Thursday, November 20, 2008

PUBLIC TRUST AND MISTRUST

Steven Thomma of McClatchy has an article, ‘Public distrust of government could hobble Obama’. (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/56105.html ).

I think it was Mark Schmitt of ‘The American Prospect’ who in the most recent issue said something to the effect that if people don’t trust government, then that’s bad for democracy.
So this thread seems to be floating around. As well it should be.

The first thing that comes to me is that the Founders built a complexly counter-balanced Constitution pretty much telegraphing the fact that they didn’t trust government.

Or perhaps: they didn’t quite trust the citizenry to rise to the occasion of acting as The People (Lincoln ran further with that ball). But they also expected that the Branches would not ‘trust’ each other. What balanced the machine was that through a certain professional ‘distrust’, the Branches would keep each other honest. While none of the Branches, being composed of human beings subject to original sin or the Enlightenment equivalent of ‘natural human frailties’, would be perfect in its disinterested and honest dedication to the public and common weal, yet they would each ‘help’ the others from straying too far down the paths of a self-serving official treachery, a betrayal of the common weal and the public interest in the service of pursuing their own interests.

In this sense, nobody should ‘trust’ the government: whether for religious or philosophical reasons long-established in the West, and based on a centuries’ long or millennia’ long observation and experience, human beings no matter how highly placed – indeed especially those who are highly placed – cannot be presumed to be doing the right thing. Many tires have to be kicked, and probably not a few asses. It’s Nature’s way, and God’s will. Selah.

There is a ‘regulation’ built into the Constitution because there is a great probability that sooner or later some derangement of the machine’s human elements will occur. ‘Deregulation’ is thus in a sense contrary to the interests of democracy, and is indeed contrary to everything We might expect from human nature.

Of course, when in the interests of running their own revolution the Second Wave of Feminism (2WF) led the way in deconstructing ‘human nature’ – claiming that there was no ‘human nature’ to which anybody had to conform or the authority of which anyone had to respect or under which anyone need be ‘oppressed’ – they undercut (whether purposely or not is another question) the concept of ‘regulation’.

Blended with the Boomer-Hippie urges to tear down any speed bumps, fences, or walls that would interfere with the groovy flow of Luv and – by the by – sex … well, you can see what a powerful brew was going to be dribbling, and then pouring, out of the national still that was the late Sixties. Eager not to seem fuddy-duddies the Dems blessed it all, bestowing upon it the full faith, credit and authority of the federal government to the extent that they controlled it, telling themselves, it now appears, that the ‘liberations’ of the later Sixties were of a piece with the liberations of the civil rights legislation of the early Sixties, the concern for the ‘little people’ exemplified by the New Deal, and the general traditional American concern for ever-increasing freedom and liberation.

They were, perhaps, more than a little too generous in their assessment of things and of themselves.

So ‘regulation’ was undercut philosophically long before it was repealed and watered down and otherwise deconstructed by policy and statute. (Except – Dr. Freud to Consulting One stat! – for certain stigmatized groups of folks who, marvelously, were to be ‘totally’ regulated.)

At this point We have every reason to be very parsimonious in Our investment of ‘trust’ in the government, in each of the Branches.

But this is as it should be. As that remarkable Prime Branch of Constitutional government called The People, it is for Us rather to place Our trust in the Founders’ Constitutional vision of how things must work. It is not for Us to ‘trust’ individuals or, at this late and dangerous point, ‘government’ or the Branches.

Of course, several newer generations of Americans and many who are only recently arrived, no longer have or have never had a lively and robust appreciation of just how things have to work for a democracy under this Constitutional vision to properly work. The People need not – indeed cannot possibly – involve themselves in every single aspect of administering national affairs or ensuring that – among other things – ‘the laws be faithfully executed’. That is not the role of The People.

It is the role of The People to keep the Branches honest, as the Branches – all cozied up there inside the Beltway (formerly known, by General Sherman as “the fleshpots of Washington City”) - are supposed to keep each other honest, aware as they must be of each others’ less Constitutionally salubrious predilections. Sort of like alcoholics in AA keeping an eye on each other, familiar as each is with all the old weaknesses and the dodges that enable the slide back down into the abyss.

Of course, the Founders’ worst nightmare would be that all the Branches would become debauched, and that The People themselves would become debauched. That is a process that would take years – decades – and would require a highly concentrated and sustained effort by an astounding array of the politically powerful and the educated, and ‘the free press’ as well. Only in their worst nightmares might the Founders have imagined this country in the past forty or so years.

But so it has come to pass.

It’s hard to say what Mr. Obama is going to do. If he actually understands the tremendous rot that has already set in, and wishes to do everything possible to start the cure, and if he is yet cautious enough to realize that it can’t be done overnight or even overtly – so entrenched is the disease – then he may have to do a great deal of tacking and one-step forward/three-quarters-step back. No Hercules can clean out this stable overnight – the Augean kine are humans, after all, there in the Beltway, and quite capable of a very human demonry when they perceive themselves and their habits threatened.

It would help if The People were to find a way to keep a close eye, on them and on him.
On him, a benevolent but gimlet eye, the eye of independent souls who are used to having to hold things together in the face of misfortune and the ‘frailties and weaknesses of human nature’.
On them, at this point, as a People who have already been fooled once, twice, and a hundred times, and a People alert enough to their own survival and their own responsibilities to realize that it won’t take much more for these bloated and tax-fattened kine (and not a few swine) to knock out the last roof supports for the whole Stable. We lose the barn and We lose the farm. It’s come to that now.

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