The presidential election is next month.
I’m not so sure who I’m going to vote for, if I’m even going to vote this time.
…. something to do with voting for the lesser of two evils.
That’s not saying much for my sense of patriotism.
Thinking about the upcoming election and the fact that the country celebrated its 236th birthday this year, I had intended, as a sign of my patriotic love for God and country, to write something in honor of our nation’s 236th birthday.
That would have been on the Fourth of July.
I ended up watching the Will Smith movie Independence Day on AMC instead.
And then I watched Jaws on DVD.
That movie takes place over Labor Day weekend, not the Fourth of July.
Quint’s USS Indianapolis monologue gets me every time.
I’m not going to post the clip. It’s something you’ve got to hunt down see for yourself.
….but let the picture below give you an idea of what I’m talking about).
Anyhow, between watching Randy Quaid doing an absolutely bang-up job of chewing scenery as a UFO abductee-turned-nutty hero, and grousing at my neighbors, who despite a city-wide ban on firecrackers, insisted on lighting an arsenal’s worth of incendiary devices as close to my woefully dehydrated (and as dry as the sand dunes of Tatooine) front lawn as possible, I did take the time to contemplate a bit about what it means (to me) to be an American.
Wait, before I get to what I thought, I’ll tell you what scene got me going: it was the scene in Independence Day when Randy Quaid (I’m certain his character had a name but for the life of me I didn’t bother to remember what it was) flies his plane into the belly of the alien mother ship while shouting, “Remember me, boys?!?” I’m no professional film critic, but that scene is just about the best example of overacting (?) I’ve seen outside of a Nicholas Cage film.
But I digress…
This is what being an American made me think:
I thought that being an American and the nation’s founding (is nation supposed to be capitalized?), I realized that this is the image that every American is supposed to think of when we think of Independence Day:
You know, I actually do think of the signing of the Declaration of Independence every Fourth of July (I’m not kidding, I do). I consider myself a patriotic American; I stand for the National Anthem (and more importantly, I know the words), I can find the United States on a world map, and I’ve memorized the Preamble of the Constitution.
By the way, it’s estimated that nearly 37% of Americans can’t find the U.S. on a world map — in case you might be thinking finding your current location on a map is not an impressive accomplishment.
But here’s the thing about thinking about one’s homeland: when you think about all the good things (hot dogs, baseball, guns and the constitutionally protected right to own them), you inevitably end up thinking about so many things that are bad. When I thought about the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence, the document that not only proclaimed that all men are created equal, but that every person is guaranteed (via the Creator) the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”.
Don’t get me wrong, these are great things. Let me repeat — these are GREAT things. But, contemplating Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words tends to dredge up one, nagging detail about Mr. Jefferson — namely, Thomas Jefferson was a bit of a hypocrite.
In case you didn’t know, Thomas Jefferson, second president of the United States, and author of the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves.
In short, Thomas Jefferson believed that all men were created equal… except for the ones in the fields tending crops.
… and Sally Hemmings.
But that’s another story.
Now, I know this has all been said before. And there’s nothing wrong with maintaining that the Fourth of July shouldn’t be about dwelling on Jefferson’s (and a few other Founding Fathers) contradictions. But, if we want to appreciate what makes the greatest nation on earth the greatest nation God ever created (read appropriate amount of snark here), we must see things as they are — hypocritical warts and all.
Listen: The Founding Fathers were brilliant men. They were truly visionary in creating a constitutional republic based on the notion that a nation is to be by and for the people. But they were merely men. They were men who were influenced and shaped by the time, circumstances, and ideas by which they lived.
Some folks out there say that Jefferson was a bad guy for writing that all men are created equal and guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while he personally did not believe what he wrote. They ask how a man who believed in natural rights can not be a hypocrite when he was most assuredly aware that 95% of his fellow Americans were restricted from participating in the newly-minted American democracy. How could Thomas Jefferson simultaneously believe that some men possessed God-given rights while others were the property of other people?
This is why:
Jefferson, as well as many other Enlightenment thinkers, believed that nature (oops, Nature) was the basis of all rights. That is, men are born with certain (inalienable) rights and no man or government can take those rights away from him. This argument sounds good, especially when you’re petitioning the British Crown for independence. To declare to an oppressive monarch that every man has natural, God-given rights that even the King of England must respect is laying down the law pretty firmly, but there’s a problem when you claim that all rights are grounded in the natural law — nature often is an unfair bitch.
If you haven’t noticed, in nature, some animals are at the top of their food chain while other animals are merely prey to the dominant species. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle observed in The Politics:
For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient: from the hour of birth. Some are marked out for subjugation others for rule.
Aristotle also wrote:
So it is naturally with the male and the female; the one is superior, the other inferior; the one governs, the other is governed; and the same rule must necessarily hold good with respect to all mankind.
The generality of men are naturally apt to be swayed by fear rather than reverence, and to refrain from evil rather because of the punishment that it brings than because of its own foulness.
Aristotle believed that in nature, weaker animals were subject to the will of dominant animals, and likewise among humans, weaker humans are subject to the will of dominant humans. Aristotle believed that weaker people were “natural” slaves, and that, as nature intends, natural slaves are meant to serve the will of their masters.
So what does this mean?
What this means is that, though we tell ourselves (and believe) that the United States is grounded upon principles of universal equality among men, a glimpse into the philosophy behind America’s Founding philosophers shows this is not the case. Our nation’s Founders were not inclined to (truly) believe that all men are created equal. Make no mistake; slavery (and the disenfranchisement of a large percentage of free white men) was no accident. Like Aristotle, Alexander Hamilton (who co-wrote The Federalist Papers, which, in turn, informed the Constitution) believed that some people are naturally fit to lead while others are fit to be governed. Some people, according to the Founders, simply lack the mental capacity to successfully govern themselves. Hamilton wrote, Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion. This is why Hamilton wrote that Men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation and men with characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue should be in charge of electing the president.
… and why it took the 17th Amendment to allow for the direct election of U.S. senators.
… and why we still have the Electoral College.
So what’s the point of all of this?
You see, if you haven’t realized it before… I mean, if you think that you’re a Founding Father type of person, ask yourself a couple of questions: do I own a toga? do I own a powdered wig? No?
Well then, when you vote don’t forget — it’s the lesser of two evils.