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Posted by on Aug 17, 2016 in 2016 Elections, 2016 Presidential Election, Bigotry, Drugs, Economy, Education, Government, Guns, Immigration, Politics, Society | 11 comments

Is Government the Enemy?

shutterstock_4026964Too 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.

Resurrecting Democracy

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  • Markus1

    We need to be cautious about using words like “enemy” since that signifies something that ought to be, even must be, destroyed. People are born with rights, and to ensure these rights governments are instituted among men. One of my friends told me that he favors private property rights above government. I told him that without government there is no private property; there is simply the stuff you hold until someone stronger takes it away.
    There was never an anarchic Eden. The least developed humans live in family and tribal groups that are literally tyrannical. We live in a complex society that requires a government the same way your body requires a heart. Of course, since governments are human creations they are prone to human failings. We must a alert to corruption and to propaganda from our government. Governments have led their people into highly destructive and evil wars all over this world.
    I guess the best analogy is to fire. Got to have it; must control it.

    • Slamfu

      What Markus1 said. A lot of people don’t even seem to get what govt does or why its needed, despite countless examples not only in history but even in the world today of what life is like without some sort of central control guiding larger policy in nations that have millions to over a billion people in them. The idea that large groups of people can just self regulate a la the libertarian fantasy without devolving into anarchy is absurd. Go find me any nation with a weak central govt and I’ll show you a lawless hellhole that is also an economic disaster on all fronts, with almost certainly only a handful of the population in control of all the money and/or guns and making life miserable for the other 99.9% of the population.

      People simply just don’t see/hear/understand much of what’s going on outside of their own limited sensory perception range, and if they don’t see something happening, then it might as well not be happening. But the fact is things are happening on a large scale, and a lot of thought and planning has to go on to make sure we don’t have famines, and that we do have basic services like water, food, law and order, currency, roads and all that other infrastructure that connects us all and allows for modern life. That stuff doesn’t just happen.

      • JSpencer

        Amen to the comments of Markus and Slamfu. People who don’t understand why governments matter, also don’t understand history. We face a mountain of problems, climate change, environmental degradation, a world of war and oppression, utterly dispossessed populations, ignorance, limited resources, etc. and exactly NONE of those problems will be solved without governments.

  • dduck

    I have no problem with by the people for the people. I do have a problem with too much by the government for the government (and the politicians).
    BTW, some primitive (a negative term) societies are run by the people for the people. Of course they are very small tribes, not big and corrupt like our “civilized” ones.

  • Mr. F

    Modern government represents a ten thousand year old experiment by humans to improve their conditions and live together in peace. People who see government as the enemy will have a much harder time prospering in society than those who understand government’s role in so much of our lives.

  • JSpencer

    Too bad there wasn’t some way to harness the energy from these angry/confused populists and put it to some useful service.

  • dduck

    Sometimes governments do get tangled in their own feet. That is no mean feat, it is SOP. We have screwed up big time in Iraq, and therefore Bush II is the real founder, unless you want to go back to 1919 Versailles and the ill advised slicing and dicing of the ME, or earlier the big oil companies lusting after ME oil, of ISIS, along with his ill advised advisers. And that led us to the current mess in Syria which may have not been as bad if more of our troops had stayed put in Iraq. But putting that one on the back debatable burner, for now, there is Yemen/Saudi Arabia. This is more recent history and as this editorial points out may be another major blunder NOT wholly laid at the feet of Bush.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/17/opinion/stop-saudi-arms-sales-until-carnage-in-yemen-ends.html?_r=0
    Meantime the attacks on Doctors Without Borders, including one by the U.S is indefensible. Do they rise to the level of war crimes?

    • If the attacks are deliberate (i.e. attacking the hospitals because they are hospitals) it is, indeed, a war crime.

  • jdledell

    As Markus said – Governments are imperfect creations by imperfect people. However, as imperfect as our government is, it nonetheless an organization that can harness the best of us to improve our collective lives. It makes some good decisions and bad decisions but I think because of the collective role of many people in government many bad individual decisions by people get deferred or eliminated. Does government, at all levels consume too much money. The answer is obviously yes but anyone who has been in any large organization or corporations knows that this trait is not unique to governments.

    People will continue to argue for the next 10 generations about the role and size of the government. Sometimes it will shrink and sometimes it will expand, but life will march on regardless. Given our foreseeable political environment I think the size and role of the government will be essentially the same regardless of which political party is in charge. I don’t think we will see any radical changes. In the case this whole argument does not matter much to ordinary Americans.

  • Government is the mechanism we use to create the framework in which we choose to live. Hate the government? Then work to change it.

    • JSpencer

      *****

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