A few thoughts on liberty and justice for all

Bill Hodge, Rob Mason and I are rolling slowly down Bloody Dick Creek Road in the Beaverhead National Forest toward a tour of Big Sheep Creek National Backcountry Byway. The way is bumpy, so typing on my laptop in the back seat is slow and oft redone. But, being on a journey, I feel like journaling.

“Journal” and “journey” share a Latin root, diurnum, which translates roughly as “daily.” “Journey” is descended from diurnum via the French journée, which means “day,” “a day’s work” or “a day’s travel.”

Bloody Dick, in case you were wondering, was a British expat named Richard who was famous 160 years ago in southwestern Montana for his frequent use of the term “bloody.”

Bill’s crew cab diesel pickup has charging ports — 12 and 120 volts — navigation, cup holders galore, comfy seats, lots of legroom (even in back) and air conditioning; not a bad place to write, even on washboard.

We hit pavement at Highway 324 and conversation becomes impossible. We ride with windows down to mitigate the possibility of COVID-19, and the winds at 70 mph whip words right out the windows.

Isolated in the back seat, I’m parsing out ideas discussed at campfires over the past two evenings. First, we have agreed that social justice and environmental justice are twins that depend on each other for survival. Second, we suppose that there’s a chance to learn and act on this, but we have to engage our better selves. We must quit yelling at each other about private matters — gender, sexuality, race, religion, even gun ownership — and focus on matters of the common good: clean air; clean water; universal education, health care and economic wellbeing; bridling corporate and personal greed; expanding renewable energy; and achieving liberty and justice for all.

Those last six words popped into my mind uninvited, but they are welcome, just the same. In fact, they pretty much cover it all.

If you grew or are growing up in these still-United States, you’ll recognize that phrase. It has been part of the many daily journeys we take to public school. Our Pledge of Allegiance ends with those words, and has since its origin in 1892. There have been several iterations since, but each has ended in the same way: “with liberty and justice for all.”

There are no further words after “all.” The Pledge doesn’t end with “all white folks,” “all black folks,” “all rich folks,” “all Republicans,” “all gun owners,” “all Democrats” or “all” of any subgroup. It doesn’t even say “all Americans.” It’s pretty simple. It says, “with liberty and justice for all.”

We might find a renewed sense of unity and understanding of patriotism if we take those words to heart. If we mean exactly what we say in the Pledge of Allegiance, the largesse of the U.S. is extended to the whole world. “All” is a pretty damned inclusive word. What part of it don’t we understand?

Can we afford liberty and justice for all? We can — if we stop taking more than our share from planetary resources. We can — if we can curb the appetite of those who wish to “have it all,” including their neighbors’ share. We can certainly do better than we are now. As little as 10% of the wealth of the world’s most well-off will feed the planetary population. Of course, getting us to share, and then convincing us to give up our quest for more — and more — is the challenge. Maybe we can be convinced if we see that our wealth will not get us more when there is no more to get. When it is “all” gone, money — or the illusion thereof — will mean nothing.

Note that I use the terms “us” and “we.” Otherwise, writing about these things with a $1,200 laptop while riding around burning fossil fuel in a $45,000 pickup would be hypocritical. I recognize that the three of us in the truck are part of the world’s most well-off. With other middle-class citizens, we give more than 10% of our wealth to the U.S. every year. And then a bit more to the states in which we live. In fact, most folks in my tax bracket give about 25% of their income to various entities to provide for the “common good.”

I’m not sure we here in the middle need to give more or give up much to provide “liberty and justice for all.” What we need to do is insist that the people we elect become better stewards of our money and that the ultra-wealthy do their share as well, and that both understand, accept and act on the inclusivity of the last six words of our Pledge of Allegiance. If we don’t make this part of our personal journeys, we stand to lose it all.


Cross posted from the Sandpoint Reader of August 6, 2020