National Commentary

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness

There is no point in rehashing the tired arguments that worked on the current U.S. Supreme Court to thrust us, ankles up, back to the 1950s if not centuries before. There is nothing virtuous or valid about the decisions that have so callously stripped all women of their right to autonomy on matters concerning her own body, that abolished Biden’s student loan forgiveness program and has suddenly threatened millions with financial ruin, that granted a business owner the right to deny services to an entire class of persons even though it was not in response to any particular perceived offense, and ended the exercise of “affirmative action” to help ensure that culturally-driven financial hardships do not prevent some among our most brilliant young people from getting the education that will be to the benefit of our entire society and the world.

This Supreme Court is an abomination. If humanity somehow and someday works it way past this current mess, this season’s decisions will collectively be denounced as worse than the Dred Scott or other pro-slavery Supreme Court rulings of our regrettable past that it cost over 600,000 young American lives lost to a bloody Civil War to set right.

Now is not then, it is worth reminding ourselves, and a comparable outcome now would make the Civil War seem like a junior high picnic. Yet, it seems there is no way forward that would avert this except for a powerful blow, done as a good thing, to the American psyche. Aliens, if you hear this, can you do something to help us out here?

These backward-driven actions by the Supreme Court have done far more to damage the American spirit than 911 ever did. The latter event provoked a rally of the American spirit, but these court decisions just leave the vast majority of Americans flummoxed. The 911 attack came against us. The Supreme Court has represented an attack from within.

Yes, the Supreme Court needs to be expanded to one justice per federal court circuit, the way it was done in the 1860s. It is a desperately needed step, because the horrible moves by the current SCOTUS majority are not going to be stopped any other way.

It is not lost on me that Princeton professor Johnathan Israel, whose tomes written on the Enlightenment and its role in the American revolution are invaluable,  followed them up with one entitled, “The Enlightenment That Failed.”

Prof. Israel argued that around 1840 the Enlightenment zeal behind the Declaration of Independence and U.S. The Constitution had begun to dissipate. In my view, the 1828 election of the regrettable Andrew Jackson might have been the turning point. Imported nihilism and cynicism led soon to the War Between the States, despite the best efforts of one of the few good guys left, Sen. Henry Clay, to delay the inevitable for 30 years to a time when Clay’s protege, Abe Lincoln, was equipped with the means to fight against the British-inspired national schism.

The Trump Supreme Court majority today is philosophically rooted in a combination of pre- and post-Enlightenment thinking, with Justice Alito citing a 13th century case.

The profound implication underlying the U.S. Constitution, of an individual’s  “inalienable right” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” was a unique and explicit affirmation that grew out of the Enlightenment and, of course, formed the basis for the American Revolution, the successful prosecution of the Civil War and the steadfast expansion of human rights to protect women, minorities, gays and lesbians, and all disadvantaged people and classes.

Every great expansion of American influence globally, at least into the 1970s, has been based on this fundamental Enlightenment notion.

For the good of humanity as a whole, these notions have knocked repressive and hateful practices on their collective keesters around the world for well over a century.       

So, it is up to us, in this time and this place, to set things right yet again. Humanity needs to be steeled in its resolve to achieve this outcome, drawing on the best works in literature, poetry, song and philosophy, from the eras that created and fought for this constitutional democracy.