I am not a Native American or an aboriginal, but like them, I was born on Turtle Island. Turtle Island is North America. Not a country, not a residency for certain designated citizens based on an artificial border. It is a great continent with endless space that is bound only by the world’s greatest oceans. It is my home. My ancestors are buried here. My forefathers are remembered in place names all across the continent.
Why didn’t Geronimo just peacefully go live on the reservation when threatened by a superior force? Or Crazy Horse, or Sitting Bull, or Red Cloud? What happened to the Sioux Indian leader Big Foot and his people when they finally, compliantly, turned themselves over to the US army at Wounded Knee? Should they have fled across the border to Canada with many of their brothers and sisters? What do you think happened to the Indians who fled to Canada? Do you think they are better off in their tuberculosis-riddled reserves than the Indians in the US? Ask the Inuit in Davis Inlet. Ask the people spending their – what, third?- winter in leaky tents in Attawapiskat. Are they getting fair treatment by the Canadian government?
Every government tends toward tyranny, and they all see citizens as little more than geese useful only for repeated plucking.
But America is the only place – the only place – where the key question of the role that the government should play in men’s lives is openly, freely and peacefully debated, for the whole world to observe. The 2012 election is entirely about the answer to this question. Do you think this question is being asked about the Canadian government? Canadians often seem content to smirk at those crazy Americans who debate silly issues like taxing the rich, or whether to expand the fraud-ridden Medicare health program to everybody in order to achieve “universal health care” , or whether to raise the debt ceiling before the rating agencies downgrade America’s credit rating. Canadians sometimes observe this with – admit it – a sense of moral superiority over those Americans who think they are “exceptional”. But Canadians seem willing to submit to whatever their government does, because they think somehow that politicians know what is best for everybody, forgetting that the real argument about taxing the rich is protecting property rights for everyone, not plundering whoever has the most money this week; that the health care issue is about patients having choices about their own health, rather than accepting whatever restricted care the government says you get to have; and the debt ceiling debate was about the crucial issue of whether there is any limit to government spending of the people’s money. That is the major difference between our two countries – the clamorous debate in the US about crucial philosophical issues regarding the proper role and size of government.
The parliamentary system, which seems to be the most widespread form of democratic government in the world today, was formulated centuries ago so that, when the government fell, the new government would be chosen by the wealthy landowners, who often had land and money and power and armies that rivaled or exceeded the king’s. The ordinary people didn’t count, and they still count less today than ordinary people in the United States. Canadians only vote once every few years depending on when somebody else decides to hold an election. Canadians only elect a local representative, who owes fealty and loyalty to the head of their party. Elections in a parliamentary system result in serial dictatorships, unless there is a minority government, when the parliamentary goings-on are still only something the people observe and cannot often influence.
What is exceptional about America is not that the people are better, or that the government is wiser, or even that it is the richest and most powerful nation in the world – for now. Empires rise, and inevitably they fall. What is exceptional is the form of government, based on the documents we all know about: the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, powerfully reiterated by the Gettysburg Address. What is exceptional is the system of checks and balances, and the means of amending the Constitution, which were designed to keep the government in check and maximize the freedom of the people to live their lives as they please.
America is exceptional because it is the only country that was built on an idea, and that idea implies a promise. The idea is that all men and all women are created free and equal and that a proper government is one made up of freely elected peers, in which any citizen – * any * citizen – may run for public office. The promise is that because of that idea, anyone has the right to do whatever he or she chooses to do in order to improve her lot in life and live as she wishes, beholden to no monarch or officer or class structure for her future or her fortune. She is not promised happiness – only the lifelong freedom, the natural-born right to pursue it in her own way.
The arguments that are going on, in and outside of the US, about what the US government is doing are watched by a world in which most people are not free. These arguments teach people all over the world about what rights and freedoms they should *all* have. In many places in the world it is treason to even talk about how tyrannical the local government is. What happens in America matters, because if freedom and individual rights can be protected, maintained, and recovered when lost in America, then all people will see clearly what is possible to them.
These things are worth the battle. But I cannot be part of that fight, the fight to make every human being an exceptional one, if I renounce my American citizenship. There is simply no other country in the world where that sort of language is understood and honored and enshrined in its founding documents. If I renounce, I walk away from those words. I turn my back on that idea. I was born into that promise, and I intend to pursue it until my dying day.