By Matthew Rothschild on July 04, 2011

This July 4, I wish we, as a nation, would get over ourselves.

We are not God’s chosen people.

God did not make us a shining city on a hill.

There is no God, and we have no special right to lord ourselves over the planet.

“Manifest Destiny” and other narcissistic ideas have swollen our heads.

President Obama was way off the mark when he recently said, “We must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events,” he said.

We don’t have a singular role, not now, much less over the long course of human events.

When you examine the actual role the United States has played, it’s not one that has showered us with glory: from slavery and the genocide against Native Americans early on to brutal imperial wars over the last century and more. Starting with the Spanish-American War and the subjugation of the Filipinos and then through dozens of invasions and usurpations in Latin America all the way to Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, U.S. foreign policy has piled the corpses high.

And the best aspects of the United States—not the fighter jets that fly over the celebrations today, nor the size of our economy, nor the “great American spirit,” nor our prowess in sports, nor any other excuse for the adolescent chanting of “USA, USA”—are the ones that are most in decay today: the promise of democracy, and the protection of our civil liberties.

With the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court last year, which enables corporations to spend unlimited funds to elect or defeat candidates for office, any hope for real political democracy has faded. It’s a decision that has made a joke of the cherished idea of one person, one vote. And the Supreme Court just added to the joke with its decision last month to outlaw Arizona’s clean election law and to scorn any attempts to “level the playing field.” Even before these decisions, our politicians were for sale, rent, or time-share, and the concerns of a majority of citizens—for a living wage, for universal health care—would routinely fall to the ax of corporate power.

And if you broaden the concept of democracy to include economic democracy or a fair economy, we, as a nation, have drifted back into the Gilded Age, where the top 1 percent owns an astronomical amount of the nation’s wealth and income and where economic policy is geared toward letting them grab more and more.

As far as our civil liberties go, the government has taken many of them away. The First Amendment is in shambles, as the FBI and other law enforcement have been infiltrating domestic nonviolent protest groups, and the FBI has just loosened its rules for doing so. The Fourth Amendment is all but deleted, as the Supreme Court, in one decision after another, has given police more leeway to barge into our homes without warrants. The USA Patriot Act and the revisions to the National Security Act legalize additional intrusions by the Executive Branch. And the Military Commissions Act gives the President the authority to declare any person in the United States an “enemy combatant” and then throw that person behind bars.

On this Independence Day and for many a year, we’ve lost any clue about what it means to be independent: to be self-governing, and free from repressive rule.

If we have forsaken the ideals of America, the least we could is not to destroy the Earth in the process.

That means, first and foremost, not to blow it up with nuclear weapons. We and the Russians have 95 percent of the nukes in the world, and we need to move quickly to global nuclear disarmament.

And secondly, that means not to destroy the planet by poisoning the atmosphere. Global climate change is real, it’s here, and we’ve got to deal with it. The United States has been the biggest culprit in creating this crisis, and now we are the biggest laggard in responding to it.

The atmosphere is not our dumping grounds.

And just because we fly the red, white, and blue doesn’t make us exempt from doing the right and the urgent thing.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Obama Tries and Fails to Brush Off War Powers Problem at Press Conference."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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