by Margaret Blanchard
What we Americans are on the cusp of experiencing is akin to what white folks felt when the Civil Rights Movement rose up, what men experienced when the Women’s Movement progressed, maybe even what some straight folks felt when gay people asserted their rights. Suddenly one’s identity is not exclusively privileged, one’s priorities are not universally celebrated, one’s perspective no longer provides the only “meaningful” lens. No matter how powerful the United States has been in modern history, its point of view is limited to little more than 1 percent of the globe’s land mass.
On a spiritual level, what might make the United States great would be a series of truth and reconciliation processes, plus reparations for systematic destruction, slavery, reservations, exploitation, land grabs, segregation, and internments of non-European peoples — for the sake of us whose family participated in the injustices as well as us who suffered them. It’s obvious to anybody reading the New Testament how Jesus would respond to folks afflicted by prejudice and poverty; and it’s pretty clear what Marx would have to say. Unfortunately, hypocrisy on both right and left, particularly among the privileged, has prevented most processes of national redemption.
The American Empire’s expansion throughout the world, first as a colonial invader under Teddy Roosevelt and other presidents, then as the lead player in the corporate exportation of capitalism to markets around the globe, and more recently as the world’s police force, all of this is, of necessity, on the wane– as it must be. So when Trump proclaimed he had no intention of leading a global government with a global economy, one could only think, “Thank goodness for that.” One fears his “leadership” would only mean the further dominance of American ambition, pride, militarism and exploitation in a world which desperately needs to see itself as one planet, not a chaos of competitive states.
Admirable as our democratic institutions are, they are not simply commodities, and, as we’ve seen lately, they are also, at their roots, vulnerable. As a system which could unite diverse states and ethnicities, democracy holds great promise for cooperation among nations but only if freely chosen by the people and adapted to local conditions.
Empires come and go, and how they behave after they are pushed back into their own national boundaries is the true measure of their worth. The British Isles have modeled for Americans a model of acceptance of change, focusing on cultural creativity as their contribution to world prosperity rather than military and economic dominance. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy’s renaissance was expressed through music, art, and architecture. The U.S.’s contributions to science, film, and technology are already sufficient to impress the rest of the world without further aggression and control, and our diversity as expressed in drama, art, poetry, and music is more than magical; it’s a guide to our global future.
One of the best models of leadership for our entire world comes from young environmental activists who recognize how our collective endurance depends not on national pride but on a deep commitment to planetary survival, that climate change and contamination of natural resources, like air, soil, and water threaten all living species, not just humans, regardless of national boundaries. Paradoxically the most moving examples of this kind of redemption (for themselves as well as for all of US) has come from the young Native American water protectors at Standing Rock, fulfilling the prophesy of the Seventh Generation, by standing up against the oil company building the Dakota Access pipeline across ancestral Sioux land and beneath the main water source for the tribe. Significantly these courageous young folks were supported not just by tribal elders and ancient ceremony, but also by environmental activists from around the world who recognized their resistance as not simply local, tribal or national, but global in its significance
If anything makes “America” “great,” it’s our diversity. If anything could provide renewal, while healing our past traumas, it’s the courage of these activists, this seventh generation, whose defense of Mother Earth embodies the principles of the Iroquois Great Law of Peace upon which, some historians claim, our Founding Fathers based our Bill of Rights (freedoms of speech, religion, separation of powers, checks and balances, three branches of government of the people, by the people, for the people).
Perhaps with this generation, we can restore the provisions in the Great Law left out by white male framers of the Constitution: the rights of women to participate in government (a Council of Women Elders being the Supreme Court), and the article of the Seventh Generation, which protects the environment through the principle that any legislation must provide for the well-being of the people (and therefore the planet) for the next seven generations.