By Medicine Hat News Opinon on October 8, 2016.
It’s a rite of passage for political science majors in the United States to read Alexis de Tocqueville, a young Frenchmen who travelled the U.S. in 1831. The Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote that the greatest gift God could give us would be to see ourselves as others see us, and Tocqueville gave Americans that gift â€” he gave Americans a new way to see themselves. In his gift, he also gave Americans their Myth.
Tocqueville saw in America equality, and he declared that the gradual development of equality was a “providential fact.” Tocqueville wrote with “religious awe” because he saw the march of equality as our inevitable future. Anyone attacking democracy would not only be resisting the will of God, they would unknowingly contribute to democracy’s triumph because the principle of equality is universal, lasting, and eludes human interference. If Tocqueville’s correct that the march of equality eludes human interference, this election suddenly becomes easier to watch.
I don’t mean myth-as-lie. I mean a powerful story involving extraordinary beings that explains our place in the cosmos. The United States is the greatest country on Earth because it was founded by a rare collection of brave and courageous men â€” Washington, Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Sam Adams â€” who gave the world a new hope by defeating the mighty British with sharpshooting skills and no shoes. After this improbable victory, We the People would form a more perfect union to establish justice, tranquility, welfare and posterity, established on the belief that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.
The United States reaffirmed equality in the gruesome Civil War, where the Union was saved by the greatest and most tragic U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln. He was martyred for the divine cause of equality by emancipating the slaves. To mark this triumph of equality, the French gifted the Statue of Liberty.
The march of equality includes the elimination of child labour and the establishment of labour unions, women achieving the right to vote, the Voting Rights Act, desegregation and civil rights. The myth of America includes the melting pot, the harmonious blending together of various ethnicities and cultures into one society held together by democratic values. The myth includes Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches stories of poor boys growing up to be successful through hard work, determination and courage. Growing out of this myth is also a pathological optimism that covers over the crueler aspects of free market capitalism. If you’re not financially successful, it’s your fault because you didn’t work hard enough or believe hard enough in your own success.
Donald Trump may be the end of the myth, and I cannot believe I am about to say this, but maybe he’s right. Maybe America is becoming a Third World Country. Read Chris Hedges’ beautifully sad graphic novel “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” America includes places like Pine Ridge Reservation, with 80 per cent unemployment and an infant mortality rate five times the national average; Camden, New Jersey, the most dangerous city and a manufacturing wasteland; Immokalee, Florida, a town filled with desperate Mexican immigrants who pick our vegetables and are destroyed by pesticides; and the coal fields of Appalachian West Virginia, where the environment can no longer support life.
Trump claims the situation for Black America is the worst “Ever. Ever. Ever.” He’s not right, but the most segregated city in the country, Chicago, is being called Chiraq because more than 3,000 people have been shot and killed so far in 2016, including 574 homicides. It’s the United States of Emergency. The perfect union appears to be dying, and that’s why Clinton will win. Clinton better represents how Americans truly see themselves.
Jason Openo is an American/Canadian who studied political science at the Ford School for Leadership in Public Policy. He is pursuing his doctorate of education. He works at Medicine Hat College and will periodically weigh in with columns pertaining to the U.S. election.
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