Opinion This July 4, let’s declare our independence from the Founding Fathers

cigaretteman

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May 29, 2001
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Two hundred and forty-six years ago, Americans did something extraordinary, declaring their independence from a colonial rule enforced from a great distance with the cruel and arbitrary hand of oppression. And now it’s time for us to declare our own independence, from Founding Father fetishism.
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This is not a call to repudiate the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and crafted the Constitution. We don’t have to tear down every statue of them (though frankly the statues don’t do anyone much good), or cast them only as villains in our national story.
But we need to liberate ourselves from the toxic belief that those men were perfect in all things, vessels of sacred wisdom that must bind our society today no matter how much damage it might cause.

As we’ve seen recently, the American right has found in the framers an extraordinarily effective tool with which they can roll back social progress and undermine our democracy. It may have found its most ridiculous manifestation in the tea party movement that emerged when Barack Obama was president, when people started prancing around in tricorn hats and every Republican was supposed to have a favorite Founder. But today it has gone from an affectation to a weapon, and a brutally effective one.


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We saw it in the recent Supreme Court decisions that supercharged the legal philosophy of “originalism” on abortion and guns. Reproductive rights, said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., are neither found in the explicit words of the Constitution nor “deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions,” so they don’t exist as rights. As for states that want to regulate guns, said Justice Clarence Thomas, only regulations that have “a distinctly similar historical regulation” from the 18th century will be allowed. The America of 1789 becomes a prison the conservative justices can lock us all in whenever it suits them.
Originalism was a scam from the start, a foolproof methodology for conservatives to arrive at whatever judicial result matches their policy preferences: Cherry-pick a few quotes from the Federalist Papers, cite an obscure 1740 ordinance from the Virginia colony one of your clerks dug up, then claim that scripture leads us inexorably to only one outcome.

By happy coincidence, that outcome is always the one Republicans seek. Anyone who disagrees, or who shows how absurd the right’s historical analysis is even on its own terms, simply isn’t respecting the divine will of the framers.


I am no spirit medium, able to communicate with the framers through the mists of time, and neither is anyone on the Supreme Court. But I suspect they themselves would find the originalist project as practiced on the right to be utterly absurd. Imagine you could travel back and describe to them the idea that hundreds of years hence we’d all be bound to their utterances and the condition of their society. They’d probably say, “That sounds insane.”
But this is the conceit of today’s right: The Founders were essentially perfect, and only we conservatives are capable of interpreting their will.

One of the lies conservatives tell — and to which they cling all the more fiercely in the face of new understandings of history — is that the founding and the men who drove it were straightforward and easy to understand.


But like the country they shaped, they were complicated. They were brilliant and visionary, and weak and compromised. It does not diminish their accomplishments to see that they were human beings.
So what do you do about a figure such as Thomas Jefferson? He had one of the most extraordinary minds of his age, capable of crafting brilliant works of political philosophy we read to this day and designing structures that still stand. Yet he also owned other human beings.

The answer conservatives have is that we must shield our eyes from Jefferson’s shortcomings (along with those of the other enslavers among the Founders). If you’re Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, you bring public school teachers to a “civics education” seminar where they’re told to instruct children that Jefferson and George Washington were principled in their opposition to slavery; maybe the kids won’t bother asking why that opposition was never so firmly held that it extended to the men, women and children they held in bondage.


But trust me, kids can handle complexity. They want complexity. They walk every day through a rapidly changing world, and they deal with that change much better than adults do.
That’s the thing about America: It’s all about change, and always has been. At its best, it’s about imagination, and dynamism, and progress. That’s what it was in 1776, and that’s what it is now.

We are a country filled with achievements and shortcomings, virtues and vices. We have more Nobel Prize winners than any other nation, yet we’re the only highly developed country that doesn’t provide health coverage to all its citizens. We invent new sports and musical genres and see them spread throughout the world, yet alarmingly few of us speak more than one language. People everywhere thirst for American culture and dream of coming here, yet they look at our unreal levels of carnage and don’t understand how we can live in a society drowning in guns.


I’ve never been more fearful for the future of America than I am today; there are good reasons to believe that the democracy we began to fashion two and a half centuries ago may not survive the next decade. And the people most eager to strangle it are the same ones who most loudly proclaim their devotion to the Founders.
So we need to liberate ourselves from those men. We should study them, and understand them, and honor the great things they did. But they were not gods. They can’t take us to a future of freedom and justice. We have to do it for ourselves.

 

FlickShagwell

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FWwog9VWYAIpSw4
 

FlickShagwell

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The musings of someone who is not proud to be an American.
I can’t imagine how little self esteem someone has to have to be “proud” of something they had absolutely nothing to do with.

“Hey I was born here as opposed to there. Everyone kiss my ass now!”
 

Aardvark86

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Jan 23, 2018
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No one really thinks they were perfect.

but the funny thing is they were right about important things in novel ways. Let’s start by respecting that rather than holding our breath like a two year old.
 
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Colonoscopy

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Right now is like the worst time ever to shake up the constitution.

Of course it's necessarily imperfect and we could do better.

But it's also pretty good and is an important grounding mechanism. We can at least agree on it.

The worst time to rethink would be during during hyperpartisan conflict.

You do that during calmer times.
 
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FlickShagwell

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Right now is like the worst time ever to shake up the constitution.

Of course it's necessarily imperfect and we could do better.

But it's also pretty good and is an important grounding mechanism. We can at least agree on it.

The worst time to rethink would be during during hyperpartisan conflict.

