A Very American Distrust

Barack Obama has crashed headlong into a wall of distrust. If he had any understanding of American history he would know why, but his sole interest is himself and he proved that by writing not one, but two memoirs.

The men who waged the American Revolution and then met in secret to write the U.S. Constitution all shared a distrust of government. They understood government was necessary, but they wanted to keep a federal government small and ensure that most powers resided in the individual states and in “the people.”

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For most of American history, the federal government was small. Its main function was to maintain armies and navies to protect its sovereignty and its commercial interests. Early presidents encouraged the exploration of the continent and its populating by the many discontents who arrived seeking a better life than the Old World could or would provide.

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America promised the intoxicating opportunity to be free to make a life for oneself that had few restraints so long as one did not break the law, honored one’s contracts, and took part in the process of debating issues and electing representatives. This necessity to rise above family bonds and other allegiances to participate in the affairs of one’s community, one’s state, and one’s nation has been the glue that has kept generations of old and new Americans connected.

George Washington and other former revolutionaries were most fearful of what he called “factions” and what we now call political parties, but it didn’t take long for such parties to emerge because it is the nature of men to come together around commonly held beliefs.

The wonder is that, despite serious differences on how the nation should be run, the parties traded power back and forth, new presidents were elected without rebellions (other than the Civil War!), and the conduct of the people’s business progressed smoothly. Some policies worked. Others did not. Pragmatism was and is the order of the day.

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September 14, 2009