Tag: community

Long Live the King

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., and of the work he did to make our nation into a center of freedom and democracy, Spark! wishes all our readers a happy and safe Martin Luther King Day.  Keep fighting the good fight, and thank you for your service to our nation.

Thanks to the Democratic Senators of the Michigan state legislature for posting the image on Facebook.

Who is at the Helm?


The New York Times recently featured a discussion about the political direction of the nation, and various reactions to it.  Having myself answered telephone polls that included the question, “Are you satisfied with the direction in which the nation is moving?”, I am troubled by the failure of polls using this question to address the more fundamental question of who is driving the nation in that direction.  The responses posted by the Times, and the reactions they reveal, also show a problem with both the question and with what American voters think about and respond to.

The main problem which President Obama has had to contend with since even before winning the presidency is the economic situation.  The Bush Recession and the financial meltdown of 2008 pushed President Bush into a corner, and during the 2008 presidential race, Bush asked the two contenders, Senators Obama and McCain, to the White House to discuss it and advise him how to deal with it.  Senator Obama’s plan became the road-map to recovery, used by both Bush and President Obama.  While there was a halt to the meltdown, and while job growth has continued almost unabated since 2009, Republicans and their supporters question the president’s performance and claim that Republicans would have done better.  They of course ignore the fact that the recession and meltdown both happened on their watch; and they ignore the fact that neither Bush nor McCain had an effective plan to deal with them (which is why Obama’s plan was implemented by Bush).  They also ignore the fact that job growth and overall economic performance have generally been better under Democratic presidents than Republicans.  So is the problem “direction,” or “velocity”?  The Republicans have a legitimate concern that Democratic recovery is too slow; but they had no alternative means of achieving a more rapid recovery, with the modern job market globalizing and market shares of foreign nations edging out American manufacturing and other services.  So whom is to blame?  The Republicans who had no ideas and allowed the problems to manifest, or the Democrats who have repaired much of the damage but too slowly from the point of view of their critics?

Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders, and others on the left have also demonstrated significant problems deriving from the increasing concentration of wealth in the US.  Some of the reasons why recovery has been slower than would be liked also derive from this problem.  As wealth has been concentrating (lower-end wages remaining the same over time, but wealth expanding at the top), union and middle-class jobs, which provided much of 20th century America’s income and consumption, have been edged out.  As income and consumption reduce overall, there is less demand for manufactured goods and for the jobs producing them.  There is less money to invest in small businesses (and less consumer support for those businesses).  This allows large corporations to push over smaller ones (itself causing further wealth concentration into the large corporations at the expense of “mom and pop” local businesses).  Congressional leaders like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have pushed for supports at both consumer levels and business levels to even the playing field; but with foreign competition growing and here to stay, America faces a 21st century economy that will have to be very different from our 20th century hegemony.  Both Democrats (like Bill Clinton) and Republicans have helped to loosen the regulatory environment that creates living spaces for smaller companies and protects them from larger corporations.  And unions have fought to preserve the incomes of their own workers, inciting resentment from others towards their seemingly “overpaid” members, who have traditionally been the nation’s principal consumers and job creators.   So whom is to blame?

A new political environment has evolved with populist movements arising like the petty-fascist reactionaries of Trumpland.  The Republicans bloviate with hate-filled language about homosexuals, abortions, and foreigners to incite actions like the multiple county-based oppositions to the SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling and the Colorado Springs shooting at the Planned Parenthood facility.  They ignore the calls by Black Lives Matter and other movements for a dialogue on racial discrimination, and their snide remarks about African Americans struggling for their rights helps fuel incidents like the shooting at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston.  They do not even manage to distance themselves from heinous incidents like the Charleston shooting.  The racist group inspiring Dylann Roof’s shooting, Council of Conservative Citizens (the ideological descendant of the Citizens Councils of America , or “White Citizens Councils”), is currently campaigning for Trump in Iowa.  Extremism is looked upon from the right as normal and acceptable.

Are there growing extremes on both sides?  Where is the leftist “extremism” about which the right so often complains?  While Sanders suggests that large corporations will not “like him,” he, Warren, and Reich push not for some communist utopia of “people’s republics” dictating production, consumption, and classless society, but instead for a leveling of the field that allows small companies to co-exist with the large.  They seek a capitalist environment in which workers can achieve personal security and agency while working for profitable companies.  They seek a society in which the police do not target specific groups or races, but instead protect all citizens under their watch.  They seek a society that builds the City on a Hill, the vision for America that has always been and remains the nation’s central, and founding, ideal.  In what way are these goals “extremist”?  So whom is to blame for extremism?  Both parties, or just one – the Republicans?

