As a citizen, a veteran, and someone who has been interested in how our Republic is governed for my whole life, I have to ask a hard question. Is government, in general, losing its legitimacy in the USA?
Legitimacy is about trust. As a people, we trust that, overall, the government is acting in our best interest. Trust is hard to win and easy to lose.
Responsible leaders know the importance of maintaining legitimacy. Government by its nature is force, and when people see force at work in all its ugliness they need to know, at a gut level, that it is being used for good things. If it is used for bad things it gets very hard for the average, decent person to tolerate government. People refuse. Taxes don’t get paid. Sacred cows get gored. Responsible leaders are supposed to speak up when going-along to-get-along goes too far and leads to a lack of trust.
But are they? The key to legitimate government in America should still be about protecting individual rights, free markets and a limited government. It’s these qualities that made America worth living in. This country grew into an economic and military giant because they lead to prosperity. If legitimacy is now based on government buying people off, as the cynical would say, we are certainly headed for a crash. “You can’t buy permanent friends with free candy.”
Individual rights are now considered secondary to other needs. Consider the Federal level alone. Instead of free speech, we have “free speech zones.” Political competition is restricted by laws that embed only two political parties in power. Congress wrote a law that forces everyone to buy medical insurance. President Bush actually advocated eliminating Habeas Corpus. President Obama proposed eliminating ammunition for the most popular type of rifle in private hands. The SCOTUS ruled way back in 1942 that the Federal government can control what a person legally makes, mines, or grows on his own property for his own use, even if no one else is involved. In order to use commercial travel, a person must get permission from the DHS first or they will not be allowed to go, no judge, jury or public evidence involved. The TSA routinely ignores the Fourth Amendment. Intelligence agencies are spying on us, and they have publicly apologized to lying about that in sworn testimony to Congress. Police departments can legally use civil confiscation to take property without charges or even evidence of guilt. When did we become a country where our rights are protected by the Constitution, but only if we don’t actually want to use them?
America is the land of the managed market. A free market is based on voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. The tax code, the creation of our dollars, Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the minimum wage, bank and corporate bailouts, business regulation, government control of education, utility and infrastructure monopolies, licenses, permits, zoning, affirmative action, agricultural subsidies, and the massive government bureaucracy all depend on the idea some citizens should have privileges over other citizens in the law. Besides being unjust, this idea makes for higher costs, less choice and poorer quality. Today, the invisible hand of the free market has been replaced by a very visible thumb on the market scales. As the Roman Senator Tacitus said, “The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the state.”
Finally, it is hard to claim our government is limited in its power when both Presidents Bush and Obama have assassinated U.S. citizens abroad without a trial or even presentation of evidence. Our government actually authorized torture. This is such nonsense since they can no more authorize torture than they can authorize rape or slavery. No higher functionary in government, no matter how guilty, is going to jail.
These are more than ugly trends. They are a bad way to govern. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, they make people think “Why should I put up with this?”
When they finally answer that they won’t, that is when the real problems begin.
Pete Blome is a retired military officer, Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party, and At-Large Representative of the Libertarian Party of Florida