The Turnof Papers:
A Nation of States: What’s the State of our Nation?
Warning: Not for the Politically & Historical Squeamish
America has been a diverse society since its inception, yet the writers of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, were white men. Some of whom owned slaves and were racists. When it came to the We the People, they openly debated which We would receive liberty and freedom. This simple fact has undeniably caused many problems from our country’s inception. Even after all of the historical bloodshed, and laws passed to clearly define that We as truly inclusive of all citizens, America is as divided as ever. A chasm that seems as large as the Grand Canyon and only getting bigger by the day. It’s evident everywhere, in obvious ways and not so obvious ways. Like in the hard political party stances on Trump vs. Biden and social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police. The rift is highlighted in the varying liberal and conservative criticisms of Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical and subsequent movie adaptation Hamilton*. By analyzing the divide, criticisms, and false truths of the most important political and pop culture moments of 2020 through a historical lens, the true ideologies of both sides are revealed. More importantly, the way to achieving a more perfect union is also revealed.
As a steadfast independent, I often feel like a middle child playing peacekeeper between two rival siblings with violent tendencies. I see politics and racism on a spectrum. I constantly wonder why so many Democrats call all Trump supporters and Republicans racists when the data shows otherwise? Conversely, where does the scaremongering socialist label that Republicans nonchalantly toss around really stem from? I will fully address the overtly racist Republicans and the socialist Democrats too. I also question why did so many conservatives blow their top when they watched our nation’s Founding Fathers portrayed by a black or brown actors in Hamilton? Why were some liberals ready to discard the play they once considered a beacon of inclusionary entertainment? Identity is the common thread that binds these issues. Looking at how each political party sees themselves, and view each other is the crux of understanding their differences.
HISTORY HAS ITS EYES (ON US)
Taken with a combination of killing power and fortuitous events, white Western European men like George Washington bloodily claimed this land. As idealized by conservatives, Pilgrims, Revolutionary War heroes, and the Constitutional writers are the Founding Fathers who gave birth to the country we live in today. Despite owning slaves (and sometimes being in favor of it), men like Thomas Jefferson were placed on a pedesta by Republicans. Hamilton’s purposeful cast of different ethnicities that portray these men visually defies their learned history. The Republicans and conservatives felt like their Founding Fathers were being visually and literally torn down in front of their eyes. Some justifiably, while others not so much.
Owning another human is just outright wrong, evil, and morally reprehensible. Slavery is the story of man and dates back to the very first civilizations. As societies and civilizations grew, so too did slavery around the world. Even cultures disconnected through time and history all somehow ended up with the same system of oppression. The world’s economic systems were built on slavery for ages. A country premised on “all men are created equal” was a pretty Avant-garde idea even though the application didn't match the philosophy. There’s a reason why it was called the American Experiment. No one knew what the results would be. The colony winning independence then sparked revolutions around the world, which greatly reduced and ultiamtely changed the still-present face of global slavery. The Founding Fathers’ efforts to create democracy can’t be minimized objectively, but conservatives must recognize the hypocrisy and suffering caused at their hands. Many other voices and hands equally helped gain America’s independence and ignited modern democracy.
America’s founders come in all ethnicities and sexes. Pilgrims like Albert Pearse, a black man who arrived in America around 1623 and served in the Massachusetts militia. Revolutionary War hero Salem Poor fought just as hard as Alexander Hamilton. He fought for independence without guarantee of freedom for his descendants. As did Civil War Hero Albert Cashier who was born a woman but fought and lived life as a man. Some may have even been intersex. Liberals consider these aforementioned men and women Founding Fathers and Mothers too. Why weren’t the same blessings of liberty originally given to these intrepid citizens? The answer isn’t as simple and reductive as labeling all the Founding Fathers as racists.
As previously mentioned, the world’s economic systems were built on slavery and the United States was sadly no different at its inception. But gaining independence from Britain, creating and sustaining a government premised on the concept of equality, abolishing slavery, and crafting an entirely new economic system is an impossible accomplishment in one generation. Anti-slavery abolitionists like Benjamin Franklin and John Jay stated that the next generations would need to force America to live up to these ideals of equality and extricate the country from the bonds of slavery. They still tried in their time though. The debates at the very same 1787 Constitutional Convention depicted in the Broadway show led to the 1808 Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves. Other laws like the 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery showed many of the Founding Fathers also fought for all to gain their freedom back then. Why didn’t the most beloved of them all, the first president George Washington, who created so many presidential precedents, leave a final one to show his true nature?
