A Fault in the Foundation

As 2016 dawns and we contemplate our personal goals and expectations it is important to review them in the context of the geopolitical reality we currently inhabit. Here in the United States we find ourselves in the midst of what appears to be one of the most interesting and\or disturbing presidential campaigns in recent memory.

What was billed to be a hierarchal contest between two opposing but familiar political dynasties quickly became overshadowed by what can best be described as a carnival side show. Party insiders quickly dismissed it as the summer of Trump only to be confronted with a Trump autumn and now overwhelmed by a blanket of media coverage as thick as a winter snow.

Those who hold tight to the conception of the American Dream refuse to admit that Trump is not a mere aberration but rather a reflection of something unsettling that lies at the heart of their patriotic ideal. Those who, like Ronald Reagan, channel John Winthrop’s “Shinning City upon a hill” refuse to believe that the gaudy Trump Towers could be a part of that city’s skyline. Like a young cancer patient struggling to come to grips with the reality of the infection that lies within him, so too must the patriotic idealist come to understand that Mr. Trump and his ilk are merely the outward manifestation of a deep-seated historical inequity.

The foundation of this American exercise in democracy is traced back to the words of one of its ancestors, Thomas Jefferson. “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…” These words, these ideals, have for centuries now defined concepts of truth and freedom that are expressed as infallible and unassailable. History classes continue to attest to the veracity of the Pilgrim Fathers and the character of the Founders.

Every year in November we are reminded of America’s indigenous population and the wonderful story of the first Thanksgiving. We are taught of Jefferson’s dream for those that labor in the Earth whom he described as the “chosen people of God.” His dream was of an agrarian republic founded in the work of yeomen farmers. Jefferson’s ideals were indeed lofty, ascribed to the high-minded principals of the enlightenment philosophy of his age and carrying forward Winthrop’s prophetic vision.

What is not well taught or well-known is the real price for the fulfillment of this vision. The first and most important key to the success of this democratic endeavor was land. For all his enlightened principals Jefferson had to acquiesce to the reality that the rightful owners of land, the Indigenous Nations, were not going to surrender the lives and livelihood to his experiment without a struggle. This, of course, was the same realization that encouraged the Pilgrims to initiate the Pequot Wars, the King Philip War, and all the genocidal campaigns that preceded Mr. Jefferson.

As the Jeffersonian Republic began its westward expansion on the heels of wars, plagues, and debt patronage the second key, slavery, became the issue of the age. Again enlightened principals were suppressed for political expediency with the loyalty of western statesmen secured by allowing the bondage-based economy to flourish. Excuses were, of course, made at the time and continue to be made to assuage the conscience of the sophisticated but for a significant portion of the population war, dispossession, and slavery were an acceptable price for the security of peace, prosperity, and liberty.

Yes, a Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, but freed slaves were soon abandoned to their fate when Washington gave up on the promises of Reconstruction after the war. The promise of “Forty Acres and a Mule” gave way to the return of the southern White power structure and African-Americans were forced to continue the struggle for their freedoms to the present day. The indigenous population that remains is spread across the nation from impoverished reservations to booming casinos but always under the thumb of Federal control and prevented from achieving the true self-determination that was their ancestors.

Whatever federal programs there are that truly benefit the descendants of these populations are precisely the targets of those who, like Trump, seek to “take their country back!” As capitalism continues to devour land and resources the “benefits” are spread across a decreasing percentage of the citizenry. As those at the top find new forms of slavery and land theft across oceans to feed their avarice those that thrived on the crumbs here find themselves in dire straits. The job of Mr. Trump and the many like him across the political spectrum is to deflect that growing anger away from the lords of the manor and towards the least among us.

When voices from below cry out “Native Lives Matter!” or “Black Lives Matter!” the response of the political class is “All Lives Matter!” Those of us from below already know too well the value of life, the point being made is that those prices paid in land thefts and bondage were paid by us. The historical reality has been that all lives did not matter and events from Wounded Knee to Ferguson and beyond continue to remind us of this mindset. If the Trump phenomenon teaches us anything, it is that for a significant portion of the population all lives do not matter.

Michael "T. Mayheart" Dardar (dardarmayheart@gmail.com) was born in the Houma Indian settlement below Golden Meadow, Louisiana. He served 16 years on the United Houma Nation Tribal Council. He currently works with community-based groups advocating for the needs of coastal indigenous communities in south Louisiana. He is the author of Istrouma: A Houma Manifesto. Read other articles by T. Mayheart Dardar, or visit T. Mayheart Dardar's website.