Searching for a Better Way: Declaring Independence from the Declaration of Independence Part Two

In Part One of this essay, I described how the Declaration of Independence set a White Empire course from which the USA has never deviated.  Not yet anyway.  I ended by conceding that most political discourse we hear about consists of narrow, noisy disagreements about how best to stay that course, not how to change direction.

Fortunately, however, that’s not all that is happening.  In her powerful essay, Only Revolutionary Love Can Save Us Now, Michelle Alexander says something new is in the air and…it’s not just the stench of death.  Arundhati Roy said something similar years ago.  A new world is possible.

Indigenous people have pursued a different way for millennia.  Patty Krawec’s book BECOMING KIN—An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future expresses much wisdom on making a new path.  TEWA Women United and many other organizations work diligently to grow a Culture of Peace to dissolve the Culture of Violence.

There is a growing global web of those seeking a better way and making a better way.  Admittedly it can be hard to see what they are up to, or maybe even that such a force exists at all.

Why?  There is our own manufactured myopia.  There is the nonstop confusion and misdirection on offer from mainstream media.  And there is the gut level awareness that deviation from the white empire way of thinking is punishable by death.

The long history of political assassination, even of Presidents, is intended to make that very point.  I marvel at the disingenuous insistence that we have a tradition of the peaceful transition of power. Tell that to Mary Todd Lincoln, Jaqueline Kennedy, Myrlie Evers, Coretta Scott King, Betty Shabazz, Tony Liuzzo or scores of other widows, widowers and orphans.

So, yes, there are formidable obstacles to even imagining that anything could be much different.  In the spirit of “making good trouble,” all the more reason to press on.

What NOT to do

Suppose a consensus will continue to form that staying on this 1776 one lane, one-way dead-end road forever is not a good idea. Does that mean we should just get about the business of announcing the formation of The Committee to replace the 1776 Declaration of Independence?

It’s tempting.  Indeed, the Declaration itself says that’s what we should do.  It’s right there in Paragraph 2.

“…Right of the People to alter or to abolish [any form of Government] and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Not so fast.

To operate within the confines of the original Declaration is to accept boundaries that will ensure accelerating failure.  It is, alas, far too embedded with assumptions that simply don’t align with the ability to respond effectively in our times.

This became obvious yet again in light of the July 1, 2024 Supreme Court decision granting protection to Donald Trump for what he did to stay in power after losing the 2020 election.  Since this decision happened in the middle of working on this essay, I’ll seize the moment to counterpose two explanations.

A. There is one simple reason that explains the SCOTUS immunity decision. It’s that Trump was able to appoint enough Justices to give the court the votes to do it. [Note: there are many variations on this theme, each of which focuses on some fragment or other. Were I required to be confined to this approach I would blame it all on Mitch McConnell for his role in the stacking the Court and in saving Trump from Impeachment. But that’s just me.]

B. There is one simple reason that explains the SCOTUS immunity decision. It’s that the Declaration of Independence set a course which has repeatedly and consistently produced pro-violence decisions just like this from courts and other institutions.

B is the correct answer.  The immunity decision more of the same.  Only manufactured amnesia make it seem so alarmingly NEW!  NEW!  NEW!  Put differently it’s the predictable outcome of centuries of pretending that white empire and something called democracy are, if not the very same thing, at least forever compatible.

As discussed more fully in Part One, excusing Trump’s plot(s) reproduces a pattern that precedes the Declaration.  First the violence, in this case culminating in the January 6 invasion of the Capitol.  Then the legalization.  Violence legitimized initially by failures to impeach and convict, then the effort by multiple players within the system to decimate any and all criminal prosecutions of Trump himself.

An appraisal of the Constitution’s role in White Empire is a separate enterprise from this essay.  Here though, suffice to say the Separation of Powers hoax is nothing but a whack-a-mole system designed so that if any branch strays into forbidden territory another is there to herd them back to the proper path.  In this situation it was the courts as well as many members of Congress organically cooperating to protect Trump.

Helpfully, the Nixon exception proves the rule.  The Trump decision is the norm.  Nixon’s resignation and subsequent Presidential pardon by Gerald Ford because of Watergate was a deviation, a fluke…the one time the blind squirrel found the nut.  It had to do with opposition caused mostly by an ahistorical antiwar movement.

More on point than Watergate during Nixon’s presidency was the assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago on December 4, 1969 in a raid led by the FBI.  No member of the Department of Justice or Congress or any other authority said Nixon should be sanctioned in any way for that. Why would they? The ability of Presidents to support the assassination of political rivals broadly defined was established early on in the USA.

We can speculate about what would have happened to John Wilkes Booth had he been captured instead of dying from injuries in his protracted attempt to escape after assassinating President Lincoln.  But what we know for certain is that Dr. Samuel Mudd was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson for his part in the assassination plot.  That is hardly an avowal that the assassination of political rivals will not be tolerated.

While we are about this exercise in unforgetting, let us also note the history of Andrew Jackson who as President ordered what became known as the Trail of Tears.  That was the violent, brutal and deadly forced relocation in 1832 of 100,000 Indigenous people.  Before he got elected to carry out his racist promises, Jackson had shot dead Charles Dickinson, a fellow plantation owner, in broad daylight on a then equivalent of Fifth Avenue in Tennessee.  (One of Donald Trump’s first acts upon occupying the White House was to install a statue of Andrew Jackson.)

Other chapters in the long history of the legalized killing of political troublemakers would be the executions of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, John Brown and many others.

Viewed from yet another angle, in December of 2023, two hundred twenty-one members of Congress voted to initiate a process of impeaching President Biden.  Their complaints had nothing whatsoever to do with his exuberant role in supporting Israel’s genocide of Palestinians.

What TO do.  First, a revolution in values.

On April 4, 1967 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. electrified the nation with his speech Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence.  It was inspiring to many.  And deeply frightening to White Power.

To understand that speech and the reaction to it is a good place to start.  Devoid of sectarian, dysfunctional and easily dismissed language, the speech called for a non-violent revolution of values thus challenging the immorality of the white empire project at its core.  Nonviolence is itself intrinsically subversive to white empire.

For taking this approach Rev. King’s relationship to the establishment was irretrievably breeched. Rev. Vincent Harding, King’s long time confident who wrote the draft of the speech, would later say that condemnation by the New York Times and other white power media outlets painted the target on King’s back that led directly to his killing one year to the day after April 4, 1967.

We can learn from this.  Discussion of how government might be structured, whether the established assumptions and boundaries of the current nation state make sense, the nature of property relations and so forth are important.  Considering what to keep, what to discard and what to invent matters for sure.

But that cart should not come before the horse.  Unless those deliberations are informed by values of kindness, peace and radical love they will not produce a better way of managing the capacity of humans to be destructive to each other and other living things.

As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the conversation is already underway among many.  In that spirit on August 6, 2024, Hiroshima Day, the King and Breaking Silence project will present another in its series of webinars focused on MLK’s Breaking Silence speech.

King’s Revolution of Values and the Rhythms of Resistance in a Tumultuous Time will include clips from the speech and from the late Rev James Lawson.  Featured will be a conversation between Michelle Alexander and the founders of the Beloved Community in Greensboro North Carolina, Rev Nelson and Joyce Johnson.  Attendees will be able to participate via live chat.

Previous webinars, the full text of the speech and many other resources are already available at  Webinar details and registration will be there soon.

Another world is possible.  Another world is necessary.  Another world is already happening.

Frank Joyce is a lifelong Detroit based activist and writer. He is a former Communications Director of the UAW. He and Karin Aguilar-San Juan co-edited, The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Anti-War Movement.