Sunday, October 29, 2006

The American Promise

I’m sure all of us think we know what the American Promise means, but I’m also just as sure we have some very differing ideas. My purpose is not to write a definitive essay; that would take an entire library section: my object is to encourage thinking about and discussion of the concept. At least one difficulty in this is defining what American Promise we’re discussing; Economic, Social, or Legal/Political.

Legal/Political would seem the first up as a generally referenced segment. We frequently refer to ourselves as the freest nation. We point to freedom of speech, press and religion, the First Amendment as one of the primary facets of that freedom. How relevant is free press if you don’t own one and corporations do own them? Do you have free speech if zones for it are created when the President is around? Does it have a particular value if you don’t have the money to spread your free speech in competition with those with money? Do you actually have freedom of religion when a particular religious view point is the basis of laws? Do you have that freedom when the common perception is that the nation was founded on a particular religion?

The idea of a democratically elected government is certainly a part of the American Promise; the citizens will select their government. In fact a minority of citizens select our government, in close elections it is common for less than 30% of the eligible voters to have selected.

A government of laws rather than personality is a feature of the American Promise; I’ll just leave this one alone and reference our last Congress.

The Bill of Rights and ancient English Common Law combine with the Constitution to create one of the most constrained governments in the world. That is assuming that none are abrogated, not a safe conclusion today.

The Economic Promise of America has been that hard work and smart actions would allow anyone to prosper, regardless of circumstances. The fact of this promise has always been variable, race, country of origin, assets, etc. have long played a part in success or barriers to success. These barriers’ effect has not been constant or singular; at times they have been very low, at times quite high. Today the role of race is lower than at times, the issue of capital quite a bit higher. Class has become an issue of great import, there has been a denigration of labor and its consequential depression. While the economic promise of America is great in some foreign lands the reality at home may be quite different.

The Social Promise of America was equality. Slavery as an institution has ended, but in its place is an underground economy of disenfranchised illegal workers. Class is more an issue than anytime in the last century. Race and gender still play large roles in our perception of our fellows and more egregiously, sexual orientation is increasingly legally addressed. Political discourse has become rabid enough to qualify as prejudicial.

I put these forward as a partial examination and critique, I encourage others to add to or dispute my listings, because that is a part of the American Promise – that we can think for ourselves and promote our views, even if only on a second rate Blog.

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