On governing and government

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 22, 2024, 8:40 PM | comments: 0

Our trip last week to Washington D.C. was surprising to me in that it was bigger to me than just a tourist adventure. The United States is not "old" in the way that much of the rest of the world is. We saw things in Europe that were certainly older than anything in Washington, but the sheer volume of history concentrated in one place is staggering.

On arrival, just walking around was kind of overwhelming. Mind you, there's not really a thing in Washington that I haven't seen in photos, but from the moment I stepped on to the mall, with the Capitol at one end, and Washington Monument at the other, I immediately felt the weight of the things that happened there. Shortly thereafter, I was on the steps of the Capitol, where I couldn't help but contrast the peace of the moment and the knowledge about what happened there a few years earlier.

Less than 24 hours in D.C., my family and I toured the White House. The tour takes you through the east wing, and covers the entire second floor, from the East Room to the State Dining Room, and everything in between. The portraits of previous president line the foyer, and Washington and Lincoln still hold prominent places. I stood in the place where Obama gave his speech announcing the killing of bin Laden. I stood in the Blue Room, which held countless White House Christmas trees. Heads of state from throughout history dined with presidents in the State Dining Room. Literally every important guest entered through that foyer over the last two centuries. There probably aren't many places with that concentration of history.

The United States presidency is a serious job. The US History Museum has an exhibit about presidents, subtitling it "A Glorious Burden." The decisions a president makes could, in theory, literally lead to the end of humanity. Their words matter, because a person in that position is a figure head and symbol charged with operating our democracy.

It doesn't end there. Congress makes laws that can affect 330 million people, or potentially billions. It can authorize war, it can decide to feed the hungry, it can reduce the cost of healthcare. Its impact on the American way of life is non-trivial. It is serious. It is important.

For years now, I've been watching headlines and seeing a big box of crazy say things that enable the worst inclinations of Americans. A subset of the population is deeply afraid of something that isn't actually a threat. They may have legitimate worry, but they've also been convinced that there are scapegoats with which to assign blame. They're the people not like them. And they've given unconditional trust to people that they think will help them or "defend" them. The reality is that they actually are not looking out for their interests, which I also can't explain.

There are people in office or running for office that are not looking out for democracy, or the Constitution, they're only looking for power and influence. I know that the truly disenfranchised, and those who see moral equivalence in politics, believe that it's all the same. It is not. I think back about how much I disapproved of the policy of George W. Bush, around the Iraq War. He owned up to that mistake, if subtly, but I truly believe that he had the best interest of the nation in mind. He might have been wrong, but what I truly believe is that he was, at heart, a public servant. He worked for the United States, for public service. I believe this to be true of every president in my lifetime (though I'm uncertain of Nixon, because I was too young).

The Trump movement is not that. It isn't OK to say that you're willing to be a dictator, to "suspend" the Constitution. That is not democracy. It is not public service. It is fundamentally contrary to the founding documents, to the intent of the founders. It is contrary to the Constitution. It's not an ambiguous proposition.

When I was younger, Reagan famously said, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." His intent was to sow mistrust, to suggest that government was the enemy. This is insane. As someone who spent years working in local government, I can assure you that government, led by the trustworthy and selfless, is valuable. Those who want to lead it because they believe they can protect your from it are not the right people.

I don't know what to do with this.


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