Are we simply done with law and order? Are we done with justice and fairness? Do we no longer value such things as a society? Do we intend to let the pendulum swing perpetually in the direction of unruliness and corruption?
I’d like to make a few observations about our current national rush to self-destruction. But first, let me remind my audience at the outset that I am neither Republican nor Democrat (nor a supporter of any other party), and am instead a constitutionalist who believes we should be following that Constitution concerning which all our officers take an oath—and that we should take an originalist position on it—interpreting it as did those who promoted its ratification in 1787 and 1788. So, please don’t take my words here as being partisan, because they are simply not, as rare as that may make my position.
I became politically aware in the early 2000s and was quickly concerned upon discovering America’s many departures from this Constitution that we still swear by, after having spent the earlier part of my life in churches that taught that politics should be avoided, more or less, as they are “unspiritual” and “distracting” at best, and outright “satanic” at worst. As I began to study, it was exceedingly obvious to me that we have, in practice, drifted far from the Constitution’s design—and at the same time, it was very troubling to find that so very few people seemed to be alarmed about it. Since then, I’ve been constantly frustrated as an activist, trying to get people usefully involved in something that most find only mildly interesting at best. And I’ve been further frustrated by many (but not all) of those who are involved, for so many of them are going about things in one counterproductive way or another. Their strategies vary, but most involve investment in the party spirit without any serious attempt at reforming the corruption that has got hold of those leading the parties–and of those who win office as representatives of those parties. Unfortunately, many are adamant that the other party should reform itself, and close to none are adamant that their own party should do so.
As we discuss such things–and as we use terms such as “Democrat” and “Republican”, it’s crucial that we understand that there is a notable difference between what “Republican” and “Democrat” mean to the average members of those parties, and what those terms mean to those whom they elect to public office. The political doctrines that have won the support of the citizens do not necessarily rule in the agendas of those in office. So, just as there is a substantial (but not complete) divide between what rank-and-file Democrats want and what rank-and-file Republicans want for America, there are also divides between each of those camps and the officials they have put into office, the latter often betraying the trust of those who elected them.
It’s necessary for us to understand, then, that in bigger-picture terms, we are divided in four ways, and not just two:
- Rank-and-file Republicans
- Rank-and-file Democrats
- Republican office holders
- Democrat office holders
But why do American partisans let their elected leaders get away with violating their advertised political doctrine? Why do they keep re-electing such people again and again when those people don’t faithfully represent the ideals of their official party platforms?
What’s wrong with us?
And then there’s the further-forgotten Oath of Office, by variations of which all elected officials—regardless of party affiliation—bind themselves to obeying the Constitution and to defending it against “all enemies, foreign and domestic”. Things have gotten so bad that it is almost unheard of to find an elected official who has not violated, and will not violate, his or her Oath. Yet so many of us keep voting again and again to re-elect such people, despite the fact that we know–or should know–that they have proven unfaithful to the Oath they took.
What’s wrong with us?
Are we simply done with the Rule of Law? Are we done with law and order? Do we no longer care about justice and stability and fairness and the righteous execution of the tasks of governance? Have we somehow evolved beyond all that to some higher mode of existence in which such things are no longer desirable?
Do we no longer want the thief captured? Do we no longer want restitution for what he has stolen? Do we no longer want the vandal caught and made to clean up his or her mess? Do we no longer want the murderer removed from society? Do we no longer want corporations to be prohibited from fraud and misrepresentation?
What’s wrong with us?
Not even thieves want to be stolen from. Not even liars want to be lied to. Not even thugs want to be beaten up. So, why, then, do we normal citizens of the United States turn a blind eye to the bad behavior of our city, county, state, and federal governments, as if we suddenly want to be abused by them?
What’s wrong with us?
I submit that Americans are generally willing to operate under the Rule of Law, so long as somebody else administrates it. That is, if some magical hero were to appear to set us straight, punishing and removing all the corrupt people from government, and establishing justice and fairness in every matter, Americans would warm up to that just fine, even if they found it awkward, unfamiliar, or even unsettling at first. But ask them to be the heroes themselves–to make it happen themselves, by their own designs and efforts, and you’ll find them quickly surrendered to keeping the corruption.
