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As I work on my latest entry into “A Republic,” all while reading “We Were Eight Years in Power” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and watching Ken Burns “Vietnam,” my mind wondered.

“We Were Eight Years in Power” is a master lesson in writing and self-reflection, as it dives deep into thoughts around the deep-rooted presence of white supremacy in the United States. As genius as Coates is, one of his continuing shortfalls is looking past the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, looking past the robbery and bondage of black Americans. Where his failure lays is in his inability to truly dig deep into the United States genocidal foundation and how it worked in parallel to enslavement. Along with a failure to combine white supremacy domestically within the United States, to United States foreign policies, and the broader colonialism and imperialism of other western nations. With colonialism and imperialism being the exported product of white supremacy across the globe. And in this, he fails to create a full picture, and in some ways falls back into the myths of America that he’s worked to break free from. Overall, it is an excellent, but incomplete work, as Coates tends to be.

Ken Burns himself falls into American mythology, even as he highlights the horrors of Vietnam, he falls back on the myths of great victories won by anti-war activists, fails to truly dig into Vietnam being a colonial war, not a war against communism. And fails to dig past the surface level of the intersection of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements with the anti-war movement.

Now, today, as the world continues to be engulfed in burgeoning chaos, I reflect on the mass refusal to face a genocidal pile of sins and lies. A reflection on the refusal to learn lessons, to change behavior, stuck in a cycle of insanity, ensuring our own destruction and fracturing.

So monstrous a lie, all that grows from it spreads the lie in its seeds, as the truth is too horrific to fully comprehend. A truth so evil, that it convinced itself to be the workings of a just, righteous and loving God. That a nation built upon genocide and human bondage is a divine instrument of such a God to bring light to the world; the “City Upon a Hill.” With the lived reality stripping the humanity away from those that are deemed lesser. A nation that has made evil seem benign, it’s given it a smile, a galvanizing anthem, fireworks, big brash horns, exalting virtues of a freedom it has no idea how to define.

So precious a lie it is, that epidemics of grand proportion run through its veins, out to the suburbs and classes supposed to be untouched by such ills; self-medication to ease its soul. A lie in which there is every barrier to hold those they deem lesser to only partial access to the “legal” economy. It uses the “lesser” the “other” to fuel their addiction and then imprison these people for finding ways to survive.

It then continues to lie, as these people are just upholding the law and are maintaining order, for its God-fearing citizens. As it breaks international and it’s own divine document to create this illusion of safety.

The illusion of safety, put forth through global violence and a policy of power projection. Most in our government spread this destruction, as recently in an overwhelming vote, The US Senate approved $700 billion defense spending bill, $630 million more than President Trump’s request, a total of 89 Senators voted for the bill. “Progressives” from Elizabeth Warren, Wisconsin’s own Tammy Baldwin, and Al Franken voted for it. Only Bernie Sanders-I, Bob Corker-R, Kirsten Gillibrand-D, Patrick Leahy-D, Mike Lee-R, Jeff Merkley-D, Ron Wyden-D, and Rand Paul-R voted against it.

This is beyond President Trump and opposing him. If this nation is to build a different future post-Trump, not only will it need to have a reckoning with its domestic white supremacy, it must examine its imperial needs and desires abroad. The United States currently has special operations units operating in over 70 percent of the globe. No empire in the history of humans has seen such a militaristic reach.

“To continue the tragedy, many citizens of the United States hold an indignation of vicious intent towards anyone that questions the goodwill the United States has brought upon the world. Spreading freedom one bomb and one bullet at a time, as the nation’s leaders install corrupt leaders and bureaucrats that serve “American interests.” All while serving patriotism on a flag plate filled with crumbs for the masses, telling us to obey and smile, as to not disparage the honor and sacrifice of those that fought for our ‘freedom.'”

Enmass our “leaders” failing to see that all empires must come home and it is far past time for the American empire to do the same.

It does start or stop at the top and it reaches every level. Locally, the Dane County Board should scrap the expansion of a new jail, and instead dedicate the entirety of that money towards solving structural problems that would make the expansion unnecessary. Also locally, Madison’s Common Council should remove millions from the single biggest budget item that doesn’t even solve the problems they’re supposed to respond to. And, instead, directly invest those millions, annually, to solving structural problems that would make it unnecessary to have the police we do.

The enormity of the lie that is the United States is a tragedy unto itself. Since World War II, the United States has killed over 20 million people in its wars. That’s on top of the tens of millions of indigenous murdered on their own land, and the millions of black Americans that died in servitude to birth “freedom” to the world. They killed many more in its imperial wars before World War II.

To continue the tragedy, many citizens of the United States hold an indignation of vicious intent towards anyone that questions the goodwill the United States has brought upon the world. Spreading freedom one bomb and one bullet at a time, as the nation’s leaders install corrupt leaders and bureaucrats that serve “American interests.” All while serving patriotism on a flag plate filled with crumbs for the masses, telling us to obey and smile, as to not disparage the honor and sacrifice of those that fought for our “freedom.”

But indeed, this white nation, as James Baldwin so stated, has chosen “safety” over freedom. Or the illusion of safety over freedom. Comfort at the cost of their humanity, divided by race and anyone that points out the imbalance of power, especially when black, is labeled at best “divisive” and at worst killed in the most horrific of manners.

