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The Progressive

Get Over Ourselves on July 4

This July 4, I wish we, as a nation, would get over ourselves.

We are not God’s chosen people.

God did not make us a shining city on a hill.

There is no God, and we have no special right to lord ourselves over the planet.

“Manifest Destiny” and other narcissistic ideas have swollen our heads.

President Obama was way off the mark when he recently said, “We must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events,” he said.

We don’t have a singular role, not now, much less over the long course of human events.

When you examine the actual role the United States has played, it’s not one that has showered us with glory: from slavery and the genocide against Native Americans early on to brutal imperial wars over the last century and more. Starting with the Spanish-American War and the subjugation of the Filipinos and then through dozens of invasions and usurpations in Latin America all the way to Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, U.S. foreign policy has piled the corpses high.

And the best aspects of the United States—not the fighter jets that fly over the celebrations today, nor the size of our economy, nor the “great American spirit,” nor our prowess in sports, nor any other excuse for the adolescent chanting of “USA, USA”—are the ones that are most in decay today: the promise of democracy, and the protection of our civil liberties.


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With the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court last year, which enables corporations to spend unlimited funds to elect or defeat candidates for office, any hope for real political democracy has faded. It’s a decision that has made a joke of the cherished idea of one person, one vote. And the Supreme Court just added to the joke with its decision last month to outlaw Arizona’s clean election law and to scorn any attempts to “level the playing field.” Even before these decisions, our politicians were for sale, rent, or time-share, and the concerns of a majority of citizens—for a living wage, for universal health care—would routinely fall to the ax of corporate power.

And if you broaden the concept of democracy to include economic democracy or a fair economy, we, as a nation, have drifted back into the Gilded Age, where the top 1 percent owns an astronomical amount of the nation’s wealth and income and where economic policy is geared toward letting them grab more and more.

As far as our civil liberties go, the government has taken many of them away. The First Amendment is in shambles, as the FBI and other law enforcement have been infiltrating domestic nonviolent protest groups, and the FBI has just loosened its rules for doing so. The Fourth Amendment is all but deleted, as the Supreme Court, in one decision after another, has given police more leeway to barge into our homes without warrants. The USA Patriot Act and the revisions to the National Security Act legalize additional intrusions by the Executive Branch. And the Military Commissions Act gives the President the authority to declare any person in the United States an “enemy combatant” and then throw that person behind bars.

On this Independence Day and for many a year, we’ve lost any clue about what it means to be independent: to be self-governing, and free from repressive rule.

If we have forsaken the ideals of America, the least we could is not to destroy the Earth in the process.

That means, first and foremost, not to blow it up with nuclear weapons. We and the Russians have 95 percent of the nukes in the world, and we need to move quickly to global nuclear disarmament.

And secondly, that means not to destroy the planet by poisoning the atmosphere. Global climate change is real, it’s here, and we’ve got to deal with it. The United States has been the biggest culprit in creating this crisis, and now we are the biggest laggard in responding to it.

The atmosphere is not our dumping grounds.

And just because we fly the red, white, and blue doesn’t make us exempt from doing the right and the urgent thing.

Matthew Rothschild

Matthew Rothschild

Matthew Rothschild was the senior editor of The Progressive magazine from 1994 to 2014.

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