It really wasn't so long ago that the forty-niners sold all their earthly possessions, bought mules, pickaxes, boxes of dynamite, primers and firearms, and headed for the gold fields of the West. (The guns were an absolute necessity—back then; no one needed a concealed carry permit, and no one questioned the premise that a man would be fully justified in killing a claim jumper or thief. In the gold fields, the law was in short supply.)
Relatively few of the prospectors could afford the pumps and sluices that could facilitate their quest; many had only shallow tin pans, a few provisions, perhaps a note from Mom, reading, "Godspeed, Son," and the shirts on their backs. What they discovered was armies of like-minded seekers, all infected with that same gold fever, and a blindness to the desecration of the pristine natural beauty they'd so rudely invaded. Of course, there was no Sierra Club in those days to cry the environment was at risk—it was fully embraced that the rights belonged to the claimants, who destroyed anything in the path of their elusive quest. Those forty-niners sacrificed all for a chance to discover riches and the mother lode; wildlife, forests, streams and mountainsides were indiscriminately trashed.
While prospecting was a grueling, totally-consuming task, the vision of hitting pay dirt drove these intrepid prospectors on—some to untold, fabulous riches, but most to the frustrations of ever-deferred paydays. More than a handful went to their unceremonious, poorly-attended burials in unmarked graves. Those who understood in their final moments that Lady Luck had betrayed them, cursed the mother lode with their final breaths.
Somewhere in the forty-niners' stories is a meaningful, relevant metaphor: Nothing has really changed. With a disturbing abandon for everything else of value, it is the lust for gold and power that drives virtually everything that happens in America. Politics is certainly no exception; it is the flag bearer of this tragic way of thinking. I hate to be so uber-cynical, but it wrenches my gut to see something as precious as our Constitution reduced to the meager meaning of money.
Take a moment, reach into your wallet and pull out a few bills. On every one, what do you see? Besides the clearly marked denominations and the engraved pictures of some of America's favorite sons, you'll find the once-inspiring words, "In God We Trust." Those words may well have been revered back in 1776 and beyond, but today we could easily substitute the words, "Ingot We Trust." The American people—and particularly our leadership—have largely left all traditional values behind in favor of money. (Personally, I don't believe those words ever belonged on our currency because, to me, it seems a compromise of our mandated separation of church and state—but that's not the point.)
When our country minted its first coins and silver and gold certificates, there was no prophet to foretell that the word "God" was missing the letter "L." It is G-O-L-D—not God—that has hijacked a system dominated by principle. Now, gold decides elections, replaces fairness and equity in the legal system, effectively mutes the cries of the poor, infirm and minorities, determines the direction of all business ventures, and provides a tangible focus of worship. Simply put, if there's no money in it, few people are interested. Gold is what makes our world go 'round.
The inclination of the American people is to dismiss this reality with the flimsy excuse that there's nothing that can be done about it. Few people obsess about the fact that almost all elections are bought by special interests with entirely selfish motives. It is gold fever that determines all our elected leaders—something that extends even further when those fully-purchased leaders appoint judges, justices, cabinet members, ambassadors and regulators to serve the master that placed them in office—and not the people.
Every patriotic American needs to ask, "Are ethics, ideals, humanity and moral action the foundations of our republic, or are we, instead, to accept a grotesquely-bent vision of our Founding Fathers, acquiescing to the corruption of runaway greed?"
Understanding that most people haven't ever personally heard the sound of God talking, it's not surprising that they listen to the voice of gold. While the shameful truth is, indeed, that "money talks," it is not too late to make the necessary changes, and purge the blight of greedy opportunism that dominates America today.
The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and one mongrel dog. Send feedback to email@example.com