I very much agree with Bernie Sanders that the goal of life is “to bring us together in love and compassion.” It is a goal that I would describe for each one of us as the goal of becoming more fully human and for all of us together as the goal of building a more just and democratic society, and a more perfect union, not only within the United States but in the wider world.
A serious outbreak of love would be deeply unsettling to the social order. Just such a moral and political revolution, one tempered by the recognition that all are in need of mercy and forgiveness, is what this country needs. And it is what our world needs.
Given the anti-American “Americanism” coming out of the White House—and the fact that four out of five self-described evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016—it is essential to counter the lie that pride in American power is somehow an expression of Christianity, or of any other faith tradition worthy of the name.
Many Americans over the centuries—believers in faith traditions and secular folk alike—have hoped that, despite all of our flaws, American civic virtue would enable us to be a force for good in the world. Optimism about that hope reached a fever pitch under George W. Bush (after the trauma of 9-11) and contributed to the horribly mistaken invasion of Iraq.
Believing that the rest of the world was becoming, and should become, more like us, Bush sought to make that happen more quickly through a use of force and violence in Iraq with disastrous consequences (consequences that were a foreseeable result of the use of violence for such purposes as well as of incompetence and corruption).
Barack Obama sought to accommodate a slower pace of global progress (still defined as the world becoming more like us) and a global restoration of “good feelings” simply by not being Bush (with some success but also with a misguided smaller-scale replay of the Iraq War in Libya, still seeking political progress with violent means and predictable consequences).
Running against globalism on behalf of “America First,” Trump has blustered and sought to bully others without success. The violence that he has contributed to in Yemen has been horrific (although without being linked to any vision of progress, simply violence for the sake of supporting the Saudi dictatorship’s foreign policy).
Taken together, we are talking about decades of inadequate (and worse) American foreign policy. American domestic policy, largely favoring the 1%, has not been much better.
Let me say directly what is probably the most abrasive part of what I have to say for people of other faith traditions, or for atheists, to hear: namely what I mean by being “fully human.” In my use of that phrase, I am following the theologian Herbert McCabe:
“So my thesis is that Jesus died of being human. His very humanity meant that he put up no barriers, no defenses against those he loved who hated him. He refused to evade the consequences of being human in our inhuman world. So the cross shows up our world for what it really is, what we have made it. It is a world in which it is dangerous, even fatal, to be human; a world structured by violence and fear. The cross shows that whatever else may be wrong with this or that society, whatever may be remedied by this or that economic or political change, there is a basic wrong, persistent through history and through all progress: the rejection of the love that casts out fear, the fear of the love that casts out fear, the fear that without the backing of terror, at least in the last resort, human society and thus human life, cannot exist…. With the cross the alienation of humankind is recognized as sin, and for that very reason recognized as something that can be forgiven.”
My favorite revolutionary among the founders of our country and the framers of our Constitution is the Pennsylvanian lawyer James Wilson.
Wilson maintained that it is the glorious destiny of human beings always to be progressive, and that the progress of societies toward perfection resembles the progress of an individual. Such progress had been slow in the past, and often interrupted, Wilson wrote after the Constitution was adopted, but now it was possible to hope that in the future it would be accelerated:
“Many circumstances seem—at least to a mind anxious to see it, and apt to believe what it is anxious to see—many circumstances seem to indicate the opening of such a glorious prospect. The principles and the practice of liberty are gaining ground, in more than one section of the world. Where liberty prevails, the arts and sciences flourish. Where the arts and sciences flourish, political and moral improvements will likewise be made. All will receive from each, and each will receive from all, mutual support and assistance: mutually supported and assisted, all may be carried to a degree of perfection hitherto unknown; perhaps, hitherto not believed.”
Years before Thomas Jefferson, Wilson had written that “all men are, by nature, equal and free.” Slavery, Wilson wrote, is unauthorized by the common law and is “repugnant to the principles of natural law.” Well aware of the compromises he had made in the constitutional convention, Wilson still looked forward to the future with enthusiasm: “At last, however, the voice of nature, intelligible and persuasive, has been heard by nations that are civilized: at last it is acknowledged that mankind are all brothers: the happy time is, we hope, approaching, when the acknowledgment will be substantiated by a uniform corresponding conduct.”
As for relations with the native peoples, Wilson told the Continental Congress in July 1776: “We have no right over the Indians, whether within or without the real or pretended limits of any Colony. They will not allow themselves to be classed according to the bounds of Colonies. Grants made three thousand miles to the eastward, have no validity with the Indians.”
It is sometimes claimed that the United States was founded on slavery and genocide. Such a formulation obscures both the contested character of the struggle for justice that has been a part of American politics from the beginning and the emancipatory vision of the most progressive of the framers of the Constitution—a vision that has helped to inspire progressives over the generations including people whose own leadership is deeply impressive such as Myra Bradwell, Ida Wells, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.
According to James Wilson we—the American people—are meant to be “sovereigns without subjects.” This was—and is—a succinct way of stating the most basic ideal of the American Revolution.
It took the Civil War, and the civil rights movement, to even begin to make this true for African-Americans. It took the suffragists, and the women’s rights movement, to even begin to make this true for women. And it took the organization of trade unions, and the labor movement, to even begin to keep this true for working people: to prevent the power of the state being used on behalf of corporations to make subjects of workers.
But for more than a generation, the rights of working people have been under attack and the neoliberal, or, worse yet, conservative and reactionary, policies that Democrats and Republicans have adopted, have facilitated an extraordinary transfer of wealth from working people to the rich.
It will take a moral and political revolution to keep the 1% from making subjects of all the rest of us and destroying the promise of the American Revolution with an anti-American “Americanism” that tortures children at our borders, and an anti-Christian “Christianity” that seems to welcome rather than resist such conduct, while real wages stagnate and more and more of the country’s wealth goes to fewer and fewer people.
Indeed, it will take a repentance—a turning—in all of our hearts if we are to move toward the outbreak of love that this country needs.
Here are the five top issues I emphasized in 2018:
(with links to newsletters on each)
✔ Universal Health Care
✔ Massive Infrastructure Investment
✔ A Foreign Policy for Civility
✔ Respect for Tribal Sovereignty
Please download the joint statement issued
with Jeff Ballinger, Congressional candidate
in the Massachusetts 3rd District … Joint Statement on Tribal Sovereignty (1991 downloads)
✔ A Freedom Budget for the 21st Century
But there are many reasons to vote for social democratic leadership for the Illinois 5th District:
✔ Montessori-style Pre-K for All
✔ Invest in Kids’ First Five Years
✔ Invest in Public K-12 Education
✔ Free Public College
✔ Decarbonize Our Energy System
✔ Overturn Citizens United
✔ Guarantee Family/Medical Leave
✔ Raise The Minimum Wage to $15
✔ Support Union Organizing
✔ End the War on Drugs
✔ Abolish Monetary Bond
✔ Restore Eisenhower Era Tax Rates
✔ Stop Endless Military Spending
✔ Support Civil Rights
✔ End Anti-LGBT Discrimination
✔ Expand Social Security
✔ Train the Police in De-escalation
✔ Demilitarize the Police
✔ Give the Police More Time to Sleep
✔ Bust up the “Too Big to Fail”
✔ Abolish I.C.E.
✔ Welcome Refugees and Immigrants
✔ Support Planned Parenthood
✔ Follow Australia’s Example on Guns
The artwork above, “The Valley,” is a painting by Nick Fisher. It presents a hopeful view of a peaceful, prosperous, just, and ecologically-sound community.