January 13, 2016

It’s All About Power

Lord Acton, a 19th-century philosopher, opined, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” His quote was cogent and it has staying-power, but Baron Acton was a late-comer to the discussion. This feature of human behavior has long been recognized. History is replete with the names and bios of the powerful, and, with the possible exception of Jesus and his Disciples, the soil they trod was frequently soaked in blood.

Power is acquired through position, special knowledge, or uber-wealth. Power may be personal or institutional, and the “power equation” is applicable to both individuals and organizations. In our day-to-day lives, we are witness to countless examples: parent/child, teacher/student, boss/employee, officer/enlisted, pastor/laity, bureaucrat/citizen, management/union. The special knowledge of the nuclear physicist, neurosurgeon, and military leader place them in high demand — think Robert Oppenheimer and George Marshall. Uber-wealth allows the rich the means to advertise and promulgate a message and facilitates access to those who wish to exchange their “power of position” for financial support — think Warren Buffet or Mark Zuckerberg.

It was the “power of position” that our nation’s Founders realized invited the greatest potential for abuse. Consequently, they divided power between the national government and the states; the powers of the federal entity were to be limited and enumerated. The triune structure of the federal government — legislative, executive, judicial — further dispersed power and created a system of checks and balances. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, codified the concept that the individual is sovereign; that the United States is “a nation that has a government, not a government that has a nation”; that we are citizens, not subjects. The Founders understood that liberty and license were “cousins” and that their revolutionary idea was only suitable for a moral and religious people; that free citizens had to be their own cop and clergy. They had to “do what was right even when nobody was looking.”

With this emphasis on religion and morality, why did our Founders choose to separate the secular from the religious? Why did they ensure that America would not be a place ruled by kings with divine rights? It’s simple: There are no constraints placed on a man-god. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; unto the Lord, that which is the Lord’s.” Secular authority and religious authority must be independent and in tension. God was essential to the new nation, but He did not get a seat at the table of power. The laws of the Bible were adopted as the basis for the laws of the land, but His power and guidance were to be offered and delivered to the nation through the people — His children.

What would the Founders think about today’s America? “God Bless America” has been replaced. We now have a president who marinated in the pews of a pastor whose entreaty was "God D— America.“ Along the way, we kicked God out of the classroom and out of the public square; now we scratch our heads over the "whys" of mass murders. Evil fills the vacuum created when virtue is tossed aside. People of character were made so by their belief in something bigger than themselves; they believed that their temporal conduct would be judged by a higher authority. Our current president, the most powerful figure on the planet, refers to those who follow this path as "bitter clingers.” Our job creators are scorned and admonished, told “they didn’t build that.” The fruits of our labor are not seen as private property but as fungible resources to be redistributed.

How might a political cartoonist portray today’s Washington D.C.? I suspect he would draw a Red Light district encircled by a perimeter highway. In the center would be an X-shaped brothel — a wing for Democrats, a wing for Republicans, a wing for bureaucrats, and a wing for rent-seekers and media. It is a place for those who are addicted to power, for those who are attracted to the powerful, for those whose livelihoods are dependent upon the state, and for those who wish to exploit their proximity to power for personal gain. It is also a place where ego trumps intellect.

How would they explain the serial transgressions of Biblical and federal law? Adultery and fellatio in the White House; provable lies from the president and cabinet members; coveting promoted by members of the executive and legislative branches promoting class and racial discord; an attorney general threatening those whose speech isn’t politically correct; an IRS that unlawfully entangles those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Our legislators brazenly declare that they can do whatever that they want and that we must “pass the law to find out what’s in it.” They are aware that their every utterance is recorded and archived, but they are confident that their mendacity will not carry a political price so long as they continue to deliver the “free stuff” to their constituencies. The contempt that the political class holds for the electorate is palpable. This is the stock-in-trade of dictatorships; of backward, third-world fiefdoms. Kill off God. Strangle free speech. Pass out freebies. Tyrants don’t like competitors, spiritual or temporal.

How did we get here? Through a process of slow seduction. We declared “God is dead.” We became ambivalent about good and evil. Marxist injunctions, hidden in an iron fist, were confused with biblical phrases wearing a velvet glove. We succumbed to hedonism’s mantra, “If it feels good, do it.” We changed our language. The carnage of abortion became “choice” — benign and unthreatening. We were swayed by the ideology of the Pharisees of higher education, and remained mute while places like the prestigious Ivy League morphed into Romper Room U., run by “nannies,” taught by “ninnies” and populated by fragile snowflakes whose vocabulary has expanded to include “trigger warnings,” “microaggressions” and “safe zones.” We have mocked those who practice the Christian faith and who believe in the text of the Founding documents; we’ve driven them into the shadows. We have dumbed down our educational system to the extent that many of our citizens have no idea about the structure of their government and they are ill-prepared to shoulder the burden of responsible citizenship. We are living in a time when that which is trivial is treated as existential and that which is existential is treated as trivial.

Will we continue along this path or will we change course? A once-exceptional nation hangs in the balance.

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