But what if there’s no help coming? What if there’s no knight in shining armor, mounted on a dazzling steed and racing in to save us from the dastardly tyrants and scoundrels of our day? If no one comes to save us, just how long will we be content not to save ourselves? Just how long will it seem to us to be more bearable to do nothing than to be proactive do something?
Come, let us reason together. Isn’t there some point–hypothetically speaking–at which corruption and injustice might become so unbearable that a passive people might find it worth the effort to become active at stopping the corruption?
I’ve learned from my self-directed studies in Cognitive Science and in the Bible that people tend to be what cognitive scientists would call “cognitive misers” and “moral misers”—that they tend to be stingy with the amount of energy they’ll devote to their thinking and to the moral quality of their behavior. It should strike us as no surprise, then, that we also tend to be what we might call in political terms, “reform misers”, who are very unlikely to initiate any substantial level of reform on our own. Statistically speaking, I would expect a very small percentage of us (under 1%) to be the sort to overcome this “reform miser” tendency on principle alone. That is, I expect that very few would reach a point where they say, “You know, I’ve been observing that we’re getting farther and farther compromised with regard to the Rule of Law in this country, and I think it’s time I started organizing some method of changing people’s minds as to the importance of that.” (This is how I was thinking in 2007.)
There are various reasons for this—various thinking dispositions and/or biases that people have that keep them from being proactive in such ways. But suffice it to summarize here that the average American is not convinced of the need to get involved in any new ways. Sure, voting is an old and accepted way of being involved, but beyond that, it’s unlikely that many would think to do something further. This is simply not the disposition of most–to be proactive about philosophical matters.
But if you break into their house at two in the morning, you may find that the average passive-American homeowner will become very proactive and shoot you dead. In that situation, they definitely think it worth their trouble to try to reform the situation presented by your unauthorized presence in their house. They’ll get up out of their bed, get their gun, and dispatch you with extreme prejudice. In this, they feel wholly justified, and such self-defense seems to them the natural and expected behavior in such a life-threatening situation.
I have long wished, therefore, that I could find a way to get the average American to see this Union of states as his own “house”–and to muster that same willing proactivity that he or she would muster in the case of the burglar. But this has proved exceedingly difficult. A typical American will elect a governor who has already demonstrated him- or herself to be an Oath-breaker while holding a legislative seat during the gubernatorial campaign! Only the insane would believe that the one who violated the Oath in the legislature will keep it in the governor’s office.
What’s wrong with us?
All the evidence points to the conclusion that we ourselves—we citizens of these United States—don’t really care very much about the Constitution, either. Otherwise, one might think we could be somewhat proactive in finding candidates who do, too.
But we haven’t figured this out yet. Our “house” hasn’t been broken into badly enough yet for us to see it as an encroachment that is worthy of our rapt attention. We sit back and watch as trillions are looted from the public treasury and paid out to causes that are not even remotely authorized by the Constitution they swore to uphold. We sit back and watch as election rules in the counties and states are changed so as to allow election fraud on a massive scale. (And remember, I’m not a Republican, so this is me calling it like I see it, and not merely defending Trump as a biased fan of his might do.) We sit back and watch an impeachment trial that is unauthorized to hold for any defendant who is not still in office. We sit back and watch as the free speech of federal employees is infringed by presidential decrees prohibiting the use of the term “China virus”. And it goes on and on. Yet the citizens do what about this?
What’s wrong with us?
I recently posed this question on Facebook:
Is there ANY evil so great that ALL the people will stand up to oppose it?
I think the answer is “no”. There simply is no built-in limit to how much corruption the human can tolerate before getting involved to stop it. Humans can go on and on in toleration of evil without ever getting involved. We do not automatically spring into action, independent of our habitual cognitive and moral dispositions. Those who do spring into action are already disposed to do so, by having trained their thinking about justice enough that they now feel compelled to act–whether for the first time, or the hundredth.
