After we seized the reins of power for our own rule in 1776, we designed a government unlike any the world had ever seen. That alone was radical, but it was even more radical if you consider the society from which we were born. We accept our government as normal today, but each of us should now and then think about how radical it was in 1787 when the constitution was written.
The society we rebelled against was a monarchy. The king had all the power, and could tax at will, reward who he chose, launch military invasions, imprison and kill or torture who he chose, and much more. His power was essentially absolute. Under the king were various levels of nobles, who inherited their titles and their wealth and power based entirely on their family’s land grab centuries ago. Below them was everyone else, who had not much of anything. At the time, the monarchy was the only significant model for states.
With a single document, We the People of the United States, dissolved the bonds of monarchy and the privilege of inherited titles, and separated the people from the authority of the repressive and controlling church. We were free as no one had ever been. We replaced the power of the monarchy and the church with counter-balancing branches of government, two of elected officials and a Supreme Court free of undue persuasion because of lifetime appointments, and dissolved the church’s repressive power over us with freedom to worship as we chose, or not to worship at all. All the powers of government were answerable to the people. Every branch was balanced against the others. The powerful empathy we had for each other helped us form a government that made us free to pursue our own interests and act responsibly for the common good, and the government protected the common good.
Today we are in danger of losing some of the most important freedoms and safeguards in the constitution because we have lost much of our primary focus on empathy and responsibility. The belief in our freedom to succeed by our own efforts has been replaced by uncontrolled greed without responsibility or empathy for others. We have stopped believing in equality of opportunity and the empathic support of each other, instead believing that wealth is the sole indicator of a person’s value.
A third of the country lives with various levels of inadequate income, a huge increase that cannot possibly be due to diminished ambition, willingness to work, or inherent worth. There are too many millions of Americans whose stories are those of good people who lived right, worked hard, obeyed all the rules, and found their lives disassembled, bit by bit, until they found themselves without work, without the home they worked so hard for, without savings, without prospects. These are not just a few people who somehow end up on the streets, maybe because of addiction. This is millions of regular folks, good people, for whom we should have the utmost respect.
We as a nation have a responsibility to these people because they are us. We don’t owe them a living. We don’t owe them affluence or prosperity. What we do owe them is the same empathy that inspired the first citizens, and the power of government to protect them against those who have lost our vision. The moral mission of the government to protect us is failing, the same as if it had failed to protect against an invasion.
Helping these citizens is not merely an altruistic motive. The condition of our population is such that the democracy of the entire country is at risk. We have become weakened. Without change, we could eventually become the very country we rebelled against in 1776: a small ruling class of vast wealth who controlled everything, and the rest of us with no wealth, no power, no democracy, no freedom. We would lack only a king.