When a white man kills an Indian in a fair fight it is called honorable, but when an Indian kills a white man in a fair fight it is called murder. When a white army battles Indians and wins it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre and bigger armies are raised.
— Chiksika, Shawnee (as recorded by Allan Eckert)
Chiksika was the elder brother of the famous Indigenous leader Tecumseh. Though not as famous as his younger sibling he was no less a dedicated resistance fighter. He had watched their father, Pukeshinwa, fall in the Battle of Point Pleasant fighting the encroachment of the Virginia colonist during Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774. For over a decade he would lead Shawnee warriors in their struggle against American expansion while training his younger brother to succeed him.
Years of struggle had thoroughly familiarized Chiksika with the duplicity of white diplomacy; the above statement, however, is not an indictment of this deceit but rather an insight into something more fundamental. What the Shawnee and all people struggling against colonialism have come to understand is they faced more than simple falsehoods but rather a conscience inversion of reality. It was not an American attempt to convince us of the worth of their cause but rather an unquestioned endorsement of their actions.
It is, of course, not just a historic occurrence but an everyday reality in the world of neoliberal imperialism. In February of 2016 the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned in no uncertain terms the bombing of two hospitals in Syria by forces allied to Bashar al-Assad. Kerry blamed Russian forces directly for the casualties and implied that their military’s use of “dumb bombs” had caused the incident. Missing from Secretary Kerry’s speech was any sense of empathy or irony. This is interesting in light of the fact that a mere five month prior to these bombings in Syria a Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) trauma center was destroyed in Kunduz, Afghanistan by U.S. forces.
This was the perfect illustration of the mindset Chiksika spoke of, the bending of reality to the narrative of the conqueror. That an American AC-130 gunship had taken the lives of 30 patients and doctors in October of 2015 was conveniently missing from the condemnations of Russian aggression in February of 2016. Somehow the transgressions of “our” side are fundamentally different from the transgressions of “their” side.
It is the dualism at the heart of political philosophies across the globe, the good versus bad proclamations that are more contingent on the perspective of the speaker than to any universal sense of morality. While we seem more aware of this rhetoric during the reign of the current administration that cages children and bribes foreign leaders in broad daylight it was important to begin our discussion citing more enlightened leadership.
While we can see many examples comparing the harshness of president Trump to the more gentile edges of a president Obama it is important not to lose sight of the fallout from so-called liberal policies. We decry the treatment of asylum seekers on our southern border but we never seem to look back at events such as the Honduran coup d’état that drove the populous president Zelaya from power ushering in a repressive regime that has, to a great degree, spawned the Central American political diaspora; a coup supported by the Obama administration. Nor are we critical of the embrace of the doctrine of regime change by liberal governments, both in America and in Europe, which destabilized Libya and Syria spawning a refugee crisis that bolstered the repressive policies of the likes of Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Viktor Orban.
Much is made of the contrast between the hawkish right wing and the progressive left wings of competing political ideologies worldwide but the reality lies in a more centrist outlook that fuels the perpetual motion of the capitalist system that drives the western democracies. The absurdity of the Trump administration has revealed more than just a self-absorbed criminal in the white house it has pulled back the curtain to reveal the rot within the foundation. There is a lie deep in the heart of what we are told is a commitment to truth and freedom.
While there is the potential for virtue in the heart of man, evident in historic figures as diverse as Gautama Buddha and Harriet Tubman, such goodness does not lie in the pursuit of the power of capital. It was this drive for riches and the power they purchase by a tiny segment of earths’ population that sent Christopher Columbus out from a Spanish port and spawned the struggle of oligarchy for dominance that continues five centuries later.
The western chronicle of the advancement of democratic ideals and traditions is a story indoctrinated into the minds of generations after generations extolling the righteousness of western civilization. The rhetoric of religious conservatives today equates Christianity with capitalism and uses terms such as communism and socialism the same way a priest would use devil and demons. While those of a more progressive political outlook dismiss this as pandering to low information voters the truth is that historically the pursuit of riches for the ruling classes was made easier by the carriers of the cross. The roots of today’s prosperity gospel amongst American fundamentalist can be traced back to the crowns of Europe that sent fleets of plunderers out to ravage the “Wretched of the Earth.”
Here, on the ground, in the indigenous communities there are far too many inconsistencies in the narrative of American freedom. The Father of their country was the “Town Destroyer” to the Iroquois, the burner of villages and the killer of women and children. The emancipator of slaves was the man who sentenced 39 Dakota men to the gallows for the crime of defending their people and struggling for their land. And so it was through history and so it continues today as wealth flows through pipelines contaminating the remnants of native lands while it enriches the coffers of descendants of kings and bankers.
Manifest Destiney consumed the land base of the indigenous peoples of the Americas providing the resources and capital to build a global economic power. Tribes and nations were destroyed in the pursuit of riches beginning in 1492 and continuing beyond the official end of the “Indian Wars” in 1890. Those that survived, heirs to broken treaties, continue their struggle for human rights.
Slavery advanced the engine of the American economy till it was finally abolished in 1865 but it was not replaced by the fair-minded ideals of Reconstruction. Instead the southern aristocracy that survived the Civil War, allied with northern oligarchs, pushed to end Reconstruction in the 1870s and brought about the Jim Crow system that denied the descendants of slaves equality and initiated the continued struggle for civil rights.
The bold experiment in democracy that began in 1776 was fueled, in large part, by the desires of colonial land speculators to access native lands beyond the restricted line set by King George in the Proclamation of 1763. Slavery was acquiesced to as long as it was required by the fledgling agricultural economy. The dictates of capital has always had a central role in defining the parameters of freedom.
There are, of course, those virtuous voices that cry out for the promises of freedom laid out in high sounding words such as “all men a created equal.” Voices that point to the truth that such fundamental prescriptions as universal health care, clean air and water, low or no-cost education, and housing should be the hallmarks of our civilization. These voices are constantly drowned out by the cries of the affluent that either mock these aspirations as hollow idealism or decry them as the evil of socialism.
The fallacy of centrism is that it represents a stepping stone towards a more progressive ideal when it actually is an enabler of neo-liberalism. Progressive policies that actually manage to be implemented such as the Voting Rights Act are precariously situated within the system and targeted by regressive forces till they are eventually eliminated. Common sense repairs for the problems with systems such as Medicare and Social Security are never seriously pursued because their eventual failure will serve to further enrich the assets of the capitalist hierarchy.
The question for our time is not how do we get rid of Donald Trump but rather how do we fundamentally change the system that created him and those of his ilk. How do we raise those virtuous voices above the constant clatter of political rhetoric and give substance to the real aspirations of the common man. How do we set in stone the promises of a system that has had the ability to bring equality but not the political will?
It is worth remembering the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a child of oligarchy who saw beyond his lofty station in life to the needs of the masses below him.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights — among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however — as our industrial economy expanded — these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.