LET ME PARAPHRASE MICHAEL CAINE IN THAT GREAT MOVIE, ALFIE: “IF YOU AIN’T GOT TRUST, YOU AIN’T GOT NUFFING.”
I saw the original ALFIE in 1966—nearly half a century ago—so if I have forgotten the original quote, I trust you will forgive me.
I think what Michael' Caine’s character actually said was: “If you ain’t got piece of mind, you ain’t got nuffing.”
But back to trust.
The adjacent chart is from Pew Research—and its conclusions are devastating. They show that the Republican campaign to remove trust in government has been extraordinarily successful—at great cost to the health of this democracy.
Here is an extract from the Pew report
The growing view that the federal government threatens personal rights and freedoms has been led by conservative Republicans. Currently 76% of conservative Republicans say that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms and 54% describe the government as a “major” threat. Three years ago, 62% of conservative Republicans said the government was a threat to their freedom; 47% said it was a major threat.
By comparison, there has been little change in opinions among Democrats; 38% say the government poses a threat to personal rights and freedoms and just 16% view it as a major threat.
Personally, I tend to view government with a jaundiced eye, but I also accept the fact that we need it because there is a long list of things we cannot achieve alone—or even at a local level. As a consequence, my interest lies in making government work better rather than abolishing it.
But can it work better—or is the very concept of government intrinsically flawed? Based upon travel, experience and research, I have no doubt at all but that the U.S. Government can be made to work dramatically better. But we will have to be prepared to learn from other counties, implement drastic change, and amend the Constitution. Are such prospects likely? As matters stand, they are not.
But what about Congress? Here, I have no instant answers other than to mention the obvious fact that until Congress stops being primarily a money-raising machine, it is hard to know what to do. As matters stand, it is structurally corrupt—and primarily a tool of the Rich and Special Interests. That makes something of a nonsense of democracy. We say the words, but fail to implement the deed.
So what is the alternative to government? In essence, it is privatization. For a massive example of that, look no further than the Department of Defense where it has been repeatedly shown to be corrupt, extraordinarily expensive, and, frequently, inefficient. The MICC—The Military Industrial Congressional Complex—shows the private sector at its worst.
One possible solution might be to change much of the very nature of government so that many people work in both at the same time—thus helping to eliminate the tendency of civil servants to see themselves as a breed apart and correspondingly arrogant.
Is there any precedent for this? Actually there is. One example is the Swiss Army which maintains only a tiny permanent staff, but still manages to field a large fighting force of some sophistication when required. It can do this at minimum cost because the bulk of the Army’s administration is handled—for free (as far as the taxpayer is concerned)—by its part-time soldiers. The Israelis operate a broadly similar system although their permanent force is much larger. Moreover, if you contrast what the Israelis get for their money compared to what the U.S. does, you will go into shock. Or become enraged. Or dance the Hokey Pokey. However you react, the figures show pretty clearly that the U.S. taxpayer is being ripped off, has been for decades, and that as General Smedley Butler commented so memorably: “War is a racket.”
But whatever be the answer, all successful human interaction is based upon trust—so one has to regard any campaign to deliberately destroy trust as shabby indeed.
As for the other side of the situation, it doesn’t say much for the health of this democracy that the government—held in such low regard by the very people who are paying for it—seems to be making no sustained fundamental effort to change its ways.
Deuced odd don’t you think?