About Gary Nilsen

I'm a writer. I have a lot of things to say - sometimes I like to tell stories and those show up in the books I write. Sometimes I get angry or frustrated by the things I see in the news, so comments about these will be showing up on this blog. Social injustice is the spark to my fuse... I live on the North Shore of Long Island in the place that would be known to my literary friends as East Egg with my family and two Old English Sheepdogs. I've lived in far off places - the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and have been fortunate to visit many other parts of the world. Stay tuned...

One Voice, One Vote…Time for a New Amendment

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Four times in American history, the Electoral College has propelled a candidate to the highest office in the country at odds with the popular vote, and twice in just the last sixteen years. It’s disturbing to consider that the process by which a president is elected has crumbled like the decaying water mains that run beneath the streets of New York City. There was considerable debate in 1787 as to just how the election of the President and Vice President would be determined. Several proposals were presented and argued with the intent of having the most representative way of achieving such an election, one that would be free of contamination by undue influences.

Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist 68 that the “sense of the people should operate in the choice”. Given this was written in 1788, one could appreciate his desire for the ultimate in fairness. He also suggested that those elected to the “college” would be “most likely to have the information and discernment” to make a selection that represented the best choice for the person to govern the country. No one in the late 1700s could have imagined the form of technology and communication that we have at our fingertips today. It clearly allows us to act on his desire for choice, but renders his concern for access to information and discernment moot.

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Electoral College put George W. Bush in the White House. Under his watch, we experienced 9/11, the worst economic downturn in nearly a century, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and a call for a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. Now again, with Trump, the Electoral College has failed to deliver on its mandate to use its ability for information and discernment to avoid the election of someone “not in eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”. Instead, we have a president that is a domestic and international embarrassment.

The concept of the Electoral College is now as archaic as those NYC water mains. We no longer need a body of electors who have since 1824 given a winner-take-all (except for Maine and Nebraska) series of votes to a candidate who lacks the popular sentiment. What we need is a new constitutional amendment. We’ve done it twenty-seven times in the last 230 years. We need to make all that urging to exercise our civic duty to go out and vote mean something. What’s the point in voting if the ultimate outcome says thanks for your vote, but we’re going to ignore you anyway?

One can argue the fine points of constitutional law and Federalist essays all day long, but let’s cut through the garbage – in our day and age, with our ability to communicate to the world at large photos of our cats and pictures of our favorite recipes, we have the means to cast an informed vote by ourselves. It’s simple: one voice, one vote.

The Day America Died

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By international standards, despite our 240 years, we are still a young nation. European and Asian countries measure their existence in millennia. Our early development launched as a country of malcontents and criminals; our national identity has continued to evolve as newer waves of immigration sought the hope of refuge on our shores. The one thing that set us apart, as opposed to the national identities of other nations, the single tenet that transcended the consolidation of multiple cultures and races was the understanding that the rights of the individual were to be accepted and safeguarded against persecution. As a nation, we struggled and continue to struggle for wider acceptance of all, especially those of other religions and nationalities and those with alternative sexual orientations. It seemed we were making significant strides to live up to the American mandate, however painfully slow it appeared. That all changed on January 20, 2017. It is the day America died. We might as well strip the Emma Lazarus plaque from the Statue of Liberty. Good luck to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free; you’ve been Trumped right along with women, the people within the LGBTQ community, Muslims, and non-whites.

Perhaps the vision of America we took pride in projecting was nothing more than a myth. The mass of people who wriggled from the rotting foundation of our country to vote for Trump have in all likelihood always harbored the racial bias, the intolerance, and the hatred that now stands fully exposed. People say we need to give this president a chance. Even if we do, the country that was America before the inauguration no longer exists. Whatever happens going forward, it will be a new America, a lesser America, no longer the country that was once the envy of the world. Or perhaps it’s simply that the truth of what we have always been has caught up to the rhetoric. Perhaps the other half of us just believed in the myth. It’s gloomy to consider.

When I was twenty-seven and living in the Middle East, I was tasked with the delivery of a proposal to the Brazilian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Walking through the diplomatic quarter in Jeddah, I turned a corner and saw the American flag flying above our consulate. It had been several months since I’d been home, and the sight of the stars and stripes quite literally brought tears to my eyes. I was young, and I believed in what we stood for, what the American flag represented. If a country can be loved for its natural environment, I will confess to harboring a love for having been born here. On the other hand, if a country is measured by the content of its people, then that love has been tarnished like a piece of badly oxidized silver. I have lost respect for at least half of my fellow Americans; it has been replaced by disdain for those who carry the ignorant notion that men like Trump and Pence can move our country along a path toward the ideals that made us stand apart. Watching the news footage of the moving trucks laden with President Obama’s possessions, a phrase, one emblematic of another time in our history that signified horrific disunity, came to mind. America as we knew it has gone with the wind.

The Declaration of Independence: Our Mandate for Change

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Three days ago, as a nation, we celebrated the 240th anniversary of the declaration of our independence. To reread the words committed to by the General Congress of the United States of America is to re-imagine a revolution. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of our precious document, convincingly and eloquently established just how right it was for the colonies to “institute new government” and to absolve themselves from allegiance to the mastery of Great Britain.

As we approach the quadrennial fiasco of electing a new president (with special focus on the absurd candidacies of the two parties), the polarized congress, the Electoral College which virtually renders the vote of the American people inert, plus a myriad bullet list of the failures of our government to protect and foster our unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we should consider anew Mr. Jefferson’s second paragraph:

“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? It was the conclusion of the representatives of the thirteen colonies that the time had come not to suffer the evils any longer.

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Thomas Jefferson, in fact all of the founding fathers, would wither in shame at how we have allowed our government to evolve into a monstrous and misshapen facsimile of the original leadership that came together to throw off the bonds of Great Britain, by pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Special interest groups and the greed of manipulative, unprincipled business leaders have warped the vision of those brave souls who stood against impossible odds to create this country. Yes, we as a people in concert with a nascent government allowed unspeakable atrocities: the decimation and annihilation of the Native American peoples and African slavery for hundreds of years, it is part of our national historical disgrace. We cannot change our past, but we must affect our future. We must consider that the time has come to echo the words of Jefferson, that it is our right to dismantle the current and ineffective system of government.

A decade after the declaration, Jefferson’s declaration was reverberated by the words he used in a letter. He wrote:

“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion [reference is made here to Shay’s Rebellion over economic policy, aggressive tax and debt collection, and political corruption]. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”

I cannot think of a time more worthy of a call to action based on those words than now.