QUESTION: Who would want to live in a world in which there is no administration of justice?
If anyone would, wouldn’t it be the scoundrel who wants no challenge to his or her artifices and schemes? Or the tyrant who wants no challenge to his or her dominance of societies not rightfully belonging to him or her?
But what about the rank-and-file citizens? Of course, they don’t want to live in a world devoid of justice, for when their cars are stolen, they want something done about it.
QUESTION: How much do we want to have justice and fairness and law and order? Do we still want it if we have to be involved in the whole thing ourselves?
Well, I think that if we’re going to have it, we’re going to have to re-establish law and order ourselves. I see no indication that the federal government, nor the state governments, will re-establish the Rule of Law anytime soon. Indeed, doing such a thing could possibly be an endangerment of their own lives. As far as we know, our elected officials may be operating under the threat of death (if not under bribery, blackmail, or some other manner of extortion–or if not under their own voluntary corruption.) And if any of this is the case, this makes them unfit for the kind of reform we might like to see. (And yes, I think that it’s gotten this bad.)
So far in this world, one question has been echoing in the public forum since it was first posed eons ago:
“Who will guard the guards?” (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?)
The question’s about putting humans in government, and how you keep them behaving well while in power. The American answer to this question has traditionally been, “The voters will guard the guards (public officials).”
But the logical nature of such a proposition simply raises the question all over again like this: “OK, then who will guard the voters?”
That is, if the voters begin to shirk their responsibility as citizen overseers of the government (which they have done), then who will correct them and get them back on course?
And America has no answer to this question, unless it is that most dubious result of circular thinking, “The government will!”
Of course, this part of my conversation appears to have been made at least somewhat moot by the recent undermining of the 2020 presidential election. If the right to free and fair elections is no longer a sacred matter in American political philosophy, then that puts us in a scenario something like this:
Q: Who will guard the guards?
A: There will be no more guarding of the guards; the guards are now autonomous, self-electing, and beyond correction.
One wonders just how long such a regime will even pretend to be going by the Constitution, when they have clearly defied it recently more than has ever been done in recent memory. But I won’t be surprised to see that sort of pretense continuing since it seems to be a popular tactic of totalitarian governments worldwide to be pretending to be operating for some cause that’s higher than their actual reasons for doing as they do.
In my novel, The Extraordinary Visit of Benjamin True: The State of the Union as no one else would tell it, (Chapter 12), I present my “gold bar metaphor” about how no one, having his own gold bar, would leave it on the doorstep overnight, since it is well-known that many dishonest people exist, who would take it for their own. And this is what has happened with our government. It has been stolen, having been left unguarded by the people. This has happened incrementally over the last two centuries, and is still happening—most recently in obviously-accelerating degrees. (If you’re not aware of this, just start paying attention to such things, and you’ll likely come to see what I mean in the next couple of years.)
And so remains the question of whether the American citizens will ever again take a notion to take control of things. This is the reason I wrote this novel: to help Americans to understand that this is a cause worthy of their efforts. But it’s just a matter of time before the government has encroached so far upon our daily lives, that it’s no longer a matter of principle, but a very practical matter of survival. And this is because people such as who are currently in charge of our government are ruthless people who consider nothing sacred, and everything a plaything for their own use. People of this sort have wreaked havoc on this planet since the beginnings of human history, and are still at it today, having only rarely been put in their proper place by people who wanted their countries more than the tyrants and scoundrels did.
And even if the American people were to rise up and replace these bad actor guards with new ones, there’s always this danger: Some people hate tyranny until they get to be the tyrants.
Yes, even a brand new set of officials sitting in the seats of government would have to be guarded against tyrannical behavior—even if they had begun by wanting to hold those offices for the very purpose of getting rid of the corruption. Thomas Jefferson put it well when he wrote this:
If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.Extract from Letter to Lafayette. 2 April, 1790
He seems to have been saying, in other words, something at least vaguely similar to the popular aphorism, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”–and especially if you add in the idea that when the cat’s away, the mice become monsters.