George Washington’s view on slavery evolved throughout the years. He wasn’t ready to end slavery while President on a personal or presidential level. Washington knew the country was a powder keg ready to explode if he used dictatorial powers to end slavery. The country would have ripped at the seams when it was just sewn together. In Washington’s will, he left directions to free all of the slaves that he owned after Martha Washington’s death. The only Founding Father to set his slaves free. Fifty yards south from Washington’s tomb at his old estate Mount Vernon is the Slave Cemetery that holds the remains of these all-too important unknown founding figures in the country’s history. Personal servant William Lee was named specifically in his to receive a yearly stipend for the remainder of his life for his “faithful services during the Revolutionary War.” Part valet, butler, huntsman, and bodyguard, William Lee was the first person in the will called out by name after George and Martha even before even other family members. The pair practically spent every day together for nearly two decades. Lee accompanied Washington through thick and thin, to the First Continental Congress, the war, the Constitutional Convention and even as president when William was barely able to walk. One of the bodies in the Slave Cemetery is most likely William Lee who chose to spend the remainder of his days at Mount Vernon after the president died. But not all of Washington's slaves were as blessed with liberty because half of the 319 slaves were never freed for a variety of reasons (11). Washington's freeing of his slaves acts as a public statement, but doesnt atone him of the horrible suffering he caused and hypocrisy. It does provide a glimpse into the historical gray areas and evolving opinions of many of the Founding Fathers.
In Hamilton, George Washington all too appropriately sings the song History Has Its Eyes on You. The lyrics are a reference to being judged from the future for your actions with a subtle wish for historical context. It’s hard to determine the true feelings of men like Thomas Jefferson who wrote the constitution, yet owned slaves. He never remarried after his wife's death, but then fathered six children with his slave Sally Hemmings. Were all slave-owning Founding Fathers racists? I don’t think the answer is a simple yes. Each one needs to be taken case by case. Similarly, not everyone who voted for Donald Trump is automatically a racist. Nor are all Democrats actually socialists as provocatively labeled by Republicans. The name calling is not only a window into the past, present, and future of political parties, but into the horrors of racism and how to combat it.
“History obliterates in every picture it paints,
it paints me in all my mistakes.”
THE WORD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
Different images of Trump voters have been perpetuated over the past four years. He has racist voters who are no doubt the most visible and loudest, but they actually make up a smaller number than propagated by the media and perceived by liberals. According to Pew Research Center, one third of Trump’s voters were black and Hispanic combined. This data shows that not everyone who voted for Trump is an uneducated gun toting, Confederate flag wearing Nazi from Alabama. Some ARE just gun-toting racists like Proud Boys’ leader Enrique Tarrio, an ironically racist POC. But in 2020, Donald actually received 11 million more votes. To think all or most Trump voters are racists would be statistically foolish. I would never try to get into the head of celebrity Trump supporters like Kanye West, but many of your favorite POC sports stars and celebrities squash that all racist narrative. Lil Wayne, Mariano Rivera, Johnny Damon, Tito Ortiz, and 50 cent all come from varying backgrounds, yet openly support Trump. I suspect that they and many of their white counterparts are not racists, but are similar to Trump’s wealthy supporters. They have enjoyed their healthy tax breaks as well as the laws passed during the Trump presidency that were financially friendly towards the upper class. However, the majority of Trump’s voters aren’t elites. They are ordinary, hard-working citizens like my father.
My dad is a retired NYPD officer who's had partners of different ethnicities become lifelong friends. He entrusted his life in the hands of black, Asian, and Latino officers and vice versa. In the 80s and 90s, he wasn’t a fan of either Trump or his lapdog Rudy Giuliani. As a child, I remember him putting the fear of God in me against guns that still somewhat lingers in the present. How did a former Democrat become a loyal Republican and vote for Trump twice? His reasons for voting for Trump are not only a reflection of the other ordinary citizens who voted for Donald, but also a recycled political stance stemming from the days of Hamilton.
