If you are looking for a more traditional blog around Independence Day and how the constitution and it’s interpretation is so important to all rights, please read my post for last year: Celebrating the Meaning of July 4th . I talk about the founding of our country, the years of the colonists trying every way not to go to war and the reasons our forefathers finally went to war. I also discuss the not-always-friendly debates our founders had about the constitution and what would and would not be included. It is important to understand history when we are attempting to interpret a document written in a much different time and place in the world.
Last year I was concerned about all that happened around the presidential election and the attack on our capital. I was concerned about the direction our country was going where a group of people, led by the president and some congressional leaders believed in and supported violence as a way to hang on to power. I needed to review the history of our founding myself, because there was so much misinformation flying around the Internet.
As the January 6th hearings have now documented there was a group of leaders, including the former president of the United States, who were willing to do anything to retain power. The violence at the capital was not a group suddenly out of control. It was planned for months as an option. Trump and the people closest to him knew they were coming, knew they had guns on that day, and Trump wanted to walk with them to the Capital and enter the chamber with them and their guns. It was only because his security detail stopped him that he wasn’t there. But he helped plan an actual coup in order to obtain minority rule.After the violence there were numerous members of congress who here willing to forego their oath to the constitution, suborn perjury, and vote not to accept the slate of electors sent by the states.
In a time when we have a war in Ukraine, where the people are literally fighting for their lives and their homes in an effort to retain democracy and not be ruled by a Russian dictator, we find that there are many in our own country who worked for months to get rid of democracy. Like Putin, they want power to exert their will on the American people at all costs. In the process of tearing down the norms of our country, these congressmen and women passed on propaganda, continued telling the big lie about the ballots–the lie that was tossed out 60 times in courts, with most of the judges being appointees of Trump’s administration. These same congressional leaders refused to listen to other ideas, thus modeling that leaders don’t discuss or look for compromise. Instead leaders just say no or walk away. If you want a law to change or be different, you don’t discuss it in congress, instead you become violent.
These congressmen and women continue to attend political rallies for the purpose of spreading more lies and speaking the call to violence. They encouraged violence in state capitals before January 6th, they encouraged violence on January 6th, and some continue to encourage violence to this day.
Now their followers within the United States have declared war on their fellow citizens. They are willing to commit crimes from verbal intimidation and threat, to property crimes, to actually killing others and/or take hostages as a negotiation tool. Why? To force people to accept their specific beliefs about religion and race.
They don’t believe in freedom. They believe in conversion, religious and cultural conversion. For those who don’t convert, they believe violence is acceptable. A number of congressional leaders, along with the former president, have continued to spew lies. They know they are lies, but they don’t care. They tell lies in the belief it will get them re-elected. I pray the American public is smarter and stops every one of them.
The War Between Freedom and Independence
What do these two words mean? Freedom and Independence. Some would think they mean the same thing. I don’t.
Independence – the ability to live your life without being helped or influenced by other people
Freedom – the condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think, etc. whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited
According to the Cambridge dictionary, these two are very close. However, it is the beginning of each definition that makes a difference to me. Independence is an “ability” to live life you want without being helped or influenced by other people. Whereas Freedom is a “right“… to think what you want without being controlled or limited.
Independence requires individual responsibility, and the recognition that you don’t need help from others. Freedom requires rights granted by those who might impede your thoughts. It requires other people to act (so you can’t just depend on yourself) and then ALLOW you to think what you want.
Note that neither of these words suggest an individual desire to control or influence others, or to limit how other people think. Yet, that is exactly what is happening today and has happened in every violent war. A group of people decide they don’t like how some people think or what they say, or the wealth they have or the people they influence. Because they don’t like them tor have a need to control them with laws that remove or don’t grant rights. They work on influencing the way they think, or they take away rights to express their thoughts by saying things in public. This is what happened with the slaves at the founding of our country. There were many in those discussions of the constitution he believed slavery should be outlawed. There were many who believed they should be full citizens of our country and have the rights to go with them. But there were also many who did not believe that and whose wealth and land depended on unpaid labor.
