I have a friend down in Winston County who hates government. He hates politics and politicians, and is quick to voice his displeasure to anyone willing to listen. Yet, he is one of the most patriotic people I know. He loves his country. He tears up when the national anthem is sung and is quick to reverently place his hand over his heart when reciting the pledge of allegiance to the flag. He is really an awfully good fella. Yet, he inexplicably and irrationally despises government at every level. One might say my friend is one step shy of being an out and out anarchist! Such is his Anti-government passion!
My friend gets all red faced when ranting and raving about his dislike of government. It’s almost comical, and I must confess to egging him on at times, just to get a good dose of his colorful fury. To him, government is the bane of his existence. We all know folks who share his anti-government passions and I’m always amazed at the hypocrisy of their sincere views! Today these folks are making their presence known in ever-increasing numbers. They are frequently seen sporting “make America great again“ clothing and sometimes waving confederate flags. A pretty big bunch of them showed up this past week, all across America, protesting government mandated “stay at home orders,“ designed to save their lives. It has always puzzled me how one expects to make America great again and, at the same time, advocate the destruction of the revered institutions and the principles of self-government that made it the greatest democracy on earth in the first place.
My old buddy’s outrage is outrageous. It is also unbelievably irrational. In fact, his life is, and always has been, dependent upon government. His life, in reality, is not unlike most of the rest of us to one degree or another.
You see, my friend farms for a living. His crops are insured against natural and economic disasters by government guaranteed crop insurance. He borrows “seed“ money every year from the U S Government’s Department of Agriculture to fund his farming enterprise. He irrigates his crops from water systems built by the government. His cheap electricity comes from a public utility regulated by the government. His crops are delivered to the marketplace on farm-to-market roads built and paid for by government. The commodities he grows are inspected for public safety and graded for quality by the government. He uses the US Postal Service to deposit the profits of his labor into FDIC government-insured banks.
He draws Social Security benefits, and depends upon Medicare for his health care. His wife teaches in a public school built by the government. Her paycheck comes from public funds of the government. His older child attended Mississippi State University (a federal land grant university) on the government sponsored G.I. bill. His younger child is disabled and draws government funded disability and attends Delta State University, with the financial help of government-backed student loans. His elderly mother collects Social Security, has Medicaid and lives in government-subsidized housing.
Government provides for his security through 24 hour a day police protection. The safety of the water he drinks, the food he eats, and the air he breaths is ensured by the government. When he gets sick he goes to the local public hospital. And, oh, by the way, he vacations every year at a national or state park fishes most every weekend at Grenada Lake, built by the government to protect him from flooding and provide him a place for recreation. Yet, he claims to hate his government, and could easily be convinced to overthrow it given half a chance!
I spoke to my contrarian friend one day last week and, as expected, he was in rare form. “This coronavirus stuff is going to kill us all!” he said. “This damned government of ours needs to somehow get it under control,” he surprisingly continued. And then he incredulously asked, “Steve, where in the hell is my government? We need it now, right damn now!”
When President Reagan declared “government is the problem,” he was dead wrong. The problem is — well, the problem. Only government — all of us collectively and none of us individually — can deal with it. Especially if the problem is a deadly pandemic. After all, the government is, or at least it once was and should be again, nothing more and nothing less than “we the people.”
“We the people” are now clamoring in dismay for a competent well funded government to save us. Even my ole Winston County buddy has finally been knocked to his senses!!
What we are seeing, though, are the results of attitudes that are distrustful of government, that advocate for the destruction of government institutions and scoff at government’s ability to prepare for and respond to unexpected events like the current pandemic. A starved, incompetent, corrupt government is a weak, inept, unprepared government. Decades of these short sighted views, promoted by ultra right wing politicians and their giant corporate sponsors have left us all vulnerable to the catastrophe that presently surrounds us. These right wing, ideologically driven attitudes also have led to enormous and outrageous income inequality. Policies that are conceived by the nation’s plutocrats, and sponsored by the Republican Party (attacks on workers’ rights and safety, tax policies that favor billionaires and corporations, lack of availability of health care and affordable education and lax environmental regulations) inevitably lead to these economic disparities. It’s the same principles at work that drove the economics of the plantation system in the antebellum south! After all, “make America great again“ is a slogan that longs for those supposed good ole days! Perhaps that’s why so many protesters love to wave the flags of the confederacy?
Sadly, the last few months of suffering through this crippling and deadly pandemic have revealed a government that has been reduced to a shabby patchwork medicine show commandeered by a flim-flam man peddling laissez- faire snake oil. Surely those who worshiped at the altar of Alt-right policies, anti-government nationalism, and the Honorable Donald Trump have by now joined my Winston County buddy and seen the importance of having an honest, dependable government?
There’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to knock us in the head and make us realize the absolute necessity of an adequately-funded, fully-functioning, coordinated government. At the very least, that government should be capable of reliably informing us and supplying resources that serve all.
My political ideology has always mirrored the sage admonition of Thomas Jefferson: ”That government is best which governs least.” Despite this advice as to the protection of our civil liberties, there are some things that only government is equipped to do. Government in the United States was created in large measure “to promote the general welfare“ of the people. Our constitution entitles us to a government that protects and promotes our general welfare! We should accept no less.
It seems that COVID-19 has made, dare I say it, socialists of us all. We expect our government to help us, convey hope and confidence and provide needed resources. The word socialism, in the minds of many folks, has terrible un-American connotations. Yet, if you partake of any of the vast array of government programs designed to make life a little better and more secure, you are benefiting from socialism. We are a nation of self-reliant, rugged individualists who do not, and certainly should not, expect the government to do everything for us. However, we do expect it to keep us safe, and, where it can, to afford us a helping hand, especially in times of national crisis such as we face now. The government’s responsibility is to provide a level playing field and to ensure that everyone has access to the tools needed to succeed. Seems to me, in reality, that’s pretty much always been the American way.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are dependent on each other and that we need the help of a proficient government that skillfully serves our collective needs. The necessity of social distancing has brought into focus a fact that we all too often forget. We are all biologically, economically, psychologically, and socially connected. As human beings, we are interdependent. Government is the only common thread equipped to provide for our safety and essential needs in times of crisis.
Even my ole agitated anarchist Winston County buddy now understands this unassailable fact!
More Steve, in a Faulknerian mode:My Grandmother’s PorchCovid-19 coronavirus, Northeast MS news, politics