On Government, Government Workers, and Trust

In the light of what Snowden’s leaked to the media, how do you feel about your own government? Are you approving of what they’ve done to head off attacks, or do you feel suspicious of their motives? One respondent to a recent comment of mine accused me of wanting it both ways. So I wrote the following response, and I hope you’ll find it helpful in perhaps clarifying your own thinking.
My thinking is mine; yours may well differ. But please accept that I put a lot of thought into the question.
And I stand by what I wrote, Kevin.
As for wanting it both ways…I don’t see it that way.
I trust ‘government’, but not the people who make up government. Government is a huge amorphous mass and tends to level out excesses, but people have their own agenda. I don’t know if there’s ever been a single person who was totally devoted to the ideal of governing fairly and honestly to the point of subordinating his or her own interest. That kind of dispassionate approach is certainly not present now.
Most government workers do as they’re told and keep their head down. That’s the middle group who have a vested interest in keeping their job and maybe retiring someday. They have a mortgage, kids in school, car payments. As for doing what they’re told, that might not mean receiving new instructions every day. There are usually printed guidelines, standard operating procedures, office memos, and only rarely verbal instructions. Nonetheless, they don’t exercise independent judgment. For the great majority of these, I trust them to follow those instructions.
Above them are the ones who decide. At that level, my distrust comes into play. They have separate agendas, personal sometimes, institutional in others.
The president is at the top of this chain. Congress is there, and the Supreme Court. And as for the latter two, I think it’s not necessary to point out that they consider their personal agenda first, party second, and if the national interest even comes into play at all it’s in a distant third place. The institution is corrupt, and so therefore the people who inhabit that institution are corrupt. As for SCOTUS, ideology rules; they can manage to interpret the Constitution pretty much as they will. That document, written to limit a government such as that of England when England ruled the colonies, is now sadly out of date. It’s been over-interpreted and laterally-interpreted so much that now past judicial findings in the form of precedence exercise as much influence as the Constitution itself. It’s not a question of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but interpretation. It was written by legal scholars, administered, and now interpreted by lawyers.
The president is far too chummy with big money for my liking. If I were in his position I might be the same, but I hope not. He is interested in building a presidential library after he leaves office, and he expects the funds to come from financialists. He also is interested in the legacy he leaves, and must keep that in mind as he negotiates with Congress. And then there are all the subsidiary interests that he balances. My biggest disagreement with him is that his emphasis is not were I think it should go, national interest first, personal interest and the competing interests of the people around him second.
I expect him to be a responsible steward of the nation. I hold him responsible, as I do Congress and the SCOTUS, for the oaths they’ve taken. If they attempt to fulfill those oaths without personal interests becoming dominant, then yes, I trust them and will support their decisions. If they’re looking at who-calls-whom in order to protect citizens, then I’m prepared to approve that. If they’re looking to sell me something, as Amazon does when they gather data, then I’m wary. I understand that my desires in such a transaction have no bearing, only their own profit counts. If politicians attempt to understand my thinking so as to change that thinking, perhaps change how I vote or who I send money to, I’m wary of that. Even though virtually all of them now do that sort of tracking.
I think I have a balanced system of trust and wary distrust. Government in abstract, yes. People in government, not so much.

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