Was that a failing of our forefathers? I believe yes. That was something they didn’t include in the constitution because they didn’t have everyone on board. They traded human lives for forming a union of thirteen states. That was a compromise. To assuage their guilt they allowed each state to decide if slavery was allowed. This is what happens when any group of people are seen as “less than” another group. Fortunately, the founders created a system to change the constitution through amendments. But in the process they put in place centuries of beliefs that created deep racial prejudice, first in the south and then passed down through generations even as they migrated north or westward. These prejudices were not only around formerly enslaved people but also for Native Americans. These prejudices included beliefs around the mental capacity of those with black or brown skin, their work ethic, their “savageness” because of different religious beliefs or cultural practices, and many other baseless based on their justifications for enslaving humans. The rationale for slavery was so strong that after emancipation, ideas of innate inferiority and superiority not only persisted but were intensified. (see PBS article about how and why America specifically enslaved Africans for their known skills and then intensified the propaganda of inferiority to justify it.)
It is very hard to change beliefs passed from parents to children and then subsequent laws made to justify separate groups of people based on purposeful justification of inferiority. These mistaken beliefs, and subsequent laws, continued to follow black and brown people even after emancipation and in some American’s minds still today. An excellent article about America being the only country to specifically enslave people based on race (Africans) is available from PBS–Race: The Power of Illusion.
What About Women’s Rights? It depended on marital status.
Did our founding fathers even consider granting rights to women? Again, they couldn’t come to agreement on federal rights and once again left that to each state. Does this sound familiar? Instead of working toward protecting all citizens with equal rights, our leaders have consistently defaulted to turning a blind eye to the plight of citizens in states who retain prejudice and false information or have capital interest and greed that override human rights.
In the 1700s and 1800s, the authority of state law meant that much depended upon where a woman lived and the particular social circumstances in her region of the country. The disparity was most dramatic for black women. In the North, where states abolished slavery, black women gained rights to marry, to have custody of their children, and to own property. On paper at least, their rights were identical to those of white women. But in the south, just like the slavery issue, women also suffered for centuries, and some still do today, under beliefs passed down from generation to generation about women’s inferiority or incapacity to make important decisions or engage in intellectual debate.
In terms of women’s rights, early in our founding it all depended on if you were married or not. Unmarried women, including widows, had the legal right to live where they pleased and to support themselves in any occupation that did not require a license or a college degree restricted to males. Single women could enter into contracts, buy and sell real estate, or accumulate personal property. Personal property consisted of everything that could be moved—cash, stocks and bonds, livestock, and, in the South, slaves. So long as they remained unmarried, women could sue and be sued, write wills, serve as guardians, and act as executors of estates. These rights were a continuation of the colonial legal tradition. But the revolutionary emphasis on equality brought some important changes in women’s inheritance rights. State lawmakers everywhere abolished primogeniture and the tradition of double shares of a parent’s estate, inheritance customs that favored the eldest son. Instead, equal inheritance for all children became the rule—a big gain for daughters.
Marriage changed women’s legal status dramatically. When women married, as the vast majority did, they still had legal rights but no longer had autonomy. Instead, they found themselves in positions of almost total dependency on their husbands which the law called coverture. As the English jurist William Blackstone famously put it in his Commentaries on English Law (1765–1769):
By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing.
Coverture was based on the assumption that a family functioned best if the male head of a household controlled all of its assets. As a result, a married woman could not own property independently of her husband unless they had signed a special contract called a marriage settlement. Such contracts were rare and even illegal in some parts of the country. In the absence of a separate estate, all personalty a woman brought to her marriage or earned during marriage, including wages, became her husband’s. He could manage it or give it away, as he chose, without consulting her.
Blatantly discriminatory attitudes kept lawmakers from giving women the vote. They did not want to share their political power with daughters, mothers, and wives, just as they did not want to share it with freed black men or immigrants. The one state where women with property were allowed to vote, New Jersey, was changed in 1807 when legislators took away that right—not only from women but from black men and aliens as well.
When Do We Abridge Rights in Order to Protect Ourselves From Harm?
Of course, to protect ourselves from those who would do us bodily harm we need laws and control. Most people agree we need laws to stop people from assault, murder, taking property simply because they want it or believe it is theirs. These laws DO impinge on freedom. We have decided as a society–around the world–that Freedom does NOT mean you can DO whatever you want, take whatever you want, just because you believe it is yours. Our criminal laws o abridge those rights. You are allow to THINK everything belongs to you. But you are not allowed to ACT on that belief by causing physical harm or stealing property.
