It appears to be a universal human truth that those who hold power not only are reluctant to yield it, but rather seek its increase. This holds true from the pettiest bureaucrat to the mightiest monarch.
Lord Acton, the English historian, politician and writer who first wrote, “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely” understood this. So did the founders of our nation. They sought to establish a system of government which distributed and checked power, leaving it ultimately in the hands of the people.
But even the best intentioned and designed system is subject to the maneuvers of men and it appears that our own governmental system has just about completed its evolution from one which protects and respects the individual rights of it citizens to one which the people are beginning to fear. With new information coming to light every day exposing the machinations of the current administration, built upon those of previous administrations, I do not hesitate to declare the United States government “absolutely corrupt.”
The use of government agencies to spy upon and intimidate millions of innocent Americans, most of whose only crime has been to exercise their First Amendment rights to disagree politically with the powers-that-be or report on their questionable actions is unconscionable and, in the truest sense, un-American. At the same time, the Fourth Amendment seems to be just a nuisance to our government. After all, who can say the people are secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects when their government has demonstrated the ability and willingness to access these sacred domains?
Astonishingly, there are apologists who continue to take the side of might over right. They are those to whom party is more important than principle, whose blue Kool-Aid-stained lips and tongues will sneeringly ask “So? What do you have to fear if you’re not doing anything wrong?” They are the type of whom Martin Niemoller wrote in his famous poem about Nazi Germany, which ends with the line “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
But they are not alone in their culpability. We are, all of us, responsible for the mess which is our government. We have become lazy – physically, yes, but worst of all, intellectually. We ignore our history and the inspirational ideas about individual liberty and responsibility that were at the foundation of the American experiment. We take at face value the words and promises of politicians, bureaucrats, pundits and experts without understanding their own entanglement in a system that benefits the well-connected. We let them tell us we need to tighten our belts and give them more of our money and then are surprised and outraged when we discover they have wasted it on multi-million dollar junkets and luxurious conferences. We foolishly believe they have our best interests at heart despite repeated demonstrations that their own interests come first and foremost.
We accept the flawed premise that those in charge know better what we need and what we are capable of than we do ourselves. We allow them to provide for our families, our friends and our neighbors when we ourselves are so much better equipped to assume that responsibility. We trust their intentions more than those of the people with whom we rub shoulders and peacefully interact every day. Despite ample evidence that the vast majority of the American people are good, kind and generous, they’ve somehow convinced us we need them to help us take care of each other. We forget that a government large and powerful enough to provide all things is large and powerful enough to take all things from us.
That taking has begun, and it goes far beyond the material. We no longer jealously guard our civil rights or those of others. We accept the curtailment of speech through intimidation, we do not question their right to such information as private as what we earn or as personal as when and why we see a doctor. We allow our conversations to be recorded and our data managed. When individuals or organizations try to fight back we take the side of the oppressors, hoping our loyalty will protect us from similar scrutiny. It will not.
It is time to redefine our relationship with government. We have accepted its role as benevolent caretaker so long we have become infantilized as a people. We are soft and childlike, afraid to push back against a domineering and abusive parent. While it is frightening to embrace both personal and political adulthood, it is also exhilarating and rewarding. Ultimately, healthy relationships require the participation of equals. We must assume our place as equals in the political system. It’s time to grow up, America.
Audrey Pietrucha is a member of the executive board of Vermonters for Liberty. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.