Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is being embraced by much of America’s right wing as a sort of modern-day Marlboro Man — resisting the oppressive and encroaching forces of big government.
Bundy and his well-armed supporters, Taliban-like zealots who refuse to acknowledge the authority of our central government, recently faced down federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management who were trying to enforce collection fees, which Bundy has owed the government for two decades.
I wonder how many of us, after having lost court decisions, could have taken up arms against the IRS — after 20 years of tax evasion — and then been cheered by Fox News?
The embrace of Bundy, who has been stealing from the taxpayers for years — he’s in arrears about $1 million — is just the most recent manifestation of an incoherent philosophy that privileges a minority while disenfranchising most Americans.
It’s really tiresome, ignorant and un-American. It reinforces a false narrative that conservatives have a special privilege — a privilege to defy any laws they happen not to like — as long as they offer “constitutional rights” or “religious belief” as their excuse, all while denying the opportunity for similar privileges to others.
Bundy, who doesn’t believe in the “United States government as even existing,” is not acting out of civil disobedience, which is about changing unjust laws, but out of greed, exception and privilege.
If Bundy was black, female, Muslim — indeed, anything other than a rich male in rural America — this would be portrayed on Fox News as lazy, indolent, tax cheats trying to bilk hard-working Americans.
This week, around the world, Jews continued to celebrate Passover as Christians celebrated Holy Week. Foremost in many believers’ minds were the oppressed on whose behalf Jesus overturned the tables in the temple and the Jewish slaves, who Moses led out of Egypt to freedom.
In many believers’ minds was a compassionate understanding of the struggles and sacrifices that preceded us, which allow us, centuries later, to live in freedom and security — to be able to worship freely.
Yet, within the abundance that seems so accessible is a growing awareness of inequities that put American freedoms and justice at risk. Indeed, a new Princeton University study argues that our political system has transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites have the most power, and it concludes that the rich and well-connected now drive government policy — often against the will of the majority of voters.
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial, independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
For such an elite, the Bill of Rights and Constitution are documents of convenience, to be used or ignored as they wish, as though ordering from an a la carte menu — where equal under the law is only an artful turn of phrase.
For such elites, who are the beneficiaries of recent Supreme Court decisions (i.e., Citizens United), they believe they are only receiving their just reward.
For such an elite, America is just rightfully tacking back toward its privileged beginnings, where it was legal once to steal land from Native Americans and exploit slaves to work the stolen land, and where now banks are beyond the reach of government, traders can install their own fiber-optic lines to bilk investors out of billions of dollars, corporations can claim privilege to deny health care to their employees and the government can spy on its citizens.
For this elite, if you’re privileged enough or rich enough to ignore laws you don’t like, Cliven Bundy makes sense and the rest of us, for whom government is expected to function on the basis of tax revenues it receives, can just shove it.
Today, we need to remind ourselves that Passover is not just about getting all leavened bread crumbs out of the house or that Easter is not just about bunnies or Easter egg hunts.
Today, we need to acknowledge that these are sacred days — holy, complicated, demanding, prayerful, thoughtful, loving.
These are days to reflect upon the meaning of salvation, liberation, freedom, truth, dignity and equality.
Today, we should ask: Would Moses, Jesus, Abraham, Muhammad, indeed, all prophets and lawmakers, all those who sacrificed themselves so this nation could be free, stand with Cliven Bundy and the other corrupters, exploiters and despoilers of justice?
I think not.
They would lovingly stand with dispossessed and the disenfranchised, with the millions of immigrants who themselves came out of the bondage of poverty to try and find freedom and liberation in America — with the huddled classes yearning to be free.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.