Acting as if nothing is amiss in America

Posted: Monday, July 09, 2001

I watched the fireworks over the channel, and the next day I ambled over to the parade and watched the floats and the dancers, and all that boisterous celebration of freedom in America. I watched with an odd feeling of disconnect and sadness. From the enthusiasm, you wouldn't have an inkling that anything was wrong lately.

I wonder what our Founding Fathers would think. George Washington was offered a kingship repeatedly, and he refused every time. He and his friends were after something different, not just another monarchy. Of course in those days, the franchise was limited to white males with property. But we've expanded our idea of citizenship since then.

Does anyone think that Washington would be satisfied by the way in which our country has been running lately? What would he have made of the events of last November?

What would Jefferson have made of them? Does Supreme Court selection of a president demonstrate the system of checks and balances he had in mind? He wrote in an 1820 letter "You [William C. Jarvis] seem ... to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions, a very dangerous doctrine indeed and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy ... The constitution has erected no such single tribunal. ..." And Jefferson, by the way, fought hard to keep the clergy separate from civil servants in this country. "History," he said, "furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government."

What would some of our later leaders make of the shape our country is in? What would Lincoln think of the ascendancy of ideas dredged up from the Old South? What would Teddy Roosevelt say about the top-down disdain for the environmental principles he was the first president to really enunciate? And what would Franklin Roosevelt say, and even Eisenhower, both of whom issued firm warnings against the gathering of power into too few hands?

However can we restore our democracy if we celebrate as though nothing were amiss?

Nina Mollett


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