As the Academy Award winning movie, Witness, moves toward the climatic confrontation, John Book [Harrison Ford] calls his former mentor:
“Chief Paul Schaeffer: Calling me at home. I can’t trace the call. That’s smart, John, very smart.
John Book: Lost the meaning, did you, Paul?
Chief Paul Schaeffer: What?
John Book: Isn’t that what you used to say about dirty cops? Somewhere along the way they lost the meaning?
Chief Paul Schaeffer: Now don’t make this difficult, John. We know where you are. We’re about to…
John Book: Oh no, man, you got it wrong. I’m coming to get you!
This excellent movie about honor and betrayal was not overtly political. It was an ingeniously scripted murder, thriller. Nonetheless, it succinctly stated a crucial problem that since 1985 has gotten more severe and done increasing damage in the American Republic. Nearly half the citizenry and a major political party have: “Somewhere along the way … lost the meaning?” They are figuratively “dirty cops.”
One may ask, “What meaning did they lose?” They lost the meaning of America. Our country, the land that we regularly purport to love; the Republic to which the overwhelming majority of us pledged Allegiance as school children is not defined by military power; by the number of quadzillionaires, by the spread of our popular culture, or by the number of people around the world who love us or loathe us. Our country is defined by the nobility of our highest ideals and by the fidelity we demonstrate in pursuing them.
These defining ideals were written in eloquent and intelligible English. They are neither ambiguous nor equivocal. They can be concisely summarized as follows:
1. Human equality
2. Inalienable rights
3. Governments with just powers derived from the consent of the governed
4. A mutual pledge of our lives, fortunes and sacred honor
5. Ever improving Unity
6. Established justice
7. Ensured domestic tranquility
8. A common defense
9. A general welfare
10. The Blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
These are not Ten Commandments; they are Ten Commitments. Commitments all truly patriotic Americans never fail to keep. If any Americans neglect this solemn duty either by withdrawal from the public arena or by subversion and sabotage within the arena: “Somewhere along the way they lost the meaning.” More than fifty years ago, America’s youngest elected president stated the challenge this way:
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” JFK 20 January 1961
Those who have lost the meaning are indifferent to the vast and growing inequality that afflicts the majority of our citizens while a distinct minority soars to ever higher levels of opulence and privilege. Over the last three and one half decades, the distribution of wealth and income has devolved to levels last seen in the run up to the great depression.
“A Harvard business prof and a behavioral economist recently asked more than 5,000 Americans how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States. Most thought that it’s more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.” These results are shown in the chart below.
Not only are the “dirty cops” among us okay with this inequality of wealth, they ignore or minimize the growing inequality of income as shown by this chart:
“Productivity has surged, but income and wages have stagnated for most Americans”. The median household income should be about $92,000 now rather than the roughly $50,000 it actually is.” www.motherjones.com. The top 1% has enjoyed an income surge of 240%; everyone else has seen less than a 1% increase. This situation would not sit well with people truly committed to human equality. A house divided against itself cannot stand; a nation cannot survive half slave and half free; a Republic cannot endure when one out of a hundred live in opulence and the other 99 live on the brink of destitution.
Those who have lost the meaning do not believe in unalienable rights for all human beings and all citizens. They believe women do not have the inalienable right to control their own reproductive activities. They do not believe gay and lesbian citizens have the privilege and immunity to marry the person they love. They do not believe every citizen’s right to vote is sacrosanct. They do not believe all people are entitled to equal protection of the laws and due process of the law. States controlled by the dirty cops are passing ever more onerous restrictions on clinics that provide abortion services; they are seeking to deny women access to contraception and insurance coverage that pays for abortion services. They are amending their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage; they are enacting numerous laws and adopting various regulations that abridge or deny the right of citizens to vote.
The dirty cops impugn the powers of government except when they can wield them to impose their agenda on a divided citizenry. They ignore popular opinion on any topic that does not conform to their authoritarian ideology, and use any scurrilous tactic to foist their sectarian beliefs on all citizens. In Michigan, the Republicans in control of the state used a parliamentary trick to re-enact a law that the voters had repealed by referendum only a month before. In Texas, the Republican governor and Legislative majority called an emergency session of the legislature to enact a bill on which time had expired in the regular order of business. In Oklahoma, the Republican governor defied separation of powers and the Republican legislature threatened to impeach the Supreme Court which had stayed a planned execution. Those who “Somewhere along the way … lost the meaning” when in power, do not govern; they rule. In so doing they dishonor the letter and spirit of the Constitution to which they swore faithful adherence and betray the ultimate sacrifice of the many brave Americans who in places encircling the globe have given the last full measure of devotion to that nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all human beings are equal. They mock the mystic chords of memory that stretch from Bunker Hill to Benghazi.
Those who “Somewhere along the way … lost the meaning” deny any mutuality. They routinely devalue and endanger the lives of people they see only as potential serfs or cannon fodder. They horde their fortunes and add to them by exploiting the downtrodden and the economically disadvantaged. They have no clue as to the meaning of honor be it sacred or mundane. To the dirty cops among us people who are young, poor, female, or darker skinned are not full-fledged citizens. They are suspects; the dirty cops want to interrogate these suspicious characters and make them show their papers. From the perspective of those who have lost the meaning, everyone but themselves is guilty until proven innocent. The dirty cops see no mutuality with the vast majority of their fellow citizens and therefore, they repudiate the binding pledge which closed our Republic’s inaugural creed.
