I’d like to give a shout-out to all of our “progressive” friends who are aghast at the power of the Presidential office now that Donald Trump has it!
As a basically “conservative” non-Trump supporter who has watched presidential politics go bad ever since Barry Goldwater was fighting it out with Lyndon Johnson and who hasn’t supported the “winning side” of a presidential election since the mid 1980s, all I can say is:
We told you so.
You did that to yourselves.
Yes, you. All you people who wanted the Government to be able to “fix” things.
You wanted the Government to have the power to interfere in whatever aspect of life you wanted them to “fix” … and those are the same things in which you don’t like whatever it can interfere with now.
But be warned: I’m about to tick off people on both “sides” here. Because there are “conservatives” who will vehemently disagree with some of what I’ll have to say, too.
How many of you cheered when Barack Obama threatened to change things by executive order, saying in 2014, “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone!” when he expected to meet with opposition from Congress? Or how about those endless wars of the decade before that? (In which, regardless of what people remember or admit to, Obama only followed the Bush plan in winding down and getting (supposedly) out.) We’re still dealing with the repercussions of that mess. Or how about that Patriot Act! Or even just dealing with the TSA when you go through the so-called “security” lines at the airport?
No. You don’t get to say, “but … but … but … Republicans! …” for any of it.
You can’t say that the Democrats haven’t involved us in as many foreign fiascos as the Republicans over the past half century. And you can’t pretend that the Democrats aren’t just as entwined with the crony capitalism of Big Banking or the so-called “Military Industrial Complex” as the Republicans. Quite a few Republicans actually do want a smaller, less intrusive Federal Government – in all areas of our lives. Yes, even on social issues. And they want less favoritism to certain huge corporate interests, too. They just don’t get a choice.
All because somebody looked at a problem and said, “The Government should do something about that!”
And then those people gave the Government the power to do it. (Or the Government took the power. It’s hard to tell which it was anymore.)
Whether we call ourselves a democracy or a republic, we’re supposed to be a nation with a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” But how’s that working out for you? … for us? In a republic, supposedly the people hold the power and then delegate an appropriate amount of it to the government for maintaining a stable, organized society with the rule of law. But way too much of that power gets delegated to a central authority – especially in the Federal Government, and especially to the Executive branch.
Even within the Federal Government, power gets centralized in ways that were never supposed to have even been possible and that would shock the Founders if they were around to see it.
For example, our direct representatives in Congress are supposed to be the only ones who have the authority to start or maintain military actions against foreign countries. But the internationalist in the White House in 2003 went to Congress and basically asked for a blank check with no date on it for his “war on terrorism.” And, with a bipartisan vote, they gave it to him. Without a date on it. Just like he asked for. A rubber stamp with hardly any further review.
And then his successor campaigned on a platform of “Change!” and pointed to such excesses and said, “We need to put a stop to that!” Well … how did that work out? He didn’t give up one speck of power, did he? No. For his full eight years, he engaged in a seeming contest of: “Who can perform more drone strikes in a supposedly sovereign foreign nation on the other side of the world?” He won the drone strike contest, of course. So where was that “change” again?
Obama wasn’t bad because he was a “communist” or even a true “socialist.” He certainly wasn’t bad because he’s a Kenyan. Or because he’s (half) black. No. One of his worst characteristics was that, in too many ways, he was really just another eight year extension of Bush. On both the international front and, not that anyone remembers anymore or ever did admit it, the Federal Government usurpation of the economy through “bail outs.” How many homeowners saw any benefit from those bail outs like the Government promised they would? No, that benefit was reserved – by both administrations – for the Government’s cronies in the banks. And that fiasco wasn’t just some potential “collusion” somewhere over who’s going to be in the White House. It actively ruined the lives of millions of people. And who in those banks got prosecuted? Think about it. How much effort did either party put into prosecuting the people who committed the fraud that caused the “biggest economic disaster since the Great Depression” as compared to the endless investigations into an election?
