Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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FDR Four Freedoms of Democracy Revisited

August 28, 2017

The consequences of having a President who condones bigotry and disrespect have come to fruition this troubled summer of 2017. As White Supremacy rhetoric has become accepted as “free speech,” the moral fabric of America is shredded and all of us are more fearful and less secure in our homes, in our lives and in our communities. This violent bombast has obscured more substantive matters. Existential crises for which the possibility of consensus becomes increasingly elusive worsen while public attention diverts to the drama of domestic terrorism.

I view this tragedy of the Trump moral weakness through the lens of a visit earlier this summer to the Normandy World War II Memorial and the Omaha Beach where the U.S. and Allied forces landed in the summer of 1941 to turn the tide of the war against German Nazi armies. So many died there standing

Here Lies A Comrade In Arms Known But to God

in defense of Freedom, a concept sharpened by the contrast in the Western world between the rampages of despot Adolf Hitler, striving for world dominance in the name of an ideology based on exclusivity and hate, and the Allied ideology of liberty, inclusiveness and freedom of belief. I found it instructive to revisit President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address to Congress in which he called for a united stand against tyranny.

In this 21st century, we face global warfare of clashing ideologies, but we also face a common threat to the survival of life on earth from the cumulative effects of human enterprise on the environment and the life support system of the living Earth itself. WWII ended in a declared victory for freedom and a peace that lasted through diplomacy and mutual alliances until the verbal hostilities of the Cold War and arms race. Our nation in 1941 was “threatened from without” and confronted the threat of tyranny with a call for national unity and common purpose. Today we are a nation divided on lines of ideology as well as class, race and view of our role in the world. We are not united in purpose. While Roosevelt opposed the forces that argued for “enforced isolation behind an ancient Chinese wall,” our President is building walls, both physically and rhetorically dividing our nation from allies and presenting blustering threats on all sides. While Roosevelt called for leadership through “responsibility and accountability based on a decent respect for the rights and dignity of all nations large and small,” modern America looks at other nations as resources, markets or targets of opportunity for “deals.” Roosevelt wisely noted, “Enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people’s freedom.”(1)

Roosevelt’s observations about democracy resonate to our time:

“There is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are

  • Equal opportunity for youth and for others;
  • Jobs to those who can work;
  • Security for those who need it;
  • Ending of special privilege for the few;
  • The preservation of civil liberties for all;
  • The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living for all.” (1)

Achieving these essential components of democracy in the 21st century can build unity of purpose. These are the true values of America that can unite us again. Achieving these freedoms requires that people accept responsibility as citizens to participate in the process of governing. It also requires that those elected to lead must be held accountable to a moral standard that puts the public interest first. Laws alone do not make a country great. It must be the priority of all citizens to protect and defend the basic things that allow all of the people to succeed.

In this current environment, the issue is still jobs. As we struggle to address the real and pressing dangers not to our nation alone, but to the very existence of life on Earth from global warming and global chemical pollution, we must provide for a just and equitable transition to a non-fossil based economy. This path is not only viable, but has proven productive of vibrant economic, social and environmental success.

The quadrennial National Climate Assessment, authorized by Congress in 1990, concludes: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.” (2) Denial does not change the consequences. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. It is time to accept reality and act responsibly for the sake of life on Earth and all future generations.

Those who see the past as a secure and comfortable condition are often lured by the romanticized myth of “the way it was back in the day” without admitting the reality of living and working in dangerous, polluted and debilitating conditions. Many came to America to better their fortunes and improve the prospects for their children. They endured harsh conditions and dangers to give their children better choices. The altruism of the laborers for their children built the wealth of America, secured by the organized labor movement pressing for fair wages and safety in the workplace. As the strength of unions has eroded over the last thirty years, the wealth has accumulated again in the top 1% of the population, abetted by government policies and the Citizens United ruling determining that corporations have the rights of “persons” under the law. Corporations are NOT people. They do not bleed. They do not feel love or joy or pain. A government controlled by multinational corporate interests does not act in the public interest to secure the conditions of democracy!

1970 Earth Day Protesters

It is time to take the power of governance back to the people! It is time to recognize that the issue is still jobs. Providing good employment for willing workers to provide for their families is the function of the public and private sectors working together for the greater good of all. The trickle down theory has never worked except to enrich the privilege of the few. In the interest of long -term survival of our species, we must make a transition to new ways of running the economy. Establish value based on the natural capital of the living Earth and cease its exploitation and destruction. Convert energy systems from a fossil fueled economy to renewable and sustainable systems. Make products with green chemistry principles using components and processes that do not

Albatross killed by eating plastic debris

create toxic or poisonous products or by-products. Shift our chemical-dependent agriculture system to regenerative practices based on ecology that restore the fertility of the land and conserve water. These pathways offer the promise of shared benefits in economic opportunities, health benefits and environmental stability for another generation.

