Our Politicians Are Driving Us Crazy
Our politicians are driving us crazy. I do not mean this figuratively. I mean this literally. They are driving people crazy and making America a hellish place in which to live.
Let’s take a step back. What is the purpose of government as conceived by the Enlightenment philosophers three or four centuries ago? The social contract was envisioned as a framework within which people could interact with each other safely and securely. The social contract would define the rule of law which set limits on how people interacted (or as Manuel Hinds described in his book In Defense of Liberal Democracy, the Rule of Rights or, more precisely, the Rule of Natural Rights.
Each citizen living within the social contract has innumerable natural rights as described in the US Declaration of Independence. But these natural rights of an individual often conflict with the natural rights of other individuals. The Rule of Rights provides a framework where the rule of natural rights is put in order. Once the definitions and limits of natural rights is commonly understood and accepted by the citizens within the social contract, people can have a high level of trust in their interactions with other citizens because everyone understands the same set of rules.
It is the proper role of government to assure that citizens adhere to the Rule of Natural Rights. Given the flawed nature of humanity, some individuals will try to break these widely accepted rules in order to gain some form of individual advantage at the expense of other citizens. Unenforced, wanton violations of the Rule of Rights break down the trust among citizens and makes it more difficult to interact with confidence. There is nothing wrong with acting in one’s own self-interest within the boundaries set by the social contract, as famously noted by Adam Smith in his book, The Wealth of Nations. But acting in one’s self-interest in violation of the social contract, not only causes harm to other citizens, it breaks down the efficacy of the contract itself.
The efficacy of the social contract depends on everybody (or at least a very large proportion of the population) understanding and agreeing to the Rule of Rights set forth in the social contract. Such rules may not be deemed “fair” by everyone within the contract, but everyone should agree that the rules are “not too unfair.” In other words, minor flaws in the social contract should be accepted as a normal part of the human condition and that it is not worth endangering the overall function of the contract because of such minor problems.
It is the job of government (executive branch) to maintain the smooth functioning of the social contract and it is the job of politicians (legislative branch) to make adjustments to the Rule of Rights as circumstances change over time. Such changes should be accepted by a broad consensus of the people, not be considered too unfair, and promote the smooth functioning of the social contract and help people understand how to interact with each other.
This may seem like a round-about way to explain why our politicians are driving us crazy, but I thought it was important to describe how government is supposed to work in order to highlight the differences in how our government and its leaders are working now.
Instead of trying to find common ground so that citizens can interact freely on the basis of trust, our politicians are trying to divide us into competing groups. These groups compete for access to government power and entitlement because in this progressive viewpoint all the benefits provided by society are derived from or allocated by government and do not come from citizens interacting together. This model requires a powerful government, not powerful people. In this view, people are either victims or oppressors where the victims have no agency but must rely on government. Whether you are a white factory worker, a black single mother, a highly indebted graduate or whatever, you must rely on others for your deliverance. You must give up control of your life and place it in the hands of government. This is highly stressful and generates anxiety and mental illness. Lack of control is the definition of mental illness.
We are told that these oppressors are not our fellow citizens. They are not just indifferent to our needs but are actively opposed to them. They are not fellow citizens, they are enemies. We must be at constant war with our fellow citizens. It is a zero-sum game, and the only game is government. This type of belief system is not viable for a free society. And we must change it if we want America to continue.
Daniel Henninger, commented in a recent WSJ column, The Next Pandemic: Mental Illness, that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people 15 to 34, and the rate continues to rise. Drug overdoses exploded to 108,000 cases last year, up 15%. Homeless camps, filled with many people with mental health and addiction problems, have spread like wildfire across major cities. And this does not include the many young adults that have moved back into their parents’ house as they are unable to find a way to cope with modern society.
And NYU Professor Jonathan Haidt chronicled in his recent book, The Coddling of the American Mind, how today’s youth are vulnerable to mental illness, self-harm and suicide. Conditions that have caused our youth to seek “safe places” and to favor cancel culture to protect themselves from disturbing words or thoughts. Professor Haidt attributes much of this problem to helicopter parents and social media, but it is also clear that these vulnerable children will easily fall into the victimhood trap as they approach adulthood. They are primed.
And the American medical professional associations are complicit in this movement. They have adopted the divisive woke ideology that denies individuality and places everyone into separate identity groups even while this loss of agency drives people to the edge of madness and mass hysteria. Dissenting opinion is suppressed and alternative voices are cancelled. Their expanded definition of what constitutes normal behavior is at odds with rapidly rising rates of suicide, self-harm, violence, homelessness, drug overdoses and the exploding use of antidepressant medication.
People like known boundaries where they understand what they can and cannot do, and also can have an expectation that their fellow citizens will act in a similar manner. This is the definition of the social contract. The social contract that is being torn apart by our so-called leaders. We have enough problems dealing with mentally ill people in the best of times. We do not need politicians compounding this problem into an existential threat to American society.
But there is hope in America. We are beginning to see signs of change. The Democratic party’s stranglehold on blacks and Hispanics is beginning to loosen. While this may be good news for Republicans, the really good news is that many Americans of different ethnicities are seeing themselves as individuals and not members of a group that demand solidarity (race loyalty) from all its members. Many blacks and Hispanics are beginning to realize that they have a much better chance of achieving their goals and aspirations by adopting American middle-class values than in handing political power to woke elitists.
And it is not just blacks and Hispanics. While Trump’s loyalists obligingly vote for his endorsed candidates, those candidates are winning primaries by pluralities, not majorities. Trump’s base may be intact, but it is not expanding. Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governorship by distancing himself from Trump. And Brian Kemp in Georgia is outright defiant of Trump and is trouncing Trump’s endorsed candidate, David Perdue, in the polls.
The 2022 off-year elections may be an inflection point. The American people have always been pretty level-headed. They are beginning to realize that divisive populist politics is a national sickness that is literally making people mentally ill. But an inflection point, while important, is not decisive. It has taken us several generations to get into this national funk and it will take a long time to get out of it. But at least there are signs that we are beginning to head in the right direction.