Or how about a few decades earlier. That progressive president with a Republican label named Richard Nixon was riding on an economic recession with a little over 6% unemployment combined with inflation rate at about that same percentage. So what did Congress do? They passed an economic reform act giving up power, that it could be argued that they didn’t even have in the first place, to the President. And Nixon enacted Federal wage and price controls and, at the same time, ditched any relationship our money had to gold. And he did it right from his own personal White House desk – by executive order – with his trusty little pen and nothing else. (Wage and price controls don’t work, by the way. They only squeeze the economy like a toothpaste tube so it bulges out somewhere else. And the monetary “gold standard” is an issue that has complications that people who argue for it don’t bring up. But the point here is the President doing these things unilaterally with just his pen.)
Is the United States Federal Government – let alone just the Executive branch all by itself – supposed to have all the power that it has?
No. It is not.
Does any similar sized government have the same amount of power anywhere else in the world?
Nowhere in any nation on Earth – except for maybe China. But they don’t pretend to be a republic.
Think about that a little while.
The United States gets compared to other nations all over the world in terms of what the Federal Government does or should do for the people. But they are all false comparisons. Every one of them. Because there are no other countries around the world that consist of similar federations of sovereign states.
Great Britain, that old time bastion of national tradition who at one point ruled much of the world, is slightly smaller than California. Yes, all of the “countries” of Great Britain together – England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland are, all together, smaller than one of our states. You’d have to throw in the rest of Ireland and then annex part of Denmark for it to equal the geographic size of California.
Great Britain is now the center of a commonwealth of cooperative nations who were all part of her dominion in the past. They all share a certain amount of pride in tradition – including the same now largely symbolic royal monarch. But you don’t see the central legislature – the British Parliament – passing laws for the running of Canada or Australia. No. Each member of the commonwealth is its own sovereign nation.
The United States is the only nation that pretends to be a republic (or a democracy, if you want to argue over words) that attempts to consolidate so much power into a central authority. Even the European Union, which is geographically smaller than one-half the size of the United States, lets its member states act like they still have a certain amount of their separate national sovereignty.
The United States consists of fifty states which, in the rest of the world, would all be considered separate countries in and of themselves. That is, after all, what the word “state” actually means. With reference to the world outside of the U.S.A, the word “state” is generally equivalent to the term “sovereign nation.”
So, how did we get here?
It’s pretty simple, really: Power likes to accumulate at the top. And it’s hard to prevent it from doing so. Especially since most people just want to go about their lives, making a living, running their business, taking care of their families, and enjoying life. Running society in general is the easiest thing in the world to delegate to other people. And it gets delegated upwards and farther upwards into the hierarchy of our ruling authority – even though that authority was created by the people in the first place.
In the case of the accumulation of power in the Federal Government of the United States there are a few key features of history that we can blame:
First of all, the 1700s and 1800s were a worldwide age of empires in which the United States was a late bloomer and, in a way, became the last one standing when the chaos finally settled out. The Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, the Germans all started out from their own corners of Europe and stretched their fingers out across the world into South America, North America, Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and China. But administering a spread-out empire with outstretched fingers across the world became unwieldy. Among the lot of them, only the United States, when it broke away from Great Britain, found itself with almost an entire contiguous continent to expand into. The age of “Manifest Destiny” of the United States was, for the most part, neither more nor less brutal than the imperial conquests of the other world powers. But in an important way, it was the only one that made sense. Because it consolidated a federated republic from the Atlantic to the Pacific with its origin and power center on the same soil as the rest of the federation and with the entire domain insulated by vast oceans from most of the rest of the world.
Another big force behind the consolidation of Federal power has been, ironically, the realm of Civil Rights. It started with the Civil War, which was, by far, the largest event to ever drive the consolidation of power at the Federal level in the United States. And the Civil War was, regardless of how much some people would like to ignore or even deny the fact, centered on the issue of slavery. Yes, it had to do with “states rights” on other matters of economics also. But even those other matters were driven by the differences in culture between the North and the South which were largely rooted in the fact that almost the entire economy of the South was based directly upon slave labor.
And then again, after the Civil War, the South shot themselves in the foot regarding their sovereignty by attempting to reinstitute slavery under different names and in different ways, forcing further Federal intervention into their economy and political practices, including even a Constitutional Amendment to guarantee rights that should have been obvious in the first place.
