We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
What happened to “we the people”? We have always had divisions in this country, starting with the revolution itself. In 1776 20% of the white population remained loyal to the crown. They fought change, thought the revolutionaries to be radical and extreme. Divisions came to the forefront during the Civil War, though regional differences have always been present throughout our history. It is almost impossible for a country of this size to not have differences. But, while times of crisis created tensions and divisions, we always seemed to have a common purpose, we more or less wanted to get to the same place (with the exception of the Civil War).
Despite the differences, I always thought we, the American people, held certain beliefs.
Remember the Declaration of Independence’s great line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….?” Despite the differences, we believed in democracy. Despite the differences, we did believe that all men are created equal. Despite the differences, we believed that we were on this journey together. I don’t feel this is the case anymore.
We have elements of the American people, self-proclaimed patriots, advocating a movement toward a more restrictive, less democratic nation, where one party, one ideology rules. I feel we view each other as the enemy, rather than those who truly wish us harm. We hate each other. And if you point the finger at the other person and start your comment with “but those people,” then you are part of the problem.
I am not naive. I am, instead, highly cynical, the result of decades in espionage. I don’t view America as a Norman Rockwell painting. We are a nation much like other nations, founded by people, not a choir of angels. That means it was founded with all the imperfections and flaws we humans have. However, our founders came up with a unique concept for their time, based on the writings and philosophy of Europeans, especially the French and English. They executed that concept with skill, determination, and sacrifice. They bestowed on us a series of freedoms and liberties. Not all of us, an example of those nasty human flaws and imperfections. But they were rights people could look up to, aspire to, achieve. They were rights for all, not just some, and it took some of us, Americans, decades to attain those rights, once again through skill, determination, and sacrifice. That was the genius of the men who created the idea of the United States of America, the freedoms we could ALL aspire to and obtain.
I am no longer certain that we believe this anymore. We are now at war with each other. Where did that come from? We have had disputes in the past, but this is visceral hate. We seem to be intent on denying the blessings and freedoms granted by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to each other. I can easily point to politicians who manipulate us toward this hatred. It is as obvious as the sun rising in the morning. They make us fear and hate each other so that we vote for them because only they can save us from the others. They do it for themselves, not the nation nor the people. They keep us divided so that we cannot unite against them and vote them out of the highly lucrative positions they are in.
In one of my overseas assignments, I was attending a cocktail party at one of the other embassies. That nation had recently suffered a series of terrorist attacks. I commented to a local politician about how in the past such attacks would have led to significant communal violence, but nothing like that had happened recently. He said that was because there was a responsible government in power. In the past, politicians would stoke fear, anger, and hatred, leading to communal violence. This would focus the people’s anger away from the government’s failings toward a perceived enemy. This government was not rising to the bait.
I suspect we have a large number of politicians who view sowing division and fear as a means to power. But that is not all of it. That lets us off the hook. It is too easy to blame someone else for our own failings. The fact that we allow politicians, pundits, talking heads, even churches, to manipulate us into the position of hating our fellow citizens is on us. Maybe we want to hate our fellow citizens, blame them for our problems. I don’t know, I’m not a psychologist.
Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. (Samuel Johnson, 1775)
Johnson never explained his comment, but it is taken to mean fake patriotism, the patriotism espoused by unprincipled men and women who cloak themselves in patriotism in order to profit in one shape or another. In thinking about this, two things struck me. During my time at the CIA, I never knew the political party affiliation or voting record of my colleagues. I would know their opinion of one policy or another, but no one really knew how we voted or what party we registered with. We were professionals and did our duty, which was to “support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” That bound us together, that united us in a purpose, not political affiliation.
The other thing that struck me was that I never heard anyone at the CIA refer to themselves as a patriot. There really wasn’t a need. By the very nature of the work we did and our sacrifices, it was understood that we were patriots. By the nature of the oath we took, we were patriots. Now we have scoundrels, people focused on only their own personal interests at the expense of everything and everyone else, masquerading themselves as patriots. This is not a partisan attack, and if you think it is that means you too easily identified yourself as a scoundrel.
Finally, one of the things I learned through life is that with freedoms and liberties come responsibilities. No one knew that better than the founding fathers. Freedom without responsibility, without duty, is behaving like a 5-year-old. I would normally argue for people to stop listening to most politicians, to walk away from all those who preach hate and fear, to unite as a people, but I think it would be pointless. I am not even sure people want to walk away from the hate. I see an American people who are reveling in their hatred for each other; it gives them purpose in a life consumed by materialism and television sound bites. I see a people for whom this fear and hatred have taken the place of patriotism and loyalty to the country.
Because these things are too hard and require sacrifice.
This article was originally published on Debrief: A Rundown Of Today’s National Security.