All governments are bad – always necessary, often useful, occasionally better than most, rarely genuinely helpful to all, but still bad.
From Athens to Zaire, from commune to kingdom, from democracy to dictatorship, when people come together to form a society there will always be those who take advantage, who prey, who scheme, who profit from their position.
Every government ever has violated its own laws, flouted its own rules, changed long-standing practices for immediate gain, side-stepped its foundational concepts and strictures, dismissed societal codes of conduct, and ignored the basic ethical standards of humanity.
Here in the United States – which actually has one of the best governmental systems and surely the best foundational governmental theory – we are not immune to these issues.
A necessarily brief – the internet is just not big enough to hold every damning detail – review of even our government practices shows this to be true.
The litany of the unconstitutional manipulation and/or imprisonment of the citizenry runs depressingly long, from the Alien and Sedition Acts to the abuses of the Patriot Act, from the Palmer Raids post World War I to the actions of HUAC in the 1950s.
At least over the past 100 or so years, one government agency – the FBI – has been the main actor in these attempts to illegally control the actions and thoughts of Americans. While J. Edgar Hoover was in charge, his personal targets were those that could be considered on the left of the political spectrum or just uncomfortably noisy.
After a brief seeming respite after Hoover’s departure, the agency has ramped up its old tricks, though this time the targets have become those on the political right or just uncomfortably inquisitive.
Interestingly, under Hoover it seems it was his personal obsessions that drove his illegal empire; now, however, and even more dangerously, the egregious conduct of the agency does not merely come from the top but is baked into the entire staff. Career-minded lower-upper-middle managers claw their way up the bureaucratic ladder based on how they think and what they do to thwart those questioning the agency’s actions and motives and its overtly political overlords.
In other words, when Hoover was running the racket, one could assuage one’s conscious somewhat by blaming the FBI’s problems on one man, a man who would eventually be gone. Now that is impossible – the head of the snake cannot be simply cut off to correct the situation as the situation now involves a barrel of indistinguishable bottom-feeders interested solely in self-preservation.
This bastardizes a core ideal, that the nation is ruled by laws, not men. But what happens when we are ruled by both and neither? What happens is what is happening now.
As to violating basic guidelines of humanity – and the Nuremberg Code which was created because, well, obviously – we need look no further than the CDC’s – yup, they did that too – Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the CIA’s murderous drug-fueled abomination that was MK-Ultra.
An example of flouting rules and long-standing practices can be summed up in two words: ballot access.
The sudden and radical changes in the way the people vote have caused a crisis of trust in this country not seen since Watergate (another example of illegality). Crisp clean professional vote tabulation goes a very long way to ensuring that people trust the system and the results, a fact that cannot be understated, while modifying those systems for such nakedly political purposes creates cracks in the bedrock of trust that our democratic republic needs to survive.
Politicians and activists and consultants understand that gray begets gray and gray areas can be very useful places to be when it comes to counting votes. Systems – any systems, not just voting ones – that are more complicated and obtuse are more prone to manipulation.
Complicated, not terribly trustworthy elections lead the population to a more psychologically fragile place and that is a place that is far more easily manipulated and controlled as citizens start to ask themselves “why keep any of it if my part of it obviously doesn’t work? – why play the game if it’s rigged?”
And when fewer honest people “play,” that void is filled by the dishonest.
This growing sense of civic lawlessness is playing out in so many ways – at so many levels – across the country. One specific result may be President Biden’s student loan “forgiveness.”
First, when is a political promise illegal?
Politicians lie on a regular basis; lying, in many cases, is not illegal.
“I promise to cut taxes” is a common thing people running for office say. Keeping that promise is, sadly, less common.
But that is not illegal – priorities change, your fellow legislators laugh in your face, something happens – or in the case of climate change the something is simply made up – that makes it “impossible” to cut government funding at this time, etc.
The promise becomes an unkept failure, but not a lie. It is not the perpetration of a fraud (vote for me and you will have more money).
What is it then when the politician does – not just says – something they are clearly aware – having admitted so publicly – that will not stand up to a court challenge, something that is at least unconstitutional if not downright illegal? And if that action was taken specifically in order to get people to vote for them, is that actionable fraud?
We are all aware of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan. We are now aware that the demographic that will benefit the most from the plan voted in record numbers and they voted for Biden’s party members. And we now know they did so in order to protect that benefit – in other words, in order to get paid – https://www.businessinsider.com/student-loan-forgiveness-brought-gen-z-to-polls-midterms-2022-11.
We also know now that the administration never intended to go through with it. Prior to the mid-term election, a judge ruled – as expected – that the program was very improper. But the administration had already allowed nearly a million people to sign up for free money on the program’s website so they said they would fight the ruling in court and nothing had changed.
Just days after the election, another judge ruled the same way. This time the administration said “hmm, maybe we should hold off on this,” meaning people will not get paid. The administration stopped taking new applications. While the administration has asked for an expedited Supreme Court hearing on the matter, one assumes they will be assigning a very junior legal team to defend it, secretly hoping they finally lose the case so Biden and the Democrats get an issue to run on – we’ll pass this in Congress this time if you give us the votes! (For a deeper dive into the specifics of the legal questions, see here: https://tippinsights.com/was-bidens-pre-election-peddling-of-student-loan-relief-legal/ )
President Barack Obama’s DACA program is similar, though its direct intent was not as clear. DACA was meant to quiet his activist base and not necessarily automatically curry votes from the nauseatingly monikered “Dreamers,” let alone actually do anything to help them. Obama not only knew DACA wouldn’t make it through the courts, he, too, said that publicly but still went ahead and did it anyway.
However, this created the precedent, the action plan if you will, of purposefully doing something you know you can’t do for political gain and then sitting back and watching as it winds through the legal system for so long it practically doesn’t matter in the end, especially since you will be out of office by then. Any government “something” – legal or not – that is in place, no matter how precariously, is far more difficult to get rid of than it is to create.
This tactic of temporary totalitarianism is anathema to every aspect of American government. Sickeningly, the nation’s immune system against such threats – the press – now not only covers for the truly powerful but actively encourages such behavior.
Is it because of the up-ended economics of the news industry – pleasing your small audience makes more money than trying to inform a large audience – or the tentacled slip and slide between government and the media, or the dramatic change in the social standing of the “profession,” or the fact that a distressingly large percentage of D.C. “journalists” are literally married to government workers and pollical operatives and just want to keep the peace at home? The answer is most likely a combination thereof. Oh, and money.
Nothing happening now – the coarseness, the flagrant rule-breaking, the cynical manipulation, the violation of basic standards – should come as a surprise considering our history. Though it has never been this bad before, there has always been an undercurrent of slither in the system.
“At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” – that’s what Joseph Welch asked during the Army-McCarthy hearings. That shaming of that one sentence ended the Red Scare of the 1950s.
We can only wonder what the reaction would be today – for far far too many in power, the answer would be a smug, proud, confident, self-satisfied and self-justified “No, I don’t.”
No hesitation, no soul-searching, no self-reflection, no gnawing sense of being on the wrong path, no wonder if what you are doing is right, and certainly only a sense of power with nary a thought towards decency – just a you-are-meaningless “No, I don’t.”
And on to a list you go.
Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore, Cal., and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more of his work at: https://thomas699.substack.com/