Trump won in 2016 and came close again in 2020 because of the white working class voter foundation, moderates and independents, and fringe elements of society. The one thing they all have in common is a disgust for both parties. The white working class base are the same people who once gave Bill Clinton the victory. Many have now converted to the GOP like my dad. Trump also tapped into the disenfranchisement and fear of government corruption that united all of these voter bases. Donald was going to drain the swamp of politicians who were willfully ignoring the rights and needs of the average citizen. The last thing these voters wanted was a career politician like Hillary who was bought off by the lobbyists. Despite the irony that Trump was the one delivering the message - an ultra-rich elite who showed contempt for the ordinary person and openly bucked the government and tax laws. Trump knows how to deliver his message; he sticks to it like glue, and beats it like a drum. Similarly, the conservatives beat the drum of calling anyone a socialist who challenges their worldview. It’s the same two drums that have been pounding since the ratification of the Constitution, but in a rewrapped package.
Rush Limbaugh would have called Alexander Hamilton a commie or socialist if the two ever verbally sparred. Today’s Democrats and liberals generally lean toward a more empowered federal government to regulate the economy and provide welfare services through higher taxes. Outside of the fact that nearly every other civilized first world country provides it without batting an eye, Republicans need to rationalize this as socialism. This goes back further than the World War II years fighting Nazis and communists. It dates much earlier than the start of New Deal programs, Social Security and Medicare. The first political party of the nation, Federalists, wanted a strong national government (and a weak state government) to help manage the economic and political issues and tension that arose from the American Revolution. Federalists like Alexander Hamilton created policies and tax laws to assist citizens with economic struggles. Most of their voter base came from urban areas. Today’s democrats and liberals are yesterday’s Federalists.
Today’s Republicans are yesterday’s Anti-Federalists, the other original political party. Both support a smaller Federal government, greater states’ rights, and lower taxes. Their voter base is largely from rural areas. They are essentially the same people who didn’t want to be taxed because of Britain’s government. Their leader was Thomas Jefferson, who received the most screen time in Hamilton. In the play, Thomas Jefferson echoed similar feelings about Hamilton’s new financial plan as nothing less than government control. Anti-Federalists were also at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 railing against ratification of the Constitution. Ironically, it was their efforts that directly led to the strengthening of the Constitution with the creation of the Bill of Rights.
Federalist. Democrat. Liberal. Antifederalist. Republican. Conservative. Whatever name you use is just a historical regurgitation. Since we are sadly seemingly bound to a two party system based on these ideologies, we need to work together. The solution is found in both the conservative and liberal perspective, and the Democratic and Republican frame of mind. By doing so, we can truly start reconciling with our racist history and present.
“The Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”
THE USA IS WIDE ENOUGH
Politics and racism is a spectrum. Not all Republicans and conservatives are your enemies. Not all liberals and Democrats are your enemies. If you look at someone like the enemy, then they become one. What we expect, we are liable to see. Both parties need to understand that they are not diametrically opposed and have commonalities if we scratch the surface. Our main commonality is today’s racists and the violent seditionists at Capitol Hill, who tried to burn down the democracy that we built together. On 1/6/21, our original sin of racism and its hideous contemporary relative were on full display for our country and the world to see. As much as we want to match their vicious efforts, we must remember that violence only begets violence. We will have to lawfully combat these insurgents somehow by working together. That means many different things and it begins with both sides facing hard truths.
No one wants to be called a racist, but conservatives and Republicans can’t bury their heads in the sand anymore about how some members of their party are racist. Racism is a spectrum and both parties are on it. Some don’t realize how they’re unknowingly contributing too by merely tolerating it. One party much more than the other. It starts with a realistic look at the Founding Fathers who were human and they made mistakes, but you can’t ignore the obvious contradictions. Many Republicans and conservatives recognize the historical horrors of racism in America, but don’t want to see that it’s an everlasting legacy that started with the Founding Fathers they have put on a pedestal. Since the moment of America’s birth, the Writers’ of the supreme law of the land purposely did not include POC. Consequently, 80% of the population in 1776 was ineligible to vote as determined by them. Excluding nonwhites from voting was then violently and legislatively perpetuated throughout the country. For example, South Carolina police forces are rooted in slave patrols. This is the definition of systematic racism and it lingers today. They started an endless circle of vengeance and death with no defendants. Conservatives can’t turn their heads from the many Confederate flags being waved at Capitol Hill. In addition, labeling someone a socialist is like calling George Washington a communist. The same Founding Fathers who owned slaves said that it will be up to future generations to hold the country’s feet to the fire.