Is this not what we have seen in our halls of government?
And all this raises the question stated in this post’s title: “Is America Done with Law and Order?”
Have we become so corrupt as a people—as a culture—as a society—that we no longer wish to live in under justice and fairness—as in “with justice and liberty for all”? One can easily imagine a society so corrupt as to be incapable of operating successfully as citizen-overseers of their own government—as guards over those who are in the seats of power. In a society like that, voting and petitioning and such would be pointless. Even an action as extreme as overthrowing a corrupt government and installing a new one would be pointless—provided that the new set of officials were also as corrupt as the first set.
The design of our Constitution depended upon the people remaining upright and active. This idea was stated several times by the Framers, but perhaps nowhere so forebodingly as from Benjamin Franklin (emphasis added):
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.~Benjamin Franklin, final speech to the Constitutional Convention, 1787–delivered in writing and read by James Wilson.
“…incapable of any other.” Is that what we’ve become? Are we now simply incapable of sustaining a constitutional republic as citizen-overseers of our own government? Have Americans somehow devolved in mental faculties since 1787? (I doubt it.) Or has our disposition changed, such that we simply don’t care about such things any longer? (This, I suspect to be true.)
Tyranny, however, has a way of making (some) people care who did not care beforehand on principle alone. But it also has this effect on many: They simply cower under the tyranny, and neither question it or put a stop to it–and they even become confederates with the tyrants, turning against their fellow citizens who dare to challenge the tyrant.
If we are now as corrupt as Franklin’s scenario envisioned, what hope is there for us? And I don’t mean as a country, but as people. As individual human beings. That is, what hope is there for reforming what kind of people we have become?
Well, unlike some, I believe there is great hope for improving ourselves as individuals—and a society consists quite simply of individuals, does it not? Both in religion and in our own general cognitive habits, we can reform ourselves considerably without any need for a fantastic knight in shining armor. (See my audio Podcast, “Rethinking the Bible“, and my video podcast, “Reality-Based Thinking: Rethinking the World“. And read my novel, which presents Reality-Based Thinking in narrative fashion.)
Our government was stolen from us because we lost sight of reality–because we lost sight of the fact that it was not only our right, but our duty to oversee it honestly, rationally, and responsibly. (See Chapter 12: The Coin of Rights” in my novel.) This is our fault–and the fault of our parents and grandparents and great grandparents… But now it is our watch. And it is our choice whether we will learn to be citizens again, or whether we’ll just stand back and watch as the country and its government are used for sinister and greedy purposes by those now quite fully in control of it.
Thomas Paine said a thing I would repeat about us all today:
We have it in our power to begin the world over again.Source: THOMAS PAINE, Common Sense, conclusion, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Philip S. Foner, vol. 1, p. 45 . Originally published in 1776.
He was speaking metaphorically, of course, but I think he was right. They did start over again. And so could we. We could re-learn that American character that was the ideal in the beginning. (If you’d like a deep read on the subject, see my free online book, Character Not Included: What America must fix before she can fix anything else.)
Before we can get anywhere, I think we’ve got to get a handle on what was lost. So I’ll end this post by embedding my video essay, American Fire. It’s 8 minutes long–and if you love this country, I think you’ll find it well worth the time to watch.
There is so very much we could do to help Americans make things right again—and actually, to make things even better than they were under the new Constitution in 1789. What remains to be seen, however, is how many Americans can be turned into honest, rational, and responsible activists for the cause. If too few volunteer for that, there’s very little hope of correcting our current course.
If you had been alive in 1776, the question would have been whether you were willing to take your musket and join the Minute Men. Today, what is needed is quite a different kind of activism from that. We need people to spread and to teach the original American doctrine (of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence). It’s a “war” of ideas—a war for the character of a nation—a war based on the questions, “what kind of people are we?” and “what kind of people will we dare to become?”