“These are the times that try men’s souls … Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
So said Thomas Paine in the first installment of The American Crisis, a series of pamphlets published at the onset of the Revolutionary War. The English-American belletrist was writing at a time when political sovereignty in the Western Hemisphere was still a novel ideal.
In order to realize it, the upstart band of 13 American colonies on the Atlantic coast would have to face the most powerful military and economic force in the world at the time. Against all odds, they succeeded. And here we are, living in the nation that came about during that struggle, 240 years later.
If the crisis Thomas Paine discussed was one that would bring about democratic ideals on this side of the Atlantic, the one we face today threatens to extinguish them.
Enter Donald Trump.
I’m vexed to the threshold of Avernus at having to continue to write this man’s name, and yet the circumstances of our day and age dictate I continue to do so with unyielding vigor and resolve.
Last Wednesday, we awoke to the grim reality that this insidious con had successfully duped our country—effective Jan. 20, 2017, the most dangerous demagogue of our time will become the leader of our country, and by extension, one of the single most powerful individuals in the world.
Once again, we live in times that try our souls.
Our president-elect has risen to power with the same vindictive and divisive rhetoric employed by the likes of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. He has pinned the country’s problems on Mexicans, Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters, et al., and found an eager audience in the masses of the white working class of the American heartland.
They, in turn, have become emboldened enough by Trump’s victory to carry out hate crimes against minorities in broad daylight. Alexis Okeowo recounts today in The New Yorker how:
“One woman in Colorado told the [Southern Poverty Law Center] that her 12-year-old daughter was approached by a boy who said, ‘Now that Trump is President, I’m going to shoot you and all the blacks I can find.’ At a school in Washington State, students chanted ‘build a wall’ in a cafeteria. In Texas, someone saw graffiti at work: ‘no more illegals 1-20-17,’ a reference to Inauguration Day.”
Trump’s rhetoric has dangerously exalted the position of the white male in our society. His remarks against women have encouraged some supporters to follow his sordid examples when it comes to sexual assault.
Those of us who in any way fail Trump’s test of supremacy—those of us, in short, who aren’t white men like him—now face a country whose animus rages against us, spurred on by a madman whom none of us imagined as president.
But let me go out on a limb and say most of us in this country today are not white men.
Our society comprises people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, sexes and sexual orientations. The great challenge this country has always set for itself lies in upholding “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Lincoln eloquently set out in his Gettysburg Address.
Trump and his wave of crass populism purports to undermine all of that. His agenda would bring us back to the 19th century, when our democratic experiment was limited in scope to the representation of white men.
Against the onslaught of a vindictive national mood that puts our natural rights in jeopardy, we are the main bulwark of defense.
Let it not be forgotten that as John Locke so astutely observed, power in any government is derived from the consent of the governed. Those who refuse to accept the terms and conditions of a government cannot be held subject to it.
If our rights should be trampled by the new president-elect or any of his cronies, it is ultimately up to us to rise to the occasion and defend them.
A short time after the American Revolution, the French had one of their own, whose chief legacy was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Thereafter, the French composed a new national anthem, “La Marseillaise.”
The first article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man purports that “all men are born and remain free and equal in rights.” “La Marseillaise” commands, “Arise, children of the fatherland / The day of glory has arrived!”
In the wake of our post-election reality in this country with Donald Trump, we can wait for the same government that sanctioned his rise to power to affirm our rights.
But should they fail, we must do so of our own volition, and hence live out that day of glory in a full and resplendent blaze.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of jeffreyw on Flickr.
Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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