Perhaps to the surprise of some, this blog won’t open with a rant.
This first post won’t challenge this month’s results. This first post won’t suggest strategy for 2018 or 2020. This first post won’t even call to the defense of various protests, nor reassert the need for higher minimum-wage, nor even be a sad liberal’s personal anecdote of waking up in Trumpmerica (though those all will soon happen). It’s 2016— and it’s fortunately almost over. Four-fifths of us see this nation as divided, starkly, rifted along ideological lines that seem to increasingly separate each time the pendulum swings, yet again, to the other extreme (1). We are students. We are Penn State. We live in a community that might very well serve as a microcosm for the nation: a more liberal, university-cultured urban core, totally surrounded by the mountains and valleys of a more conservative, small-town USA. It’s no use to spark our flame with the same defensive, partisan tone that continues to divide us. This blog will open, instead, recalling perhaps a lost ideal that I at least believe, personally, is what truly unites us.
“Here the free spirit of mankind at length Throws its last fetters off; and who shall place A limit to the giant’s unchain’d strength, Or curb his swiftness in the forward race.” William Cullen Bryan, in his great 1821 poem, ‘The Ages,’ understands America as the culmination of human civilization— a history of empires and political orders that were destined to conclude in the triumph of personal liberty, despite the magnitude of an older regime strengthened by ages of perpetuity (2). Optimistic and faithful, the early American writers, impassioned by the romance of our plight for individual freedom and self-government, saw the future of this country as one guided by the nobility of our principles. A commitment to the libertarian promise that we made. “And that claim [the then Oregon Country] is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” Our ambitions knew few bounds. John L. O’Sullivan, then a columnist for the New York Morning News, contested London’s claim to the Pacific Northwest on the grounds that such territory is inherently guaranteed to us, solely by the reach of our virtues (3). A federation of citizens, secured by such certain inalienable rights, and empowered by the dedication to our pursuits, a society built upon the merits and for the promises of all is not just our noblest ideal, but our American destiny— bound to extend to the corners of earth, by both the limits of our borders and the expanse of our pens. It is the exceptional promise of America.
I do disagree with our founding literary fathers. In certain aspects.
America was not made inherently exceptional by the merits of some divinity. America was made exceptional by its earliest accomplishments- by ourselves. The United States is among the first western republics since the fall of Rome, certainly the first of its size, certainly the first to anchor in a new world. The United States is seemingly blessed that it concluded an armed revolution with a pacified, stable political order, and for that we are exceptional. France, as we know, did not conclude its own enlightened revolution with similar ease, instead cycling through different political structures, often violently, until a charismatic strongman exploited such fragile climate and imposed an imperial monarchy, who we now know as Napoleon. Throughout the 19th century, instead, Europe would be continuously plagued by revolts and shifting political orders. In this regard, America has demonstrated exceptionalism. A birth certificate and constitution that is dedicated to self-government, the John Locke social contract, a society committed to the democratic opportunity of all, formalized in the structure of a republic— that is truly exceptional. A society born from migration across seas and oceans, that established through time, on an absolutely foreign and from which largely un-returnable land, a civilization complete of all essential institutions— agriculture, commerce, industry, education, entertainment, government— worthy of becoming a nation, that is truly exceptional. America is exceptional because of its achievements against the precedent of history. America will continue to be exceptional as long as we are conscious to uphold the veracity of its promise, and refuse to fall victim to the fallacies of our human tendencies.
The kingdom of Qin Shi Huang, the Romans, the Spanish Empire, the British Empire, the United States— no great superpower has ever occupied its place in history innocent from its share of atrocities and wrongdoings. There’s no point in sugar-coating. The truest love we can have for our country is the love that allows us to celebrate in our many innovations, triumphs and achievements, and also find fault in its errors, so that we are dedicated to correct them for the future. There’s no point in sugar-coating. Over-investment in wars, internment camps, struggles for social and political rights, slavery: America is not exceptional as long as we allow ourselves to find a place in the ranks of history among all precedent empires and their similar or worse wrongdoings. Instead, we would continue to show that we are merely the same, prone to the worst of our nature. It is perhaps illogical, probably impossible, to promise a future without mistakes. However, it is certainly logical, and absolutely possible, that we continue to dedicate ourselves to the very words on which we were founded— uphold the American Promise to its fullest extent.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, we understand that all men are created equal. Through each era of our history we have seen the struggles of all different groups, dedicated to bring these words to further and further life. In each era, we are presented with new questions and challenges that recall and test our commitment to these same words. A federation of citizens, of which all are socially and politically equal, we are a nation founded upon the unity of many. English Puritans, Africans, German, Dutch, and Swedish Protestants, Irish and Italian Catholics, Jews, the Orthodox from the former Soviet Bloc, and now Hispanics, Latinos, Eastern Asians, South Asians, combined with the indigenous who preceded them all, we are Americans. What has assimilated this country from this founding, generation after another, is not our ethnicity, nor our race, nor our religion, nor even our languages. What truly assimilates us, what truly defines an ‘American,’ is the desire to come to this continent, from whatever part of the world, regardless of wealth, race or religion, and vow our hardest work to provide the ideal lives for ourselves and our families. This is America. This is the American Promise we have an absolute responsibility to defend and maintain. Black, white, latino, native, male, female, gay— one does not need a qualifying adjective to be an American. By our commitment to industry and equality, American we all are. We owe it to the current generation of immigrants, from wherever they are, for reminding us of the immeasurable hard-work and sacrifice that all of our ancestors willingly undertook to get here, the hard-work and sacrifice that this country is founded upon. If we are to ever forget our commitment to immigrants and our promise to be the ultimate destination, the city upon a hill, where people all over the world will have the opportunity to actualize their dreams, we ought to damned.