But what about spiritual harm? Cultural harm? I would suggest that if one is independent, one is not afraid of that. If you have the ability to live without being helped or the ability to not be influenced by other peoples statements, you have nothing to be afraid of. If I am an atheist and you are a Christian, you have no reason to fear what I say or think because I can’t influence you if you are independent. If I am a lesbian and live my life with my partner, you have no reason to fear how I’m living if you are independent. I don’t plan or try to incite violence to stop you from living your version of a Christian life. In turn, I expect that you don’t plan or try to incite violence to stop me from being an atheist, or a lesbian, or a transgender woman, or someone who speaks languages other than English, or someone who simply believes in many different ways from you.
The moment one tries to legislate and control what other people think we are in the science fiction territory where laws are made to control peoples thoughts, or where police arrest people before they commit a crime based on the “likelihood” they will commit that crime some time in the future. That is what culture wars are. It is scaring people into believing because I don’t think like you, look like you, talk like you, lead my life like you that I will somehow change you. That can’t happen if you are independent, if you are sure of your life and your choices. If you don’t need others or allow others to influence you.
When I write my opinions and share them on this blog or create stories that reflect my beliefs and values, I am not taking away one iota of YOUR rights to think how you want to think. You can also create your own blog and share your opinions. You can write your own books or articles and sell them. Again, that goes back to independence. There are always choices–choices that don’t result in violence. I have friends who don’t like what pubic schools teach, so they homeschool their children. That is a right they have. They also have a right to let the public schools know they want something different. What they don’t have is a right to use force through intimidation or violence to force the public schools to do something different. Our laws indicate that you vote for school board members. If you don’t like what they are doing, you vote them out. If their term isn’t up, you follow the process to oust them early. It is all responsible behavior, not violent.
Our Country’s Rules For Electing and Removing Leaders Are Provided Through the Vote
We elect representatives and leaders at all levels of government, from local school boards to water managers. The same goes for mayors, governors and state legislators who impact things on the local level. Federal legislators–Senate and House of Representatives, the Vice President and President are also elected through voting. Each of these elected offices then have control over a number of aspects of life on every level. This was established in the founding of our country and continues today. All of these elections are managed, both the election process and the counting of votes, by a person or group of people as indicated in each individual state constitution. This may be a secretary of state, a lieutenant governor, and/or an election commission or board. All of these positions are based on YOUR vote. Your means for change is through your vote, at every level of leadership in your state. If you don’t vote, then you are abdicating responsibility.
The same rules apply for removing a leader. If you don’t like what your leaders are doing, you vote them out. Our rules also say if the majority of people disagree with your vote and someone else wins election, you have to wait until the next time you vote. OR follow the rules for removing those representatives. Voters in 19 states can recall elected officials at the state level. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. IF your state is not there, find out what you would need to do to change that. However, there is no provision to recall a senator or house of representatives member at the federal level. That require a U.S. constitutional amendment. Yes, our founders debated that as well and decided the government could not function if recalls were made constantly as political winds changed within each year.
However, you can put pressure on congress to remove a member. It’s pretty hard to do because it takes a 2/3rds majority to do so and often requires egregious criminal conduct. Twenty congressman have been expelled in the entire history of our country. All but two were for treason and/or inciting a rebellion against the United States. Between 1861 and 1980 no one was expelled. In 1980 Michael Myers of Pennsylvania was expelled after being convicted of bribery in connection with the Abscam scandal. In 2002, Jim Traficant of Ohio was expelled after he was convicted on ten counts including bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion.
Those are the rules of this democracy. It is a long game. One you have to plan for, advocate for, and continuously work to accomplish. I know we live in a seemingly instantaneous world with instant news, instant propaganda, and instant pubic opinion. But if one really wants to win, they commit to the longer term. They advocate year after year, and sometimes decade after decade.
There has always been this war of words around what it means to live in a democracy. In the past couple of decades it seems to me that some people believe it means being independent of laws that don’t suit them. In the past that has been the nature of oligarchs, dictators, and mobsters. How is it that an entire group of everyday citizens has also taken on this concept? How is it that thousands of people feel comfortable going to a state capital or the U.S. capital carrying firearms (which are illegal in Washington D.C.) with the sole purpose of intimidating elected leaders? These are not people who have any understanding of the founding of our country, nor of the laws of our nation and the many states.
