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America is not living up to its democratic ideals

The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow remain

Melvin B. Miller
America is not living up to its democratic ideals
“It’s good to remember that a better version of America is possible.”

These are difficult days in America. The coronavirus continues to spread, the economy declines as workers lose their jobs and the customary confidence of American citizens has become frayed by the incompetent leadership in the White House. Once the undisputed world leader, the United States has now become pitiable in the eyes of the world. This has transpired with political control of the nation in the hands of the conservative politicians.

It is time for thoughtful people to consider how we arrived at these depressing circumstances and whether there is an effective resolution. This is certainly not the end that the Founding Fathers had anticipated. The establishment of the United States of America in 1776 required the intense negotiation of men with quite diverse opinions on the qualities of an ideal society. However, they were motivated to resolve their differences over the desire to end the tyranny of King George III of England.

One of the major issues was the legality of slavery. This was not just an abstract idea at the time. Among the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were 41 slave owners. The southern states depended on agriculture and on slaves functioning essentially as human farm equipment. Deere products had not yet been invented to replace human labor. Slavery had existed from ancient times but was not consistent with the new ideals of a democracy. America attained greatness when the 13 original states opined in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.”

While this language was enough when part of the Massachusetts Constitution to outlaw slavery in that state in 1783, it was not so well received elsewhere. Agricultural states of the South that were dependent on slave labor decided to rebel against the U.S. and establish the Confederacy. President Abraham Lincoln defeated the Confederates, and the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery in the United States in 1865.

What followed next created the problems that have not been resolved to this day. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868 gave freed slaves and others full citizenship, and the 15th Amendment in 1870 gave black men the right to vote. In many places in the South, blacks were the majority population. Plantation owners would do whatever was necessary to prevent blacks from voting and thus holding high office in the states. Racist strategies were also implemented to keep blacks and whites from the same working class from organizing and voting politically.

The election of Donald Trump as president was indeed a victory for the racists. His administration has shown no interest in appointing men and women of color to significant posts. The “MAGA hat” rallies he held before the 2016 election were attended by whites, with very few blacks and Latinos. There is a fear among many blacks that the Trump era has essentially muted the present drive in the U.S. for racial integration and equality.

But now, the Netflix film on Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ book tour has provided assurance that there is still huge racially mixed coexistence relative to the development of a nation full of respect and racial equality. Michelle Obama sold more than 10 million books, and the enthusiasm of her audience has been captured on camera.

Coronavirus has disrupted progress in efforts to build a nation with freedom, justice and equality for all. Some of the nation’s forefathers were willing to sacrifice the convenience of slavery in order to bring about a new nation founded on Democratic principles. It should now be clear to everyone that the present choice for national leadership from the White House is not working.

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