In the coming weeks it appears that several members of congress are in danger of losing their political scalps as the influence peddling and money laundering empire of Jack Abramoff comes to a head. According to a UPI story in today’s news, the Coushatta Tribe, which operates a casino in Lousiana, is pleased that the Abramoff who took some 32 million dollars to lobby against opening of a rival casino has been indicted. The article continues.

Tribal leaders’ testimony about their sizeable payments helped attract prosecutorial attention to Abramoff’s lobbying on behalf of Indian tribes. A Senate investigation brought to light e-mails in which Abramoff called some of his Indian clients “troglodytes,” “monkeys” and morons.
David Sickey, a member of the tribal council, told the Washington Post the e-mails ‘hit a nerve.
‘Abramoff and his partner are the contemporary faces of the exploitation of native peoples,” Sickey said. ‘In the 17th and 18th century, native people were exploited for their land. In 2005, they’re being exploited for their wealth.’

What does this scandal have to do with the Middle East? Consider the following historical footnote. American public education in the mid-19th century is unimaginable without the ubiquitous series of McGuffey’s Readers. These grammar anthologies defined not only proper English but instilled moral values, not the least on patriotism, but not necessarily in the knee-jerk version many politicians of all days preach. In the Sixth Eclectic Reader of 1857 there is a short anonymous excerpt called “Prospects of the Cherokees.” It raises a question about how we judge the actions of our government in between the elections. The reference here is to the infamous “Trail of Tears” in 1837, when political greed drew on social prejudice to drive out the so-called “terrorists” of the day.

“Whither are the Cherokees to go? What are the benefits of the change? What system has been matured for their security? What laws for their government? These questions are answered only by gilded promises in general terms; they are to become enlightened and civilized husbandmen. They now live by the cultivation of the soil and the mechanical arts. It is proposed to send them from their cotton-fields, their farms and their gardens, to a distant and unsubdued wilderness; to make them tillers of the earth; to remove them from their looms, their workshops, their printing-press, their schools and churches, near the white settlements, to frowning forests, surrounded with naked savages, that they may become enlightened and civilized.”

The author continues to describe the deprivation and suffering on American soil of all “Indians,” noting with biblical moral intent that “The scenes of their suffering are hardly exceeded by the sieges of Jerusalem and Samaria.” At the time, when Palestine was firmly under Ottoman Turkish control, there was probably little concern with the surviving children of Abraham around the gates of the Holy City. Ironically, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lies under deep sedation and both Israelis and Palestinians prepare for elections the siege mentality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues unabated. Of course there were American pupils in the 1850s who would no doubt call such moral concern for “savage” Indians a form of uncivilized disobedience. Fortunately the pre-Civil War Army Corps of engineers was not directed by politicians to build a literal wall around Indian lands, although the parallels between pioneer settling of the West and Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are ominous. No matter who wins the outcomes of the next election cycle, let’s hope that the ongoing trial of tears over Jerusalem and all it stands for is rendered a just verdict.

The anonymous author excerpted by William H. McGuffey edifies in more ways than one, even as it defies the “my administration, right or wrong” crowd of the day. Lob this century and a half old wisdom at the friends of Jack Abramoff:

“I know, to what I expose myself? To feel any solicitude for the fate of the Indians, may be ridiculed as false philanthropy and morbid sensibility. Others may boldly say, ‘Their blood be upon us,’ and sneer at scruples, as weakness unbecoming the stern character of a politician. If, in order to become a politician, it be necessary to divest the mind of the principles of good faith and moral obligation, and harden the heart against every touch of humanity, I confess that I am not — and by the blessing of heaven, will never be — a politician.”

Daniel Martin Varisco