Well that didn’t take long – for two signature policies to emerge that can win the presidency in 2020. Never mind preserving DACA, we need a full amnesty program for all un-documented immigrants and not a path, but an open door to citizenship. Never mind preserving Obamacare, we need, as Bernie Sanders has proposed, a Medicare-for-all program that guarantees health care for all the people of this country.
These are simple, straight-forward programs that might even exist in a kind of synergy, whereby all those currently designated as ‘illegals’, a largely youthful demographic, emerge as healthy, full tax paying Americans. Two policies that cut across the nativist, née populist defeatism that identified not a plausible future but a return to an entirely mythical America, that won the election for Herr Trump.
Is it too early to celebrate? Is it too early to futurize? Can we dream?
Once installed on the back of their signature policies the new president can set about de-mythologizing our history. For it is only on a basis of profoundly truthful revelations about ourselves and then an arduous process of reconciliation, that we can confidently move forward as a nation. Tinkering with, or even revolutionizing social policy is all well and good but we are ultimately prisoners of our history: in 1965, James Baldwin wrote, speaking first of African Americans then of whites,
“Only a creature despised by history finds history a questionable matter. On the other hand, people who imagine that history flatters them (and it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves or the world”.
We cannot continue in a world based on hypocrisy if we are to thrive. It’s time for a full accounting of our tragic, blood thirsty, genocidal past and an understanding of our predatory, incarceratory, oligarchic and imperialist present. It is time, as Baldwin recognized, that white Americans emerge from the “curtain of guilt and lies behind which (they) hide” and we collectively face our history and begin to change our lives: failure to do so threatens both this country and the entire planet. This is the truth and reconciliation agenda we need our next president to undertake.
How difficult will it be? And how will it begin? We could simply start with a new Pledge of Allegiance:
“I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, where we seek truth, liberty, economic justice and legal protection for all.”
This is a humble offering, but it addresses key issues. I’ve removed the ‘under god’ reference: that was about an Eisenhower imagined old-testament deity who was going to assure us of victory over the atheistic communists – and that already happened. Its elision also reinstates the religion and state separation so important to our constitution. The fifty states ‘indivisible’? As a Californian, I would counsel: let’s wait and see. And the nod to the flag must go: its glorious iconography is now thoroughly besmirched by too many reprehensible deeds conducted beneath its fluttering shade. Nations are mutable and date-stamped (Hitler understood that, he projected that his Third Reich would last as long as the Holy Roman Empire, or one thousand years – in the event it mercifully fell short by nine hundred and eighty-eight) so the word nation is excised. Preserved are the necessary parts of the pledge subtly augmented to address our contemporary condition. Most importantly, the sentence is activated by its reference to process: a continuing search for historical truth and present justice – rather than a recapitulation of an entirely fraudulent past and the economic and racial injustices that are exculpated under its false construction. It is this fraudulent past that we must now attempt to deconstruct.
In my thirty-seven years in California I have mostly avoided the pledge. When faced with the inevitably of its performance, I stand and mumble my Tibetan Buddhist mantra in its stead, both hands discreetly tracing the faux magical passes that I have fashioned for each of its seven words (there is one repetition) – ensuring that my right hand remains well clear of my heart. It is a petty rebellion, but one deeply felt. Next time, perhaps, I will stand moist-eyed, hand to heart, and recite my alternative pledge. Meanwhile, I continue my odyssey to understand the truth about the country I love and seek out historians that help elucidate the last half millennium of our collective New World experience. But my personal journey is irrelevant unless it becomes a part of a larger movement towards truth and justice, towards a reconciliation with our past and those presently traumatized by it (which, I suspect, knowingly or not, includes most of us).
Others recognize the truth of this experience. The organization Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which, in its own words, “works to undermine white support for white supremacy as part of a multi-racial, cross-class movement for racial justice” may or may not being doing good work in this arena. DiDi Delgado offers a withering critique of the organization in her post, SURJ and the Caucasian Invasion of Racial Justice Spaces. White Americans have distressingly little credibility in addressing these issues precisely because, racially, they are members of the oppressor class. But because of their historical and present privilege, particularly in educational opportunity, they are also well situated to do the work of historical deconstruction.
Case in point: Cornell’s white historian Edward E. Baptist and his magisterial work, The Half Has Never Been Told, 2014. Baptist’s premise is that the economic rewards of owning slaves provided the financial boost that propelled the United States to the forefront of global capitalism by the end of the nineteenth century. As such, there may be credible claims made for r
ecompense by the slaves’ descendants. This notion is in opposition to the narrative that the economic advantages of slavery were marginal – and that some of the meagre benefits accrued to the black families harbored within the system as well as to their owners. While we may be long past believing in happy slaves and paternalistic masters existing in a pre-modern backwater, Baptist newly emphasizes the embedment of the system, particularly in the growing of cotton, within the modern industrialized world that emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century.
This world developed coincident with the establishment of the United States as an independent nation supposedly founded in freedom and liberty. It was in the first eight decades of the new Republic that, as Baptist writes, “the number of slaves in the United States increased five times over, and all this expansion made a powerful nation”. A corollary of the territorial expansion occasioned by slavery was the brutal extirpation of native populations who stood in the way of this vicious economic model.
The connection Baptist makes between the growth of industrial capitalism and slavery is vital to an understanding of the emergence of that financial system’s newest iteration in post-1970s entrepreneurial neoliberalism, which also functions as a fundamentally predatory system – victimizing vast swathes of the population, but none more so than non-white communities, for the benefit of the few.
The history of the United States does not make for a pretty picture. The Pledge of Allegiance, composed in 1887 and formally adopted by congress in 1942 – and reaching its current form with the addition of “under God” in 1954 – inculcates in its often young pledgers a propogandist vision of this country entirely disconnected to reality. At a time when critical thinking is supposedly valued, it is urgent that we all engage in exposing the fraud that is our commonly perceived history. Is it entirely too idealistic to imagine our next president taking the lead in this vital project?
So, whether it’s Jill, Cynthia, Elizabeth, Kamala, Bernie, or Transgender ‘X’ who leads the New Party, they are welcome to stickerize my alt. Pledge of Allegiance. Its adoption might signal the beginning of this country’s emergence from its ugly, hubristic and self-aggrandizing adolescence.