You do that during calmer times.
Between 1787 and 1992, the Constitution was amended 27 times, an average of once every 7.5 years. Today it hasn’t been amended in 30. Probably not a coincidence that Rush Limbaugh gained such popularity in 1992, plunging us into the “hyper partisan conflict” in which we find ourselves currently, but that shouldn’t stop our government from doing the right thing when needed. (Money already stops our government from doing the right thing when needed.)
 

Colonoscopy

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Between 1787 and 1992, the Constitution was amended 27 times, an average of once every 7.5 years. Today it hasn’t been amended in 30. Probably not a coincidence that Rush Limbaugh gained such popularity in 1992, plunging us into the “hyper partisan conflict” in which we find ourselves currently, but that shouldn’t stop our government from doing the right thing when needed. (Money should stop our government from doing the right thing when needed.)
I don't want to add on a bunch of bad ideas. Right now that might happen.
 

FlickShagwell

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I don't want to add on a bunch of bad ideas. Right now that might happen.
Drastically altering the second amendment to account for the weaponry of today in the hands of private citizens, not militias, isn’t a “bad idea.” Nor would considering the protection of the environment and the bodily autonomy of all citizens.
 
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23 so far

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You must not be a minority or woman.
The United States was fought for, founded and preserved by the evil White Male, and minorities men and women (of course no such thing to a Libby) are literally dying to get in, and have been for decade upon decade. Weird.
 

Colonoscopy

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Drastically altering the second amendment to account for the weaponry of today in the hands of private citizens, not militias, isn’t a “bad idea.” Nor would considering the protection of the environment and the bodily autonomy of all citizens.

My point is the other side would start trying to add their ideas too. All of a sudden it would be open season on constitutional amendments.

You're opening up a big ole can of worms. I'm not sure doing so would turn out in your favor.
 

IaHawk44

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The musings of someone who is not proud to be an American.
Right wingers aren't proud of America. White supremacists and militia groups would love to defeat our government and our constitution - America. They have overwhelming support within the right wing, y'all don't know what a proud American is.

A proud American would never carry the Confederate flag into our Capitol building or belong to the political ideology it represents.
 

FlickShagwell

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My point is the other side would start trying to add their ideas too. All of a sudden it would be open season on constitutional amendments.

You're opening up a big ole can of worms. I'm not sure doing so would turn out in your favor.
Until 30 years ago, that’s the way it was, though. Basically every two term president signed into law a constitutional amendment until Clinton, no?
 
Feb 9, 2013
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Right wingers aren't proud of America. White supremacists and militia groups would love to defeat our government and our constitution - America. They have overwhelming support within the right wing, y'all don't know what a proud American is.

A proud American would never carry the Confederate flag into our Capitol building or belong to the political ideology it represents.
A proud American wouldn’t throw someone like Liz Cheney to the curb for leading the Jan 6 Commission.
 

HawkNester

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The United States was fought for, founded and preserved by the evil White Male, and minorities men and women (of course no such thing to a Libby) are literally dying to get in, and have been for decade upon decade. Weird.
Good lord, that’s a really uneducated response.
 
Dec 25, 2020
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The United States was fought for, founded and preserved by the evil White Male, and minorities men and women (of course no such thing to a Libby) are literally dying to get in, and have been for decade upon decade. Weird.
Slaves didnt ask to be here.
 
Dec 25, 2020
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What about the ones born here? They're no different than any other native-born American.
Well no one gets a choice of where they are born.

I would say there is a difference. My ancestors came here willingly. Id feel different if my ancestors were captured and sent here against their will.
 

The Tradition

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Well no one gets a choice of where they are born.

I would say there is a difference. My ancestors came here willingly. Id feel different if my ancestors were captured and sent here against their will.

So, for how many generations do you hold on to that bitterness?

Many white people endured involuntary servitude as well.
 

FlickShagwell

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Do Presidents have to sign Amendments into law? Just curious.
I mean it’s been so long I can be forgiven for forgetting the process.

Alas, no.

When the requisite number of states ratify a proposed amendment, the archivist of the United States proclaims it as a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Actual certification is published immediately in the Federal Register and eventually in the United States Statutes-at-Large.

State legislatures often call upon Congress to propose constitutional amendments. While these calls may bring some political pressure to bear, Congress is under no constitutional obligation to respond. The U.S. Constitution does not contain a provision requiring Congress to submit a proposed amendment upon request by some requisite number of states.”


Also, how long until you reveal yourself to be a repeatedly banned shitposter?

 
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So, for how many generations do you hold on to that bitterness?

Many white people endured involuntary servitude as well.
Well we also had the Jim Crow south 1 maybe 2 generations ago. We have had KKK most of our history and now we are seeing a resurgence of white supremacists... white people havent had to endure that. Yet we have people like yourself pretending those things arent a thing.

You should check out the book "Warmth of Other Suns". It really made me think about this topic in a new way.
 
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SoonerBeAHawk

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Well no one gets a choice of where they are born.

I would say there is a difference. My ancestors came here willingly. Id feel different if my ancestors were captured and sent here against their will.
Yes, I can sense have very strong negative feelings toward the African captors who
sold my ancestors in the international slave trade.

Oh! Or did you mean the folks who bought them?
 

FAUlty Gator

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I can’t imagine how little self esteem someone has to have to be “proud” of something they had absolutely nothing to do with.
So, since people are born gay and black, you think it’s stupid for those groups to have pride. Hot take. Good luck.

Just looked. You missed calling out Pride month all June. Maybe in February you can catch the blacks. I’ll remind you. :)