Mourning Constitutional

George Smith


The Star-Spangled Banner protests continue. Madison J. Gray has suggested changing the national anthem. But also as Biko Mandela X points out, symbolic victories are used to release tense notes and distract from the realities of concrete conditions. And, while a blood thirsty, warmongering, racist anthem betrays America’s best pretend virtues, it is a harrowingly accurate representation of America’s values lived and actually espoused.

The Declaration of Independence’s best known words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Add democracy and “the land of the free and the home of the brave” and you have the values America pretends to itself and beats its chest to the world. The circular, solipsistic American understandings of “democracy,” “free,” and “brave” notwithstanding. America only fails to live up to “greatest country on earth” as accidents of good intentions gone wrong or the self-limiting malice of rotten apples. Dents in the notion are consigned to history; artifacts chasmed off by sleight of hand from the present conditions. American apologia preserves via willful disregard of America’s originating inscriptions.

Those best known words with the ones that follow: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted (italics mine)…” An American myth embossed: The purpose of the state is to protect individuals and their rights. The tale spun further by the charade of the “self-evident” extending past white, propertied men worshipping a Judeo-Christian god. We might also call it an American mindfuck: We had to give your individual rights to the state in order to save them. The mindfuck continued with the very name “Bill of Rights.” The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The body of the Constitution is an enumeration of the rights of the state.

In bald face the Bill of Rights’ preamble gives its real purpose: “The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution (italics mine).” Limits not to ensure freedom but to confer legitimacy to the state. Had the actual intent ever been to create individual rights a different constitution would have been imagined.

But this is the Constitution America has lived, its fault lines stretching through time. As of 2015, America’s 5 biggest white landowners own more rural land than all black Americans combined. That exploitation engraved when the Constitution granted the right to the “importation of persons.” The enumerated pursuits of the Declaration of Independence inequitably distributed: Landowners’ free pursuits loosed by slavery’s chains. White wealth built on the backs of life and labor stolen from the black body. Jim Crow followed slavery, which has in turn been followed by today’s carceral state.

And so with resources taken from outside the United States’ borders: A lethal matrix of avarice, of military, and of creation of the other. “Others” delineated against “we” by “naturalization.” The naturalized being the only ones legitimized for the state. Settler colonialism’s tendrils of greed entwined with the Constitution’s codified military, backboned by its taxation, a perversion of poisonous tentacles slithering around the globe. Home opposition choked off by the ready use of “treason.” So the U.S. military has 800 foreign bases and has been responsible for upwards of 20 million deaths since WWII. As with slavery, the atrocities reach forward and stretch back – the ongoing colonial foot on the throat of Puerto Rico, wars and destabilizations in the Middle East, death squads through the Americas, napalm in Southeast Asia, genocide of natives across North America. For the us who oppose, the state’s heavy hand belies freedom of speech, from the surveillance state and Obama’s attack on whistleblowers, to red baiting through the 20th Century, to the silencing use of the charge of sedition.

The Constitution’s naturalized have and continue to hold more rights. Draconian drug laws applied far heavier in black and Hispanic neighborhoods than in white. Innocent until proven guilty starkly incongruous with stop and frisk and the carceral state. Militarized police who approach blacks and Native Americans with shoot first and lie and fabricate evidence later. The continued effort to maintain those inequitable rights exposed in laws to suppress black and Hispanic votes and in the clamor to make America great again.

These aren’t accidents, slippages of good intentions. The U.S. marauds forward as it was set up to hiding behind its Constitution. Changing the national anthem would be a chip in its foundation. Keeping it a reminder of what it is America takes pride in. And of the mindfucks on which it stands.

[Image Credit: Daguerreotype of Andrew Jackson, possibly taken by Edward Anthony. Public Domain.]