Recently I visited De Leon Springs State Park, in Central Florida. The part of that excursion that sticks with me is the historical information supplied in the surprisingly non-traditional visitor’s center. It documents a sad tale of the different peoples who lived on the land surrounding it: native peoples and African slaves. But then it departs from the normal sleepy park museum presentation to become a frank exposure of the hypocrisy of a State not willing to come to grips with the damage its industries have done to its water supply.
The original natives’ way of life preserved the resources of the land which in turn preserved their lives for generations. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the indigenous original dwellers there were the most morally worthy of occupying the land. Their values put living in respectful harmony with their environment at the top of their moral compass. If they could be described as practicing religion in comparison to those who came later, it would include worship of the plants and animals that coexisted with them.
The Christian explorers eventually found the land and claimed it for themselves. They valued life above all, just not everyone’s life. So, the natives had to go, since the whites valued their morals as inherently superior to those they mistakenly called “Indians.” This is the start of the familiar sad part of the tale.
Eventually, the white usurper got tired of the Indians’ attempts to retake their ancestral lands and had them forced out of the State. The hapless outgunned indigenous peoples were doomed to live out their remaining generations in the hostile wasteland of the Oklahoma Reservation system. Their cultures are dying out, victims of the all-too-common fate of indigenous people: being disappeared and forgotten.
Later, enterprising Christian freeloaders got wealthy on the backs of slave labor. Eventually, the Civil War relieved them of that boondoggle, although the framework of racism and racial superiority remained baked into the systems which replaced that economy. The nation elected a black President in Barack Obama but followed up that triumph of progress by electing an openly racist Donald Trump, who legitimized the grievances and ignorance of white supremacists openly, and constantly.
Then modern industry made phosphate mining a top priority for this part of Florida. (Wikipedia article) This highly profitable, highly polluting industry wreaked havoc on Florida’s fresh-water playground, drying up or poisoning several of its famous hot springs tourist destinations. (Official Florida government source)
Their goal was the same as all good capitalists in this Christian nation: extract the wealth God gave us in this land because we deserve it; we are morally superior to those who didn’t get to the windfall first. This doctrine of American Exceptionalism goes hand in hand with an older fantasy known as Manifest Destiny. Combined and maintained by right-leaning politics in the US to this day, these ideas motivate our wealthiest and most powerful citizens to think of themselves as economic gods. It makes them feel entitled to privileges denied the common wage earner, such as being above the law, inherently more worthy of fame and attention and leadership positions, and, of course, superior morally.
The biggest issue I have with this is that with each generation following Ponce De Leon’s, the criterion for moral superiority has been downgraded further. Now in hands of Trump and his version of the Republican party, the political leaders of this generation have finally done away with the idea of moral justification entirely. Now, winning is the only value. Winners win because they’re not losers. Winners can, and should, win at all costs, and never admit to losing. Bullying and lying are encouraged, dirty tricks and crimes, too. And no longer do they bother to hide their lies and cheating; Twitter and their media echo chambers offer global platforms for boasting and instant absolution for all their crimes.
Is it possible for our so-called Christian nation to bounce back from this morally indefensible position? Not without bravery on the part of all who want to restore morality to its leadership. Good luck, fellow Americans.