Many are held in the delusion of hope, of the inevitability of the “American people” to overcome their shortcomings and their eternal failings. Some holding onto an idealistic view of the 60s and 70s, of a victory over the forces of the nation’s evil, a victory that didn’t take place outside of the memories of nostalgia. They see in this era the inevitability of “American progress,” but ignore that the revolution of the 1960s failed. A revolution which only exists in the monetized nostalgia of the American psyche.

Some are held in place, due to the lies they are told about the nation’s founding, upon “all men” being created equal, even if “all men” only meant wealthy, property-owning, white men. As all others are meant to be in some semblance of servitude to those granted their equality; only to create freedom for the few. A lie erased from its history books and betrayed by a past the majority of its citizens refuse to face.

How can a nation so refusing to face it’s history of oppression and white supremacy overcome its current crisis of humanity? It’s current crisis in the face of the extreme edge of white supremacy. A place that threatens its very existence and a threat to humanity itself. In rejecting the full humanity of others, white Americans, in turn, reject their own humanity. This is the only way they can justify the violence that they inflict across the globe and onto themselves. If Sandy Hook couldn’t rid this nation of it’s addiction to guns, nothing will.

“Freedom” has been so used and abused by this nation, it ceases having meaning. It has been so utterly corrupted and bastardized that it’s become our bondage. Now anyone who dares to reject the very notion of the idyllic vision of America must leave, or is labeled “anti-American.” Anyone that dares to reject the notion that this is a free nation is an existential threat to the existence of this nation.

“Freedom so much a lie, that the ‘wealthiest’ nation in the world can’t afford health care for its citizens, can’t afford robust public schools, can’t afford housing for all its residents, can’t afford to feed all that dwell within it, can’t afford to upgrade its infrastructure.

But the United States will always find ways to afford welfare for those that rob us. It can afford bombs made from our own bondage as gifts for black and brown people across the globe. It can afford to incarcerate 25 percent of the world’s prison population. It can afford to exist in a nation with as many mass shootings as there are days in a year. It’s a nation that can afford to spend trillions and trillions of dollars to spread inhumanity draped in red, white, and blue.”

That is, because this nation has never been free. The middle class was created as a veneer, as a way to create a semblance of freedom. Something for the peasants to strive for. Something the only luckiest of peons and people of color can reach. An existence which if granted they should be thankful for. An existence they didn’t earn – as we can see with the reaction to NFL players kneeling during the anthem. You can find it in the fact people feel NFL players should be thankful to have money, the idea that they didn’t earn their place, but it was a privilege granted to them by the white masters of this nation. These black players didn’t work and toil for their position, but it was a gift upon them by the God-fearing white populous.

A freedom so much a lie, the majority of wealth in this nation is held by a handful of families. A freedom so much a lie the majority power brokers, CEO’s, wealthiest, and elected officials are white men. So convinced that they belong to a meritocracy, yet so mediocre that when stacked next to the capabilities of the peons that were “allowed” to make it, their capabilities are dwarfed. Compare the resumes and accomplishments of Barack Obama to Donald Trump. The “exceptional negro” vs white mediocracy. A lie so bold that white coaches who do nothing but lose get jobs. CEO’s that destroy companies get millions of dollars to leave and get rehired again. People who wreck entire economies get bailed out in their own white incompetence. This is what can be dubbed as “white excellence,” a failure to fail, even in the face of gross incompetence.

Freedom so much a lie, that the “wealthiest” nation in the world can’t afford health care for its citizens, can’t afford robust public schools, can’t afford housing for all its residents, can’t afford to feed all that dwell within it, can’t afford to upgrade its infrastructure.

But the United States will always find ways to afford welfare for those that rob us. It can afford bombs made from our own bondage as gifts for black and brown people across the globe. It can afford to incarcerate 25 percent of the world’s prison population. It can afford to exist in a nation with as many mass shootings as there are days in a year. It’s a nation that can afford to spend trillions and trillions of dollars to spread inhumanity draped in red, white, and blue.

If you take a step back and look at the right angle, from coffeeshops, to bars, clubs, state houses, schools, suburbs, to every corner of this nation, you can see an emptiness, a longing of something lost or something that never existed in the first place. Something its people en masse don’t know is lost. Be it in a blissful ignorance, to the darkness of addiction, or the struggle of finding wisdom in the truth, there is something lost.

Structural changes might not be enough for this nation. Healing and soul-searching will take generations, but casting off the lie that is the United States might be the only answer. To imagine something new from the ashes, bones, and blood this nation is built upon might be the only way forward. The schism is too deep that a new foundation must be laid. What has happened can never be undone, but its legacy is our choice.

What are we to be? Can we imagine something new? Can we find our humanity beneath all the slaughter and lies? Can we have the courage to face our true selves? Do we have the courage to cast off our shackles we’ve bound ourselves to and embrace our failures as they are the path to our freedom? We must be willing to let go of the lie that is America in order to save ourselves.

But it seems all too clear this nation is in the midsts of a spiritual death. Even though there are tangible differences between the two political parties, neither one will do what it takes to turn back this spiritual death and heal its people. Neither will bring home the empire or have the will to confront the lies and lay bare what this nation is, for the lie and their role in it may be too monstrous for them to face.

Written by Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn is a Madison native and civil rights activist.

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