Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006


by Doug Lasken
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.

LOS ANGELES - Many Americans have been intrigued by the call in the Declaration of Independence for revolution under certain circumstances. It's a stateument we ought to consider on this Veterans Day, when we honor all those who died for the freedoms it promised. Here is the passage:

"Prudence will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government."

What is the average citizen to make of this? The opening caveat states that people should not overthrow their government for "light and transient causes." This seems straightforward, but the "causes" are not defined. Presumably taxation without representation is not light and transient, since it is paramount among the reasons given for the revolution. And yet when our tax money is used to support an invasion and occupation that roughly 50 percent of the American people do not support, is that not taxation without representation? The Declaration does not give a specific percentage of public opinion which could send a grievance over the "light and transient" threshold to substantial and actionable, but 50 percent sounds like a start.

The Declaration goes on to suggest that people should remain docile when their government's misdeeds are "sufferable." So if you can tolerate wrongs, continue to tolerate them. The question arises, how intolerable is life in the United States? We can send our kids to school for free. A cornucopia of cheap food abounds. The middle-class and much of the poor have VCR's, CD players and cars. And we have a health care system which, while flawed, is well above that found in third world countries. This is not the terrain usually associated with revolution.

On the other hand, the Founders were generally richer and more privileged, in terms of education and the perks of a gentleman's life, than the average American today, and still they deemed their situation intolerable. What could have provoked them so deeply? Just paying taxes? Just being pushed around by the mother county? If they set our precedent, then we should try to figure out what it takes to declare a situation intolerable.

The passage purports to clarify the requirements for action. We need a "long train of abuses" which pursues "invariably the same object." Well, half our citizenry believe that the Right Wing forces that used President Bill Clinton's adultery to try to force him out of office went on to maneuver their own man, President Bush, into office though he lost the popular vote. This same 50 percent now believes that the President, once in office, used the charged atmosphere resulting from a horrible attack on our soil to enact policies that serve mainly to enrich his friends, squeeze the middle and working classes, and propel us to the brink of world war.

None of that would matter though, according to the Declaration, unless such a pattern of misrule "evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism", in which case "it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such governmentâ." The question then becomes "Do the policies of the current administration tend towards absolute despotism?"

By definition, anything "absolute" is extreme, so we're dealing with a high standard. Certainly Saddam Hussein was an absolute despot, in the sense that he could make anyone do anything he wanted, whether capricious or calculated, without apparent check. President Bush does not appear to have anything like that kind of clout.

But, once again, we need to consider the Founding Father's perspective. King George III was notable more for his incompetence than for an iron fist. As for his ministers, they were snobs whose understanding of the facts on the ground was severely limited. Until the Founding Fathers made moves against the British, the colonists were not experiencing anything like the terrors we associate with absolute despots like Hussein, Hitler, or Stalin. The criterion for "absolute despot" was clearly less stringent for the Fathers.

We might try to narrow our definition of "despot" by asking questions like "Is manipulation of the electorate despotism?", but it does seem that in the end the Declaration of Independence will leave us in subjective territory, where one man's pursuit of happiness will be another man's outrage.

But though we probably won't overthrow our government based on a few lines from our founders, we can certainly consider those lines come next year's presidential election.

Doug Lasken teaches English in the Los Angeles Unified School District and is a Language Arts Consultant for the California State Board of Education. He can be reached at Dlasken514@aol.com

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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