By S.T. Karnick
What should surprise us most about the presidential election campaign that concludes today is not that it has been unprecedented in the amount of bile and rancor directed by the contestants and their followers toward one another, but that so many people profess to be surprised by this development. It would be a miracle if people were not arguing intently over this election, because the nation’s government has grown so big that there is more at stake than ever before. When government controls everything, who gets elected makes a huge difference in people’s lives.
The vast growth of government has rendered increasingly implausible the long-cherished notion of the United States as an exceptional nation enjoying unique freedoms. Federal spending rose from $2.988 trillion in 2008 to $3.579 trillion in 2016. The Competitive Enterprise Institute reports compliance with federal regulations now costs the public about $1.9 trillion a year, $15,000 per household. In 2015, the government enacted 114 laws, but federal agencies issued 3,410 rules, with a similar number waiting in the pipeline from an increasingly unaccountable federal bureaucracy that cares little about the cost of its intrusions.
Not surprisingly, a Fox News poll released last Friday found 73 percent of the U.S. public are “angry” or “dissatisfied with the way the federal government is working.” They have good reason to feel that way, as such gargantuan government directly contradicts the nation’s founding principles of popular sovereignty and limited government as explicitly stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution.
The United States has a long history of agitation for government to do vastly more than what was outlined in the Constitution and make the United States operate more like other nations, where a relatively small cadre of experts decides everything for the masses. Such efforts accelerated during Progressive Era with the imposition of the ever-rising federal income tax and burdensome regulations designed to punish businesses for becoming too big and potentially challenging the power of government.
This process increased under FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, and President Barack Obama raised the stakes even further, promising a “fundamental transformation” of the United States into a European-style democratic socialist republic. Aspiring successor Hillary Clinton promises to further the transition to full democratic socialism, proposing more than $1 trillion in federal tax hikes and nearly $3 trillion in spending increases to kick in over the next 10 years.
Much of the public became increasingly dismayed and then angry at what they perceived as flouting of the rule of law during the Obama administration. As the British writer G. K. Chesterton aptly noted, “You cannot love a thing without wanting to fight for it.” The Democrats-only passage of Obamacare sparked a national movement that took on the Revolutionary-era name of the Tea Party to express their attachment to the national’s original principles.
The feisty Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, further spread the call to reverse the drift into socialism and suppression of dissent. My Heartland Institute colleague Peter Ferrara reported Trump has proposed federal tax cuts of $3.9 trillion over the next 10 years. Trump has also said he will reverse President Obama’s executive orders and agency-generated regulations, halt U.S. military adventurism, and clean up corruption in the nation’s capital. Whether Trump would actually do all these things is a matter of heated debate, but his championing of these ideas accounts for the passionate support he has among the approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population whom Hillary Clinton has designated “a basket of deplorables,” a term one could easily imagine King George III using in the 1770s.
With its firm grasp on the levers of power, the government has the upper hand in such disagreements, which further antagonizes the dissenters. Indeed, incumbents are using the threat of jail to suppress dissent. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has suggested revoking the free speech protections of the First Amendment. Seventeen state attorneys general initiated legal action against ExxonMobil and other groups who argue a manmade global warming catastrophe is not imminent. President Obama’s attorney general, Loretta Lynch, directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to target those groups with an investigation aimed at bringing criminal charges.
Those in power see even lies, cheating, incitements to violence, and massive voter fraud as acceptable in the battle to protect their ability to rule, which further infuriates much of the public. In October, journalists released undercover videos showing two Democratic National Committee operatives “discussing unseemly tactics like instigating violence at Mr. Trump’s rallies and arranging for fraudulent voting,” The New York Times reported.
A necessary prerequisite for this “fundamental transformation” has been the destruction of the public’s sense of American exceptionalism, a term actually coined by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1929. Stalin and other Communists realized the United States would remain resistant to tyranny as long as its people continued to acknowledge that their nation was uniquely founded on the principles of individual liberty and blind justice. Indeed, Stalin’s use of the term American exceptionalism marks the commencement of a long march of the radical left through the nation’s institutions, especially the schools, in order to tarnish, and ultimately extirpate, any public aspiration toward freedom, by characterizing the nation’s history as a lamentable tale of exploitation of the weak by the strong rather than an ongoing quest to extend liberty to all.
Let us not be surprised, then, that a basic disagreement regarding the current and future course of the United States sparks serious divisions and even anger. As long as the U.S. government remains this big and continues to grow, our politics will become increasingly toxic and disturbed. That will be the case because people rightly take very seriously the choice of who will administer a government that runs even the most intimate facets of their lives.
S. T. Karnick ([email protected]) is director of research for The Heartland Institute.