Our republic needs to be saved
Lately there has been considerable conversation, including a letter in last week’s Courant by Dave Stahl, about the ongoing militarization of our local police forces. It’s a salient point as traditionally there has been a fundamental distinction between the roles of domestic and national defense forces that are blurring in terms of methods.
What intrigues me more, though, is not the fact of the militarization but its root given it hasn’t evolved in a vacuum. Like how our public schools reflect the communities in which they exist, so too do our police forces. They reflect what is occurring across our culture: Becoming more martial in the same way we as a people are becoming more militant.
The social fabric of our culture is being shredded in a way, arguably, not see since the Civil War. While the general crime rate has declined recently, we are, nevertheless, evolving into a violent, antagonistic society. This is occurring while the crime rate is going down, which is not ironic in that violence perpetrated in the two arenas is distinct, the difference between crime and war.
The concept of a social contract is a 17th and 18th century construct promulgated first by Thomas Hobbes in his treatise Leviathan in which he argued for rule by an absolute sovereign.
The American experience, however, traces its lineage to two others: John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They agreed with Hobbes regarding humans once lived in a “state of nature” where chaos reigned once population grew and life became more complex, but held that people formed government for other purposes: to protect property (Locke) or personal liberty (Rousseau).
Hence, the most famous line from the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths as self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty (Rousseau), and the pursuit of happiness (Locke).”
One intention of the Constitution is to guarantee we do not devolve into a police state, but evidence alarmingly suggests that’s where we’re heading. While what follow might at first glance seem disparate issues and concerns, I contend they’re intertwined and contribute to our declining public decorum:
- domestic spying by government, from the NSA to traffic cameras;
- corporate spying in practices commonly referred to as “targeted marketing”;
- police forces securing and using armaments intended for use against outside enemies;
- the narrow, specious interpretation of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms clause by individuals arming themselves to the teeth;
- widespread acrimonious exchanges not only among citizens, often anonymously on the Internet blogosphere, acidic talk radio and cable “news programs,” but also among our public officials and community and business leaders;
- rise and proliferation of social media.
South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson set the tone and new lower standard in 2009 when he shouted “You lie!” to the President of the United States on national TV during his address to Congress. While Wilson apologized and we can debate the issue—health care—as to who was correct, nonetheless, decorum was broken.
When privacy, respect and trust go out the window, what’s left? Social warfare.
A social civil war is being fought, exacerbated by the rapid development and use of technology for instant communication, across the land. Nonsensical comments and flat-out lies are spread and shared instantly. Opinion is supplanting fact. With the emphasis on testing and not on critical thinking, our constitutional process, and appreciation of art and literature, the mission of schools has morphed from opening minds, basic skill development and inculcating citizenship to consumerism.
Our social civil war is fueled as well by obscene piles of money in politics, the bastardization of the First Amendment free speech clause, and the defining of a corporation as a person. These, compounded by the gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts, result in elections being more bought-and-sold rather than contested on the battlefield of ideas.
That’s where movements such as the Tea Party find their power. In the end, they’re not about ideas, but about emotion: anger, fear, and hate.
Yes, we have a dysfunctional Congress, but it was installed by an increasingly overwrought, overburdened citizenry wondering what the hell is going on.
Should we come to understand we’re not pawns in the Great Chess Match played by elites and we the people have the final say as our Founders declared in the first three words of the our Constitution, we can save our republic. It will take work, and as it is for the melting polar ice caps, time is of the essence.