Monday is the 240th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. It’s an appropriate occasion to contemplate some things that seem recently relevant.
1. Everything Old is New Again — and Vice-Versa
When you really start to study the history of this Republic, you soon realize to your surprise that most of the bedrock concerns that roil us today are the same ones that have vexed us from the beginning — the power relationship between the states and the federal government; immigration, race and ethnicity; the struggle between capital and labor, the rich, middle and poor; political, economic and social scandals both real and imagined; corruption of all stripes; and cynical manipulation of media and public opinion for political and economic gain.
History does offer lessons. We could choose to recognize and learn from it.
2. There’s Little to Link “Brexit” with Us
Purported parallels between Brexit voters and U.S. voters are vastly overstated. It has quickly become knee-jerk fashionable for pundits and politicians of a certain persuasion to “warn” us that the same public opinions and factors that led the British to narrowly vote to leave the European Union (EU) could or will lead to similar surprise electoral outcomes here.
While it serves the interests of some to conflate what is happening in the UK and in Europe to the situation here, the two are quite dissimilar. The principal reason for the Brexit outcome was concern over mass migration, as much from other European countries as from the turmoil in Syria and the Mideast.
We are a nation of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. In stark contrast to Europe, that is our real heritage.
The only peoples here that do not fit that description are the truly indigenous, which we still label with the misnomer “Indians.” Europe, on the other hand, is a collection of individual nations, many of them 1,000 or more years old, each with distinct ethnicities, cultures and languages.
The EU, in large part, is a post-World War II attempt to end over 500 years of near continuous wars on the continent by drawing these nations into closer cooperation.
Therefore, if we choose in November to listen to the voices telling us that immigrants — whether documented or not — are the cause of our employment and economic woes, we effectively turn our backs on our own heritage and that of our forebears.
We also ever so blindly embrace a false narrative proffered by those with ulterior motives that don’t have our best interests at heart.
It’s all happened before. (See Point 1, above.) There was even an entire political party at one time that rallied around it.
They were called the “Native (sic) American Party”—or the “Know Nothings.” The Catholics were their choice of religion to demonize. Do you see something even remotely familiar there?
3. New York Remains a Player
The Empire State, despite the declarations of some to the contrary, retains significant influence on the nation’s political, economic and social life — and is about to reassert itself again.
Both major parties’ presumptive White House nominees call New York home. It is all but certain that one of the two will be our 45th president and the seventh from this state.
Most in the past left a legacy of reform and progressivism that proved beneficial, if not vital, to the nation’s welfare.
Martin Van Buren was an early opponent of slavery. Chester Arthur created the federal civil service system that substituted merit for cronyism in government employment practices. Theodore Roosevelt broke up monopolistic corporate and banking trusts and championed labor reforms. Franklin Roosevelt reinvigorated capitalism by muting its excesses with social support programs, government regulation and public works.
Furthermore, if the Democrats manage to recapture the Senate majority — a very real possibility given the metrics of this election cycle — the majority leader of that Senate also will be a New Yorker, Sen. Charles Schumer.
New York’s distinctive cosmopolitan outlook — going back to its progressive Dutch roots — is just what needs to take greater hold here in an increasingly globalized world, in contrast to those who counsel a retreat to provincialism, protectionism and erecting barriers of all kinds.
4. A Consequential Election
Much of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution’s Bill of Rights represent ideals and objectives to which we aspire. They remain works in progress, something those who revere the status quo all too often forget.
We seem to be arriving at one of those pivotal points in history when we are called upon to either reaffirm who we are or retreat into a sour defensive posture that belies those oft-stated ideals.
It is America’s optimism and openness that gives it the capacity to be “exceptional.”
Between now and November, think about that. Think hard about it. Those in Britain who voted to abandon a great continental experiment are already having buyers’ remorse.
It is recent history from which we most definitely should learn and not repeat.
John Figliozzi of Halfmoon is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.