Independence Day: Independence or Interdependence?
I haven’t watched the annual Macy’s fireworks display in New York Harbor since I moved out of Jersey City several years ago. Typically it’s the largest fireworks display in the country. This is the one where over 20 tons of colorful oversized firecrackers explode over the Statue of Liberty, the one of the nation’s largest concentration of bodegas, Ellis Island, Chinatown, Cordoba House (Ground Zero mosque), One World Trade Center, soon to be the tallest building in the nation and what will occupy the location where the original 8-story Six World Trade once stood and Goldman Sachs, the investment bank that depended on $12 billion in bailout funds from the federal government for survival.
You might recall that the fireworks sponsor, Macys, in 1992, was one of several big retailers to seek refuge from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy law, depending on federal IRS provisions for shelter from creditors. New York City is a microcosm of interdependence, American style.
My retreat up into higher ground in rural northwestern New Jersey from Hudson County has given me a greater appreciation of all the noisy and colorful panache every year just off Liberty State Park.
Two hundred thirty five years ago this month, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. It followed the American Revolution that began with an armed conflict breaking out between the British and colonial militiamen in New England in April 1775. The Declaration announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain had become independent states, and were no longer under the British Empire. The Declaration was in effect an emancipation against King George III. It charged that, “He has abdicated Government here … He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.” Just as a reminder, we’re talking about George III not George W.
The document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That day in 1776 and the vision of freedom embodied in the Declaration of Independence together have established an American ideal that we continue to strive toward in the 21st Century.
President Abraham Lincoln relied on the Declaration of Independence when making the case that slavery went against the deepest commitments of the American nation. Though he did so throughout the 1850s and into his presidency, the most famous example can be found in the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”.
Yet, activity in several states across the country governors and legislatures are seeking to suppress a vital part of democracy. In Florida, for example, Governor Rick Scott is being sued for the fifth time in almost six months, this time for signing a law that civil libertarians say violates the Voting Rights Act. These attempts at voter suppression have a disproportionate effect upon the disenfranchised. In the United States, successful democracy is dependent upon the empowering of all Americans with the ability to vote.
Workers’ right to choose collective bargaining under the “workers’ right to choose collective bargaining provision” in the the National Labor Relations Act is being denied across the country in state after state, placing the independence of workers in labor relations in the hands of its employer, state government directed by a governor who initiated the rollback. Capital depends labor just as much as the reverse might be true.
The Dream Act (acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) is legislation leading to eventual citizenship for immigrants that was first introduced in the Senate on August 1, 2001 and most recently on May 11, 2011 when the bill was reintroduced in the Senate.
This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal and deportable alien students who graduate from US high schools, who are of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. legally or illegally as minors, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. There are additional provisions specifying how higher education and military service can also lead to residency. On May 11, 2011 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reintroduced the Dream Act in the Senate. Until this legislation becomes law, these people who aspire to be Americans and the economy which benefits from their consumer demand and taxpaying are dependent upon Congress.
No discussion of independence would be complete without a mention of Ayn Rand, the atheist Russian émigré whose philosophy has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity among the right during the last few years. As reported in The Hill, “The radical Ayn Rand Republicans sincerely believe in their reactionary support for unlimited greed and their destructive opposition to any programs that would create jobs.” Do I need to mention the fate of Bernie Madoff?
Rand opposed all forms of welfare, unemployment insurance, support for the poor and middle-class, regulation of industry and government provision for roads or other infrastructure she also believe that law enforcement, defense and the courts were the only justifiable areas of jurisdiction for government, and that all taxation should be purely voluntary.
The fallacy of “independent” and unfettered free markets is borne by the market crash of 1929, late 2000s financial crisis and Great Recession. The trend in deregulation beginning in the 1980s and culminating with the Bush tax cuts have driven home the painful message that the health of the economy depends on government intervention.
As I write, partisan divisions dominate the impasse in Congress over raising the debt ceiling through efforts to strike a deal to avoid a government default and trim huge federal deficits. As Ronald Reagan once said, the potential consequences of a default by the United States on its debt “are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate.” The effect on some of the unemployed, the disabled, or the retired would be devastating, and world markets could be thrown into a panic.
Financially, the United States is not independent. China alone holds over $1.1 trillion of American debt. Japan is close behind with over $900 billion. The Obama administration has warned that if the government’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit is not raised by August 2nd , the United States will face its first default ever, potentially throwing world financial markets into turmoil, raising interest rates and threatening the economic recovery. This domino effect would be due in no small part to global financial and economic interdependence.
Two hundred thirty five years after the American revolution and 150 years after the American Civil War, the worthy American ideals of freedom, liberty, and equality remain in dispute among those who aim to roll them back, others who claim that no infringement is taking place, still others who literally fear for their inability to survive financially and a few brave souls stepping up to advocate in their behalf.
Equality, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, is not conditioned according to opportunities v. outcomes, a false distinction made by some commentators. Equality among all Americans based on an equal and just distribution of freedom and justice for all is clearly what it spells out.
Words have meaning. Fireworks over New York Harbor have meaning. Independence Day has meaning for every man, woman and child seeking the day’s namesake for their own lives. The United States of America has a responsibility to live up to its own legacy of ideals. Those ideals are equality, life, happiness, freedom and liberty for all Americans, by birth, naturalized, oppressed or by aspiration.
Certainly we are all grateful for our political independence from the imperial rule of George III or any other monarch or government, including our own. However, a healthy United States of America will exist only if we balance our gratitude for political independence with an acceptance of our need for interdependence among our diverse citizens, government, economy and global neighbors.