Is the American Experiment Dead?
King George III would be so proud. He and his aristocratic friends laughed at America’s quaint “experiment” with self-government. To them it was unthinkable that common people were enlightened enough to rule themselves. Today that experiment is the envy of a world where people in fewer than 100 countries live under democratic governments. Yet here in the United States, old King George may yet be right.
Astonishingly, today’s Americans expect government to care for us from cradle to grave, the way commoners once expected a benevolent king to care for his subjects. We treat people as members of groups rather than as individuals, insidiously devolving into the very class system against which the founders rebelled. In a deeply disturbing sense, Americans are voluntarily surrendering the very freedoms that millions fought and died to establish and protect. James Garfield once said the most common form of death in politics is suicide. After a noble 225 year history, is the American experiment dying at the hands of its own people?
Many of the “long train of abuses” that led to our rebellion from the British Crown in 1776 are eerily similar to our own government’s excesses. The Declaration of Independence listed a host of grievances against the King that are all too familiar today. The authors accused the King of refusing “his assent to laws… necessary for the public good,” of forbidding locals to pass laws “of immediate and pressing importance,” even of dissolving local representative bodies. How different is that from today’s “supreme” federal system that routinely over-rides local and state laws, especially by federal court orders and “constitutional” rulings based on premises not in the Constitution? The Crown had “obstructed the administration of justice” by controlling judges’ tenure and salaries; today’s government does so by empowering judges to usurp legislative powers — to make up new laws rather than interpret laws passed by the people’s representatives. It is a more modern technique, but with the same anti-democratic result.
King George had “erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” In 2007 the federal government has more than 4 million employees and costs taxpayers almost 3 trillion dollars a year. The King “combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution,” much as modern leaders compromise our sovereignty to institutions like the UN, international courts, and foreign trade commissions.
The founders said government should protect private property, but today’s Supreme Court lets government take private property and sell to developers, take away the value of land by denying the right to use it, and force landowners to give their land for endangered species habitat, parks, trails, and “open space.” The first “inalienable right” in our Declaration was the right to life, but today’s courts prohibit states from protecting it. If we still believe “all men are created equal,” how can we justify racial preferences in school admission, government contracts and congressional re-apportionment? Freedom of speech is central to the Bill of Rights, but Congressmen now deny that right to those who want to speak about them, or other candidates, like politically correct thought police.
“The policy of the federal government,” wrote President Jefferson, “is to leave her citizens free — neither aiding nor restraining them in their pursuits.” Today, we are not allowed to plan our own retirement, design our own health insurance, or even devise our own children’s education. The endless intrusion reaches every facet of our lives from where we can hike in the woods to how our hamburgers must be cooked. Both parties instinctively look to government as the first answer to all problems. Even Republicans propose solving issues like illegal immigration by hiring 30,000 new federal employees.
There is one crucial difference: unlike our colonial ancestors, contemporary Americans voluntarily agreed to all these usurpations with their votes. We have been warned frequently to be alert. In 1835 Tocqueville wrote, “the American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” Sadly, that day has long since come.
We are left with an unresponsive government millions of Americans do not recognize as theirs, or feel moral obligation to support. That trend could be the death knell of the founders’ ideas. It is not too late to rediscover our “experiment” in self-government, but Americans must first decide whether they care.