Even as they celebrated the Fourth of July this week, Americans recognized that their country is being tested by a monarchical president and a robber-baron Congress that is bent on taking from the poor and giving to the rich. These contemporary Tories govern with such swashbuckling disregard for democracy and the rights of the great mass of Americans that it is easy to be discouraged.
Easy, but inappropriate.
There was much more to be discouraged about when the American colonies pondered their relationship to King George III and the British Empire. Yet 241 years ago this summer, Tom Paine saw only possibility.
This is why Americans who know their history celebrate Paine's resolve on July 4. It is a day when we are reminded of what visionary and progressive Americans can accomplish when they reject the petty preachments of elites and choose to become their own governors.
As Americans moved tentatively toward their fateful declaration of independence in the mid-1770s, it was Paine who urged them to embrace the revolutionary spirit of an enlightened age and to get on with the cutting of the colonial bond.
“The cause of America,” Paine wrote, "is in great measure the cause of all mankind.”
The very future of freedom depended on it.
Yes, of course, the pursuit of liberty was frightening — especially when its pursuit was sure to inspire the mad wrath of King George III. “(But) like all other steps which we have already passed over,” Paine suggested to the colonials, “(affronting the king and his empire) will in a little time become familiar and agreeable: and until an independence is declared, the continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with thoughts of its necessity.”
Confronting unjust and unpopular rulers is always difficult.
But the necessity of such confrontation remains constant across our history.
That does not mean, however, that everyone is up to the task.
Just as there were many 18th century Americans who knew that King George III and his aristocratic circle had to be seen off but feared the demands of the endeavor, so there are many 21st century Americans who know that the madness of President Trump must be addressed but avoid the inevitable demands of the impeachment power conjured by the founders of the republic for application in moments such as this.
Trump's obstructions of justice and abuses of power are now so well documented that the man who lost the popular vote for president by 3 million ballots is often portrayed as precisely what the wisest of the founders feared: an elected leader who assumes for himself the trappings of illicit and unaccountable monarchy.
Paine anticipated the Trumps of future times when he warned: “Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.”
When we celebrate the birth of the nation that Paine helped so many to imagine, it is right to celebrate the courage of all those who now resist Donald Trump. The resistance takes many forms. But surely the advocates for a constitutional remedy to a constitutional crisis deserve special mention as we recall the leap of faith that freed 13 colonies from the grip of King George and the British East India Co.
Because the Constitution of the United States was framed with a system of checks and balances that allows the U.S. House of Representatives to impeach a president who serves with reckless disregard for the rule of law (and whose actions mark him as "the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions"), and because that same Constitution allows for the Senate to try and remove such a president, the way forward is clear on this July 4.
Of course, House Speaker Paul Ryan and his fellow feudalists will do everything in their power to avert an accountability moment for the "elected monarch" to whom they have chained their considerable ambitions.
So be it. There were Tories in Paine's day. The pamphleteer dismissed them as we should today dismiss any Republicans, and any Democrats, who refuse to respect the constitutional charge to impeach and remove errant executives.
"THESE are the times that try men's souls," he wrote at the opening of his great Revolutionary War call to arms, "The Crisis." "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."
Opposing Trump and Trumpism is righteous work.
It cannot be delayed by the petty politics of those who put party ahead of principle.
If the Fourth of July matters as anything more than a summer holiday, then surely it should inspire us to answer the call that Tom Paine issued 241 years ago — "O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!" — with the words "Impeach Trump!"
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com and @NicholsUprising
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.