Sunday, November 20, 2016

"The Forgotten Will Be Forgotten No More"

On Friday January 20, 2017, the 45th president of the United States will be sworn-in. During his inauguration speech, forty-five will be facing a historic dilemma: to mention or not to mention that prickly will of the people.  You know the one, "the American people have spoken." No matter what forty-five decides, the elephant in the inauguration will be telling it like it is: "The electoral college has spoken." 

We heard you loud and clear founding fathers. Your message from the past was a shot across the bow. You'd think after 2000 we would have taken that warning more seriously. Which prompted me to take a closer look at our history, since we've obviously been condemned to repeat it. 

I dug deeper into that electoral college dragon you set loose on us. The one that lurks in the shadows of every election, never actually pouncing. Except for a handful of times, including this last one, when the dragon spewed hellfire on an "unfair" majority. I should have been paying closer attention this time around. What exactly is an unfair majority? 

I came out of my research with the mother of all head-scratchers. That famous electoral college I knew all my adult life, harmless and quiet for over one-hundred years before 2000, was designed to protect the less populated, under-informed and forgotten... by counting slaves as two-fifths of a white man? Good grief Thomas Jefferson. Say it ain't so.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." When Jefferson's pen released that last drop of ink on one of the world's most famous parchment papers, somewhere on a plantation in Virginia an enslaved man looked up at the heavens and shook his head. And somewhere in the conscience of that slave's "owner" there was a twitch, as he stared at the words he had just written. The kind of twitch that for a moment we think might have been a pinched nerve in the neck... but no. It was something worse. 

In a world driven by "pre-truth" and "post-truth" (and anything but the truth so help me God), I am willing to hold Thomas Jefferson accountable only to the pre-truth of his time. In his case, pre-Civil War. That being said, how does a man so otherwise enlightened in matters of leading the world away from tyranny reconcile that blatant contradiction in his mind? Surely that twitch must have afflicted him occasionally. Especially while sitting on Monticello’s terrace, looking down upon Mulberry Row, and watching enslaved men and women build his personal wealth. Men and women he deemed not fully human. Two-fifths human, to be precise. 

The revolutionary war was a bar brawl compared to the Civil war. True liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not born with the revolutionary war. They were born through the labor pain of a one-hundred-year journey. A journey that started with the Civil War and ended with the political defeat of white supremacist George Wallace.

Against all those odds, I refuse to judge from the cheap seats of a better-informed future. Flawed as he was, I still hold a decent  amount of respect for Thomas Jefferson. He was no John Adams, but there was greatness in him. I will assume until further evidence that he may have been a “good slave-owner”, whatever in god’s name that is. Or at least a slave owner with a twitchy, nagging conscience. I typically don't look to the past for a moral compass anyway, as much as I respect the few enlightened ones that made my world a better place. I especially respect the many who sacrificed life or limb for the basic freedom of millions. But this much I know: It's the ones who delivered actual inalienable rights to those condemned as two-fifths human who should command our greatest respect.

The electoral college was a borderline undemocratic measure, its roots borrowed from Roman times. Times that were no longer relevant, like everything in evolution: we are not here to make Rome great again. To be fair it was a measure born out of an arguably legitimate concern: the under-representation of less informed and / or less populated areas. But it was also a concern that was instantly addressed through less undemocratic means. Not only was it neutralized right off the gate by the creation of political parties, it was wiped out as long ago as the propagation of radio and television. Nevertheless, a concern that became a powerful tool for political manipulation. 

With all due respect to a good-faith watchdog of fair representation, when it was dragged through the mud of de-humanizing tyranny it became a threat to the greatest democratic development the world has ever known. The well-meaning founders had no way of knowing that the under-informed could one day be mass-blitzed by false information. The exact opposite of what the measure was intended to protect just happened. The under-informed were deliberately mis-informed, propaganda style at its most dangerous, giving proof beyond shadow of a doubt that the electoral college was ill-conceived. 

So knowing what I now know better, I have an appeal to those whose anger was awakened by Donald Trump...

Dear Forgotten:

I was wrong. I didn't think your message would make it this far. Honestly, I thought your nomination of Donald Trump was your message, but it didn't have a chance to go further. Speaking at least for the politically independent, we were wrong. 

