The Crux of the Matter
Our nation is heading for a nervous breakdown. We are less than a month away from electing a president that is only slightly less loathed by their own party than by their rival's. Congress is at its all-time lowest approval rating, yet it boasts over a 95% re-election rate for incumbents. Our federal courts - up to the Supreme Court - cannot seem to recognize the Bill of Rights and tolerate mid-stream redefinition of terms by government attorney, yet they manage to invent new protections based on arbitrary feelings of unfairness and interpretations of "what Congress meant to say" when crafting law.
Our national intelligence agencies are spying more on our own citizens than on external threats. They've lied about doing it, gotten caught doing it - then continued doing it anyway. Our system of justice is now apparently a caste system, with rules that vary based upon your clout and connections. No less a figure than the Director of the FBI literally outlined evidence against a major political figure, followed it up with the statement that his agency would not recommend prosecuting despite that evidence, and then topped it off by saying, "We would prosecute if it was anyone else, so don't get any ideas."
As abysmal as the situation may already be, it stands to get nothing but worse regardless of which party holds power. It's not simply because it has gone too far, or because the powers that be have little incentive to change it. Both are certainly true, but they don't really touch on the crux of the matter, the source of this sickness.
That source is us. We, the people. The ones who asked for special treatment; the ones who asked for stiffer penalties; the ones who demanded that "someone do something" about the latest boogeyman; the ones who elected anyone who promised to give it all to us, despite logic, reason, or respect for rights. This election cycle has taken us beyond the usual circus clowns and straight to nightmarish realm of sideshow freaks because we've spent decades heedlessly ceding more control of our lives to our government. And not only don't we seem to want to change, we aren't even prepared to admit that we are the problem.
We are suffering from a national case of cognitive dissonance, caused by our inability to reconcile our reputation for independence and personal freedom with our desire to be cared for by an all-powerful government with the authority to force other citizens to think and behave in a manner we find appropriate. This borderline schizophrenia is destroying us as a nation and a culture.
It's time to admit that we've hit rock bottom.
"Smaller government" has become just another sloganized sound byte. No politicians (despite their promises) will ever deliver it so long as so many Americans (despite their protestations) do not truly desire it. Don't believe me? Well, then let's consider ways we can remove government from our daily lives. Will you do without your Medicare or Medicaid? Your Social Security check? Your minimum wage guarantee? Your federal pension? Are you okay with your state's schools and highway systems losing federal funding? Will you give up your income tax credits?
It's not that easy, is it. But look at what we've let ourselves become.
In our demand for kindness, fairness, and equality, we have hobbled our own First Amendment freedoms of speech, association, and religious expression. We are now forcing citizens to violate their religious beliefs because it might hurt someone's feelings. We have defined an entirely different set of prosecutorial and sentencing standards based on race, creed, sexuality, and even, if some lawmakers get their way, profession. We have allowed a generation to grow up thinking they "deserve the right" to say whatever they want while remaining "safe" from others' disagreement or challenges to their statements.
In our desire to "punish druggies," we have tolerated a system of regulatory financial law that allows the IRS to seize innocent citizens' finances based on how often they deposit cash - even when they can prove the legitimacy of the income. We have incentivized local police to seize citizens' private property for profit under civil asset forfeiture laws. Out of horror of violence wrought by people, we have demonized inanimate objects - guns - and deride those supporting our Second Amendment rights as something akin to domestic terrorists. For fear of real terrorism, Americans have dismissed the importance of our Fourth Amendment right to "be secure in their persons, houses, papers," tolerating the virtual strip searching of air travelers and are now, it appears, finding ways to rationalize the government's mass-collection and electronic storage of our communications.
Now, citizens are being arrested in secret, under sealed warrants, issued by secret courts, with no opportunity to face their accusers or examine the evidence against them. Now, there is a hue and cry to allow the loss of a Constitutional right on the basis of being placed on a secret list by some unknown government functionary - a list repeatedly shown to be inaccurate, with no due process involved in being placed on it and little recourse for being removed from it.
Is this what it means to be American to you? Is this a price you're willing to pay for some vague promise of safety?
If not, let me ask a more difficult question, one that you shouldn't answer too quickly, but you should answer honestly. Do you want to be free, if it includes the freedom to fail in your efforts; to face the repercussions of your actions and choices; to possibly meet with harm; and, most frightening to many, to tolerate the freedom of others to do and say things you find morally offensive?
Think long and hard on that. Because if - if - we are to save this Republic as it was designed, we will need to reign in our elected officials, and that can never happen until we reign in ourselves - our fears, our greed, our prejudices, our pettiness. And if we are incapable of that, then we frankly deserve everything that comes after.