Page Two: A Living Constitution
The promise of liberty, unedited
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying."
– T.S. Eliot "Little Gidding" (No. 4 of Four Quartets)
I have not knelt there. Knelt in the places where prayer has been valid. In the places where one comes only to pray, not to verify, instruct, inform, or report but to believe and to honor belief. I have knelt in Hoboken and Poughkeepsie, in Portland and Secaucus, in Newmarket and Brooklyn, in Missoula and Tempe, but never in sacred prayer devoid of all support but faith, all structure but devotion. I believe in believing; I have unlimited faith in faith. I have long awaited and even experienced a rebirth of wonder – but never without questions and doubts. In my reverie, trust without questioning is not really trust at all.
I love this country with a passion that emanates from every part of my consciousness, but to love without questioning and without concern is not to love. The cacophony of the true believers, the conservative right, the armchair patriots is matched by the noise of the more-righteous-than-righteous left. One side declares holiness but finds nothing holy that is really holy; the other demands purity but knows that nothing but its beliefs and esteemed consciences are pure, that realization and activity are inherently corrupting – better to have nothing, but for it to be pure, than to have even a lot of something if it be even partially corrupted.
I am delirious. This election reminds me of how the Constitution lives. Just as there is the catholic and Catholic wisdom of T.S. Eliot, there are also the Nashville smarts of that seer Roger Miller; he pointed out both that "You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd" and "England swings like a pendulum do." The pendulum is swinging.
Again, I am experiencing a rebirth of wonder: experiencing it in many ways, with many meanings. The time has come to wish those with whom this column politically disagrees to have their dreams fulfilled. One would have thought that, if nothing else, the great conservative triumphs of the Bush administration would have caused them some small satisfaction. They knew that this is the strongest, most righteous nation on earth, and if in a demonstration of our might we invaded Iraq, we would be greeted as liberators by citizens demanding only Hershey's bars and nylons. They knew that tax cuts for the rich, entitlements for Republican legislators, and spending to the point at which the budget is guaranteed to be unbalanced for a few generations to come would bring unending prosperity for all. They knew that slashing the social safety net would make us all equal, while unbalancing the budget into the next millennium. They knew that curbing constitutionally guaranteed rights and ignoring internationally agreed-upon restrictions on torture would keep us free, if not make us even freer.
Yet getting all they wanted in so many ways, rather than sating them to bloated, instead just caused them to look elsewhere for more.
The highlight of this appetite was the recent Republican presidential candidate debates. The dazzling one-upmanship involving the persecution of illegal immigrants was stunning. No racism here, just in case you asked, only solving a great social problem that, despite the quagmire of Iraq and the collapsing economy, so many of the Republican faithful deem this country's real No. 1 problem.
Let's follow their lead. No talk of amnesty! Attrition will cause 10 million to 15 million immigrants to leave. No talk of economic consequences; the bloodthirst of the right, not satisfied by the convoluted achievements (if that be the word) of invading Iraq, demands new victims. Those who oppose big government wish the government to expand its security and enforcement arms tenfold so that negligent employers can be charged with the crime of hiring illegal immigrants and then jailed. Those who feel labor rights and environmental considerations impose too great a burden on business realize that the best way to lighten the load is to put this enormous pressure on all business owners. Those opposed to universal ID cards realize that to quash this plague we will in fact need both the Real ID and even more stringent identity papers. Those who wish not to be taxed at all are willing to fork over the hundreds of millions, if not billions, that will be needed to win the war on foreigners. Those who chose foreign cars over American ones, and Wal-Mart over small retail, are ready to sacrifice the economic advantages of a huge, cheap labor force for the purity of employing only legal immigrants.
Those who believe that this country is the last bastion of freedom demand that walls be built to contain it!
Austin has long been in the lead here. The masses who think growth in the Hill Country should have been completely ended the day after they or their families moved here can only respect the notion that their immigrant forebears, no matter how much they were discriminated against and persecuted at the time, were the last true Americans.
These are not just patriots but law-loving, literate patriots! They realize the errors in that inscription on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" "Were there no proofreaders back then?" they demand to know! Certainly it was meant to read "Give me your (legal) tired, your (legal) poor, your (legal) huddled masses."
One of the Republican presidential candidates asserted that he would impose a strict 120-day grace period for illegal immigrants, only to be trumped by another insisting that his would only be 90 days. Let's come together as Americans! A modest proposal: Let all of us – right, left, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, male, and female – all who are legal Americans, join hands. Let's raise half a billion dollars, withhold our tax money if we must, shamefully ask the super-rich for the smallest of donations, pool our resources. Within 90 days of the inauguration of the next president of the United States, Democrat or Republican, let's use that money to pay for 1 million illegal immigrants to go home! Not 12 million nor 10 million nor 5 million, but just 1 million.
Let's take them from a few concentrated areas. Then, as the problems of Iraq, racial inequality, the class war, and the tax troubles of the very richest have been "solved," we Americans will find the problem of illegal immigration solved as well. Local, state, and federal politicians will face such an onslaught of outrage and indignation at the staggering, across-the-board economic problems caused by that much of the population being deported that the right-wing fantasy will have to turn to a new phantom enemy. The battle cry among citizens across the country will be heard, loud and true: "We didn't mean those illegal immigrants, not the ones whose presence benefited us in so many ways; we meant those other illegal immigrants – the ones way over there!"
"People keep a-talkin', they don't say a word
Jaw, jaw, jaw, jaw, jaw
Talk up in the White House, talk up to your door
So much goin' on, I just can't hear, hear
Git, git, git, gone
Git, git, git, gone"
– John Fogerty, "Commotion"
Finally, I realized that there is a deep, racist shame borne by all Democrats in much the same vein as above. They constantly play the race card by running candidates of all races and all sexes. How outrageous, what an encouragement of pure discrimination – thank God Republicans are above that cheap ploy. By having only white males run for this country's highest offices, they are staying true to the purest of visions. There are also those who wish to believe lies, and here they are being lied to! For this we all should be as thankful as they are. I know I am.