Thoreau and our Unjust State

Two-hundred years ago today, the renowned American thinker Henry David Thoreau, whose essay “Civil Disobedience” is an argument for disobedience to an unjust state, was born.

We currently inhabit just such an unjust state, and I don’t mean Connecticut, or Kansas, or Mississippi.

Last week our president, embarrassing himself on the world stage, asked his listeners if they had the fortitude to preserve western values. His exact words:
“The fundamental question of our time, is whether the West has the will to survive.”
He posed that question in front of a Polish audience—people whose shift toward an isolationist nationalism in many ways reflects that of the Trump supporters. The crowd, cheered, though Trump never mentioned whom this “war for mankind” would be against. He also failed to define what Western values are, and the reasons for that are twofold: first, he doesn’t know what the term means; and second, if he did he would find in Western values a progressive spirit and a yearning to improve life for all by scientific and social advances, all of which he would consider anathema if, again, he knew what that word meant.

Then in Germany, a country that actually does possess a Western leader, he agreed to work with Putin on cybersecurity. The senselessness of this boggles the mind: in one moronic statement he denigrated the entire intelligence collecting branch of the United States government while volunteering to share our security secrets with the country that had hacked our presidential election. When I first heard his suggestion I thought, this is like the fox and the hens agreeing to share secrets to make the henhouse safer; but Trump’s suggestion surpasses even that in almost unfathomable ignorance, a fact made even clearer these past few days with the admission by Donald Trump, Jr., that he had in fact worked with the Russian government to ensure the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

And so it appears that we do currently inhabit that unjust state, and according to Thoreau we often play it cautiously, believing we should just go along until we convince the majority to alter the situation. People fear, Thoreau said, that, “if [citizens] should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil.” But he added it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil.

Civil disobedience: we’re at that point.

We can muse about the Senate-, House- and FBI investigations, but they could go on for years. Meanwhile unjust proposals against women, against minorities, against voting rights, and against the LGBT community lie waiting for enactment. Proposals that attack the environment, public schools, the press, freedom of speech, even our health are a vote or two away from becoming the law of the land.

But then there’s this: today the former president of Brazil, the powerful and influential Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was found guilty of corruption and money laundering and sentenced to nearly ten years in prison. Now there’s something to ponder while you’re finding room for 200 candles on Thoreau’s cake.

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