Insert fork-in-the-road analogy here. Whatever that analogy is, it was inevitable. The last time we stood here, we opted for the “Civil War” path. We all know how that turned out. It was bloody and brutal and catastrophic. While it formally ended slavery – a very good thing – it didn’t actually end slavery; it sent slavery into hiding. Forced it to take other forms. The mentality that made slavery possible continued in the shadows and metastasized like the cancer it is. The Civil War, like slavery, formally ended but otherwise didn’t. We’re fighting it still – from the same fork in the road. Except now, the difference between the path’s destinations could not be more stark. America must choose between a renaissance or a retreat.
America’s Secret Sauce
America has always been a fantastic idea that its founders executed poorly. These white, Christian, land-owning men all agreed: “All men are created equal”. The problem: they meant only men and only men who were like them: white, Christian, land-owners. That’s where our problem began.
But, fortunately, a few of those white, Christian, land-owning men grasped the true nature of America’s burgeoning greatness. James Madison insisted that we make “E Pluribus Unum” our motto. It’s on our Great Seal: “Out of many, one”. That’s our secret sauce – it’s what makes us truly exceptional! It’s what separates an American Renaissance from an American retreat.
How Nations Become Nations
Nations don’t fall from the sky fully formed. What we now call “Germany” began more than two thousand years ago as a bunch of scattered “Germanic” tribes – Marcomanni, Franks, Angles, Saxons, Vandals, Gepids, Ostrogoths and Visigoths (among others). The same applies to every other nation. America, on the other hand, came together differently.
As historian Jared Diamond points out in his terrific “Guns, Germs And Steel”, the Native American cultures in both North and South America surpassed European cultures in their complexity and sophistication. In their engineering, too. Europeans had one big advantage: easier access to essential natural materials. Steel especially. Throw in guns and Europeans had a big advantage. But, it wasn’t guns or steel that defeated America’s native peoples. It was germs. European pathogens killed far more lethally than any weapon.
Europeans strode into the America’s completely deluded. The native populations fell, the Europeans believed, because they were inferior. The Europeans thought their own ideas, inventions and cleverness made them superior. Their analysis was incorrect.
Alas, some bad ideas are more durable than the best good ideas. Slavery, for instance.
America The Bountiful
America has always been about money. The Europeans traveled east because they were looking for a quicker route to India – because trade with India was lucrative. When they realized North and South America stood in the way of any “quick route east”, they asked the next logical question: can we get rich from the Americas? Even the Pilgrims came here looking to make a buck. They all went to Holland first – finding religious freedom there – before sailing for Massachusetts.
The natural resource-rich Europeans found plenty of lucrative natural resources here. Cotton, tobacco and sugar cane all grew easily. They all had huge markets back in Europe. But, each of those potentially-money-making crops was labor-intensive. They required a ton of man-power to produce a ton of saleable product. Consider what all that labor would cost if you had to pay a fair market rate for it. Captains of industry care about their bottom lines, not human rights. To them, slavery was virtually free labor.
Slavery Equals Stolen Labor
That is slavery’s “bottom line”: stolen labor. Slaves work for free. The slave owner has to feed, clothe and house their slaves. So long as a slave’s work product is more valuable than what it costs to keep them, slavery is profitable. Ratchet up the scale from a handful of slaves to millions (in 1860, when the Civil War began, there were 3,953,760 slaves in America) and next thing ya know, you have a whole slave economy.
What if slavery hadn’t been an option? Think about that. The Confederacy would never have risen the way it did – standing on the back of stolen labor. Hell, the American South may have evolved into the first ever worker’s paradise.
Slavery skewed everything. Worst of all, it perpetuated the false idea that white culture was superior to all other cultures. Some white people still believe slavery isn’t wrong. They wouldn’t feel like that if they were the slaves but they assume they could never be slaves because they’re the enslavers!
White Power’s Fatal Flaw
White power still hews to the idea that white culture is superior to all other cultures. That’s pure Chauvinism. It’s also white power’s fatal flaw. In the end, white power will fail in America. It sucks being a minority who still thinks it’s the majority.
White power can’t share power. Not because it can’t but because it won’t. It doesn’t want to compete with a diversifying America. That’s why it invents rules that restrict other peoples’ voting rights. And gerrymanders.
White power wants to plunge America back to the 50’s – the 1850’s. The rest of us want America to move forwards. We’ve always understood what makes this place great. Unique. Exceptional. It’s us – America’s diverse population. We are a nation of nations.
So, here we are at that fork in the road. In one direction lies a bad version of our past. In the other lies… we don’t know. But we can see all its potential. Each and every one of us – we are that potential! The question’s that simple. What’ll it be, America? An American Renaissance or American retreat?
I know which way I’m voting.