My Letter to America
American Political Dissent in 2017
Under the current American Republican government the people of the country, and the world, appear to have been motivated into a vocal and physical show of dissent, specifically and particularly, against the 45th President of the United States.
To dissent is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as to ‘hold or express opinions that are at variance with those commonly or officially held.’ Most dissenters lack political power and their persistence in vocalising their point of view, and calling for a change in the status quo, has often seen them labeled as unpatriotic. In the political arena, dissent is also categorised according to the party in power, and the origins of the dissenters.
Throughout the terms of different political parties in 21st century politics, dissent has variously been reported in the media as treason, obstruction, racist, or “the highest form of patriotism” – as noted in the presidential term of George W Bush.
Nonconformity and rebellion against the government is a means of resisting the control of established authority. Rebellion is seen negatively by those who desire to retain their positions of entrenched power, yet it is seen as justified and for the greater good by those engaging in the dissent. The right to dissent is the right of citizens throughout the world to meet up, organize themselves, and themselves heard in order to achieve political and social change and oppose government policies; legally citizens of America currently have this right to dissent without fear of impediment or reprisal. The 1964 case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, reinforced the law relating to modern-day dissent when it was stated that the First Amendment was a constitutional safeguard that “was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.”
The early seventeenth century English colonies of the Americas were founded on a tradition of dissent. In England there is a historical custom of organised dissent, particularly against the established church. From the 16th century onwards those who held different beliefs, opinions and views separated from the church and government and formed their own establishments and communities – some emigrated to America – also known as the ‘New World’. The historian, Ralph Young, noted in 2015, that we “need to recognize that dissent is American, that protest is patriotic. It is, in fact, one of the fundamental traits that define us.”
Rebellion is not just the property of the alienated, it can also be identified when unfair authority attempts to implement power structures that violate basic human rights; a contemporary example in shown in the behaviour of the 45th President of the United States, who continuously refuses to adhere to the norms and conventions of the office of PoTUS as he attempts to govern by social media and refuses to accept the power of other branches of government that disagree with his frequent edicts.
There appears to be a balance of irrational authority in the GOP administration that is focused on entrenching personal power and removing all obstacles that challenge the authority of the PoTUS.
There is a sense that the GOP administration is in institutional disarray and is guided by this irrational authority that seems to be based on the desire to retain undeserved privileges (promoting a family member’s product line from the White House), and unfair rights (breaching ethics laws), while entrenching structures of power to ensure the tyranny of abuse continues (granting privileged access to national security briefings to a confirmed political extremist).
It appears that the underlying motivation behind these actions from within the White House is to maintain and perpetuate unfair power balances where one group suffers and the other group continues to benefit and increase its position of strength. These actions indicate that the 45th President of the United States is experiencing the vulnerability of his position because he, like the rest of the USA and the world, are aware that his authority as PoTUS is not rational because he lacks any actual political skills or knowledge that should be employed for the benefit of those who lack these attributes.
While the 45th PoTUS appears to relish the public theatre of his new position, it appears he is trying to retain the control and behaviours of his previous jobs as a television reality show host and a business executive. However, the position and power of the PoTUS is regulated by the American Constitution (Article II, Sections 2 & 3), and is not merely ‘free-reign’ to manage public affairs as if the country were a business empire. As the head of the executive branch of government, all PoTUS’ are subjected to the constitutional duties which include ensuring all the nation’s laws are “faithfully exercised”; and important aspect of this fact is that legislation can only be enacted by Congress, it cannot be initiated solely by the PoTUS.
All new political administrations seek to make changes that reflect their particular standing, however, the current GOP administration is trying to implement actions that have been deemed unlawful by other branches of government. In the past three weeks many thousands of people have taken to the streets and to airports to demonstrate against the unfair partisan laws that the 45th PoTUS and his inner circle have tried to enforce without any factual basis.
There appears to be a plethora of unsubstantiated misinformation being shared from the press office, and the social media accounts of the current incumbents of the White House. This has reinforced the public’s determination to obtain truth and justice for all people, not just those in positions of power.
People generally object to a steam-roller type of administration – history shows that the tyranny of dictatorships are never accepted without resistance. The protests against this administration have been varied and frequent in nature, and the GOP administration has been openly hostile to any criticism of their plans and regularly address the press and general public with rancour. The First Amendment of the American Constitution prohibits Congress from passing a law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” it also protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” and their right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
However there is always hostility to dissent. Activists are frequently vilified and maligned for their opposing beliefs, however history often records them as heroes (Kirsten Gillibrand or Elizabeth Warren perhaps: the future will tell). Many people have united as communities of humanitarians against these unfair policies and unjustified legislation.
In April 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr wrote the following words from the jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was modelled on the tactics of previous dissenters and protesters. In a similar way, the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s used past protests to create their vision for a new future, founded in equality.
Henry David Thoreau – protesting a war with Mexico – also stated that when there is an unjust law, then it is the duty of every just man to break that law; a true patriot would not allow injustice to stand. As Thoreau wrote, “I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”
If continued dissent and resistance is the correct humanitarian action to take in any circumstance, then it must be done. Organise and resist.
© Marjorie H Morgan 12th Feb 2017