Feb 9, 2014
Five Defining Moments in School that Formed Opinions about
the U.S. Government I Still Believe Today
Much is made of a child's faith in God. But not much is ever said about a child's faith in government. Yet the two are very similar. They're both there, implicit and complete. But children grow up and faith changes.
For me the beginning (of a long slide) of my loss of faith in government happened in childhood in school. It was sitting there in that Mississippi public school studying American history and civics where I learned how this country is governed and about its past actions.
There were a handful of specific moments that defined my opinion about the government of the United States of America. And though decades have passed between then and now, and my opinions have changed on some things, these opinions I formed sitting in class decades ago are still the ones I hold today..............
1. Political Decisions May Be Good Compromises But That Doesn't Mean They're Good Sense
It's American history. The Constitutional Convention. The Three-Fifths Compromise* from the Constitution which declared.....
"Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."
I got the reasoning. The Southern, slave-owning states wanted all the slaves counted for representation. The Northern states which didn't own slave en masse didn't want the slaves counted at all as slaves were property, not people.
The compromise was to only count three-fifths of the people --- if they were slaves or Indians.** The facepalm as a meme hadn't been invented yet. But I was probably doing a facepalm after I read that.
Just because something makes good political sense doesn't mean it makes good sense.
Why I haven't changed my opinion --- Oh how about every piece of pork or the riders that get attached to important legislation because it's the compromise accepted to get the legislation passed. Sure allowing that stuff makes good political sense, but do you think it makes good sense to clutter up laws like that and drive this country further into debt?
* Some interpret this sentence as counting three out of five people. Some interpret it as counting each person as three-fifths of a person. I don't see the difference. Counting three out of five people values each individual person as 0.60 which is three-fifths.
* Only certain Indians, most of the Indians weren't counted at all.
2. American Leaders Don't Like Following the American Constitution
Now in American history we're up to America having its first contested presidential election. John Adams emerges victorious and is elected our second president. And in Adams' presidency we get the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 which include the following..............
"That if any person shall write, print, utter, or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States"
I sat there in class stunned. We had just learned about the Constitution, and number one in the Bill of Rights was "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
How could any rational person reconcile these two?
John Adams was only the second president and abuses were already happening. How many people who were a part of the American Revolution and helped write the Constitution were a part of the Congress that passed these laws?
Learning about the Alien and Sedition Acts was the moment I realized that Congress and Presidents didn't care about following the Constitution. They were going to do whatever they could get away with, and the hell with what the Constitution says.
Why I haven't changed my opinion --- National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 which authorizes indefinite detention without trial is just one of many government laws that trample on the Bill of Rights, the hell with what the Constitution says. Mass spying on the entire population would be another and though the government has been told it's unconstitutional it still does it because even though terrorism kills fewer people in the United States than falling furniture, the political fallout from terrorism is worth treating the Constitution like toilet paper.
3. Corporations Are Not Persons
I don't remember what class it was, but I do remember the exact moment that I encountered the concept of corporate personhood. It was yet another moment in my young life where I was convinced that adults were every bit as stupid as I often thought they were. (When I found out about the Jim Crow laws of segregation was also one of those moments.) Now had I been transported back in time I could have told the founders, leaders, law makers and judges of the U.S. government that Blacks are persons. Indians are persons. Chinese and other non-Europeans are persons. I could have told them that even women are persons. But you know who's not a person? A corporation. A corporation is a business or an institution.
Why I haven't changed my opinion --- Because I have yet to see a corporation go to prison even though corporations commit major felonies.
4. Gerrymandering Is Corrupt
"Gerrymandering" was a word I was destined never to forget once I read what it was. I was staring at an illustration in my textbook that looked like a broke-back snake with a belly full of eggs.
If you can't be elected by a majority of persons where you're from..........you shouldn't be elected. (That's persons, meaning White, Black and any other color, both sexes and whatever political affiliation.) If you have to be mollycoddled like a mewling, spoiled baby with a specially drawn district in order for you to keep your job.............you shouldn't have the job. And if you think that drawing such districts is a fair way for you to keep you job............you sure as hell shouldn't have that job.
Let me make it clear that anyone who would gerrymander should never have a job where they could gerrymander.
I remember thinking while staring at that illustration, "Here, give me a map, population figures and a ruler and I'll draw it." All it takes are basic math skills --- addition and simple division and I could already do those.
Why I haven't changed my opinion --- If you asked me today I would say that there are three major reasons why "The system isn't broken. It's fixed."
1) No term limits for Congress
2) Too much big money in the election process
3) Gerrymandering on both the Congressional and state levels, because the corrupt people in power who only want to keep power draw corrupt districts designed specifically to allow them and their cronies to keep that power and not to represent the total population. I saw an interesting proposal recently to use computer algorithms to draw Congressional districts. It wouldn't matter to me if common sense redistricting was done by a computer algorithm, a non-partisan committee or a disgusted schoolgirl with a ruler, but this system of allowing people in power to draw lines designed specifically to keep them in power badly needs fixing. And if you think gerrymandering to ensure unequal representation isn't an issue today, read this.
5. The Supreme Court May Have the Final Say on Interpreting the Constitution, but It Doesn't Mean Their Decisions Are Right*
Dred Scott Decision (1857) wherein the combined wisdom of the highest court in the land ruled that Blacks, free or slave, were not U.S. citizens. Get that, not even free Blacks. You know, the non-property Blacks. Who, no doubt, paid taxes and owned property. And many of whom were born here.
The Supreme Court continued to make decisions that I thought had nothing to do with rightness. Not in the Constitutional sense. And certainly not in the moral sense. But the day in class that I learned about the Dred Scott Decision was the day I first realized this.
Why I haven't changed my opinion --- 2005's Kelo v City of New London where the court expanded eminent domain authorizing government land grabs for private use, a decision which resulted in a nationwide backlash; 2010's Citizens United v Federal Election Commission where corporate "persons" get to spend unlimited money on elections would be two of the latest reasons.
*Which is why I support an amendment requiring retention votes for federal judges.
So it was sitting there in class where I learned those facts about the U.S. government and where, in learning those facts, my child's faith in that government eroded. Because I didn't just learn facts, I made value judgements about those facts. And in the intervening decades, the government hasn't given me any reason to alter those opinions. Now whether, after reading that list, you think "That was one precocious kid" or "This is a grown woman whose mentality has never matured" is up to you.
For more about my take on the U.S. government, read "4 Proposed Amendments to the US Constitution," "Impeach Them All," "The Presidential Pledge I Want a Candidate to Sign" or "The Marriage Contract -- Marriage and Government Activism."
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