When poll-takers ask their respondents the question, “Are you satisfied with the direction the nation is taking?” they ignore the question about who is doing the driving.  Both sides of the spectrum have reasons to be fearful about our “direction,” as well as about our “velocity.”  And on the economy at least, both sides are more in agreement about direction, disagreeing more about velocity.  The party in the White House created the plan steering the nation back toward job growth (the desired direction for both parties), while the party in Congress has yet to advocate specific means that would change our velocity.  So which party is to blame?  And where in our course corrections do we find racist and bigoted populist movements of the far-right, like Trump’s movement; or activist movements of the left like Black Lives Matters?  To which direction are they trying to steer us, and is our ship turning toward them?  Economically, where do we find the rocks of foreign competition and increasing globalization, around which we must steer to get to our port?  These questions are far too complex to be enshrined by one simple and myopic question.

Headline image from Forward Now! (posted August 20, 2013), via Google Image Search.

Stirring Up the Stew

“Society is like a stew. If you don’t keep it stirred up you get a lot of scum on the top.” –Edward Abbey; a philosophy, environmental, and popular-literature writer from the 1950s though the 1980s.

This week, Spark! is introducing a new weekly blog, the Quote of the Week.  Each week, we will feature a commentary on someone’s witty saying, reflecting on how that saying fits into modern politics, history, or society.

Our first Quote of the Week, by Edward Abbey, is full of relevance in that it reflects some political attitudes by both the Left and the Right in American politics.  Both sides tend to view each other as “scum” (and themselves, of course, as the cream of the crop, to mix metaphors as well as the stew).  In a social context, Abbey’s advocacy of “stirring” implies using the institutions of our society (education, immigration and assimilation, welfare programs to build the City on a Hill, etc.) to keep opening up opportunities for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised.  From this social message we can also derive a liberal political imperative, to keep fueling support programs, to strengthen equal opportunity and affirmative action, and to fight for individual rights.  And in our party system and government, we can also derive an imperative to break apart the large banks and to dismantle Citizens United, to keep lobbyists away from our political leaders, and to separate as much as possible the strains of inherited wealth (especially that of power-seekers like Donald Trump) and the pathways to actual political and legislative power.  While Trump himself seems to be stirring up the stew (by attacking establishment candidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush), keeping people like Trump away from the far more toxic potentials of political power was at least part of what Abbey may have had in mind.

Spark! The Mission for 2016

Happy new year, and welcome to Spark!  For those readers who are new, you should check out our overall mission statement.  In brief, our mission is to heighten the political dialogue in the US with reports and commentaries on themes of political importance (dealing mostly with either national or international events).  Last year, Spark! went online for the first time, and dealt with political events like the presidential debates and the terror attacks in Paris in November.  We looked at individual politicians, like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz.  We commented on various general themes, such as the foundational American notion of the City on a Hill, a central theme for this blog; as well as on the meaning of Thanksgiving, and some lesser subjects.  We presented reviews of Hillary Clinton’s book, Hard Choices, and of the film Trumbo.  We ended the year with a “Primer on the Primaries,” and that old media standard, a Year in Review, looking back at some of 2015’s most important political moments.  We also relaxed with some lighter moments, our “Blogs of Lightness,” often seeing what other authors, pundits, and voices are saying.

Now that 2015 is behind us, Spark! is looking forward to an exciting year.  We hope to build the blog into something worthwhile and substantial, something that can capture the interest of readers and commenters, and perhaps even diversify its voice through additional writers and other forms of media presentation.  Spark! will be working with WordPress and other outlets to expand its audience and its outlook.

Nonetheless, Spark! will be just one of millions of inconsequential blogs as long as only a few people read each article.  If you like something, you should “like” it on our blog space, “like” it on Facebook or Twitter, and “share” it with your friends on social media.  Shared links (in emails, etc.) are also good for getting the word out.  Also, if you enjoy reading Spark!, or if you think we got something wrong, you should also comment on anything that captures your interest.  Our slogan is “Fomenting a Political Conversation”; but if we’re just talking to ourselves, no conversation ensues.  You read our words; now let’s have some of yours!  (We would, of course, prefer your comments to be helpful, not insulting; “conversation” implies an exchange of ideas between adults, not just invective and rhetoric.)

