The U.S. of A. is called the United States of America for a reason.
It has to do with the fundamental reality that succeeding as a democracy in a world filled with power-hungry thugs and evil-minded people requires some real ability to work together; to be united.
This is not a new concept in human history. In fact, it involves one of the simplest and most basic strategies used by adversaries of all sizes and shapes, the old notion of “divide and conquer.”
The recognition of this by our Founding Fathers is among their most important contributions, including a serious appreciation for the insidious nature of their enemies’ devices for breaking down the solidarity of their foes.
Take the Pledge of Allegiance, something we repeat by rote memorization so often that we don’t hear the words coming out of our own mouths:
“We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God*, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The phrase, “under God,” was added during the height of the McCarthy red scare period in our history in 1954, when right-wing zealots were looking for ways to prove anyone not like themselves was a commie, and bullied Congressmen to add this phrase as proof they weren’t. The term would have been anathema to the Founding Fathers, who held the separation of church and state as a powerful tool to advance the cause of democracy.
Technically, the “under God” phrase was found unconstitutional by a circuit court in San Francisco in the 1990s, and that ruling has never been overturned by a higher court. Everybody is still afraid to take on what they now fear must be the Almighty, him (her? Non-binary?) self. I never utter it when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but nobody notices.
Besides the issue of the separation of church and state, another important reason the phrase “under God” is un-American has to do with where it is placed in the Pledge. It is inserted between the words “one nation” and “indivisible.”
Those three words taken together, as originally intended, constitute a powerful affirmation of what the U.S. of A. is all about. “One nation, indivisible!” Trying saying it that way. As a kid, I got a kick out of saying, “Invisible,” from time to time, but I was not happy when we all suddenly had to break the train of thought of the Pledge with the intervention of the phrase, “under God.”
I used to stare at the strange way the cursive alphabet posted above the chalk boards around the classroom told us how a “Q” was supposed to look. That’s weird, I thought, and did so for years. So, I tried replacing “under God” with “that’s weird,” at least at first.
In fact, this nation would not have succeeded, especially in the years after Yorktown, if the Founders had not convinced the 13 colonies who rebelled that they should form a solid and firm union.
The genius of the writers of the Federalist Papers, 85 of them mostly done by Alexander Hamilton but also by James Madison and three by John Jay, and published under the pseudonym “Publius” in various newspapers around the colonies, argued for the ratification of the new U.S. Constitution in 1788.
Masters of psychological warfare methods even back then, the British saw their hope in reversing the effect of the American Revolution to take the form of chipping away at the differences between the colonies, different interests, economies and attitudes towards, for example, slavery. Divide and conquer!
The more progressive of the Founders knew that bringing to realization the radical vision of the Declaration of Independence, that “All men (everyone) are created equal,” would take a while to realize fully, but that it had to begin with forging a union of states dedicated to democratic principles that could withstand ongoing pressure from their former colonial oppressors.
So the Federalist Papers were, at their core, a grand argument for “uniting the states,” and making them “one nation indivisible.”
(To be continued)
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]