In fact, apparently unable or unwilling to learn, Southern states continued to shoot themselves in the foot and tacitly almost demand Federal intervention by enacting segregation laws which denied basic rights to descendents of former slaves right up until the 1960s when the Federal Government finally called out the National Guard to enforce rights that the States should have been allowing their own citizens under the basic principles upon which the Federation was supposedly founded.
Economics is another powerful consolidator of Federal authority. Chaos in people’s lives creates wonderful opportunities for people in charge to “do something about it.” And the biggest players always get the best out of the deal. In the 1930s the Federal Government got directly into the business of doing business with their creation of such establishments as the Tennessee Valley Authority and a host of other alphabet soup agencies. And the buddy relationship that the Feds built up at that time with the banks led directly to the concept of “too big to fail” and bail-outs of the guilty when it came to another failure across the whole system in 2008.
One of the biggest consolidators of power on all fronts is the military. This is not fundamentally a bad thing. Because the ostensible reason for the existence of the military is defense of the country. And a powerful defense is a necessary thing. Otherwise your country can end up like Poland in 1939. But, perhaps because it is so obviously necessary, it is also obviously a power consolidator that we ought to be very careful with.
At the end of the 1800’s and in the early 1900’s, when the United States was finding itself among the last in a long line of world powers who had expanded their geographic influence around the world, slogans such as “Remember the Maine!” and “Over there!” drove the public to support military intervention beyond the continental United States, in Cuba and the Philippines against Spain, and then in Europe. It can be argued whether the result of each of these interventions was a “good thing” or a “bad thing” for the people of each of these regions. But what cannot be argued is that they promoted the power and authority of the Federal Government of the United States. They gave it a strong taste for global interventionism. And they made the Federal Government, as well as the main offices of the big businesses with which our government deals, a comfortable home for globalist interventionists.
Then, at the middle of the 20th century, because of the brutality of the original aggressors in Europe and Asia, World War II is easily the clearest example of the United States military being on the “good guys” side in a war. But it was also one of the biggest, most powerful consolidators of power at the Federal level that the world has ever seen. Now, people often say, and rightfully so, that the United States didn’t “win the war,” meaning that we didn’t win it all by ourselves as is often implied by Hollywood movies. The Soviet Union, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and even the resistance in France were all tremendously significant and were in the fight for years before the United States jumped in.
But in one important way, the United States, and specifically the Federal Government of the U.S. was the clear winner in that episode of world history. Because, while the rest of the world’s great national powers were devastated, the power of the U.S. Federal Government grew exponentially.
Over 400,000 American soldiers and sailors were killed in World War II. But the United States mainland and infrastructure not only remained completely intact, but grew tremendously as a result of the war. And it not only grew, but it grew under the direct authority of the Federal Government, which basically commandeered the entire economy for the war effort. And then, at the end of the war, as if the relationship between the explosively overgrown Federal Government and the industrial powerhouses of the nation were a gigantic entity that was being cast in a mould and needed a catalyst to solidify it into shape, the threat of Soviet Communism rose up after the war as a seemingly permanent threat.
We will not consider here in this article whether each one of the international relationships and events of the United States in the aftermath of World War II and since were handled rightly or wrongly. But it’s important to put into perspective the main reasons behind how we got to the situation we find ourselves in now.
The Federal Government of the United States spends more each year on the United States military than the total of all ten of the next largest militaries in the entire world combined. And six of those other militaries belong to our closest allies, while two of the others are not credible enemies of the U.S. in anyone’s wildest dreams. Of the top ten other militaries, only China and Russia are even imaginable as enemies. And the U.S. outspends both of them combined by over 30%.
Another thing to keep in perspective here is that the so-called “nationalists” (or call them a certain flavor of “conservatives” if you want) through this whole thing are not the warmongers. The “nationalists,” at the extreme end of their ideology, have even tended to be isolationists, and are nearly always anti-war, anti-militarists except in the case of very clear and present danger.
It is not nationalism that promotes excessive interventionism in other countries around the globe in our modern world. It is the progressive, globalist attitude of certain “do-gooders” that prompts them to think that they can and should “install democracy” around the world at the point of a gun. And they’re not all just concentrated in one political party.
