When I started to write this post, it occurred to me that I would not likely be the first to call to make America America again. So I wondered what others might have said.
Perhaps the most recent call came in a speech at the Republican National Convention by Scott Baio.
Did Baio say anything wonderfully profound? Not really, at least not apparently. Yet consider these words.
But for you first-time voters, it’s important for you to know what it means to be an American. It doesn’t mean getting free stuff. It means sacrificing. Winning. Losing. Failing. Succeeding. And sometimes doing the things you don’t want to do — including the hard work — in order to get where you want to be. And that’s what it means to be an American. (from here)
Why would Baio say this is what it means to be an American? Well, America has never been what it promised to be and yet…
In his Essays on Political Economy, speaks of the Unites States (or America) as a good example. Nevertheless, even in his day Bastiat (1801 – 1850) had to admit that Americans perverted the Law and used it to engage in legal plunder.
Is there any need to prove that this odious perversion of law is a perpetual source of hatred and discord,–that it even tends to social disorganisation? Look at the United States. There is no country in the world where the law is kept more within its proper domain–which is, to secure to every one his liberty and his property. Therefore, there is no country in the world where social order appears to rest upon a more solid basis. Nevertheless, even in the United States, there are two questions, and only two, which from the beginning have endangered political order. And what are these two questions? That of slavery and that of tariffs; that is, precisely the only two questions in which, contrary to the general spirit of this republic, law has taken the character of a plunderer. Slavery is a violation, sanctioned by law, of the rights of the person. Protection is a violation perpetrated by the law upon the rights of property; and certainly it is very remarkable that, in the midst of so many other debates, this double legal scourge, the sorrowful inheritance of the Old World, should be the only one which can, and perhaps will, cause the rupture of the Union. Indeed, a more astounding fact, in the heart of society, cannot be conceived than this:–That law should have become an instrument of injustice. And if this fact occasions consequences so formidable to the United States, where there is but one exception, what must it be with us in Europe, where it is a principle–a system? (from here)
As Bastiat observed, the issue of slavery endangered the political order. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, contesting for a Senate seat in Illinois, participated in a series of debates (The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858). Their debates centered on the subject of slavery, and that issue brought Lincoln to national attention. Even though Lincoln lost his bid for that Senate seat to Douglas, his nation noticed what he had said, and eventually the people elected him their president.
Much of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates focused on the meaning of a certain phrase in the Declaration of Independence.
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. (from here)
When the Founders wrote those words and put their signature on the declaration, what men did they mean to say were equal? How were those men equal? In the last debate, Lincoln offered his opinion.
“I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what they did consider all men created equal-equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, or yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.
“They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all: constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, every where.” (from here)
What then is the purpose of government — the purpose of the law? Bastiat provided this definition of “law.”
What is law? What ought it to be? What is its domain? What are its limits? Where, in fact, does the prerogative of the legislator stop?
I have no hesitation in answering, Law is common force organised to prevent injustice;–in short, Law is Justice.
It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property, since they pre-exist, and his work is only to secure them from injury.
It is not true that the mission of the law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our will, our education, our sentiments, our works, our exchanges, our gifts, our enjoyments. Its mission is to prevent the rights of one from interfering with those of another, in any one of these things.
Law, because it has force for its necessary sanction, can only have as its lawful domain the domain of force, which is justice.
And as every individual has a right to have recourse to force only in cases of lawful defence, so collective force, which is only the union of individual forces, cannot be rationally used for any other end.
The law, then, is solely the organisation of individual rights, which existed before legitimate defence.
Law is justice.
So far from being able to oppress the persons of the people, or to plunder their property, even for a philanthropic end, its mission is to protect the former, and to secure to them the possession of the latter.
It must not be said, either, that it may be philanthropic, so long as it abstains from all oppression; for this is a contradiction. The law cannot avoid acting upon our persons and property; if it does not secure them, it violates them if it touches them.
The law is justice. (from here)
In addition to Scott Baio’s speech, Google turned up an old poem. Langston Hughes wrote it 1935. The poem speaks of his desire — his longing — to participate in the American dream.
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the black man bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the black man, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The abuse and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again