We have all heard the words “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” being spoken in our national anthem. John Stafford Smith, the writer of our national anthem, or the “Star Spangled Banner,” had just witnessed a “perilous fight” between the British forces and the American rebels. However, in the morning thereafter, the American flag was still gleaming victoriously in the air, signifying that liberty had won over tyranny, and justice had been proven victorious. As nice and flowery as liberty winning over tyranny sounds, has such a feat really been accomplished in our nation? Unfortunately, with the high rates of inner-city poverty, gang violence, and the lack of quality education in rural areas, combined with the top 1% hoarding all their resources in Orange County or Wall Street, our “liberty and justice for all” seems to apply only to those who can buy it. This essay will examine a wide variety of our government’s failures to be what it said it would be in the national anthem, including in its relationship between majority rule and individual rights, liberty and equality, civil disobedience and the rule of law, and much, much more. As heartbreaking as it is to say, The America my forefathers fought for is not the America I live in today: the great American democracy is quickly becoming a failure as the balance of the political system continues to downgrade liberty and equality in the name of order.
Firstly, on majority rule vs individual rights, it is quite similar to communism: having an electoral college where citizens over 18 years of age vote for representatives to vote for their president sounds fair and good to the typical layman, just like how distributing wealth equally among the public sounds good in communism-- yet neither really work out as they were intended to in real life. Essentially, at its core, democracy is meant to serve the people and make their voices heard, thereby ensuring their government as a legitimate protector of liberty, human rights, and individual rights. Yet, even though the constitution claimed to ensure the protection of these rights for all American citizens, throughout most of history this only meant rich, white males who owned property, meanwhile, black Americans and women had no say in the “democratic” political process of America’s voting system. If the idea that “majority rule” is meant to protect individual rights, then why is it that only a minority of the population was allowed to vote in the political process that would affect the majority of the population, for the majority of American history? In a more relevant time frame, why are some votes more important and powerful than others-- why can Amazon donate millions to a political campaign that serves its interests, but a Californian voter is three times less powerful as Wyoming’s vote? It’s a broken system- that’s the simple answer. Unfortunately, the system of majority rule is really built on minority rule, under the guise that since everyone can vote the system is therefore serving everyone; to fix this, we need to limit the amount of money big corporations can donate to political campaigns, and rework the electoral college so it does not give certain states too much power in politics than the other.
Secondly, on the relationship between liberty and equality in America, the situation has greatly improved where women, indigenous, people of color, and LGBT people have reached a point to where everyone is somewhat equal-- much more in the slavery days of the 18th century, and the Jim Crow days that followed, but there is still work to be done. For instance, transgender Americans are still not allowed to serve in the military, and America is still systematically breaking its promises and treaties with indigenous peoples, such as with the drilling of the Dakota Access Oil pipeline on indigenous land, and the continued poverty-inducing theft of land and resources from our natives. Moreover, with the Trump Administration’s dissembling of the net neutrality act, something which our former President Barack Obama rightfully created, equality has again been sacrificed in the name of “liberty,” as people will now have to pay for the websites they visit so smaller and up and coming websites will have a chance to compete with the Amazons, Instagrams, and other giants of the internet. For American citizens, this prohibits their unsolicited access to knowledge and resources on the internet, and sacrifices their first-amendment protected right to freely access speech and political thought. Clearly, the foggy and jumbled in an American political climate where certain Americans are barred from serving their country, while others are having their resources stolen on a systematic basis, thereby undermining their economic growth and wellbeing. In the America I want to live in, anyone who loves their country can serve it in its military (provided they meet all other age and nationality requirements), people can freely use the internet, and native peoples are allowed to have a political voice in what happens to their own lands. So yes, while we have more liberty in the modern US where anyone can vote regardless of gender, religion, income, or race, we still have not reached a constitutionally-protected US where equality is held in similar highly-esteemed unison with liberty.
Thirdly, the relationship between state and national authority in a federal system is working and coherent, but yet again, the great American democracy is failing Americans by infringing on their liberty and equality. You see, since states have their own separate legislature and political structures from the mother government on the federal scale, it can create inequality by creating wealth gaps, and making the national government less accountable than it should be for failed local legislature. According to an article by Crystal Ayres on vittana.org, titled “12 Federalism Pros and Cons,” socioeconomic resources are maintained at “local levels”and the national government is then asked to “fill-in” whatever gaps may exist, which has gray success throughout history. Essentially, since local governments are tasked with financing their specific countries and areas of influence, it becomes more difficult to receive federal funding, which actually hurts communities in the end. Detroit is a good example of this: according to a YouTube video published by VICE News in December of 2017, Detroit homeowners have been receiving increased tax rates from their local legislature, which lower income families cannot pay. As a result, they are forced to pay interest rates that, in some cases, can exceed 50% of the owed debt on home they’ve already bought-- something that is illegal in the state of Michigan, but is still happening, nonetheless: “the proportion of true cash value at which property shall be uniformly assessed… shall not… exceed 50 percent” (Constitution of Michigan, 1963). Currently, there are over 65,000 homes in Detroit alone that are over two years due on their interest payments, which will be above the annual average of 30,000 evictions, meaning approximately 65,000 families will be evicted from their home in the coming year. as there is a three-year long time limit on not paying on one’s home interest rates in Detroit before they are evicted. It goes without saying that the federal government should have more responsibility on the local level to ensure state governments remain constitutional, without in order to protect individual rights and not have too much government infringement on the people.
