Pulling a national rabbit from an imperial hat

“A remarkable aspect of the Revolution is that for almost seven years, the war was conducted by a government that, strictly speaking, had no governing powers. The wonder of this becomes all the sharper when one reflects that the war was both a struggle with Britain and an internal or civil war. No one has yet convincingly disputed the guess of John Adams that throughout the conflict at least one third of the Americans remained loyal to Great Britain. Another third were neutrals, people who didn’t much care who won and who never caught the spirit of ‘76 until after the definitive American victory at Yorktown in 1781. The Revolution was carried to its successful end by a mere third of the population.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

And still do

“The ‘Tidewater’—the broad coastal plain along the Atlantic—had spawned one kind of culture. The ‘upcountry’ beyond—the great central plateau or Piedmont and the mountains forming its western border—had engendered a far different one. Tidewater North Carolina was rich. Upcountry was poor. Tidewater was a land of rice and indigo plantations worked by armies of slaves. Upcountry was a warren of small farms, each tillable by ‘a man, a mule, and a nigger,’ provided all three worked from dawn to dusk. In the three lower colonies, the Carolinas and Georgia, the Tidewater planters controlled the legislature, made the laws, fixed the taxes, and dominated the courts.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

The ghosts that haunt us still

“Colonial policy had always been to exclude Negroes from militia service, but more often than not a need for soldiers had dictated a contrary practice. Many blacks had fought in the French and Indian War. As the dispute with Parliament neared breaking point, Negroes volunteered for the New England militia. All were accepted. . . . In the late fall of 1775 Southern delegates to Congress were complaining that the Continental Army had become ‘a refuge for runaway slaves.’ They insisted that the blacks already enrolled be dismissed and that future volunteers be turned down. The Congress at first rejected these proposals. Then the delegates reversed themselves to the extent of barring future enlistments. On this matter they would alter their position several times during the war. Meanwhile, in the face of changing official edicts, blacks continued to join both their local militia and the Continental Army.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

Same as it ever was

“This is the age of crime. I’m sure we all grant that. It’s the age, of course, of other things as well. Of the great chance, for instance, and the loss of faith, of the bureaucrat, and of technology. But from the highest public matters to the smallest private acts, the mugger, the embezzler, the burglar, the perjurer, tax chiseler, killer, gang enforcer, the plumber, party chairman, salesman, curator, car or TV repairman, officials of the union, officials of the corporation, the archbishop, the numbers runner, the delinquent, the police; from the alley to the statehouse, behind the darkened window or the desk; this is the age of crime.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

It hasn’t happened

“There never was a scheme against which objections might not be raised. But this alone is not a sufficient reason for rejection. The only line to judge truly upon, is, to draw out and admit all the objections which can fairly be made, and place against them all the contrary qualities, conveniences and advantages, then by striking a balance you come at the true character of any scheme, principle or position.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

Choose your poison, it chooses you

“Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a Government, which we might expect in a country without Government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest ; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expence and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.” – Thomas Paine, “Common Sense” (emphases in original)

From the specific to the general

“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which their affections are interested.” – Thomas Paine, “Common Sense”

Keeping and bearing

“The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The balance of power is the scale of peace. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside. And while a single nation refuses to lay them down, it is proper that all should keep them up. Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived of the use of them; for while avarice and ambition have a place in the heart of man, the weak will become a prey to the strong. The history of every age and nation establishes these truths, and facts need but little arguments when they prove themselves.” – Thomas Paine, “Thoughts on Defensive War” (emphases in original)

Going all goo-goo eyed

“Dignities and high sounding names have different effects on different beholders. The lustre of the Star and the title of My Lord, over-awe the superstitious vulgar, and forbid them to inquire into the character of the possessor: Nay more, they are, as it were, bewitched to admire in the great, the vices they would honestly condemn in themselves. This sacrifice of common sense is the certain badge which distinguishes slavery from freedom; for when men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.” – Thomas Paine, “Reflections on Titles” (emphases in original)

Just another industry

“Courts acknowledge that running a prison is an inordinately difficult undertaking that requires expertise, planning, and the commitment of resources, all of which are peculiarly within the province of the legislative and executive branches of government. Courts must therefore accord substantial deference to the professional judgment of prison administrators, who bear a significant responsibility for defining the legitimate goals of a corrections system and for determining the most appropriate means to accomplish them.” – Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, Koger v. Dart (internal quotes and citations omitted)

