President Trump has done America a great service. He has revealed just how much power our leaders have over us, and how little power we have over our leaders. This is not a left vs. right issue. Whether you agree or disagree with Trump’s policies, you can now see clearly how vulnerable regular citizens are to the whims of public officials – elected and unelected. The question is not, “should the government do this,” the question is, “should the government be able to do this.”
At its founding, the USA was based on the unusual concept of a “rule of law.” Rather than having an aristocracy that could make up whatever laws whatever they wanted, the actions of America’s leaders were restricted, by the Constitution, to a narrowly-defined set of categories (most of which are listed in Article 1, Section 8). The purpose of government, essentially, was to ensure that society had the infrastructure and physical security necessary to operate safely. This philosophy was summarized eloquently by Thomas Paine in his influential 1776 pamphlet “Common Sense.”
Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices … Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil.
Around 1900, the idea that government should only have the power to protect society was gradually replaced by the notion that government should have the power to fix society. The fundamental problem with this is that, while society relies on voluntary transactions to accomplish positive change, government only has one tool at its disposal: force. No matter how nice some government program sounds, there is always a man with a gun standing behind it, ensuring compliance.
For generations, politicians have pretended that violence wasn’t really the only tool in their toolbox, and the American people, led by the mainstream media, have played along. While there was some grumbling over the Patriot Act, and lots of controversy over the Affordable Care Act, most of the contents of the 81,000 page Federal Register have been passively accepted by the general public.
The net result of this slow power-grab is now staring us in the face: a President and Congress that can do absolutely anything they want. If you disagree with what’s happening in Washington right now, you’re already realizing how helpless you are. If you do support some or all of the current initiatives, you can still see the problem: you might not agree with future policies, and you’ll be powerless to do anything about them.
The Founding Fathers understand that the nature of leadership is to seize power. That’s why they built the idea of “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” into the US Constitution. Unfortunately, those concepts are largely relics of a bygone era. Separation of powers doesn’t apply to administrative agencies (you know, the ones with acronym names like DEA, ATF, IRS, FBI, etc.) who make the rules, enforce the rules, and punish people for breaking the rules; and checks and balances would only work if there were people in government willing to oppose the government. For reasons of obvious self-interest, there aren’t.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we, as individuals, prioritize our own independence and resilience. Civil unrest is increasing, conflict between the public and private sectors is growing, pension funds are going bankrupt, our infrastructure (particularly our electric grid) is rapidly deteriorating, and over half of US homes are at risk from natural disasters. You can’t change the government, you can’t fix society, but you can take steps to prepare for whatever might happen.