Liberals can’t tear down the achievements of all Founding Fathers despite some of them having slaves. Democrats have to accept that not every Trump supporter or Republican is a neo Nazi, whether at Capitol Hill or not. Politics is a spectrum like racism. There are nuances, gray areas, people stuck in the middle for one reason or the other. Your aim should be to work with the hundreds of Republican politicians who refused to support Trump since 2016. Look at it this way, more Republicans in the Senate actually voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than Democrats Remember it was Trump who called the National Guard for the Black Lives Matter protest at the Lincoln memorial, not the entire GOPs. Your goal should be to have conversations with those who don’t recognize how they are contributing to racism. You need to get these people behind you especially when many have similar social justice sentiments despite the assumptions.
Social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police are fulfilling the inherent goals of the Founding Fathers and Mothers. Conservatives must understand these movements are extensions of the Civil Rights movement and fulfilling our Founding Fathers’ mandate of equality. BLM and Defund the Police supporters can’t ostracize and cut down someone who doesn’t outright support the social justice movements. There are gray areas to consider. There are people like me, who has suffered police abuse, yet is also a son of a retired police officer. Personally, as someone who attended antiracist protests as a young man, I wholeheartedly believe in Black Lives Matter, but find it hard to give outright support to Defund the Police. There are Republicans, and even many police officers, that also echo the same exact sentiments of these social justice movements. By being so rigid, you’re hurting your own cause. Liberals need to recognize that laws need to support these movements to give it real substance. To achieve the ultimate goals of these social movements, you’ll need to get people on your sides that are already your side. I’ll give you an example on how to turn the tide through compromise.
Defund the Police is a slogan that leaves a lot left to be desired. Nowhere nearly as definitive as “Jim Crow Must Go” or “Love, Not War.” Words matter. If you have to explain to someone that it really means another thing, then it’s probably not a great name. Furthermore, there’s not a universal agreement on objective by all supporters on whether to abolish or reallocate. Liberals have to accept that reforming the police doesn’t mean taking away money either. It definitely doesn’t mean abolishing the police. It may even mean increasing funds to police to achieve their goals. Conservatives want the police around so eradication is out of the picture, but they will also have to accept that the (possibly increased) money allocated to the police should be reallocated for increased pay, better background system checks, and various forms of diversity training. Not the recent push of militarization. Public accountability is also an absolute must. Bad and racist cops can’t be allowed to continue working. By doing so, the police force will attract more educated people who generally want to be paid well. Educated people, more importantly, tend not to be racist. Republicans and conservatives who decry security can’t because internal security has been strengthened. The only way that the social justice movements can achieve their ultimate goal is through state and federal funding.
Similar support from both sides like the Civil Rights Act will be essential. Sometimes it could just be a simple name change. The Reform the Police Act could be more digestible to conservatives than something like the Act of Defunding the Police. The ultimate goal of these social justice movements is to reduce police violence (particularly toward POC) and to have money generated into other social services. Republicans and conservatives have to accept that these social services are necessary in a civilized society. Here’s another example of a political tradeoff where both sides secure the ideals they hold most dear.
Currently, the United States annual military spending is nearly $1 trillion dollars. China and Russia don’t even combine to spend HALF of what the United States spends. For some reason, I don’t envision Putin quivering in his boots because Russia only spends $65 billion on annual military spending. Taking a mere percentage (3%) of the military spending to reallocate for social services and police training could achieve an unheralded common good without realistically sacrificing the national security of our citizens. Both sides win when conversation and compromise happens. Democracy, equality, and freedom can move forward.
Healing the wounds of history’s wrongs that remain today is a possibility. Truth, justice and the American way is an achievable creed if both sides are willing to accept the past and meet at the middle ground in the present. Our democracy is a social contract signed by two parties. The racists, insurrectionists, and extremists will burn it to the ground if we don’t come together NOW. Civil discourse and the supreme law of the land truly lived up to, is the only we’re going to achieve a perfect union. History has its eyes on us, but more importantly, we have our hands on history.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.
Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”