Aspirational America

“we spent the next century plus– up to and including now, today– addressing the problems created by the country’s economic dependence on chattel slavery in an incomplete and unsatisfactory manner.”

19th November 1863:  Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, making his famous 'Gettysburg Address' speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery during the American Civil War. Original Artwork: Painting by Fletcher C Ransom  (Photo by Library Of Congress/Getty Images)
19th November 1863: Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, making his famous ‘Gettysburg Address’ speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery during the American Civil War. Original Artwork: Painting by Fletcher C Ransom (Photo by Library Of Congress/Getty Images)
There’s this post that Jaquandor linked to, by a person who had visited Gettysburg, PA in July 2015. That was the site, of course, of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, a site that President Lincoln would visit in November 1863, and mistakenly proclaim: “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here.”

This Outside The Law person wrote:

I believe the United States has as its chief value in the world its aspirational qualities, and I believe that those qualities are best expressed in the Constitution and its supporting documents, particularly the Federalist Papers. The Constitution, a living document, is, like all scripture, flawed.

The 3/5ths Rule, for starters was the seed for the horrors of the war I’ve spent the weekend thinking about, but we spent the next century plus– up to and including now, today– addressing the problems created by the country’s economic dependence on chattel slavery in an incomplete and unsatisfactory manner. It’s great that we have the 14th Amendment, but it would be a far better thing if we had more Supreme Court Justices that believed that the 14th Amendment means what it says.

It occurred to me that both the strength and weakness of the United States is that some of its people believe that ideals are achievement.

So this is an overly broad, open-ended question: How can America achieve its stated ideals? What does that look like?

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

4 thoughts on “Aspirational America”

  1. Well! I do have an opinion, of course.

    First of all, the Preamble to the Constitution starts out, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” It doesn’t say, “the mostest bestest country ever in the history of all history”, so, yeah, the USA was aspirational from its very founding. And the fact that the Constitution CAN be amended, however difficult it may be in practice, shows that the men who drafted it knew they hadn’t achieved perfection—just a bit more of it.

    So, the intent was to keep striving for that more perfect union, but the reality then ran smack into my second point: Americans have never, and still don’t, agree on what, precisely, American ideals are. First it tolerated slavery, then it didn’t. First it didn’t believe that women should vote, then it did. First, it believed that homosexuality was an illness and a crime, then it didn’t (well, mostly on that last one; it’s still a work in progress). The point is, they keep changing their minds, which suggests to me that the difficulty in amending the Constitution may be a good thing.

    Anyway, if Americans want to form a more perfect union and achieve its ideals, they first have to agree on what those ideals are. And I think that’s an even bigger ask with the country so divided and fractured along ideological lines, corporations being able to buy elections and candidates, and the news media seemingly disinterested in helping to build consensus.

    But, let’s assume that the hyperpartisanship suddenly disappeared—then what? Americans would have to start regularly voting out self-interested and self-serving politicians who frustrate rather than advance American ideals. They’d also need to embrace radical reforms (especially electoral reform) in order to curb the power of plutocrats and oligarchs in order to ensure that America’s more egalitarian ideal is advanced.

    But most of all, Americans would need to start working together, even with folks they might not actually like. You started out talking about Lincoln, and I’ll end with him: Americans would have to embrace “with malice toward none, with charity for all”. Whether that’s even possible at the moment or not is another matter entirely.

  2. I suppose it depends on what you consider its stated ideals to be. If it’s the Declaration of Independence “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” I would say “education, education, education.” More, better, more rigorous, free education for all.

  3. Ok, I think I know what I want for America. I want America to be more prosperous, more equitable, less bigoted, more communal, more adaptable and less reactionary.

    I stand by my original suggestions of better, more rigorous, and free education.

    In particular I feel that improved history and mathematics education would go a long way towards achieving those goals. I think that part of finding solutions is knowing what has and has not worked in the past. I think mathematics is the key to helping people understand a variety of complex problems, particularly how the poor and middle class are being screwed.

    I would also like to see more language education at the elementary level. I genuinely believe that one of the keys to building a more peaceful, less reactionary country is to have a large number of Americans experience the world outside our country other than through military experience. Language education would allow more young Americans to experience living and working in other countries, which I believe helps foster empathy and tolerance.

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