Winter of Our Discontent
“Hear this now, O foolish people, Without understanding, Who have eyes and see not, And who have ears and hear not”
Jeremiah 5: 21
Winter is approaching and something is up in our body politic. There is a growing disconnect between the American people and the men and women they have chosen to govern over them. It is as if battle lines are being drawn between the governed and the forces, elected and other, that seem to be directing the policies and course of the nation.
It is not entirely political, though it might be more easily understood within that framework, nor is it driven by any one or more political personalities, though many would be tempted to believe it to be so. I believe the rising discontent is rooted in the phenomenon the prophet references in Jeremiah 5:21-28: the men and women that make up our “ruling class” have become so comfortable in their positions and privileges that they have lost sight of the purpose for which they were given such in the first place: to safeguard and promote the well-being of the people who have – and at least for now retain – the right to replace them.
How else can one explain the parliamentary pyrotechnics of recent weeks, in which one political party – or more accurately, one faction within that political party – is seeking to force through a massive transformation of our national economy, and perhaps even our entire society, though raw power and in the face of substantial opposition?
Our system of national government was designed with checks and balances that were supposed to prevent this sort of thing. But that system, and the Constitution which created it, are under attack for exactly and solely the reason that they stand in the way of the wishes and desires of those temporarily in the majority. We see proof of this every day as we watch politicians twist words and promote “narratives” to justify and reconcile their actions, but the ever-increasing extent of their efforts serve only to underscore the falsity of their arguments; in the old days we used to call them lies.
On September 17, 1787, as delegates to the Constitutional Convention exited Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government had just been created. “A republic,” he answered, “if you can keep it.” Pragmatic students of human nature, the delegates had been working for months to devise a system of government that would keep the worst intentions of men and women in check. As Franklin himself had observed, “the first man put at the helm will be a good one, nobody knows what sort may come afterward.”
Many years later Ronald Reagan observed, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
I believe that most Americans simply want their government to keep them safe, competently provide the structures and services necessary for daily life and support of a reasonably successful economy, and then get out of the way so that they can get on with the business of pursuing their own individual purpose and happiness. Everything else is optional, and probably not technically in the job description.
Thomas Jefferson famously warned that “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” For a very long time, the American public has been content to focus on living life, happy to leave the details of government to elected officials, trusting them to do the right thing. That trust has been seriously undermined in recent years, and now Americans are paying a great deal more attention to how the job is being done, or not done. Almost on a daily basis, we see news reports of issues and developments that cause us to feel less secure, to worry more and more about the future, especially that of our children and their children.
I believe this may be what is driving much of the sense of division in this country. It is not really Republican versus Democrat or liberal versus conservative. And it definitely is not race-based. There appears to be a growing sentiment of opposition to where this country is headed, especially recently, and against the forces – media bias, special interest lobbyists, dark money funders, etc. – that facilitate the drift away from long-standing policies and values.
Just this past week, Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a man not from Reagan’s party but perhaps channeling some of his wisdom, commented that he believed his voters elected him to “Be normal and stop the chaos.” He continued, “We have to work together. We can’t go too far left. This is not a center-left or a left country. We are a center, if anything, a little center-right country. That’s being shown, and we ought to be able to recognize that.”
Recent election results appear to support Manchin’s comments. Once fully analyzed, I believe they will be seen as rejection of the business as usual approach and the politicians that support it. I also believe that they will show evidence of major shifts in voting demographics that will call into serious question the longstanding electoral strategies of both political parties.
The voting public is now paying attention; it is seeing and listening, and it is seriously unhappy. There will be no insurrection or violent response; the Framers provided us with the means to right the ship, though it will take much time and effort. For example, the seeds may finally be planted to support Congressional term limits. It would be a good start. Franklin, Jefferson and Reagan all likely would approve.
“Whoever has ears, let them hear.”