America — that is, the United States — was such a good idea. Mention the name and we get teary-eyed. We think of a rule of law, “liberty and justice for all,” an honest republic, a democracy . . . all that.
And yet every patriotic American de facto lies about his or her country on nearly every occasion of praise; the government has gone through major revolutionary sea changes multiple times, each time perpetrated illegally, in some underhanded manner.
The Secessionist Federation (1776-1787) became a Constitutional Republic (1787-1860) by a peculiar sleight of hand: the new Constitution was adopted in a manner completely at odds with protocols of the existing Articles of Confederation.
Today we celebrate an interesting anniversary, the day the word “national” was stripped from the Constitutional document. On June 20, 1787, the anti-federalist forces (as they were illogically called) maneuvered to strip the last vestige of Hamiltonian nationalism from the document being written in Philadelphia. The word “nation” was removed. They thus turned the written language of the compact back towards confederacy. (Yes, the Federalists were nationalists and the “anti-Federalists” were federalists. Why the nomenclature confusion? Because this is politics, and politicians are liars.) And that federation idea is what was adopted by the states.
And yet, moves towards nationalism began almost immediately. Alexander Hamilton turned his back on multiple of his own arguments for a federal republic made in The Federalist Papers, just as soon as he settled in to his position as the republic’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Thomas Jefferson, for all his fascinating commitments to federalism prior to winning the presidency (he wrote the “treasonous” Kentucky Resolution), took his positions of power as excuses to make an “empire of liberty,” an ungainly idea that didn’t work out anywhere near as planned. Andrew Jackson, while with one hand destroying the Hamiltonian monstrosity, the Second National Bank, with the other perpetrated a genocidal land grab against the Cherokee and moved to promote a nationalist conception of the republic that Abraham Lincoln would later run with. I mean, start a war with.
Lincoln’s response to the secession of the vile Southern states was a grand example of nationalism, not federalism. The end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction was a triumph of nationalism. And though the freeing of the slaves was a great moral good, it was done in a way that was becoming traditional in America: mostly at variance with constitutional law. The 14th Amendment upended the constitutional order, leaving us with political and moral conundrums with which we fight about even to this day. With Lincoln, the U. S. became a National Republic. Or, if you prefer, a Suppressionist Republic, for the suppression of dissent and self-government became the modus operandi of the new State.
Indeed, the United States ceased being that.
By morphing into a national republic, the formerly sovereign states were subordinated to subsidiary positions, and the south, of course, was treated as a conquered province. By the letter of the law, all the Reconstructionist Amendments were illegal. But then, the Civil War suspended normal procedures.
It was no shock, then, to find, a mere 40 years later, a president of the U. S. utterly contemptuous of the Constitution, a frank advocate of both war and empire.
This president is, today, widely admired as one of the Greatest Presidents by most intellectuals, left and right. Obama is a huge fan; but the honored, remember — often known by his initials, TR — was a Republican.
In high school history books we were instructed to all but worship the man, when I was a kid. Why? For his trust busting and other anti-constitutional reforms. Yup, Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive, is much adored.
And his work, followed by Democrats Woodrow Wilson (a racist Constitution hater, and huge supporter of forced segregation and Jim Crow) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who “just happened” to set up a wartime concentration camp system, and whose economic policies were all over the map, but almost uniformly interventionist and unconstitutional), sealed a New Deal, one with so much bureaucracy and warfare interventionism that America’s judicial tradition entered a new phase: outright lying. We now live in a Post-Constitutional Imperial Nation State.
Oh, I know: it is not as bad as it sounds. Our hegemons always present a plausible-to-the-plebes rationale for killing brown people in other countries. And the American people who support this massive warfare/“welfare” state often do have something close to good intentions. But mostly what is played upon is fear: fear that if we don’t send our troops overseas, the world will go to hell.
Interestingly, Americans let this half-plausible theory ruin the nation with debt, taxation, regulation, and cronyism. America indeed might be an honest country if not always fighting, killing, torturing, bombing, and erecting “sanctions” against states that our side claims (with diminishing plausibility) to be worse than our own.
But a “free country”? Alexis de Tocqueville would laugh. He predicted the abuses democracy could make, turning government into tyranny. It seemed far-fetched and pessimistic in 1840. But now it seems like reportage.
America, a very good idea gone wrong. Very, very wrong.