Which brings us to another point: The popular fable of the complete, general “flip flop” of the political parties in the 1970s. That’s false. It didn’t happen. Certain Conservative Democrats, mostly in the Southern states, became Republicans at that time. And some of those people took with them certain bad ideas about such things as race. But most of the rest of the two parties remained intact.
And another point: It isn’t all “Republicans = Conservative” and “Democrats = Progressive,” either. For example, General Dwight Eisenhower, one of the most famous of the Republican presidents, who held two terms in the 1950s, and who both warned us about and was instrumental in the expansion of the so-called “military industrial complex” was asked by Democratic President Truman in 1948 to run for President on the Democratic ticket. But then Eisenhower didn’t even publicly declare a party affiliation until he ran as a Republican four years later. So you have to look beyond parties to see people’s ideology with regard to concentration of power in the Federal Government.
With regard to the increasing power of the Federal Government, and especially military interventionism, we can see a clear and distinct direct line of Progressives, from Woodrow Wilson of World War One through Franklin Roosevelt, to Lyndon Johnson of the Vietnam War and the “Great Society” and Nixon with his wage and price controls – all promoting the consistently increasing power of the Federal Government. And the progressive / globalist line continues through Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. And no, Bush is not the opposite of Clinton. Bush #2 going into Iraq and Afghanistan is entirely consistent with the Clinton and Obama: Bosnia, Somalia, Syria, Libya, etc.
So, where do we stand now?
The United States stands, a continent-spanning Federation, insulated from every potential enemy by the vast oceans of the Atlantic and Pacific, completely impervious to even the attempt at invasion by the armies of any foreign power, just as it has really been ever since 1814 – for over two centuries.
The Cold War is over. The Big, Bad Soviet Union collapsed of its own weight all by itself nearly 30 years ago without the U.S. military ever doing a thing to oppose it (at least not directly.) And, along with it, the entire infrastructure and even the concept of Communism as an ideologically driven juggernaut with world-take-over ambitions is dead. Europe, as well as everyone else around the world, is free to implement or reject the agendas or plans of Adam Smith, or Carl Marx, or Milton Friedman, or whomever they want as they wish, in whole or in part, without fear of such a system being imposed upon them by that long deceased juggernaut of false idealism.
And regarding the potential conflict-driving matter of energy, the United States, far from being dependent upon foreign oil, has in recent years become a net exporter of oil, and is set to become a net exporter of oil again in the near future and for years to come. All countries around the world, including the U.S., are rapidly developing, or, in many cases, have already developed, alternative energy sources which vastly decrease their dependence upon potentially limited supplies from potentially conflict engulfed regions.
The United States military stands alone as a superpower in the world with all of its capabilities of taking on the long defunct Soviet Union, and with weapons still in reserve that could vaporize in their entirety any national power that would dare to launch a strike against it.
But even considering the huge power (and expense) of the United States military, it is only 15% of the annual budget of the Federal Government of the United States. A full 85% of the expenditures of the Federal Government is for things other than the military. Of the over $4 trillion dollar Federal budget of the United States, nearly 70% of it goes to social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
And note (because it’s important) that this Federal budget that is over six times the size of the vast United States military doesn’t even include the activities of the governments of the various states, each of which, themselves, would be sovereign nations in the rest of the world.
So, is this huge concentration of power in the Federal Government of the United States, the largest concentration of power and money of any nation on Earth, appropriate?
Other nations may brag about their social programs. But none of them are run by an authority that is so huge and whose center of power is so far removed, both geographically and up the mountainous bureaucratic hierarchy, from those people it is intended to serve as is the Federal Government of the United States. Almost all other “national” projects of other nations are run at what, in the United States, would be the “State” level. Because that is the size of those entire countries.
Is it even possible for such a huge base of centralized power and authority to be properly responsive to the people it is intended to serve?
We won’t end up with a set of definitive answers here in this article. But there are some serious perspectives and questions to ponder.
Through a forty some year long career, I became familiar with working for an increasingly more and more huge company in the aerospace industry that kept growing and growing through a set of mergers and acquisitions. And I can tell you that, regardless of how “people oriented” the company claimed to be, and, I think to a large extent, sincerely tried to be, the larger the company grew, the farther away and less responsive a number of very basic services became.
