An Outsider’s View-23 EXPERIMENT IN DEMOCRACY: REGRESS OR PROGRESS?
Posted on December 24th, 2012

By Shelton A. Gunaratne

 Two readers of my local newspaper have crossed cudgels with me for expressing the view that “for increasing numbers of immigrants from non-Western countries, the white founders of America do not mean much, nor does the primacy of the old Constitution the founders created” (The Forum, Nov 18, 2012, p. C8). The Lankaweb also published the same opinion column on Nov. 11, 2012.

David J. Chapman, an immigration attorney from Fargo, ND, says that my “opinion pits native-born Americans against immigrants and naturalized citizens as the catalysts for the upending of the entire ideal upon which America was founded” (The Forum, Nov. 23, 2012, p. A4).  Originally a Canadian, Chapman claims that he became a naturalized American because America is “an ideal and not a color.”

Mark Herschlip, perhaps a “native-born” American from Fargo, has gone much further to use intemperate language to call me “a bigot” who should apologize to both “white” America and “new immigrants who don’t subscribe to his harmful statement” (The Forum, Dec. 9, 2012, p. C8).     

I found Chapman a more refined antagonist than Herschlip who needs much more coaching on sound reasoning when engaging in public debate. Whereas Chapman used the fundamental Buddhist concept of change/impermanence  (anicca) in his attempt to counter my Buddhism-based analysis of the federal election, Herschlip used the crude method of calling me “a bigot” and a “racist” for writing “flat-out falsehood,” none of which happens to be true.

First, let me make it absolutely clear that pitting the natives against the recent immigrants was the furthest from my mind when I wrote my opinion. If that were the case, one could accuse our political parties of having done greater damage to our country during the 2012 federal election campaign by dividing it right in the middle pitting Republicans against Democrats with a barrage of political propaganda at an estimated cost of a whopping $ 5 billion.

Second, in answer to Chapman, let me assert that I too admire Thomas Jefferson, the ultimate Democratic-Republican, who was an internationalist and diplomat par excellence, for playing a pivotal role in writing the U.S. Constitution. But from my point of view as a naturalized citizen of South Asian origin, the founding fathers failed to create the “great experiment in democracy” that Chapman gloats about.  The constitution they promulgated failed to build a “more perfect” [note the redundancy] union because they lacked the vision to view America as a demographic conglomeration of diverse races and cultures.
Chapman’s mental fabrication of America as “an experiment in democracy” that has neatly adjusted itself to continuous change seems to me an exaggeration. Nothing can remain static, not even the U.S. Constitution, which has been amended only 17 times (not counting the 10 constituting the Bill of Rights, 1791) over the last 220 years. I don’t see why a document that failed to see the equality of the human race needs to be revered. 

Third, I did not refer to the founding fathers as “a bunch of stodgy old white men.” I only referred to the troglodytic attempts of the political right wing, the tea party in particular, to adhere to the very letter of the “old constitution” written by the “white founders.” I meant no disrespect by using “white” as an adjective or noun.  I am aware that the tea party is not an official entity. When I said “The tea party is over,” I meant it as a double entendre.

Some have blamed the founding fathers for tacitly condoning slavery by not writing it out of the Constitution. Historians are in disagreement with how much Jefferson was committed to the anti-slavery cause. He owned hundreds of slaves, and he is widely believed to be the father of the offspring of his slave Sally Heming. Some defend the founders’ action on the grounds that they had to mollify the demands of several southern states to condone slavery to ensure support for the Constitution.

New immigrants from non-Western countries, except perhaps the refugees, are aware of these imperfections of the Constitution though those from Western countries might not.

The Constitution, as written by the wealthy “white” landowners of America, tacitly permitted the adoption of eugenics-based legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), the Naturalization Act (1906), the Asiatic Barred Zone Act (1917), and the National Origins Act (1924), which shamelessly discriminated against immigrants of “inferior stock” from southern and eastern Europe. Gradually, most Europeans were elevated to “white” category while Hispanics, Asians, African Americans and Native peoples were classified as “inferior stock.”

How can Chapman and Herschlip defend this “experiment in democracy” that delayed the legal erasure of racial discrimination until the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Or how can they defend the Second Amendment on gun ownership in its original form despite all the evidence that gun control is a must to stop the killing of innocent living beings?

Although I swore allegiance to the Constitution when I became an American citizen, I cannot bow down the overt and overt “racism” it allowed to permeate American society for almost 200 years.  I can never forget the humiliation I suffered in the summer of 1967 when for the first time in my life a prejudiced waitress in a Houston bar refused to serve me because I was “colored.”

America is undergoing vast socio-cultural changes in tandem with those occurring the world over. This proves the veracity of the natural law of anicca (impermanence). Americans of the “superior stock” will invariably prolong their dukkha (suffering) by clinging on to an outdated Second Amendment and by treating the Constitution as a sacred document.

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*Gunaratne is the author of an autobiographic trilogy: the first titled “Village Life in the Forties (iUniverse, 2012); and the other two titled “From Village Boy to Global Citizen” (Xlibris, 2012).

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