29 April 2011

Patriotic Logic (or Lack Thereof)

When I am reading, I frequently go back and reread a passage. Most often I have missed something due to inattention or interruption, as when my wife whispers sweet nothings in my ear. Many times I go back because I find it difficult to understand a text. With some writers--William Faulkner, Jacques Derrida, Marcel Proust,--expectations of comprehension begin with the second reading. Occasionally, rereading a passage is necessary because I have some expertise in the subject, but the authors that I am reading most clearly do not. This last was my experience this morning while reading A Patriot's History of the United States (2004).
Several alternative policies had been attempted by the United States government in its dealings with the Indians. One emphasized the "nationhood" of the tribe, and sought to conduct foreign policy with the Indian tribes the way the United States would deal with a European power. Another, more frequent, process involved exchanging treaty promises and goods for Indian land in an attempt to keep the races separate.
Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot's History, 207
How are treaties an alternative to dealing with Indian nations in ways comparable to dealing with foreign powers? Perhaps the authors of A Patriot's History imagine some distinction here that they fail to explain, but it defies logic. Quite simply, they offer incomprehensible nonsense to confuse the fundamental relationship between Indian tribes and the United States. Consider, for example, President Reagan's recognition of a government-to-government relationship between the U.S. and Indian tribes (for some reason the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library links to the text on the Environmental Protection Agency's website). The four-page policy statement begins:
On January 24, 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued an American Indian policy statement which reaffirmed the government-to-government relationship of Indian tribes with the United States.
Schweikart and Allen feel a need to put the word nationhood in quotes to generate some distance from what they fail to understand. Their favorite President's policy, however, explicitly states, "President Reagan’s policy supports: ... Specific acknowledgment of the governmental status of Indian tribes."

These days many of Reagan's most ideologically committed followers call themselves Constitutionalists. As they gain power, we can hope that they have read the Supremacy Clause:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.
U.S. Constitution, Article VI (emphasis added)
Does the supremacy clause apply to treaties with American Indian nations?

The U.S. Supreme Court thinks so. In Worcester v. Georgia (1832), which A Patriot's History mentions on the next page, the U.S. Supreme Court found actions of the state of Georgia "repugnant to the Constitution" because these actions violated treaties with the Cherokee and laws of Congress. In discussing the first treaty the United States made with an Indian nation: the treaty with the Delawares, 1778, the Court noted, "[t]his treaty, in its language, and in its provisions, is formed, as near as may be, on the model of treaties between the Crowned heads of Europe" (31 U.S. 515, at 550). That Indian tribes had become dependent upon the U.S., does not diminish their sovereignty:
The very fact of repeated treaties with them recognizes it, and the settled doctrine of the law of nations is that a weaker power does not surrender its independence -- its right to self-government -- by associating with a stronger and taking its protection. A weak State, in order to provide for its safety, may place itself under the protection of one more powerful without stripping itself of the right of government and ceasing to be a State.
Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515, at 560-561
A Patriot's History offers a view at odds with the Constitution, with the Supreme Court's interpretation of our Supreme Law, and even with the formal declaration of Indian policy by the patron saint of the Conservative Revolution. Schweikart and Allen seem quite alone in their reading of history.

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