Those who “Somewhere along the way… lost the meaning,” do not acknowledge the Republic is ordained and established by “We the People.” They have no interest in perfecting our union. On the contrary, they want to effectively repeal the Constitution and resume the Confederation that failed in its eleventh year and was defeated again in 1865. The only president of the last failed Confederacy in North America, rightly stated, “It died of a theory.” The Confederate ideal is fatally flawed and it will destroy and damage any people who are caught within its clutches. This is what the dirty cops are trying to resuscitate with their seemingly endless obstructionism and lunatic ranting about nullification and secession.
If unity is undermined, justice will not prevail. If those who “Somewhere along the way… lost the meaning,” are the arbitrators of justice then justice will not exist in anything but form. They have already stolen one presidential election; they have gutted the voting rights act; and they have confused corporations with people and campaign spending with political speech. The dirty cops have not completely seized control of the judiciary as of this date which is the only reason attacks on voting rights and marriage equality have been struck down by various state and federal courts around the country. Justice is still alive, but far from being established it is in mortal peril.
Those who have “Somewhere along the way… lost the meaning,” are indifferent to domestic tranquility because the live in enclaves far from the madding crowds. These quiet and bucolic settings are as tranquil as any locales in the modern world. Therefore, the figurative dirty cops believe things are tranquil. They do not hear the gunfire that resounds in city neighborhoods, or public schools, or movie theaters, or non-Christian places of worship, or college campuses. They do not see the bodies of slaughtered innocents. They do not watch their relatives travel the school to prison pipeline. They do not fear their children will go hungry, or that they will underperform in school due to lack of nutrition, insufficient resources, fears for their safety, or untreated developmental deficiencies. When you live in a virtual paradise and work surrounded by highly trained and well-compensated security personnel, the society you are familiar with is tranquil. Mental myopia prevents you from seeing the hostile fire zones and wastelands others call their neighborhood.
For the dirty cops, providing for a common defense has two meanings. One is to militarize the actual police forces of this country and place them on a war footing so that anyone suspicious is under effective surveillance and promptly interdicted if they even seem to threaten the good, law-abiding citizenry the police have sworn to serve and protect. This is not a charge against the many brave and competent police officers serving on duty, but at the twisted system political charlatans have created to cage the disadvantaged and coddle the privileged. The second meaning is to impress people of modest means into the military services, so they can fight battles in faraway places with strange sounding names for the interests of the plutocrats who either have or covet economic stakes there. The preemptive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are vivid examples of the deployment of ordinary Americans as cannon fodder for the dreams of elitist avarice. Many in the military believe they are protecting their country and this does them credit, but in too many cases and too many places they are being sent into harm’s way for dubious purposes.
Americans who “Somewhere along the way… lost the meaning,” care nothing about the “general welfare.” They delude themselves that “they built it” and give themselves credit for every manner of success while evading responsibility for any form of failure or instance of short coming. In contrast, they see poverty as an indicator of moral depravity and scold and ostracize the poor without compunction. They pluck phrases out of context from their holy book in order to make their miserliness seem righteous. For example, “Whoever doesn’t want to work shouldn’t be allowed to eat.” At the same time, such people ignore the verse that recommends what is expected toward “the least of these.” The issue is not one of Biblical interpretation, but the proper pursuit of the general welfare of we the people. Although Americans are descended from people who sailed from different shores in different ships, we are all in the same boat now. The dirty cops among us, however, dispute and ignore this principle of promoting the common good. They have the audacity or perhaps the mendacity to propagandize about the “virtue of selfishness.” This perverse parody of ethics exults in the glory of an “each against all” approach to social organization where all proper interactions are conducted as trades of something for something of “equal value.” With such a perspective, it is easy to understand why those in the role of dirty cops among us have no regard for “promotion of the general welfare.” We must ask ourselves, however: “Is selfishness the banner to which the wise and honest should repair?” Or is it the way of true patriotism and authentic honor to rally to the cause of one nation, indivisible, with liberty, justice, equality and prosperity for all? No matter the choice others may make, my choice is to bear true faith and allegiance to the Republic and the better angels of our nature.
Lastly, those who “Somewhere along the way… lost the meaning,” care nothing for securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. They want their own actions to be untrammeled by any restraints whatsoever. For themselves they want license, not liberty. For their own children they want every advantage wealth and power can procure. For ordinary Americans, they want the freedom to follow orders and remain in their proper place. They want to protect the right of these Americans to work at the lowest wage they can impose, under the most demeaning conditions, with minimal or no benefits. They want female Americans to be free to produce as many babies as possible, and as free to struggle to raise them with little or no societal support. They want every American to be free to conform to the religious precepts of Christian Dominionism and to serve as “Christian Soldiers” in hot or cold wars with adherents of other religions. They would bless every American other than themselves and their heirs with higher than necessary tax rates so that they can endure the tax cuts and corporate subsidies they contend are the engines of free market economies. As with the other Nine Commitments, the nominal dirty cops betray the Tenth as well.
In the face of this clear and present danger, people who have not lost the meaning of our noble ideals, must come for the dirty cops and do to them what they have done to the principles and purposes that make it proper to be proud to be an American. We the People must ensure that all those who have paid every price, born every burden to ensure the survival and success of the Republic have not fought and died in vain. One such American expressed this well: “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.” Achieving this will not be the work of a frenzied outburst of emotion, but the eventual outcome of a steady and enduring effort that elevates our political discourse and energizes our principled action. There is nothing harming our nation or holding it back that cannot be defeated and overcome by a renewed discernment and a revitalized devotion to our ten guiding ideals. This will ultimately allow us to bind up the nation’s wounds and create a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all the peoples of the world.
As this article opened with a quote from JFK, let it close as he closed in his address in the hour of freedom’s maximum peril. These are again times that try our souls: “With a good conscience our only sure reward,, asking His blessing with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”