Category Archives: Declaration of Independence

1000 Words: The American Art Form

One of the recurring themes of this global communications colossus is my dearly held opinion that we humans, by and large, are full of shit.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m as full of shit as anyone else. With exceptions, of course. There are, after all, people whose full-of-shitness borders on the awe-inspiring. Need I mention, for instance, a certain former Commander-in-Chief?

Speaking of former C-in-Cs, I was thumbing through a biography of John F. Kennedy the other AM. It’s called JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century and it’s the first of a two volume set. The second hasn’t been released yet. Interestingly, the author, a fellow named Fredrik Logevall, in his introduction, claims that despite the fact that the 35th President of the United States has been analyzed and gossiped about as much as any other Oval Officer, there really haven’t been any in-depth, comprehensive biographies penned about him. Logevall, ergo, decided to be the guy to right that perceived wrong.

Now then, as for we humans who are so naturally full of shit. Logevall revealed a startling factoid in his intro to JFK. In his words:

By the middle of 1963, close to 60 percent of Americans claimed that they had voted for Kennedy in 1960, although only 49.7 percent had actually done so. After his death, his landslide grew to 65 percent.

Kennedy’s oft-disputed victory over Richard M. Nixon in the ’60 presidential election was one of the very tightest presidential contests in our holy land’s history. Acc’d’g to Britannica, a scant 120,000 votes separated the two after all the ballot boxes, stuffed or not, had been emptied. That’s out of a total of 68.8 million votes cast that autumn. As I scroll down the list of tight races throughout our glorious history, Kennedy’s squeaker over Nixon appears to be the closest of all, in relative terms.

For our purposes here, it doesn’t matter if Kennedy won by 120 thou or 120 mill. The thing is, as his presidency progressed, the populace became more and more enamored of him to the point when pollsters rang up people to ask who they’d voted for in ’60, thousands of them flat out lied and said they did.

Perhaps they answered in a more creative, imaginative way than the act of simply telling the truth would have demanded. Perhaps they reasoned, Hey, I like the guy. He forced those dirty Russkies to back down over Cuber*. So if I got a second crack at it, I woulda voted for him. That counts, right?

( * Sorry, occasionally I lapse into JFK’s Boston accent when I think about him.)

No, it doesn’t count. The pollsters asked, Who did you vote for in 1960? And after Kennedy was snuffed at Dealey Plaza, an overwhelming majority of Americans either tried to convince the pollsters they’d voted for him or had somehow convinced themselves they had.

Either way, they were full of shit.

Like I said.

Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. Lying is in our nation’s DNA. To be sure, the Germans, the Botswanans, the Laotians, the Micronesians, and the habitués of every other land on this globe regularly lie and/or are willingly lied to. But we raise the sin to an art form.

Only the United States, in its Declaration of Independence, proclaimed All Men Are Created Equal, the words written and ratified by a bunch of men who owned human beings.

Imagine if there’d been social media back in 1776. Thomas Jefferson and the Committee of Five would have been laughed off the internet.

Then again, knowing Americans as I do, countless 18th century netizens would have said, C’mon, man! They mean one day. Y’know, in the future. (And not the too-near future, BTW; we don’t wanna rock the boat too much!) Or others’d chime in, Nuh-uh! They don’t own slaves. Those Africans wanted to be kidnapped, chained, whipped, and stripped of their rights and dignity. Working the fields for the Founding Fathers would look great on their resumes!

Thomas Jefferson, et al, were full of shit. Even if their aspiration for a limited egalitarianism was novel and forward-thinking some 250 years ago. And it was.


The Pencil Today:


“I’m a real rebel with a cause.” — Nina Simone


Independence Day.

We consider ourselves free in this holy land, and I suppose we are when compared to the rest of the world.

But there is no freedom without bondage. The old baseball manager Earl Weaver once said you can’t be a true rebel unless you’ve lived under the yoke of one kind of imposed order or another.

