July 3, 2020


The GOP Is Abandoning the American IdeaDo we still hold the proposition that "all men are created equal" to be self-evident? The party of Trump is turning instead toward the idea of the Confederacy. (GEORGE THOMAS  JULY 3, 2020, The Bulwark)

When I say that the Republican party is embracing the idea of the Confederacy, I mean that it is embracing what the Confederacy stood for. If the idea of America was, as the first Republican president Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address, that this is a nation "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," the Confederacy was an explicit rejection of that proposition. Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate States of America, was exquisitely clear about this:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery--subordination to the superior race--is his natural and normal condition.

This has been the central quarrel in American history. A nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to human equality gave sanction to human bondage in its Constitution and laws.

This tension was played out in Fredrick Douglass's brilliant and searing "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" delivered on July 5, 1852. Speaking to a largely white audience, Douglass insisted, "The Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation's destiny . . . . The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost."

But Douglass continued to his fellow citizens: "The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me." To those enslaved and denied citizenship because they were black, the Fourth of July was "a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim." Douglass, speaking nine years before the Civil War, was following black Americans forgotten by history, who drew sustenance from the Declaration's principles. Acting as citizens, a status they were all too often denied by law, they claimed the Declaration's promise of equality, and asked their fellow Americans to recall the language of its creed: "all men are created equal."

The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution formally sanctified the principles of the Declaration. Taken together, these "Civil War amendments" abolished slavery, made all persons born in the United States citizens regardless of race, commanded the equal protection of the laws, and secured the vote for citizens regardless of race. The amendments promised a new birth of freedom. And for a fleeting moment, America experienced this rebirth with black Americans elected to the Senate and House of Representatives. But this promise was short-lived; it gave way to racial apartheid wherein white supremacy was written into American law.

Black Americans would have to wait another century to be genuinely included within the terms of American democracy, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Just at the Civil War amendments were in part inspired by the way in which Douglass and Lincoln drew on the principles of the Declaration, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were inspired by the civil rights movement as exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr.'s continued appeal to the principles of the Declaration to spur a nation to live up to its creed.

Those laws were passed over a half-century ago.

The struggle for America persists.

The brilliance of the American idea animates Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton, which first came to Broadway in 2015 and has premiered as a movie this weekend. The musical not only teaches Americans about their history, it properly claims that history for immigrants and citizens of color. Even more brilliantly, it embodies the idea of America by casting George Washington and company with actors of color. Miranda has Angelica Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton's sister-in-law, sing a line from the Declaration--"We hold these truths to be self-evident / That all men are created equal." She later riffs about getting Thomas Jefferson to "include women in the sequel." It is an imagined America, but one made real by this son of immigrants. The show became an enduring success, with more than a million sales of its soundtrack and hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren taken to see it for free.

Yet alongside a few such cultural highs, there is the persistent reality of racial inequality. The ugly and brutal murder of George Floyd by officers of the state. Countless other black Americans brutalized by those who represent the law.

This is the sense in which President Trump has embraced the idea of the Confederacy.

The Right can't help but despise a multiethnic multiconfessional America.

Posted by at July 3, 2020 12:00 AM