Form is function

“It is the essence of fascism to have no single fixed form—an attenuated form of nationalism in its basic nature, it naturally takes on the colors and practices of each nation it infects. In Italy, it is bombastic and neoclassical in form; in Spain, Catholic and religious; in Germany, violent and romantic. It took forms still crazier and more feverishly sinister, if one can imagine, in Romania, whereas under Oswald Mosley, in England, its manner was predictably paternalistic and aristocratic. It is no surprise that the American face of fascism would take on the forms of celebrity television and the casino greeter’s come-on, since that is as much our symbolic scene as nostalgic re-creations of Roman splendors once were Italy’s. What all forms of fascism have in common is the glorification of the nation, and the exaggeration of its humiliations, with violence promised to its enemies, at home and abroad; the worship of power wherever it appears and whoever holds it; contempt for the rule of law and for reason; unashamed employment of repeated lies as a rhetorical strategy; and a promise of vengeance for those who feel themselves disempowered by history. It promises to turn back time and take no prisoners. That it can appeal to those who do not understand its consequences is doubtless true. But the first job of those who do understand is to state what those consequences invariably are.” – Adam Gopnik, “Being Honest About Trump”

The good artist borrows, the best artist steals

“No one owns anyone’s culture, and that to believe otherwise is to deprive us of the human fullness and richness we all deserve. To reconcile this insight with an equally compelling American truth—that racial injustice is our inheritance and our responsibility—is the challenge for every artist and critic, black or white.” – George Packer, “Race, Art, and Essentialism”

The crux of the matter

“Race was—is—the fundamental American issue, underlying not only all matters of public policy (economic inequality, criminal justice, housing, education) but the very psyche of the nation.” – Nathaniel Rich, “James Baldwin & the Fear of a Nation”

Good luck, buddy

“Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.” —John Roberts, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice, at his son’s 9th grade commencement, June, 2017

Priorities and interpretations

“When the plain language of two statutes is conflicting, courts will attempt to construe them together if such a construction is reasonable. With that said, legislative intent remains paramount. To that end, the more specific statute controls over the general statute, and the more recently enacted statute prevails over the older statute.” – Justice Terrence J. Lavin, Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota v. Envirobusiness Inc., 2014 IL App (1st) 133575 (Nov. 5, 2014)

So be careful

“A master is not justified in putting his tow to every test which she will survive, if she be fit. There is a zone in which proper caution will avoid putting her capacity to the proof; a coefficient of prudence that he should not disregard.” – Judge Learned Hand, The T. J. Hooper, Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, 1932

Some other time

“The morning of the election I thought about what it means to vote for a woman. Voting for a woman felt like voting for respect, for tolerance, for justice, for peace, for empathy, for righteousness, for equality, for color, for movement, for understanding, for listening, for strength, for kindness, for hope, for openness, for braveness, for black lives, for gay rights, for emotion, for feeling, for spirit, for heart, for story, for making, for holding, for inclusivity, for love.” – Anna Dunn, “Lines of Resistance”

Proportionality

“When a person exercises a common right, without negligence or malice, to render such action a nuisance, and therefore to hold the defendant liable, it must be such an act in itself as to be a nuisance to all or to a majority of the persons living in the neighborhood, and not simply, by exceptional circumstances, to one person.” – Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Rogers v. Elliott, 146 Mass. 349 (1888)

Not to mention the MAD years

“There had been a deep and unsubtle optimism among Americans. The Great Depression and Pearl Harbor created a different sensibility that suspected that prosperity and security were an illusion, with disaster lurking behind them. There was a fear that everything could suddenly go wrong, horribly so, and that people who simply accepted peace and prosperity at face value were naïve. The two shocks created a dark sense of foreboding that undergirds American society to this day.” – George Friedman, “World War II and the Origins of American Unease”

 

Not so clever by half

“If there is a choice in explaining a government action between a Machiavellian, clever, ingenious plot to achieve that result and sort of blind, bumbling, well-meant incompetence, choose number two all the time.” – Admiral Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence (interviewed by Kathy Gilsinan in The Atlantic)

Distillation

“When we consider the nature and the theory of our institutions of government, the principles upon which they are supposed to rest, and review the history of their development, we are constrained to conclude that they do not mean to leave room for the play and action of purely personal and arbitrary power. Sovereignty itself is, of course, not subject to law, for it is the author and source of law; but in our system, while sovereign powers are delegated to the agencies of government, sovereignty itself remains with the people, by whom and for whom all government exists and acts. And the law is the definition and limitation of power. It is, indeed, quite true that there must always be lodged somewhere, and in some person or body, the authority of final decision; and in many cases of mere administration, the responsibility is purely political, no appeal lying except to the ultimate tribunal of the public judgment, exercised either in the pressure of opinion, or by means of the suffrage. But the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, considered as individual possessions, are secured by those maxims of constitutional law which are the monuments showing the victorious progress of the race in securing to men the blessings of civilization under the reign of just and equal laws, so that, in the famous language of the Massachusetts bill of rights, the government of the commonwealth ‘may be a government of laws and not of men.’ For the very idea that one man may be compelled to hold his life, or the means of living, or any material right essential to the enjoyment of life, at the mere will of another, seems to be intolerable in any country where freedom prevails, as being the essence of slavery itself.” – United States Supreme Court, Wo v. Hopkins