The Ghost of Tom Paine

I have copies of Thomas Paine’s writing in the shop, books started furtively and set aside for more phlegmatic writers like Cornelius Tacitus and Edward Gibbon. Now I think it’s time for Tom Paine and his writing to come round again.

It was the thought of “taxation without representation is tyranny” that got me considering Paine and “taxation without explanation” merely another form of tyranny.

What is it about Republicans that compels them to favor the wealthy over the rest of us, and make draconian laws that suppress human liberty? I’m baffled by it. Here we have the party of Abraham Lincoln who figured greatly in the start of the Civil War, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery, now making laws and rules curtailing the freedom of others. Republicans have successfully accomplished making a complete 180 degree turnaround in their party’s thinking, becoming the party of tyranny. They have become the very thing they were initially designed to oppose.

The recent tax bill up for a vote in the Senate is a case in point. Thus far, I view it as taxation without a sufficient explanation of how it’s supposed to “make America great again.”

I go back to what I know about Tom Paine and think he would be dismayed at the rise of the wealthy and the disparity between them and the rest of us. I’d like to believe he was in favor of this place becoming a democracy, and not a plutocracy run by the wealthy for the benefit of the wealthy. I include in this the Republican enablers in Congress, those handmaidens of privilege whose interests are not for the American people, but themselves. Nor do I exclude many Democrats from this category either. Power corrupts. Money and power corrupt geometrically to an nth degree.

Poor Tom. He would despair at this state of this country he helped found. Paine didn’t exempt himself from the struggle. Human liberty was his ideal. He placed himself in often perilous locations as a consequence. Valley Forge was no picnic, and spending time in a filthy prison cell during the French Revolution could hardly be called a vacation. I can only admire him for the courage of his convictions. He never wavered from them.

In a certain sense, we could use a Thomas Paine right about now; contrarian, argumentative; a man (or woman) of sterling principles and the highest of convictions with the instincts of a real street fighter. Where do we find such a person? I have a feeling he or she would be a ragged sort, barefoot and impoverished, but undaunted by honest poverty. My sense of irony is such that the latest tax proposal would make the existence of that person more probable.

I’m not looking for a savior or a demagogue. I’m looking for someone articulate enough, with principles enough to express the ideals this country was based upon and persuade others to shake off their delusions as to what this country represents. I have my Pantheon of heroes, and Tom Paine is among them. John Brown is another. They were considered troublemakers, and I like trouble makers.

So I say, a ghost is haunting America — the ghost of Tom Paine.

Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.

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