It scares the hell out of me to publish this the day before the American presidential election, but a lot of people are interested in reading it and I promised. Please do not judge me too harshly. I wrote it because it was homework.
How Our Government Has Failed Us, and What We Should Do About It
The American people are living in a period of time that is frustrating, stressful, and emotionally draining. Many of us, myself included, have cited the desire—more than once—to give up. To hide. To drink with our friends or read our favorite book as an escape during the presidential debates. This is the role of government in our society. A system that directly causes its citizens to dread its presence, as if we are children at Christmastime, avoiding that great aunt who pinches our cheeks without our permission. But if we are to be successful as a thriving country with the foundational basis of freedom, we cannot just close our eyes and cringe. We have to be strong and tell Aunt Ginny no, you have pinched my cheeks too many times and I have had enough. I don’t like you anyway. We must stand up for what we know to be right, which is, and has always been the right to be free and unchained by a government that does not do the right thing for its people. We have a right to live happily in our society by feeling empowered to accept nothing less than the best for our people, which is to accept nothing less for ourselves and our children.
Lao-Tzu, the rumored author of the Tao-te Ching, was an enlightened man who is believed to be slightly older than Confucius. Though the Tao-te Ching cannot be defined or categorized as a thing such as a guide or book, it does offer advice to a leader or politician of a successful country. At the time, Lao-Tzu—or “The Master”—defined much of what we are currently dealing with in the United States as robbery and chaos:
“When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn—
all this is robbery and chaos” (29).
As we fast-forward to November 2016 in the United States, we translate the prospering rich speculators to the white people, and the poor having nowhere to turn, to the non-white. White privilege exists, whether or not the rich (whites) are willing to admit it and the poor (non-whites) are willing to accept it. These standards were unacceptable for a budding and prosperous country according to Lao-Tzu two-thousand years ago, and it should be unacceptable now. It is, as the Tao-te Ching suggests, chaos.
It would not seem that Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian aristocrat born in 1469, is very well liked for his pessimistic views in The Qualities of the Prince. The text is directed at a ruler to give leadership advice, but nobody can tell for sure if it is supposed to be taken sarcastically or not. Regardless, though, Machiavelli, in his most acclaimed work, highlights the importance of a leader being well-liked amongst the people. When Machiavelli gives advice on avoiding being hated, he presents, “…concerning his subjects, when external affairs do not change, he has to fear that they may conspire secretly: the prince secures himself from this by avoiding being hated or despised and by keeping the people satisfied with him; this is a necessary matter, as was treated above at length. And one of the most powerful remedies a prince has against conspiracies is not to be hated by the masses…(51)”. Clearly, Machiavelli warns against being despised in order to run a country wherein the people feel satisfied with its leader, and ultimately, its direction and growth within society.
In direct contrast of the guidance that Machiavelli has provided, the current republican and democratic nominees for President of the United States—Republican Candidate Donald Trump and Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton—have broken the records for being disliked by the American people. The results of a 2016 study show that there has never been any candidate so strongly disliked as Trump and Clinton are this year, further showing that what our government is doing—who they are and how they represent us—is unacceptable. We don’t like them, and we’re not quiet about it.
Thomas Jefferson—an American Founding Father who wrote The Declaration of Independence and served as the third President of the United States—believed that the American people had a right to pursue happiness—one of the great inalienable rights—and that a government that did not serve that right was worth replacing. In The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson writes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed (80)”.
Are all men created equal? We must first look at the Black Lives Matter movement to answer such a question, and ask ourselves why this revolution mattered in the first place if all people are—or ever have been—created equal.
Some people—the people who don’t believe white privilege exists, the translated “poor” in Lao-Tzu’s worldview as earlier defined—only see Black Lives Matter a movement where a bunch of people share a meme on Facebook and a bunch of white people claim that all lives matter. But this civil rights movement is actually much more sophisticated and successful. In May 2015, Black Lives Matter activists were granted a meeting with Hillary Clinton, which was concluded as “respectful” by Worcester, Massachusetts Chapter Founder Julius Jones. These people—who have been prejudiced as low-income, dangerous, stereotyped criminals—are the ones who have made a difference, who have made our government their audience and have commanded exposure and attention to their cause. There is one thing to be learned from this revolution when we talk about Jefferson’s vision and whether or not the American people are intelligent enough or strong enough as one people to create a new government when necessary, and that is that our working class can accomplish just as much as presidential candidates with money and media exposure, just like these activists did, if they have the passion to do so. But passion comes with perseverance, and we as the people cannot persevere if we do not accept the fact that role our government is playing in our society is unacceptable and understand that that only matters if we do something about it.
Heeding the advice of our forefathers and even those distanced from our country, we can see that the role of government has failed us, and will continue to do so if there isn’t a drastic change made by those most severely affected. Though Lao-Tzu and Machiavelli have identified the severe problems this country currently faces with their early writings—societal and national problems that can be directly applied to our current situation—it is Jefferson, through our own Declaration of Independence, who has identified our right to do something about it. His guidance is the basis for which will make this country “great again”, not the ideas of two current candidates who are not wholeheartedly accepted by our people. We shouldn’t have to pick the lesser of two evils. We can prove, with the lessons of Lao-Tzu, Machiavelli, and Jefferson, that we are not currently running as an efficient, successful, or developmental country; we can prove that we are not treated equal and we are not happy with our leaders, and we should demand change. And we can, just like Black Lives Matter has. We only have to believe that we have the power to do the right thing and when we accept that like Jefferson did, everything is possible.
Lao-Tzu “Thoughts from the Tao-te Ching.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. 8th ed. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 24-33. Print.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. “The Qualities of the Prince.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. 8th ed. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 39-52. Print.
Jefferson, Thomas. “The Declaration of Independence.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. 8th ed. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 80-83. Print.
FiveThirtyEight. “Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump and Clinton Is Record-Breaking.” http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/americans-distaste-for-both-trump-and-clinton-is-record-breaking/
New Republic. “Black Lives Matter Arrives on Hillary Clinton’s Doorstep.” https://newrepublic.com/article/122524/blacklivesmatter-activists-disrupt-hillary-clinton-event
Dead State. “This comic will change the way you look at privilege forever.” http://deadstate.org/youll-never-see-privilege-the-same-way-again-after-looking-at-this-comic/