America’s “public servants” have supported ethically suspect policies, picked our pockets and eroded our rights, undermining our protections against government abuse and dividing people. But ignoring the irony, both sides of the political aisle have been pitching themselves as America’s unifiers.
Both are breathtakingly wrong. In sharp contrast to their rhetoric, their competition to control government to help their friends from others’ pockets is the primary source of American disunity.
This is not new. John Calhoun, a central actor in an earlier, equally contentious era in Washington, recognized it long ago. Called “a masterful defender of the rights of a political minority against the dangers of an unchecked majority” by John F. Kennedy, his Disquisition on Government found that the battle for political dominance and its spoils guaranteed bitter divisiveness, not unity.
“[G]overnment, although intended to protect and preserve society, has itself a strong tendency to…abuse of its powers, as all experience and almost every page of history testify…”
“[S]uffrage…only changes the seat of authority, without counteracting, in the least, the tendency of the government to oppression and abuse of its powers.”
“[S]uffrage…[aims] to obtain the majority–and, thereby, the control of the government and the advantages it confers…aggrandizing and building up one portion of the community at the expense of the other…”
“In such case, it would be indispensable to success to avoid division and keep united…[leading] to the conversion of the honors and emoluments of the government into means of rewarding partisan services, in order to secure the fidelity and increase the zeal of the members of the party…”
“[A]s the struggle became more intense…principles and policy would lose all influence in the elections; and cunning, falsehood, deception, slander, fraud, and gross appeals to the appetites of the lowest…would take the place of sound reason and wise debate.”
“[T]he numerical majority will divide the community…into two great parties, which will be engaged in perpetual struggles to obtain the control of the government…The great importance of the object at stake must necessarily form…attachments on the part of the members of each to their respective parties…and antipathies to the opposite party, as presenting the only obstacle to success.”
“[T]heir mutual antipathies [are] carried to such an excess as to destroy, almost entirely, all sympathy between them, and to substitute in its place the strongest aversion…devotion to party becomes stronger than devotion to country–the promotion of the interests of party more important than the promotion of the common good of the whole, and its triumph and ascendancy objects of far greater solicitude than the safety and prosperity of the community…”
“[It will] overpower all regard for truth, justice, sincerity, and moral obligations…falsehood, injustice, fraud, artifice, slander, and breach of faith, are freely resorted to, as legitimate weapons–followed by all their corrupting and debasing influences.”
“[E]ach faction, in the struggle to obtain the control of the government, elevates to power the designing, the artful, and unscrupulous, who, in their devotion to party–instead of aiming at the good of the whole–aim exclusively at securing the ascendancy of party…to promote the interest of parties at the expense of the good of the whole…”
We have heard plenty of unity rhetoric this election. But policies actually proposed are designed to benefit some at others’ expense, rather than to defend our inalienable rights against government abuse, which is the core of what unites us as Americans. They illustrate what John Calhoun recognized as “a struggle…[to] determine which shall be the governing, and which the subject party,” where political victory dominates everything else. The result is political power and dictates that expand at the expense of individuals and their own choices. Unfortunately, that is the only unifying principle in politics today. As a result, we are lose from what Frederic Bastiat termed the “attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it.”