Thanks for reading us in 2015, and for coming back (or starting up) in 2016, and welcome to Spark! and to 2016.

Of Refugees, Welfare, and Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving, Americans traditionally have family dinners, typically with turkey and lavish side dishes and desserts.  We watch parades and football games.  We remember times gone by.  We talk, or argue, about politics, culture, and values.  We say that we do all this as a means of somehow giving thanks.  But how do lavish feasts and parties in the wealthiest, most overfed nation on Earth give thanks to anyone?  Whom are we thanking, and for what?

Thanksgivings are a normal part of Christian societies, and while not legislated into permanent existence in the United States until 1863, America had seen countless Thanksgivings before that, whereby Americans gave thanks to their God for the bounties of the earth and of their work.  The traditional “First Thanksgiving” was held by English Dissenters of the Plymouth Colony in 1621.  Those colonists who had lived through the first winter celebrated their survival and the success of their first harvest.  Their survival and their harvest success were both due in part to help from the local Wampanoags under under Massasoit, who provided food and helped teach corn cultivation.  The English Dissenters were refugees from the violent religious warfare that ripped through Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries; and these refugees with a completely alien religion, language, ethnicity, and political values were nonetheless welcomed and given welfare by the Americans already here.  For that, and for their survival of the first year’s trial in their newly adopted home, the colonists gave thanks to their God.

A decade later, John Winthrop (later the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) delivered his “Modell of Christian Charitie.”  Winthrop articulated a vision of a new America to come.  He expresses essentially the sentiment of “there but for the grace of God,” arguing that we are all born into circumstances at God’s pleasure.  The rich and poor alike, Winthrop asserts, have God to credit with their status (not their own labors or failures); and those born into – and escaping from – areas of terror and violence are likewise responsible only for their own agency in escaping their condition, not for the violence from which they strive to escape.  This argument played successfully with the various schools of English Christian immigrants in America, who sought refuge from the horrific religious and political turbulence tearing Europe apart.  However, those surviving the journey (itself a dangerous ordeal), and those fewer who survived their first hungry winters, gave thanks for making it through the trials of their odyssey.  Winthrop’s City on a Hill was built by the refugees who were wise enough to save themselves, strong enough to survive cold and hunger, and humble enough to accept a helping hand from an alien people.

Since the founding of our City on a Hill, the United States has been a nation of refugees and immigrants, and of people brought here in chains.  All of these people were taken into an alien land, society, and culture.  Refugees, immigrants, slaves, and servants are who we are, and are who built this country.  Refugees seeking to escape violence, and immigrants seeking a better life created the new America; and the new America was built into a giant through slavery and forced labor.  While slaves built a massive cotton economy in the south, northern free workers (many of them recently arrived immigrants and refugees from famines and revolutions and turbulence in Europe and elsewhere) built mills, factories, roads, bridges, and railroads.  Slave-masters and company bosses both fought to keep their labor forces in chains, with blood spilt south and north alike by their efforts.  Banks and corporations were built by a government providing public resources and revenues to men of wealth, many of them going bankrupt despite these gifts and despite underpaying their workers, through sheer mismanagement.  Slave labor, and immigrants and refugees, built our cities and our farms; our infrastructure and institutions; our massive economy, our social system, and our political values.  Slaves, immigrants, and refugees are what we Americans are.

It is for the labor of those who came before us that we owe our wealth, our education, our security, and all else that we have.  It is for their labors we must give thanks, and it is for the gifts enabled by their labors that we owe a great debt.  We cannot repay that debt to slaves whipped to death, or to workers cut down by strikebreakers.  We cannot repay the debt to Native Americans killed by diseases brought to them by Europeans, or pushed off their lands later by Europeans or white Americans.  We cannot repay the debt to those no longer with us.  But the debt remains, and must be repaid, as a cost of maintaining our City on a Hill.  Our thanks is a beginning, but is not enough.  The debt can only be paid, and our thanks can only be truly given, by continuing to build the City our predecessors created.  The debt is paid, our thanks given, by welcoming new refugees into our land as new Americans, just as our Native American forebearers did – taking in a people looking, sounding, and thinking differently, because they need our help.  The debt is paid, our thanks given, by opening our borders to immigrants.  The debt is paid, our thanks given, by helping the sick and poor and hungry.  The debt is paid, our thanks given, by honoring descendants of slaves and free workers alike, making sure these people whose ancestors died building our nation have every opportunity to reap from the seeds sown by their fathers and mothers.  It is for the sacrifice and labor and strength; for the blood, sweat and tears; for both the liberties and personal agency as well as for the sacrifice and suffering of those who built this nation that we give thanks.  But just cutting a turkey, or watching the Lions lose, does not give thanks.  Building the City on a Hill, welcoming strangers and foreigners, using our wealth to fulfill the City’s mission by caring for our needy, and eradicating poverty and social inequality, are the only means our nation has, to give thanks and repay the debts incurred for our fortunes.

