Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – July, 2011

Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN – July 2011 - Editorial by Phyllis Stenerson

The Declaration of Independence
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of AmericaWhen 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.

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…

With this revolutionary, visionary document the world’s first democracy was established along with the founding principles ofAmerica. Democracy is often cited as one of the major accomplishments of civilization and the best form of government ever invented. 

“I never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence” said Abraham Lincoln, one of our most admired presidents. 

Now, 235 years later, we need to face the fact that we’re not living up to the vision of our founders and the potential of democracy. Problems and divisiveness have escalated to the point democracy is endangered. 

In Minnesota, government could shut down unless Republicans and Democrats can reach a compromise. The waste of taxpayer money and pain to countless citizens would be awful. At the federal level a stalemate between the two parties over the debt ceiling has major potential negative repercussions. 

We’re mired in seemingly endless wars and the military is our major expenditure, shortchanging education, infrastructure renewal and numerous other investments needed to continue the nation’s progress. An economic collapse was avoided but we’re left with massive debt. The Wall Street bankers that caused the crash are getting richer while millions of ordinary people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and record numbers of people are falling into poverty. Congress is ignoring those in need. Income for middle class workers has declined so that this backbone of a democratic society is severely endangered. The American Dream is slipping away for many.  

The American public is now the most deeply divided since the Civil War. We’ve always had diversity of opinion but it has reached epic proportions. For instance, the income gap between the rich and the rest of us is the worst since the Gilded Age of robber barons at the start of the 20th Century. Cultural differences involving racial, economic and gender justice are rampant and increasingly contentious with violence erupting all too often. Corporations and the wealthy have gained control of the political process by pouring massive amounts of money creating and communicating their message plus making huge financial contributions to campaigns, substantially drowning out the voice of the grass roots. 

This is the culture war, and it is real. 

At the root of most controversies is our worldview – the way we see the world and our place in it, our philosophy of life. There are two dominant worldviews, one usually labeled conservative and the other liberal or progressive. Or left and right. So much has changed over the past 30 years that there’s now no common understanding of what those terms actually mean. Most people are spread across the continuum but the political debate is stuck at either end. 

We have conflicting visions of what kind of country we wantAmericato be. People argue about who is a “real” American and what is the “real”America. We basically do not understand each other. 

The split emerged in the turbulent 1960’s but didn’t become dominant and toxic until about ten years ago. The invasion ofIraqwas the catalyst for many of us. It seemed so obviously wrong, even stupid, to some of us and an essential, even righteous, act to others. 

We can’t even agree on our history. Information presented by historians generally goes through peer review and public feedback over time before becoming accepted by the public as common knowledge and the foundational truths of our democracy. Over the past few years the “right wing” has aggressively promoted and presented an alternative “true” history of theUnited States. It’s largely based on minor incidents and obscure writings being presented as major influences. 

The legitimacy and effectiveness of government programs have been discredited since Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address in 1981 that “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.” That pronouncement became a mantra and political philosophy. 

The teaching of civics in public schools or community forums has all but vanished and the general public is woefully uninformed about our nation’s history and political system. This lack of education created a vacuum into which erroneous information could be directed. The good news is that in the last ten years as problems emerged and escalated a vibrant, well informed conversation emerged via the internet. The not-so-good-news is that falsehoods go viral even more easily. 

Our country is becoming increasingly diverse and complex while our ability and/or willingness to seriously deal with problems deteriorates. Our expertise and potential for advancing society has grown but the willingness to accept new ideas is often suppressed. The magnitude and multitude of problems overwhelms the public’s willingness or ability to effectively participate in the process. This all combines to threaten the very stability of our governing system. This may seem melodramatic and overblown but, sadly, I believe it is an accurate description of the state of the union. 

I’m mad as hell and refuse to take it anymore without speaking out. Driving my fury is deep concern over what kind of a world our grandchildren will inherit. What’s wrong with America can be fixed with what’s right with America. We are ready and able to become an even stronger and better country. 

The Uptown Community of Minneapolis is a living example of what’s right in America. We need to share our culture of intelligent, involved citizenry and responsive government with other communities, and learn from them. 

I urge all thoughtful, patriotic citizens across the political spectrum to get involved in a vibrant national dialogue and citizen activism. It’s a way for ordinary citizens to understand and articulate America’s true moral values so they can prevail over partisan ideology. 

“It must be laid down as a primary position and the basis of our system,
that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government
owes not only a proportion of his property,
but even his personal service to the defense of it.”
George Washington

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations
which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength,
and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Thomas Jefferson

“Among the features peculiar to the political system of theUnited States,
is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to every religious sect.”
Benjamin Franklin

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…
they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
Thomas Jefferson



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