powerful trend. Analyzing how that change or “shift” gains common acceptance is a fascinating journey. Epstein’s readers might not agree with him, but they will certainly respond to his thought process. Epstein’s thoughts serve as a springboard for somber reflection on just what core value we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of political or personal convenience.
Pandemonium by John Martin
scene from Paradise Lost
Society’s acquiescence to the bullying “victim” also interrupts and side-lines in a profane way the righteous process of nurturing those who ought to be nurtured, the real victims among us. Real victims are those who have experienced something that is an act of nature, those who are born with a physical infirmity or acquire one later, or suffer affliction because of the unjust actions of another. Life has enough real victims and real social issues to seriously address. There should be less time devoted pandering in false guilt or fear of reprisal to pretend and opportunistic victims. The tipping point is really a single decision that is generated by our sense of personal integrity. Which course to follow? A decision to act or be is only a seed thought that is watered and cultivated until it is finally acted upon. Choosing which thought we want to honor or nourish defines our moral character. This article by Epstein challenges us to honestly examine our own thought process, and in effect, our own sense of integrity and personal accountability. Any sales, self-help or religious revival seminar will champion this simple truth as if it were a profound, alien discovery. If we consistently act the part, we become.
Proverbs 23, verse 7 reads: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Epstein would whole-heartedly concur.
“Bad Bank”. This American Life WBEZ/NPR Chicago Public Media. Episode 375 27 February 2009 Web
Baker, Gerald. “Banking Crisis: Spectre of 1930s haunts America as financial turmoil worsens”. The Sunday Times. 1 Oct. 2009 Web
Black Panther Party. Encyclopedia Britannica Web
Charlie Sheen Sues Over Show. CNN Entertainment. 10 March 2011 Web
Good Morning America ABC News Exclusive: Charlie Sheen says He’s ‘Not Bi-polar’ but ‘Bi-Winning’. 28 February 2011 Web
Jeffries, Judson L., et al. “Militancy Transcends Race: A Comparative Analysis of the American Indian Movement, the Black Panther Party, and the Young Lords”. Black Diaspora Review. 1 (2) Spring 2010 Web
Proverbs 23 Verse 7. Holy Bible, The King James Version
“Winning?! Charlie Sheen Reportedly Offered Job Back”. KBOI ABC News Radio. 21 March 2011 Web