On Thanksgiving, enjoy your bounties, and enjoy your friends and family.  These have been given to us by those gone before us.  But remember that our bounties came at a cost which must be repaid.  And the repayment of that debt is simple to understand – we must fight to maintain and to build our City on a Hill, and welcome those coming to our nation as newfound builders and new celebrants of our freedoms and our wealth.  This is a positive feature of our nation; that we can move forward and achieve even more, but only if we repay those debts from the past.  Repay them, give thanks, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

[image used, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, oil on canvas by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914), found on Wikipedia.]

How the Confederate Flag Hides the Real Southern Pride We Never Hear About

On October 12, 2015, some 15 suspects were charged with “terroristic, gang-related activitiesafter they participated in a convoy of pick-up trucks and other vehicles flying the Confederate Battle Flag, and harassed an innocent family in a park, making threatening and racist slurs, and threatening the family’s children. This event (which occurred on July 25, 2015) took place as part of a large-scale, racial backlash against an effort to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from state government properties in South Carolina and elsewhere. The racial backlash ironically joined with other voices of the south to argue that the Confederate Battle Flag is a legitimate symbol of “southern heritage” (and therefore of the South itself) and is not necessarily or predominantly a symbol of the South’s racist past (or present).

In the backlash of the “flag issue” of 2015, what public protests took place in defiance of the “flaggers” of Georgia and other states using the flag as a deliberate statement of racism? There were no such. Those seeking to protect the “honor” of the flag found offense in those decrying the flag’s racist past, but did nothing to jettison its continuing importance as a racist symbol. If those wishing both to protect the Confederate Battle Flag and to deny its racist connections only attack those taking the flag down, but not those adding to its racist legacy, they merely feed the fires of both racial antagonism and the flag issue as a separate question.

Taking the opposite view were commentators such as native Texan Mac McCann, a student and writer for the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, and various Texan publications. McCann noted specifically that confusing the Confederate Battle Flag with anything other than the purpose for which it was designed, a rally of pro-slavery secessionists against their own Southern Unionist and anti-slavery brethren, in defense of the deliberately slavery-preserving institution of the Confederacy, is a betrayal of the real legacy of Southern pride and honor. This argument has far better support from the historical record.

While pride in the land of one’s birth is a normal feeling among most people, the confusion of pride in the South with the legacy of the Confederate Battle Flag ignores far too many proud moments of the South’s history, and focuses in fact on the more ugly ramifications of “Southern heritage,” in denoting a land whose people fought for the defense of the preservation of slavery, and then struggled violently after their military defeat to subjugate the race they had fought to maintain as their servants. In fact, it is difficult to find, among those wishing to identify the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of the South, those who identify with or lionize the Southern Unionists who opposed secession, or who after secession (especially in East Tennessee, West Virginia, and parts of Alabama) struggled to retain connections with the North. Southerners would, of course, be cautioned not to fly the Battle Flag too close to the ghosts of Southern Unionists who died fighting Confederate troops marching under that flag. Southerners fighting for freedom in the Civil War saw the Battle Flag for what it was – a symbol of treason, secession, and slavery.

In fact, those identifying the Battle Flag as a symbol of the south in general very deliberately avoid associating with non-racist or anti-racist symbols of the South. Southerners fighting the good fight for freedom, against the institution of slavery and against the secession designed to preserve it, seem to disappear into the void as the Battle Flag flies. This decries the true honor and legacy of the South, a land that contributed over two hundred thousand of its young men (white and black) to the Union Army to fight against the slave-holding Confederacy. In fact, while records from the South make it difficult to ascertain precise numbers, the number of white Southerners who fought for the Union may number as much as a third (though probably somewhat less) of the number who fought for the Confederacy. In addition to the free whites of the South, freed and runaway slaves (as well as some of the very small, free black population of the South) also joined the fight for the Union and for freedom. But those who today fly the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of their “southern pride” spit on both the whites and the blacks of the South who fought to defeat the mission of those flying that flag – the preservation of slavery and of a racist society.