How is it that we have elected people to Congress, and even to the Presidency, who believe and encourage people to take what they want by force? People who have no compunction acting like two year olds throwing a temper tantrum on the floor of congress if they don’t get their way? I’ve been voting for fifty years. I’ve seen a lot of heated discussion and subsequent votes. But it isn’t until the last five to six years have I witnessed our leaders behaving like recalcitrant children or rebellious teenagers. Though congressional leaders haven’t always told the “whole” truth, providing selected information to get a piece of legislation passed. Until recently I have never consistently heard some congressmen and women out and out lie.
Why have we allowed this to happen? Did we give up on the rule of law over the past decade? Did we decide there was nothing we could do? I find that hard to believe. I know I didn’t decide that. But I do take some responsibility for my ennui. I didn’t fight very hard against what was happening. Outside of voting, I assumed there was nothing I could do. I assumed that this national nightmare would be over with the 2020 election. I assumed that all the men and women acting like children would take their ball and go home once Trump voted out by the majority of Americans and control of the Senate was changed.
Instead, some of those congressional leaders took their balls and decided to aim them at destroying democracy. Instead they tried to topple our government in order to keep a minority group in power–a group lead by a narcissist who clearly lost the election and didn’t care for anyone except himself. He still doesn’t care and he’s still throwing a tantrum.
How Did We Get Here?
I’ve been asking this question for six years now. I believe it is that far too many people gave up trying to talk about differences and find compromise. Instead, they decided that there was only ONE way to move forward. The problem is not everyone agreed on that one way. Instead, of looking for a third way, we all agreed just not to talk about it. We agreed not to try to persuade anyone else. This is what happened not only on a national level or a state level. But it is also what happened in families.
I grew up in a conservative, Christian family. In my own extended family, our politics are fairly evenly divided. We are probably 30% conservative, 30% moderate, and 30% progressive. The other 10% of the adults are people who don’t care or don’t want to know anything about politics, voting, or how the country runs. They are in the keep-my-head-down-don’t-ask-questions group.
For the most part, I know who in my extended family voted for the previous President. When I asked them if they liked him, most admit the answer is a definitive no. Then why did they vote for him? It had all to do with single-issue needs, coupled with a lot of well-placed political messaging that helped support those needs. There was a lot they found horrific–the way he treated women, the way he exaggerated everything, the way he obviously lied and didn’t care.
But… they had something they wanted to see changed. For some it was the belief that he would make things better for them financially. For some it was a belief that he upheld Christian values. For others it was his promises on immigration. Yet others saw him as strong and forceful, which they believed was important in order to get anything done in congress. They were tired of everyone fighting and no one compromising. They had the mistaken belief that a person who wouldn’t take no for an answer could “force” congress to do something.
For me, even the thought of “forcing” an issue was problematic from the beginning. The reason we have three co-equal parts of government is so that no one branch can “force” another branch to do something. The reason we elect both congress (house of representatives) and senators, and the president and vice president is the belief that the PEOPLE know what they want and will be consistent in putting into office those who best represent them. But things are solved by THE MAJORITY. If the majority refuse to talk to each other or refuse to compromise, there is gridlock. That has been the case for at least two decades. I would suggest for three decades.
The problem occurs when the congress and senate is split and one side doesn’t want to compromise at all. Unlike our founding fathers who spent months in a hot room in heated debate working out the constitution, and finally compromising. IT appears that many of our current representatives don’t want to do that. In fact, they don’t want to talk at all. They spend all of their time doing whatever they can to get re-elected–not the peoples work, only their bid for power. There is no longer a chance of strong discussions, no presentations of platforms and issues on both sides. Politics has become a win-at-all-costs enterprise. It has become the purview of media influence, propaganda, and appealing to a minority who will make the most noise. The answer to a question should not be “no.” It should be this is what I can support and this is what I can’t support.
Fortunately, as the January 6th hearings proceed, even those family members who voted for Trump and still support many of his policies are now disgusted and scared not only of what he did, but also what they did in supporting him. They are upset with themselves for looking the other way. Always making the Machiavellian bargain of the end justifies the means. They are now questioning how they made the choice of supporting a growing violent and democracy-damaging leadership in exchange for many policies that never came to pass or were implemented with devastating consequences.
