I had an afternoon to ponder some of the implications of Francis W. Porretto’s post at Eternity Road (Wastrels: A Sunday Rumination) this morning. And I started to feel depressed. I think he’s right. Right about the decline of America, and right to peg it to a lack of trust. I started to think about what that means.
There are very few relationships that can recover from a lack of trust, and the situation is only exacerbated when you start considering how it is that much harder when the lack of trust exists in our relationships with our elected officials, too.
Trust between parent and child can be restored, when both are willing to work on it, and enough time is spent. Trust between spouses can often be restored, although it requires genuine contrition and more work than many people are willing to put into it. But the common feature to the restoration of trust in important relationships is time, and time is something that people who have been paying attention generally are not willing to give politicians. For politicians, time is insulation. It is enough time to make a fortune. It is enough time to consolidate power. It is enough time to let the electorate forget when you put someone else’s interests before their own, or at least enough time to toss the silly peasants who were foolish enough to elect you a bone on a regular enough basis that their selective amnesia will forgive your transgressions and cumulative compromises. Time allows a politician to get comfortable enough to change his or her priorities.
So how else do we let them earn our trust? Term limits? While it may help to limit the damage they can do by keeping them from contracting beltwayitis, they will be leaving office because they are being compelled to do so. Perhaps the best idea I have heard says “Use technology and require them all to stay in their districts, rather than go to D.C.”
It has the virtue of simplicity, but there are days when I wonder if anything is going to turn this train around. I know that there are plenty of people who know that something is not right, and there are many, many more who can look at the decline and see it for what it is, but has there ever been a civilization that managed to stay or even reverse a decline? I really don’t know.
In the early 1950s, wiseacre and all-around smart guy Issac Asimov wrote a trilogy of books about the decline of a galactic empire and the small group of farsighted people who managed to fool that empire’s ruling elite into banishing it to the outer rim, where it could preserve and advance mankind’s knowledge, and make the inevitable dark ages that would follow the fall of empire eminently shorter than it otherwise might be. Of course, they also had the benefit of interstellar travel, and a theory of mathematics that helped them to predict what human civilization was going to do at key points in the future, and how to keep it all from falling apart.
I’m not looking for such an easy answer. I live here, and my kids will have to live here. Leaving isn’t an option. Yet when I see my fellow countrymen eager to give up more and more of their inherent and god-given power to a government that has proved continually that it simply isn’t capable of repaying that trust, simply because we no longer trust each other, I don’t have really stretch my imagination in order to contemplate a country where I may one day be considered a rebel because I refuse to yield the God-given freedom that better men than I risked everything to give to we, their posterity. I wonder how those who were paying attention in 1859 and 1860 felt. And in many ways, I feel deeply for the good men who, with sorrow in their hearts, made the decision to serve the South, not because they thought that slavery was a good and noble institution, but because they believed that the federal government kept trying to exercise power over their lives that was not granted to it. And there are still moments when I realize that I’m looking for our version of Hari Seldon.