We profess to have loathed the tyranny of the British Empire when in reality the yoke we bore back in the 18th Century was that of King George III’s mental illness. It can be argued we really had no profound disagreement with the British and regarding the concept of freedom.

We wrote “… that all men are created equal.”

Yes, men. They’re all that counted when our Articles of Confederation, our Declaration of Independence, and our Constitution were written. White Men. White men who owned land.

White Men

The British themselves were slowly but surely coming around to the idea that male landowners ought to be able to govern themselves. We were just in a little bit more of a hurry about it all.

That was an amazing concept for the times. If we think it’s rather quaint — what about women and blacks and homosexuals and everybody else who isn’t Anglo, pale-skinned, and carrying X and Y chromosomes in their cells? — we have to remember that we’ve come a long way.

“It is possible,” Molly Ivins wrote, “to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”

We’re still struggling. But, again, there is no freedom without bondage.


… and freedom tastes of reality.


People talk about The American Dream as if there is such a thing; that is, one shared aspiration among our 300-plus million citizens and the countless others around the world who want to get in on our good thing.

I’ve met enough disparate people to know there are almost as many American Dreams as there are Americans.

Still, the mythmakers may be right. There is one overriding American Dream that supersedes all those other, idiosyncratic dreams.

For all the people who laugh at Donald Trump — his hair, his bombast, his “Hey Ma, look at me!” persona — virtually every one of them wants to be him.


That’s the true American Dream. To be rich. To be so rich you can tell the world to fk off.

To be so  rich you’ll never have to work another day in your life.

To be so rich that when the cable goes out you can bully the customer service rep on the phone and get someone out to fix it even on Christmas Day.

To be so rich you don’t even have to vote.

To be so rich beautiful young women or men (whichever you prefer) will be willing to see you naked despite the ravages of time on your body.

I saw a black guy once on the Fourth of July all decked out in red, white, and blue, his car festooned with American flag decals and the insignias of the unit he served in Vietnam with.

I was tempted to ask him why he was so demonstrably in love with this country. After all, he was old enough to remember when it was illegal in many states for him to have sex with a white woman. Illegal!

He was old enough to have seen Lyndon Johnson sign the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts in 1964 and ’65, laws that essentially recognized him as a human being — something this holy land had not done without reservation since its inception.

How in the world could a man who’d experienced so much insult, both institutionally and from his individual countrymen, be loyal to the state that made all that insult possible?

What is it that he sees in the United States of America? What would make him put his life on the line to prop up a corrupt little nation in Southeast Asia — one he’d probably rarely heard of before he was shipped out there — just because American politicians told him he ought to?

Why was he willing to dress up in that land’s colors?

We were at a gas station in Louisville, Kentucky at the time. He jumped in his car and drove away before I could talk myself into querying him. Too  bad.

And even if I had asked him all those questions, would he have answered truthfully? Would he toss around catchwords like freedom, independence, and liberty?

Maybe, just maybe, he loves America because he dreams that here he can become a rich man.

My dream? Only that we dream of something more.


Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, games, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

◗ Downtown Bloomington and around Courthouse Square — 4th of July Parade; 10am

◗ Courthouse Lawn — Independence Day concert, Bloomington Community Band; 11:30am

The BishopAmerica, Fk Yeah: A Night of America, For America; 4pm — patriotic films, “Red Dawn”; 8pm — “Rocky IV”; 10pm — “Team America: World Police”; midnight


◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibit, “I’m Too Young For This  @#!%” by John D. Shearer; through July 30th

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibit, “Urban Landscape: A Selection of Papercuts by Qiao Xiaoguang; through August 12th — Exhibit, wildlife artist William Zimmerman; through September 9th — Exhibit, David Hockney, new acquisitions; through October 21st

◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryKinsey Institute Juried Art Show; through July 21st, 11am

Monroe County History CenterPhoto exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

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