The flag problem can be seen in the context of two separate questions: what symbol(s) do “southern pride” proponents use, and what symbols don’t they use? It is easy for racists to identify with the Confederate Battle Flag, and with images of John Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, and Bobby Lee. But those, white or black, who fought and died to make the South a better place by freeing it of the moral stain of slavery rarely end up being symbols of “southern pride.” Those faces are not, to southern racists, any symbol they choose to be proud of. Nor are the faces of the Little Rock Nine, or Ruby Nell Bridges, or MLK, or leaders of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or other pioneers of the civil rights movement. Yet these southern freedom fighters made both the South and the US as a whole a better, and freer place. That those seeking to keep the Confederate Battle Flag flying do not generally identify with such powerful images of southern pride and heritage, tells anyone caring to listen, loudly and clearly, just what “southern pride and heritage” really means – the belief that a racially ordered society is normal, acceptable, even laudable, and worthy of its defense and preservation.

Ultimately, the “flaggers” of Georgia and elsewhere demonstrate, in concert with those quietly disapproving of the efforts to remove the flag from state offices, that their pride is not at all in the South, but in their racist identity and worldview. They refuse to accept legitimate symbols of pride that represent freedom, and instead embrace a warped and limited pride in one faction of the South, seeking to preserve a dying legacy of racial hatred. Their anger at those identifying the obvious connection between the Confederate Battle Flag and racism is not due to any misunderstanding or simplification of southern history by those wanting to take down the flag (a sin which the flag’s “defenders” themselves are at fault for committing), but due only to their guilt at being caught out in the immoral act of promoting racism and oppression in a supposedly democratic land.

The City on a Hill: A Critical Reading of Winthrop’s Sermon on Christian Charity

In 1630, John Winthrop (a later governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) wrote a sermon on Christian charity, in which he referenced Matthew 5:14, the Sermon on the Mount, and described the new America to come as a city upon a Hill.”  The city on a hill is visible to all; and either lights the darker places in the valley below with the light from its windows, or keeps them in the dark through its inaction or miserliness. Winthrop helped to develop an idea of America as a new, holy community with a mission, focusing the world’s attention upon it. Winthrop concentrated on charity, specifically, in order to push the community members into a greater, more cohesive collective and to give the community the responsibility to act charitably. Charity was not to be a personal responsibility alone; but was now also the communal responsibility of what would become the new American nation – the responsibility of its society and its government.

In the modern political dialogue between Left and Right, however, we often lose sight of the responsibility that falls upon the city on the hill. Two troubling aspects of this problem are the notion of “American Exceptionalism,” and the notion that the US is (and is supposed to be) a “Christian nation.” Both arguments are superficially derived from Winthrop’s sermon (as well, of course, as other sources), but they also lose completely the point of Winthrop’s sermon. On the one hand, liberals downplay American Exceptionalism, understanding that our nation has failed at many points of its history to live up to its most basic promises, has supported slavery and perpetrated genocide, and has denied basic “guaranteed” rights to its citizens. Liberals also downplay or deny the Christian nation argument, citing especially the Founding Fathers. Liberals also wish to distance modern American notions of rights and legality from Biblical directives and outdated concepts of social structure. Conservatives, on the other hand, superficially embrace both American Exceptionalism and the Christian nation argument, but they ignore completely the essential requirements, as laid out by Winthrop’s sermon, of fulfilling their own apparent visions of America.

American Exceptionalism is the notion that the US stands apart from the rest of the world’s nations. Proponents of Exceptionalism love to cite the Revolution, the Constitution, and other patriotic moments of our history as proof that the US was first, and remains the best, at fulfilling a special role to make the world a better place. Proponents ignore some of the basic failures of the US (slavery, the Indian wars, the Southern “Redemption” and its century of post-slavery racial violence, the Vietnam War, etc.), and they also ignore basic successes of foreign states in establishing and maintaining strong democracies (Canada, Scandinavia, western Europe, Japan, etc.). But more disturbingly, they ignore the question of why America is supposed to be “exceptional,” and what the ramifications and responsibilities of exceptionalism are.

