Every budget is a document of priorities filled with moral and ethical decisions. Every budget is the result of political wrangling over who and what matters. Who has the power, who keeps the power, who loses, who benefits, and who does not.

For my entire adult life political discussions, at least what passes for those in the media, have concerned various aspects of some imaginary culture war and who is ahead in the Legislative or Judicial or Executive standings. No one cares who’s on first, unless you’re a betting man.

Let’s talk about money again. Let’s talk about the purpose of society. Let’s talk about how we the people want to promote the general welfare. We cannot have either justice, or liberty, or domestic tranquility if we do not.


What are our guiding precepts? By which lamp do we light our way?

Langston Hughes asked a simple question in 1951.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Langston Hughes, “Harlem” (1951)

The founding myths of this country are not of twins suckled by a wolf, nor of a magic sword held in wait for the true king, nor of a God leading his people out of slavery, but of, on the one hand, a religious sect fleeing persecution and, on the other, rampant commercial speculation and exploitation of a vast, empty continent, beginning again with a compromise: a declaration of independence and a war for, of all things, Liberty. We are old enough now, 244 by some reckonings, 413 by others, that we could find the clear-eyed courage to face the past, and the present. We are old enough to comprehend that Santa Claus does not fly around delivering the newest plastic parcel from Mattel; we can certainly see the chasm between ideals and practice.

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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)

Other minds have left their voices for us to hear. One such is Frederick Douglass who, in 1852, addressed the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society, presumably a sympathetic audience, on the subject of the Fourth of July. It is stern stuff.

The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” (July 5, 1852)

And then there was a war, a strange one where the losers on the field won the peace. As is the way in politics, power shifts over time. Somewhat.

But look, there is a seed.

that all men are created equal

And invariably there remains a struggle over oppressive power. The downtrodden do not often win, not wholly, but they struggle, sculpting the rock splinter and chip. So that Hughes could send up a plaintive cry,

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.

Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again” (1935)

Whom is he asking? We, the people.

That the present demand for justice could be considered borderline treasonous, if not positively un-American, indicts those of us who let our comfort blind us to the suffering of the afflicted.

It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work,

Abraham Lincoln, address at Gettysburg, Pa., November, 1863

to pick up our tools, lend whatever we may, to the task. Lend our voices to the song.

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing” (1860)
Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)” (1949)

1981, bouncing along in the back of a shag-carpeted Chevy van barreling down the highway, windows down, Neil Diamond on the 8-track, singing as loud as we can:

Got a dream they’ve come to share!

I love this land, my country and the people in it. Just walking along the hills I would sing full-throated “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is Your Land,” “This is My Song,” “God Bless America,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends.” Sometimes I was a strange child.

I love this land, my country and the people in it–and sometimes I don’t. I hate that devotion to our country and respect for its flag, even the simple act of standing, has come to stand for so much less than “liberty and justice for all.” Now, it’s a gang sign for white supremacy and fascist violence, carrying a Bible and waving a flag.

I’ve long despised how patriotism is co-opted by a certain kind of nationalist: My country, right or wrong. America, love it or leave it–as if they had more right to it than I who say all are created equal; who hold that among these certain inalienable rights are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; who would form this more perfect union to establish justice and promote the general welfare, with liberty and justice for all.

Instead they pledge allegiance to what? A flag they disrespect by flying it in the dark, in the rain, tied to the back of their shiny, new Ford? To bullying? To endless consumption? To so much winning? They’ve turned the American flag by their misuse of it into a symbol of their proud hate. They turned the anthem into a celebration of murder by their insistence on unthinking obedience: let us purge all who have the audacity to insist we are guilty! Rah! Rah! Go team! Or are they the true Americans, who with their behavior confirm what critics and historians note, that this Republic was made only for a few manly white men, and they would keep it that way?

So much easier to hate. So much easier to recite a civic prayer by rote without hearing the words. So much easier to relax by the pool waiting for the ceremonial burning of the hot dogs than it is to listen to 1,321 words written in June of 1776:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Listen.

Reflect.

Understand the causes of their dissatisfaction with England. Understand the arguments made. Perhaps seek to understand that these were men not gods, afflicted with all the hypocrisy, the greed, the insolence, the frustration with limits on their licentiousness, and other sins that have afflicted mankind through the ages. Understand their common understanding. Understand the challenge. Understand the burdens placed on their descendants by words chosen, written, and widely read.

And ask, is the country you love one where you don’t matter; where your life is worth nothing because are a poor man–and you most likely are poor–; where your only use is to die, to labor for nothing other than the fading pleasures of the flesh?

Or is it a promise that you too may live, you too may be free, you too may pursue happiness?

I should leave? GTFO.

I started watching a confused video at The Atlantic about a purported End of White Christian America, and then leapt through the computer and throttled the person at the other end for not using the words “white” and “Christian” consistently. It’s almost as if those were shorthand.

Because they are. He means WASPs.

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Robert P. Jones doesn’t seem to be intentionally fear-mongering–his other articles on the subject are, as is his book, more measured. Yet his book’s title and this video irresponsibly play right into the white replacement trope with over-simplification. His audience lumps themselves into his categories because they think that they are a) white, and b) Christian–even if they aren’t using the same definitions–and are thus tricked into thinking their group is threatened.

The population of the United States of America is, statistically speaking, primarily white and primarily Christian. The U. S. Census Bureau, a nominally reliable source, says that those self-identifying as white are 76.6% of the population, which is NOT a minority. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study records 70.6% overall, and 70% of white respondents, as Christian, which is NOT a minority.

His numbers are arrived at primarily by eliminating the “white and hispanic” population from the definition of “white,” though removing Catholics, Mormons, and others from the definition of Christian also helps. The confusion here and elsewhere may simply be a difference in how social scientists and the rest of us define membership in a group: the former considers to be members of a group those who consider themselves to be members; the latter considers members those whom the members of a group consider to be members. Or it may lie in the decision to conflate race and ethnicity–that is, using Hispanic origin as an alternative to white. Despite attempts by the Census Bureau to insist that race and Hispanic origin are distinguished from each other, we do tend to see checkboxes as radio buttons, and so they become practically identical.

In any event, the distinction is being made between British North America and the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies–a distinction where the French and Dutch colonies (and Canada) exist only as rounding errors. So despite an Iberian obsession with race as intense as America’s in places such as Mexico and Brazil, many Americans just consider them all not our kind of people.

One aspect of our national project is the continual attempt to define exactly who is really American. We do that with statistics. They aren’t neutral.

Words matter.

So do numbers.