They have now had to face the question: Does freedom and independence mean that my way is the only way? Does it mean that there is no compromise? Does it mean that I must force my way of thinking on everyone else–especially those I love?
In our family we have always had to compromise on many things–both among ourselves and in our diversity of experiences and beliefs. We’ve always had a rule that we will listen. We will discuss. We will stick to facts not conspiracy theories. We will present our side without rancor. In the end, if no one budges we will still love each other. We know we will try again. We also know that when we go away from that talk, we think and try to see the other side and sometimes the next time we talk, we are more ready to compromise. That rule has helped me understand what underlies decisions people make and why. That understanding makes me stronger in finding compromise that helps both of us.
The Long Game of Politics, Persuasion, and Legislation
My point last year was that our country was founded on compromise–often heated discussion followed by compromise. Democracy is all about compromise and majority rule. It is about the long game. If you are not part of the majority and lose seeing something changed, then you work for the next time you are in the majority.
I was ecstatic when new gun legislation passed the end of June after a thirty year refusal to even consider it. How did this happen? It happened because people who cared about this issue kept at it, even when it seemed nothing would make it happen. Even when they continued to bury their children after school shootings and their mothers, fathers, grandparents after mall shootings, church shootings, grocery store shootings. It happened because people all over the country finally stopped accepting it would never happen and rose up in protest. They made it clear to their representatives and those in congress they had to commit to working together, to listening to each other, to having those heated arguments and to come up with something. In the end, they decided it was more important to have something, than to have nothing.
Do we need more? In my opinion yes. I’m still happy that something happened, but I knew it wasn’t enough. Even police all over the country want to see an assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban in place. Congress did the easy thing–they stopped guns from being sold to people unlike them (e.g., background checks for mental illness or past felonies). They did not do the hard thing. That is to actually ban a weapon made for the military, that is responsible for mass shootings- all across the country, a weapon matched to high-magazine guns designed for war. In shootings where assault weapons or high-capacity magazines are used, 155 percent more people are shot, and 47 percent more people are killed.
Unfortunately, when I woke up this morning, July 4th, I heard the news that someone with a high capacity rifle had shot children and adults participating in or watching an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois. A community of only 30,000 people. Six people dead immediately, 24+ people hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
In 1994 congress successfully passed a bipartisan federal assault rifle ban. It was up for renewal ten years later. After the ban, mass shootings were down by 70% during the ten year period. In 2004 congress, and the American people through their leaders, allowed assault rifles to be sold again. It isn’t only one party who has been the problem here. Even in 1994 there were both democrats and republicans who were against the ban. Was it because they really believed we need assault rifles to protect ourselves? Was it because they really believed a thousand children and adults dying was worth the trade off for some perceived future need for protection against tyranny?
No. It was a trade off based on fear of political retaliation (i.e., losing their seat in the next election) vs what they knew to be the right thing to do. It is true that a number of both republican and democrat congressmen lost their seat in the next election. And that is on us, you and me, for not stepping forward and making sure that who was elected in their place still wanted to protect us from mass shootings.
In Highland Park they attempted to pass an assault rifles ban for their county. The citizens voted for it, but the Supreme Court rejected it. Why do we continue to allow our elected leaders to not face up to this problem? Why do we continue to allow leaders who are more interested in the money they can get from the NRA for re-election to override the citizen’s desires? Why do we vote for people–congress, senate, president–who believe in all or nothing legislation. All guns are good instead of only some guns are needed. All abortions are bad instead of some are needed. Responsible adults know that life is not made up of all or nothing decisions.
We cannot be FREE if we fear for ourselves and our children being killed by a single person’s desire for violence. Whether that is a lone shooter or a coup plot that continues to be used for political gain today. We’ve had over 300 mass shootings in the first six months of this year. Three Hundred! That is defined as shootings involving four or more injured or dead people. Total people killed in the first six months of this year from mass shootings is 348, total injured 1,413.
Is four not enough to push for new legislation? How about 7 or more? That number is 36 shootings that injured or killed seven or more people. Still not enough? How about 10 or more? That number is 19 shootings, killing 64 people and injuring 249. That is more than two shootings every month that kill or injure more than ten people. What do all these have in common? High capacity magazine guns.
I can’t look the other way. Can you?
NOTE: This post is already very long and I had even more. I’ve decided to break it up into two. Another one will be posted tomorrow, July 5th, as part 2.