America Struggles to be Great

 

By Kim Hunter

Here’s an irony that embodies many of the contradictions and promises of the US: the first person to be recorded as dying for the American Revolution was a mix of American Indian and African, a runaway slave named Crispus Attucks. He was killed during the Boston Massacre March 5, 1770.

Any high school student should be able to tell us that the United States was built on the land and graves of the people who collectively came to be called American Indians and was built with centuries (first enslaved Africans were brought here 1619) of free labor from enslaved Africans and their descendants. In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the latter.

The bigger point to all of this is that the United States has come to be a more humane place because of struggle, not exceptionalism or inherent goodness. The struggle has been to align the nation with the explicit and implicit principles of the founding documents. As forward looking as much of the literal language in those documents was for the time, many of the people who wrote them owned slaves and did not consider those slaves or the indigenous people of the land to be fully human. Not only were woman not allowed to vote, at first, many white men without property were also denied the franchise.

The abolitionist movement, the anti-lynching campaign, the civil rights campaign and black power movement were attempts to make America, if not great, at least live up its professed ethos. The suffragette movement and the campaign against child labor, the women’s movement, the labor movement including the movement for farm workers were movements to align the country with explicit and implicit promises inked in the law of the land.

In the context of that reality, history that we are still living (there are slaveholders on the money), what does it mean to make America great again? Does that mean we return to the days before Social Security or before the Federal Housing Administration made housing affordable for working people? How about moving the idea health care for everyone off the table or rescinding marriage equality?

I haven’t been the first to ask these rhetorical questions. Nor am I the first to note how members of the Tea Party parading around in their versions of 18th Century garb were romanticizing an era when most the rights they cherish or take for granted would have been flatly denied.

The Civil War was a second, larger and unfortunately, far bloodier battle than the American Revolution based on a more literal and humane interpretation of the foundation of the Revolution. The recent Women’s March was a second inauguration only much larger. It represents an American majority that knows there are no “good old days” to which we can return. We will march on.

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