We are united by a sense of labor. We are united by a belief in equality. We are united, largely, by a pursuit to actualize those founding words to their truest sanctity. The American Promise is a government of these same people, strengthened by generations of immigration and cultural fusion, that ensures them their rights to live their freest lives possible. The destiny of this country, as prescribed by our earliest voices, is the libertarian society where all are ensured their fullest civil, political, and economic rights. The destiny of this country is a society with the smallest government possible to best permit such rights, yet a government large enough to ensure that all have such rights. Our nation has never been guided by the particulars of any specific religion, but rather the common morality that ensures that the rights of any one individual will end where another’s rights are inhibited. The ideas of the enlightenment philosophers are our doctrines. The fight for equal opportunity is our truest dogma. With liberty and justice for all.
Lost in partisanship, lost in the prevail of what seems like the ‘almighty bickering,’ lost in the shroud of ideological stubbornness, supremacy, unable to look past our own arithmetic, unable to solve for truly the best solution for our country, we are perhaps not in jeopardy, but our future is certainly in question. The ‘Libertarian Promise of America’ has always been present since our beginning. It is exactly through the discussion of how to properly administrate it that we arise our first political strives. Republicans and Democrats alike have a commitment to the cause of liberty and freedom, with different avenues of approach, that perhaps appear entirely more distant under the shroud of our destructive, ‘football-team’ mentality.
The Republican Party is a coalition of those dedicated to family values and maximized economic rights. The Republican Party asserts a beautiful ideal that human nature itself is best responsible for the management of an economic system, that the government is best removed from economic regulation and taxation that hinders growth. The Democratic Party is a coalition of those dedicated to maximized civil rights, but asserts that a balance of economic regulation and control is needed by a master system in order to ensure its stability, and ensure equal opportunity. Yet, as I champion this blog in its infant days, I am an independent. Raised by an entirely Republican family, growing up among entirely Republican family-friends, I abandoned my originally conservative beliefs in my early adolescence for ideals much more progressive and liberal (that transition is a different story). I am officially independent for the sake of better navigating through partisanship, but whole-heartedly identify as a Democrat, voting in their primaries. I identify as a Democrat because I believe the government has minimal place in the social lives of people in a libertarian society. I identify as a Democrat because I do not agree, mathematically, that a total absence of economic regulation ensures a stronger economy. I identify as a Democrat because I believe the government ought to be just the right size to have little regulation and taxation as possible. I identify as a Democrat because I believe our economy is strongest when it relies on a strong-consumer class, empowered by a fair minimum wage, and the right amount of well-organized, social programs to ensure equal opportunity. I identify as a Democrat in that I disagree with Republicans, in that I do not believe that the laissez-faire, social-Darwinian approach creates the most economic opportunity. I identify as a Democrat because I believe that too little economic intervention creates the opportunity for a Gilded Age-like stratification, where the poor become increasingly disenfranchised of opportunities, and such true ability of libertarian democracy will be forfeited for oligarchy.
Republicans, my family included, will whole-heartedly disagree that more government is the solution for economic security. Republicans cite the numerous challenges a bureaucracy faces in administering its responsibilities, that such responsibilities are best left to private individuals. To such an extent, I agree with them. Bureaucracy is often a challenge to achieving systematic efficiency. However, I identify as a Democrat because I believe the challenges of bureaucracy are worth the ends, ends that I do not believe the private sector can effectively provide.
The beauty of American political conversation is debating whose math is right. Both parties are glued to the closer-than-thought range of ideals that are mutually interested in the ultimate end, the libertarian society as promised by our founders. I identify as Democrat, but will even challenge some progressives who seek to perhaps overly regulate our economic rhythm. I identify as a Democrat, because I believe the Republicans ought to reform their religion-based moral philosophy if they are in the best interests for a libertarian America. Either way, regardless of placement on some fictional two-dimensional spectrum, one should agree that American political discourse is best when either end is genuinely interested in good of the country. American political discourse will continue along this path of partisan-damnation if we continue to refute facts, science, and math, as a defensive means of justifying our own arguments. It’s critical that we admit when we are wrong, and what we are wrong about, if we are in the best interests of our future. We must combat this unfortunate reality of perfectionism, and the idea that ever being wrong will jeopardize the future of our careers.
In the end, there is, underneath the convincing shroud of angry partisanship, unison. While we are certainly divided amongst ourselves, if we look at our distance upon a larger spectrum, a bigger picture, we are much closer than pundits in the media would have us think. It’s through the timeline of history, and all the phases of civilization, among its countless philosophies and ideals, our internal distance is merely fractional. The media may do their best, in their interests, to dramatize every conversation, and exploit the technicalities in any given issue, so that they appear increasingly distant. It’s important that we at least, occasionally, step outside the shroud, and see that on the chart of political philosophies, we stand on two halves of the same dot— a commitment to the Libertarian Promise of America.
Penn State College