On this July 4th January 7 is more important than January 6

Breakfast With Bwana

By Anil Madan

It was November 19, 1863, almost 160, or eight score years ago, that Abraham Lincoln recalled the fundamental notions underlying the creation of America as a nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. The Civil War, he said, was a test of whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, could long endure. And fundamentally, he saw it as a revolutionary test of whether Democracy itself could survive, that this nation “shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The Gettysburg Address. Pic – Hankering for History

Until January 6, 2020, this nation had passed that test—more or less. It should have been expected that notwithstanding the highest of hopes, achieving the goal of equality would be far more difficult than just articulating the concept of equality. The idea of equality seems outcome suggestive, but any such notion should be tempered by the obvious fact that equality of outcome is distinct from equality of opportunity. The failure to grasp this glaring truth has prompted lamentations about lack of equal opportunity from those whose outcomes have lagged.

On the other hand, new immigrants to this country have, over the decades, showed that opportunity is there for them who will reach for it. They have soared.

American exceptionalism, perhaps a somewhat eroded notion, had been a real force in the world, at least until Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency. One might attribute this to the fact that people who emigrated to this country from the world over were risk takers, talented, educated, and unafraid. They prospered and along with them, the nation became a true melting pot of exceptionalism.

If this nation attracted a good share of the world’s elite risk takers, it would stand to reason that such results would ensue. The equally obvious secondary lesson is that it is not simply equality of opportunity, but what one does with opportunity that determines outcome.

What of the rest of the world, stagnant in many parts not just for decades, but for centuries? Why would Americans, imported from the corners of the world, also not regress to the mean, or stagnate? Would such regression not be a realistic expectation? 

The genius of the American experiment is that we never had to answer that question of regression to the mean until recently. Generation after generation succeeded in America and it was often with the impetus provided by immigrants.

So, how does Ronald Reagan bear any responsibility here? He was the presidential candidate who made the most un-American declaration that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Reagan’s remark was taken slightly out of context, but he never attempted to correct his followers who misconstrued his words. He was too busy basking in their adulation, a Grade B movie actor turned new age philosopher-sage. There is nothing a man embraces more easily than adulation — especially adulation built on false premise.

The faithful seized on the wisdom of their patron Saint Ronnie to denigrate the role of government in providing for the general welfare. They did not care that the Declaration of Independence states that governments are instituted among men to secure the unalienable rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness. So, the notion of government itself became a pariah.

Reagan’s actual remarks were: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”

And so it was that a generation of Republicans grew up with a disdain for the very notion of government. The great curiosity and paradox are that the leaders of the Republican party who denigrate government have been the most anxious to run it.

Underlying this movement is an explanation for the regression to the mean. Just as those who were actually denied equality of opportunity whether due to race or gender, have lamented their own shortfall of outcome, those who have not been able to achieve despite being given opportunity, found a convenient scapegoat: government.

The Democrats and liberals, in turn, saw government as failing them and called on it to do more. Thus, was born an American schism between those on the right who denigrate government for its very existence and those on the left who lament its failures, each seeing the destruction of government in its present form, a worthy goal.

In some quarters, cries about opportunity denied have devolved to demands for reparations. Certainly, it is right to correct past injustices. But reparations should involve more than throwing money at a problem for money spent without purpose or plan is never the answer, much less a solution. We can expect and anticipate that funds so distributed will be dissipated without achieving much. Worse, there will be charlatans who will grab what they can. Among the charlatans will be money managers from Wall Street who will see a bonanza. And, surely, when the money is gone, there will be laments that it was not enough and more must be done.

Is there a better path? We have some reason to believe that education and job training are the best paths to providing opportunity not only for citizens but for the nation as a whole. I would offer to every Black American aged from 10-60 (even older if any be interested) the opportunity to complete a high school education, a college degree or vocational training — all free of charge and even pay everyone who participates in the program a stipend, for as long as they achieve minimally acceptable grades, so that living expenses are not an issue.

After that, the pursuit of opportunity is on each person, as it should be. But wait a minute. In this land where all persons are entitled to the equal protection of the laws, I would make the program open to ALL Americans, not just Blacks. A better educated and trained workforce is essential to our survival. We cannot continue to count on importing talent from around the world. More importantly, we cannot and should not let Americans languish due to lack of education or vocational training.

Then, of course, there are those who complain of opportunity stolen, most notably, our recently defeated former president. Here, the sin is even greater than Ronald Reagan’s faux pas. It is a sin built on falsehood and a refutation of that essential proposition to which Lincoln spoke: can a nation so conceived, long endure? Donald Trump made his failure the nation’s failure. Those who give him succor deny the essence of this nation’s founding.

We have seen the press and the House Committee set up to investigate the events of January 6 document pretty much what we knew — that Trump is a liar and a fraud. To be sure, there have been many revelations about the many other ways in which Donald Trump is a despicable and vile person.

There are too many forces around the world dedicated to the proposition that America must fail. We cannot allow one of our own, particularly a former President, to aid their cause.

On this July 4, two hundred forty-six years later, our job as a nation is to make sure that on January 7 and all the days to follow, this nation will endure.

Happy birthday, America and happy fourth to all.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 8 July 2022

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