So, how can a huge Federal government with authority over semi-sovereign states that are spread out across an entire continent effectively make rules and provide services for all of its people?
For example, on the issue of the minimum wage, with regard to the so-called “living wage” we can ask: What even is that? What meaning can such a thing even have at Federal level? It is possible to rent a 3 bedroom house with a garage in or around Memphis, Tennessee for $750 per month. But in New York or San Francisco, that amount of money would hardly get you a spot under someone’s living room coffee table to stash your sleeping bag. Enforcing a Federal rule of equivalency across such diverse economies will do nothing to universally solve any problems. Such rules, if they are to be part of the law at all, are much better enacted and enforced and the results analyzed at the state or even local level.
And that huge Federal budget of mostly social programs, where the largest expenditure is Social Security? The Social Security fund is mandated to be “invested” in Federal government securities for the sake of “safety” because that is supposedly a much better (meaning safer) investment than commercial funds. But here’s the thing about that: If my contributions to Social Security for my 40 year career had been allowed to be invested in even just an ordinary commercial 401(k), my retirement income from it would be significantly more comfortable than it’s going to be. Does it really make sense to take people’s money and “invest” it in debt that is created by an over-spending Federal Government so that the liability for paying it out to retirees can itself become part of what feeds the ever growing size of the Federal debt decades down the line? How is investing in the Federal Government “safer” for me than investing directly in the economy that makes the nation prosperous in the first place? In the end, Social Security is not about maximizing a benefit to individual people. It’s about Federal control.
So is this all really the proper business of a huge Federal Government?
After all, there is not even a clear facility in the Constitution of the United States for such social programs at the Federal level anyway.
And for those disadvantaged people who may need assistance in life, financial or otherwise, how can we most effectively manage a proper welfare system? Is what we really need a system that effectively amounts to nothing more than a huge Federal money siphon? Or do we need jobs and education programs? And are they best managed by a huge, faceless Federal bureaucracy? Or should they be managed at a level at which citizens can see how they are run and can have a say in their operation in their local municipalities?
On the military front: Do we need the globalist interventionism? I remember literally screaming at the television back in 2003 when George Bush talked about “regime change” in Iraq and described how we were going to install democracy in that country and everyone there would start singing Kumbaya with the entire Western world. How could he not realize the hornets’ nest of factions that would be let loose as soon as that government was destabilized?
No. You cannot install democracy from the outside. And you especially cannot do it with your foreign (to them) military. It doesn’t work that way. You cannot force a society to evolve. Social evolution must occur from within. You can help it along through trade of products and ideas. But trying to force a society to develop by coming in with your external military is like trying to make a flower open up and grow by inserting a firecracker into it. Does anyone in our Federal Government understand this? I didn’t see anyone on any side of the issue in 2003 saying anything like this about reform in the Middle East at the time.
The Federal Government of the United States does have a proper role:
Primarily, it should protect the rights of citizens. Uniform protection of the right to free speech, the right to vote, the right to be free from government intrusion through undue search and seizure, the right of people to protect themselves both legally and physically from both the government and others are all important.
And the Federal Government has a role in national defense. But are all the activities that the “Department of Defense” gets involved in always actual defense of our nation? Think about this little fact: Even though the United States was created by revolution right in the middle of the age of world power grabbing empires, the Founding Fathers very specifically envisioned the United States not maintaining an army. They even put a term limit on the army right in the Constitution. In order for the army to exist beyond two years duration, funding for it must be approved by Congress.
When the Federal Government gets involved in the affairs of other nations, we ought to make damn well sure they know what they’re doing. Based on the results of events of the past couple decades, obviously, sometimes, they do not. (And when our current president pulls a few troops back from an engagement in a foreign country, his Democratic opposition objects to what he’s doing?? – WTF is up with that??)
So: What are the solutions?
A lot of solutions to our problems are closer to home than many of us seem to want to admit.
In fact, I think most of our problems, whether they are economic or have to do with civil relations between our citizens are best dealt with at a local level. Perhaps, rather than looking to the Federal Government when we say, “someone should do something about that!” more of us should look in the mirror.