Many of us have heard you, loud and clear. Forty years is enough. Since the day that first factory was closed back in the mid 70's, you have slowly watched the disintegration of your world. Almost everything you were promised by your fathers and grandfathers was crushed. You retreated to a world that looked awfully close to those ghettos you saw on TV. Except you weren't black, or brown, or did not live in a large city - as if that matters, but let's stay on point.  So how in the world did you end up in your own rural ghetto?

I don't know that anyone clearly knows that answer, but I do suspect this: you went through the five stages of grief. You stopped asking questions when you submitted to acceptance, in your own version of hope. A hope that never came. Well, at least not the way we would like it to be. That "long run" crap politicians talk about is a slap in the face of dignity. Forty years is enough. Screw the long run, you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore.

Who knew, but apparently it is possible for the five stages of grief to be re-started. Awakened. Someone came to your town, to your TV sets, to your twitter accounts, and whispered the magic words in your ear: "It's not your fault. Follow me." So far so good, you still have my attention. 

But here's where I'm losing you: the man who asked you to follow him not only never walked a mile in your shoes, he wouldn't wear your shoes if you paid him. And that's saying a lot for a billionaire. The rub is, you turned a deaf ear when you heard he was not self-made. Strike one.

One of the five stages of grief is anger. When he whispered in your ear, Donald Trump didn't just stop at "it's not your fault." Oh, no, he knew how to fire up that anger like there's no tomorrow. In fact, that's literally what he told you: there is no tomorrow. Only he had the billionaire superpower to turn back time, and he "told it like it is": it's the Mexicans, the Blacks, the Muslims, the Jews, the Immigrants, the Liberals, the Gays, the Handicapped, Non-Christian Soldiers, Captured Soldiers, Washington, Hollywood, China, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, the Media, and Women who don't know their place, especially Fat Women. Notably absent from that list: fat billionaires who stiff the ones who actually do the work, then hide behind bankruptcy; the same ones who outsource their own production to Mexico and China, and who get bailed out by Saudi Arabian royalty. A royalty that is quite possibly one of the most evil on the planet. And here's something no one told you: it wasn't China or Mexico who shut down your factories. It was the billionaires who thought paying you $8 an hour was stupid, when you can pay a Chinese or a Mexican $1 an hour. Strike two. 

Which brings us to bases loaded, two strikes, bottom of the 9th. The good news is, you are clearly in the World Series. The bad news is, the math is stacked against you. Look closer at that scoreboard: the popular vote is sliding away from you. In 2000 the difference was half a million. Today it reached six times that. That trend is not going to stop, and no electoral college can stop the actual will of the people. Which by the way, always included you. You never needed an undemocratic contraption to be a major part of this country. And it’s time to let it go.

Want to keep America great? Why not start by making accountability great again. Fix yourselves, as you rightly demand of the welfared ones. Stop dreaming that a bored billionaire prince actually cares about you. Had the electoral college been designed to honestly defend you, I would say swing away. The next one will be out of the park. But no, it wasn't conceived with honesty. It was created for political gain, on the backs of slaves, who at two-fifths human didn't even qualify to be called the forgotten ones.

I'm betting that you're smart and realize that four or eight years from now there won't be a sea of factories in Mississippi, Texas, Detroit, or Pittsburgh. These mythical factories certainly will not be hiring you at $15 an hour. Oh there will be the usual sewage of misinformation, telling you that the few that are still there are there thanks to the people you voted for. And there might be one or two new ones, subsidized by taxpayers. Definitely not by free markets, because irony needs no electoral college. Because irony actually tells it like it is.

Since the likes of Bannon and Coulter already know about the factories myth, they will continue to do what they do best. They will make a lot of money by dog-whistling to you in textbook intelligentsia-speak: It's not your fault, follow me. Up to you if you want to let them do that. I think you're smarter than that, and I think you’re pride in resisting government handouts is genuine. I also think you're right that the political machinery on the left is full of hypocrisy. But that's no reason to strap dynamite to your chest and blow yourself up. A Machiavellian prince is not worth it. Trust me on this one, Machiavelli lost that war. And so will this current bored prince, whom you thrust upon the rest of us when your anger was poked. Just remember, no good decisions are ever made in fits of rage.

As we both seek to repair the damage done, can we walk away from the propaganda and anger puppeteering? Let's start a conversation about an America where political tyrants will be powerful no more. An America that truly honors the founders legacy by rejecting royal dreams of Camelot and trickle down cake from golden palaces. An America where the far right and the far left can no longer fool anyone with their self-serving propaganda. The America that once truly liberated itself and helped make the world a better place.

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