Fourthly, when our federal government actively punishes civil disobedience, which is a constitutionally protected right, it downplays the liberty of our “great” democracy. Unfortunately, our nation has a long history of ignoring our first amendment and silencing peaceful protests, such as with Martin Luther King’s 1963 Birmingham campaign, but the situation has not improved, especially with the current Trump administration’s push to start taxing protesters who criticize our President’s policies. Yet, this is not what our Founding Fathers envisioned when they created a constitution that is meant to uphold liberty, which includes the right to protest, and disobey certain laws if those laws impede on one’s own individual liberty, so our current government desperately needs to realign itself with that original view of the purpose of liberty in our government that was envisioned at the birth of our nation, by allowing peaceful protests and not silencing activists.
Fifthly, the argument between where the first-amendment protected right of freedom of the press impedes on the sixth-amendment right to a fair and speedy trial is one of individual rights vs majority rule, and in this case, the US government is failing to meet either end of the spectrum. For liberty’s sake, the government might want to record the trial of an infamous mass-murderer, as to provide the public with some closure on what is happening in their trial. However, this may be well-within the rights of the first amendment, to do such a thing would override the mass-murderers sixth amendment right to a free and fair trial, as it would ensure that the jury would be very, very biased against them. In the first sentence of the sixth amendment, it states that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” (https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/sixth_amendment). Though I am not condoning mass murder, I do believe that the American judicial system is bound to certain rules that ensure that every American convicted of a crime, regardless of the horridness of it, is constitutionally promised the same right to an equal and fair trial. Therefore, to provide equal respect to liberty and equality in our judicial system, the American government must indiscriminately provide fair trials to all suspects, and not air their entire past on national television without the consent of the suspect at trial. Only then, will the judicial system provide equal respect to the institutions of liberty and equality that are protected in our constitution.
Lastly, and perhaps most notoriously, the relationship between religion and government has long been contested in the American political sphere, but it is apparent that religion has too clearly influenced our government politics, legislature, and policies, which infringes on the liberty to believe in what one desires to, and equal respect to all religions that are promised in the constitution. With Trump’s recent ban on all Muslim immigration into the United States, it reflects how the President has too much power over the American legislation, that he can feasibly create a law that effectively bans all Muslims, regardless of race or country of origin, from entering the US. This is indiscriminately giving more freedoms to people who are not Muslims, whilst unfairly banning Muslims from having the same travel rights as other religious people. In a egalitarian society like ours, to do such a prejudiced and so clearly anti-American and anti-democratic thing is clearly not aligned with our principles of liberty and equality for all, if one group of people have less rights than another under our constitution. To me, the America that my forefathers fought for is the one that is the hope and assurance to all dreamers-- regardless of religion or country of origin, just as the pilgrims left their country for religious freedom in the New World, America was built on being a safe haven for freedom of religion, but lately that has been forgotten. We must abandon the Muslim immigration ban and replace it with laws that protect religious immigration in the United States.
In conclusion, the long-lost words of “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” seems to be trivial in today’s political climate, where liberty and equality are continually downplayed as our once proudly democratic society is moving from egalitarian and just principles and legislature meant to serve the people, to more corrupt and evil politics that only benefits the top 1% of Americans. Whether it be the unequal votes of our electoral college, where a voter in Wyoming is three times as powerful as a Californian voter, or the greedy politicians evicting over 30,000 Detroit families from their homes on an annual basis, our democracy has deteriorated in its commitment to egalitarian and libertarian principles. While great improvements have occurred, such as the 13th and 19th amendments, the Civil Rights Act, and the ending of segregation in public schools and all other government institutions, things like the removal of net neutrality, the Dakota Oil Access Pipeline controversy, and the Muslim immigration ban have shown that there are still seeds of division and discrimination that are deep-rooted in the political framework of our government. As it has in the past, so it must be in the future: the American democracy is constantly evolving and improving itself, so it is our duty as citizens of this once great country to rekindle the fire of its greatness and truly “make America great again” by fighting to improve the unbalanced structure of our democracy. Thus, we must press our politicians in Washington D.C. to promote equal rights for all, promote unilateral liberty throughout our entire country, so that our government can become balanced with human liberty and freedom, thereby allowing our democracy to improve.