Too many Americans see government as an enemy and blame it for society’s ills and their own problems. They refuse to acknowledge responsibility for their station in life, having dropped out of school, perhaps had a dependency on drugs or alcohol, or neglected hard work to build careers. Their fear of immigrants is because the latter are willing to struggle and strive in order to succeed, even taking jobs that citizens find demeaning.
Since America’s birth as a sovereign nation, there have been citizens who have opposed the power of the federal government, and seen the laws and regulations of the government as unjust ways of restricting their freedom. Jefferson and the Republicans/ Democrats were wary of the federal government and favored states’ rights over centralized government power. But they understood that a strong government was necessary for defense, to collect taxes, and provide money for projects that benefited multiple states. Indeed, Jefferson as president arranged the Louisiana Purchase through the federal government in 1803, more than doubling the size of the young nation.
The federal government was seen as the enemy by the Confederate states that fought the Civil War against the Union. Some of its citizens have maintained a feeling of enmity to this day, with Southerners the leading opponents of government initiatives. Right-wing conservatives who want to shrink the federal government, also view it as an enemy instead of a friend that can provide benefits to their states and their constituents. Their ideology of smaller government does not make sense in this age of globalization, when the central government alone has the power and the ability to do so many necessary things to help citizens.
Education is subsidized and monitored by the federal government from K-12 to universities, to help pay for it and to be certain requirements are being met. The nation’s infrastructure is built mainly with funds from the federal government. Highways, railways and mass transit, airports, transmission lines, and broadband are all dependent on the federal government. The social safety net, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment compensation, and so forth are all financed by the federal government. Research and development at the NIH, DARPA, universities and many corporations, are supported by the federal government. The federal government provides protection for the nation through America’s armed forces, the CIA, NSA, and so forth, against foreign aggression and terrorist activities. The FBI, TSA, DEA and other federal agencies also protect us from domestic terrorism and crime. Diplomatic relations with other nations are handled by the federal government as well, along with mutual security pacts like NATO, and various trade agreements.
Notwithstanding the role that the federal government plays in citizen’s lives, there are numerous groups and individuals who see the government as an enemy and want it to be less intrusive, smaller and less powerful. Anti-tax organizations like the Club for Growth and pro-gun groups like the NRA fall into this category, and talk radio personalities reinforce their ideas. Many businesses don’t like the rules and regulations laid down by government agencies that enhance safety but eat into their profits. And besides the right-wingers who are active politically, there are independent white supremacy groups and militias who meet regularly and rail against the government. Some of them have hatched conspiracy theories about what the government intends to do in the future and stand ready to fight. Many of the people in these groups are afraid that the government at some point is going to take their guns, their fears heightened by NRA propaganda and the Trump campaign. There are also individuals opposed to federal ownership of land in the West and want it transferred to state and local governments and perhaps sold to private interests. The Snowden revelations heightened the concerns of conspiracy theorists and those worried about privacy, seeing the federal government as a behemoth that controls everything.
Aside from these longstanding government opponents, there has been a wave of populism engulfing all Western countries including the United States, its proponents viewing establishment figures, the banks, immigrants, and the government as enemies. Antipathy to government rallies the masses to populism. Many of these populists are uneducated, unemployed or underemployed and have recently slipped from the middle class. They are angry at the government and the establishment because they feel that not enough has been done to help them to prosper, while the banks have been bailed out and immigrants have been taking their jobs; at least those that have not been shipped abroad. These people do not understand that automation has reduced the need for workers in manufacturing plants, even as production in the United States has increased.
Though many groups and individuals view the federal government as an enemy, their lenses are clouded and they are not cognizant of what the government actually does for them, the ways that it is on their side and can help them. The government needs to educate the populace through advertisements and infomercials to show opponents how the government works for them and what programs are available that might transform their lives. Paranoid anti-government groups and individuals will always be around, with early education in civics and constant reinforcement in school perhaps the best way to counteract this fringe. Education about government will not come from home or their peers.
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