To The Editor:
For the last four years, cries of “I want my country back,” have resounded across America.
This sentiment was echoed last week in a Letter to The Editor about Alexis de Tocqueville’s writings about the new American experiment in 1830. What was perhaps most remarkable about this letter is the choice of wording about how America in 1830 was not “chained” by classes and believed in “hard work and sweat.” He then goes on to say that we have accepted a “servant-master” relationship in America today.
This rhetoric is stunning because when Tocqueville visited this new America, there were millions of slaves driving the American economy with their work, their bodies, and their offspring. America was benefiting by treating human beings like livestock. Tocqueville himself was incredibly critical of the racism and slave trade he saw in this fledgling country. To say that almost half of America has given up on freedom shows a marked disregard for the fact that America was founded and prospered on allowing no freedoms to African-Americans and women.
Tocqueville saw potential, but he didn’t see a finished experiment.
Tocqueville died before the American Civil War, before the height of industrialization, before women were granted the right to vote, before the Civil Rights, before sweeping changes in technology, medicine and globalization.
When I hear cries to go back to 1830, I hear cries that disregard America’s history. If we want the economy of yesteryear, then we must go back to slavery, take away women’s rights and autonomy and limit our trade and life spans.
In regard to another letter on the subject of abortion, the same ideas apply. “Going back” to a time when abortion was illegal will not reduce the number of abortions in a society. If the true goal of the pro-life movement is to reduce abortions, then the solutions are quite simple: comprehensive education, accessible/free birth control, generous paid parental leave after birth, and legal and accessible abortion services for women who need them. But this kind of progress is also halted, typically by the same who claim to care most about eliminating abortion.
Those who have held privilege in our country since its inception have had a great deal to say about the rights and responsibilities of those of us who haven’t. We can’t go back, and we can’t overturn our history of oppression. None of this is liberal propaganda. It is our history.
America was — and is —indeed a great experiment. Since we have that honor, we should embrace progress and have the desire to evolve.