While people across the United States and indeed the world are today celebrating May Day, marking the achievements of workers and organized labor, President Barack Obama is urging Americans to celebrate a very different holiday: Loyalty Day. In a presidential proclamation highlighting the occasion, Obama recommends those wishing “to recognize the American spirit of loyalty” do so by “displaying the flag of the United States or pledging allegiance to the Republic for which it stands.”
Whatever you do, is the implicit message, don’t start looking into the ways the system to which you are pledging allegiance serves the interests of capital at the expense of the working class. Stick with the symbolism, folks, stay away from the history. Definitely don’t open a book and read up on how the U.S. government has throughout its history warred against those demanding better working conditions, sending federal troops to break up strikes and, the evidence suggests, staging a bombing at a union demonstration in Chicago that in fact spawned the marking of May 1 as a celebration of the labor movement. Don’t do that.
And while it’s cool to talk about how great the Constitution is — in the abstract, like, “boy, isn’t the Bill of Rights swell?” or, “I’m sure glad I live in a country that has specially designated areas where I’m free to speak my mind, within reason” — it would probably undermine the noble cause of Loyalty to look too deeply into who exactly that state charter was designed to serve. Word to the wise: you’ll want to stay away from James Madison. Yes, I know, he’s supposed to be one of the “good” guys, but he was also rather blunt about the whole we’re screwing the masses big time with this whole system of government thing, noting that the purpose of the American state — and the Senate in particular — “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.“
“An obvious and permanent division of every people is into the owners of the Soil, and the other inhabitants,” Madison once explained. “In a certain sense the Country may be said to belong to the former.” He didn’t mean the indigenous peoples.
In order to ensure the continued divide between the haves and the have-nots for generations to come, Madison counseled political centralization. “Large districts are manifestly favorable to the election of persons of general respectability, and of probable attachment to the rights of property, over competitors depending on the personal solicitations practicable on a contracted theatre,” he wrote. “And altho’ an ambitious candidate, of personal distinction, might occasionally recommend himself to popular choice by espousing a popular though unjust object, it might rarely happen to many districts at the same time.”
In other words, James Madison might say, for every Norman Solomon out there, the system is structured to guarantee there will be 99 Steny Hoyers; we can vote for the former (at least 0.001 percent of you probably can), but it’ll be the latter running the show. And for most people, they won’t even get that chance to pretend their voice is being heard, instead being left to choose between, say, a Barack Obama and a Mitt Romney. In hindsight, the founders may have gotten a lot wrong — whoops, slavery — but they sure did know how to construct a durable system of economic exploitation.