It is easy to be not just patriotic, but nationalistic. Nationalists pop up in every nation on Earth, each convinced fiercely of the mission that bears upon their nation, to make the world a better place by making it more like their own nation. Russians, Germans, Frenchmen, Britons, Chinese, Japanese, Iranians, Saudis, etc., each have a concept of nation that makes their nation “exceptional.” The ancient Romans did, as did the Spartans, Athenians, and ancient Persians, etc. That America is “exceptional” is ironically something that makes us like every other nation, and every other national identity, throughout history – like all individuals sharing the fact that we are all, indeed, individuals.

If, however, we are to interpret “exceptionalism” to mean being better, being destined for something greater, than it is a title that must be earned, and not just once but perpetually. If you got an A+ in the third grade, but have never again shined academically, you are not an “exceptional student.” If just once, in high school, you scored that awesome touchdown with which you continue to bore your friends, but never again accomplished any great athletic feats, you are not an “exceptional athlete.” A truly exceptional nation must continue to fight itself, fight its own demons and failures, and confront them while striving towards perfection; not merely content itself to be “good enough” or better than that one bad place in today’s news. Otherwise, it becomes merely a nation, like all others, that had its moment of glory but is now just another place to live.

So, if America is truly “exceptional,” what makes us so? Certainly not our record of failures, nor our neighbors’ record of successes, nor the fact that, like all nations, we are unique. Neither our declining productive capacity, nor our stagnating education system, our rotting infrastructure, nor our refusal to extend basic health-care without extensive personal costs, argue for some right to a mission; nor do our increasing militarization of our police and their own increasing aggressiveness in policing their communities.

Winthrop’s sermon on charity demonstrates exactly how the “exceptional” new community must be defined. He demonstrates that the Christian community (which conservatives consider the US to be) is Christian not because of the faith of its majority, but because of the charity of its work. Winthrop specifically argues the notion of social contract between the various members and classes of the community. The rich, who Winthrop argues have not their own talents to thank for their fortunes but the designs of God, are responsible for using their wealth, all of it, to care for the poor – to feed, house, clothe, and provide for them. Similarly, the poor have not their own faults to blame for their status, but the designs of God. So long as the rich live up to a promise of community and employ all possible tools and wealth to look after the poor, the poor are responsible for maintaining basic order and civility – not to revolt, or to steal, or otherwise commit violence. Winthrop is clear on the function of wealth in the City on a Hill: the expenditure of all wealth toward the alleviation of “every want or distress.” If that mission is not fulfilled, the poor are no longer “under contract” (so to speak) to remain humbly in servitude and quiescence.

So, when conservative pundits and politicians blame the poor for their “laziness”; or refuse to allocate funding for welfare, food support, or health care; or refuse to tax the wealthy (specifically and especially) to provide for these needs, when they argue against funding for education, when they call for “simple” or “fair” taxes, when they call for cuts on wealth taxes and estate taxes and on corporate taxes for the larger corporations, when they laud the wealthy and loathe the needy, they break the contract. In doing so, they earn, as Winthrop stated openly, the curses of the world, and of their own putative God Himself, and they diminish that special light by which the City on a Hill lights the darker places in the valley below.

On the other hand, when liberals argue for these services, argue for taxes on wealth, argue for a greater and deeper community of care and mutual provision, they are, indeed, fulfilling Winthrop’s mission, and building the City on a Hill. It is those who draw away from the worst nationalistic pride of “exceptionalism,” those Christians (like our Founding Fathers) who separate their worship from their politics, who earn the title of exceptionalism for America, and who demonstrate what Winthrop argued a holy Christian community and nation to be. Those of us who keep hammering away at our nation’s faults build our City; those who wave the flag while denying national flaws tear it down. Those of us who seek to level the playing field, who urge that corporations be held accountable and financially responsible for their actions (and for funding public support structures), fulfill Winthrop’s mission, and build the City. Those merely “proud of their country,” but hateful of their neighbors, distrustful of the poor and of people who look or act differently, those supporting the concentration of wealth and opposing taxes and social supports, have earned no right, for themselves or their nation, to be called either “exceptional,” or “Christian,” two terms they pretend to hold most dearly. Winthrop shows us that ultimately, the City on a Hill is an obligation, both political and moral, to advocate for those values that, in today’s dialogue, fall on the liberal side (or even the more openly leftist side) of the political spectrum.