The Freedoms my father fought for in World War II will elude Americans of the 21st century if we cannot stand to defend the true values that can unite our nation to a renewed common purpose: to preserve a just and equitable future for those who have no voice at the table today. We must renew the altruism for the unborn and the living things of the Earth who depend on the wisdom of people today. It is only with care and foresight for the fate of the Earth that we will leave a legacy worthy of those who fought for our freedom. We must stand up to tyranny and demand accountability for the true freedoms that make America great. The Woodland Hills Academy seventh graders held a march on Earth Day 2016 to declare that “Guns and Violence Do NOT Define US!” We should heed their passionate leadership!

References:

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941 State of the Union Address “The Four Freedoms” (6 January 1941). Voices of Democracy. Oratory Project. https://fdrlibrary.org/four-freedoms
  2. Quadrennial National Climate Assessment, DRAFT. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/07/climate/document-Draft-of-the-Climate-Science-Special-Report.html?mcubz=0


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Lessons from the Field- Decision 2016

imgresPresidential elections present an opportunity for a broad public dialogue about the issues and policies for the country, a time for debate, discussion and exploration of options. But this has been a campaign full of vicious and demeaning rhetoric, a cacophony of bitter voices masking deep fears and heartfelt worries. The opportunity has been lost for a broad public discourse on the serious issues our country faces. Civil and polite dialogue has broken down entirely showing a lack of respect for the institutions of our democracy and for the individual participants in the contest. In the name of free speech, we have abandoned reasoned debate in favor of hurled insults and degrading parodies. Some observations emerge from my canvassing conversations with hundreds of citizens.

 

People feel a sense of betrayal in the unrealized hopes and expectations from the Obama administration. There was such a surge of optimism, with raised expectations of massive changes within the term of the first black President. But, by design, the institutions of government buffer the pace of change, and people feel frustrated. Hopes unrealized fuel cynicism and in some cases despair and anger. Few people understand how government is intended to work, the balance of powers among the branches or the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

 

People fear for the future. There are many forces beyond individual control – globalization, economic shifts, drought and floods. Drawn in part from concerns about changes proposed to address global warming, the unknown future drives people to nostalgia for the past. The Clean Power Plan addressed the technology shift and fuel changes away from fossil sources, but the human and community impacts were not included in the legislation. Such matters as worker transition, community redevelopment and education fall outside the jurisdiction of the EPA enabling legislation. In a Congress where over 50% of members deny the existence of climate change or global warming, the broader policy initiatives necessary for a just and comprehensive shift are impossible to execute. A nostalgia for the heyday of coal, oil and gas development with the mist of time obscuring the problems of the early industrial age, easily grew to a cry of a War on Coal. The personalized plight of coal miners also obscures the broader issues of the treatment of workers and restoration of communities that have festered for decades. The focus on the “All of the Above” energy strategy has glossed over the devastation to the land and the life support systems that protect the clean air, fresh water and fertile ground. The Standing Rock Sioux have taken a stand for preserving the land as a sacred obligation. Their lesson is a powerful recalibration of the equation that has placed jobs at any cost over preservation of the land.

People lack empathy for their fellow citizens. They are focused on their own individual situations and have little interest in the broader common needs. The sense of a common purpose as a community or as a nation is absent. The mentality of preserving individual rights and freedom to do as they please without regard for others is prevalent. This campaign has made the use of hurtful, degrading and disrespectful language appear normal. Without a sense of mutual respect, civil society will not survive. Without recognizing and taking responsibility for inequities and injustice, we cannot make necessary changes to insure that all citizens live under the promises of the Constitution. The sense that everyone has the same rights does not come across as a personal obligation to every citizen.

So on this eve of the 2016 election, I plead once again for the higher principles of our nation to prevail. The rights offered under our Constitution are open to everyone equally, under the law. But people have taken the right of freedom of speech and right to bear arms to an extreme level, ignoring the responsibility to respect each other. These freedoms exercised without responsibility or accountability lead to chaos. A representative democracy requires citizen involvement, not just at election season, but all the time. Once in office, elected officials need to be called to account for their actions. Citizens have the obligation to make their voices heard in communications, in peaceful demonstrations, in action on legislative proposals throughout the course of the years. Elected Officials take an oath to defend and protect the Constitution, and that includes the rights of all of the citizens, the people. This concept has been perverted to include “corporations” as “Persons” but they are not living beings who breathe and bleed. The commitment to the public interest over corporate greed must be re-established as a national priority.

Citizens must take back the control of the government by caring about each other as communities, and holding elected officials accountable. The time is now to vote out people who are not serving the public good so we can start over. Democracy is not a spectator sport that occurs once every four years. It is a daily exercise of responsibility. Begin by voting on the issues, not on the undocumented rhetoric of the campaign. The fate of our nation and of the policies that may preserve life on Earth as we know it hang in the balance.