On the old M.A.S.H. television sitcom, Radar O’Reilly exemplified a military mind-set when he referred to an exorcism performed by a local Korean as removing “unauthorized” spirits. We laugh at Radar’s absurd assuming spiritual matters follow a military chain of command.
An authoritarian personality functions a lot better in a military culture than in a democracy based on freedom and individual rights and responsibilities. The genius of our country is that our founding fathers understood that governments are the servants, not the masters, of the people. Thomas Jefferson is said to have changed the word “subjects” in a draft of the Declaration of Independence to the word “citizens.” That difference sets us apart from states like Germany under Hitler, Italy under Mussolini and the Soviet Union under Stalin.
Not everyone likes that arrangement. Folks who like being told what to do and telling others what to do prefer a top-down system in which governments control the people on the premise that our elite rulers know what’s best for you better than you do.
I consider myself a moderate on the authoritarian scale. I don’t squawk because government tells me which side of the street I have to drive on and commands me to stop my car at red lights. I recognize the need for some rules and refuse to flout rules for the sake of flouting rules. I generally give authorities the benefit of the doubt. I don’t mind my archbishop telling me when to stand and when to kneel during religious services. When my plumber tells me I need a new hot-water heating system and when my gastroenterologist tells me I have some polyps in my colon, I tend to believe them. But I do not follow bishops who tell me whom to vote for and against, and I would not believe my plumber if he told me about polyps in my colon or the gastroenterologist if he claimed he knows more about my moral theology than I do.
When seeking sources of information, I consider three factors: One, does the source have credentials pertinent to the information? Being a whiz-bang in heating systems does not qualify a plumber in public policy. Two, does the source have a hidden motive? Some plumbers may knowingly lie about functioning of heating systems in order to inflate the bill. And, three, does the source have a reputation for and a record of honesty and integrity?
Unfortunately, in matters of public policy, we’re frequently at the mercy of politicians. All too often, they get into power, not because of merit, but because of money and political connections. And, as a friend once quipped, politicians’ biggest asset is their lie-ability. They will often hide the truth that hurts their image and make up stuff they think will advance their careers or their agendas. And, far too often, they try to get away with crimes by claiming, as Richard Nixon did, they cannot break the law because they are the law.
Yet, far too often, folks accept such politicians as authorities, apparently on the assumption that being in power automatically qualifies people to lead our country. I’m not that authoritarian. As Ronald Reagan used to say, trust but verify. A generation ago, some got mad at me for applying his advice to his own behavior. When his administration assured me it was fighting communism in Latin America, I asked for the names of commies killed as a result of my tax dollars. But none of the three offices of our congressional delegation could identify one dead commie. More recently, when the Sullivan administration told me lying or sitting on downtown Anchorage sidewalks endangers public safety, I asked for data to back up that assertion. The police chief had none. Here’s the thing, folks: Something does not become true just because the government says so.
Nor is an action justified simply because a government “official” does it. A politician who breaks international law by invading another country without provocation is a criminal and should be prosecuted for such a crime. A cop who pepper sprays people simply for kneeling in protest against injustices is guilty of assault and should be prosecuted for such a crime. Cops who jail credential reporters for covering street demonstrations should serve the sentences of those whom they illegally arrested.
Now, I oppose the irresponsible practice of labeling people Nazis simply because they don’t agree with you on something. In all my life, I have referred only to two people as Nazis. I did so only because they identified themselves as Nazis.
But some bozo’s drawing a mustache on a photo of President Obama does not deter me from learning the lessons of history. Unlike the USSR, Nazi Germany got its start in a democratic form of government. That democracy collapsed because of an excessively authoritarian mind-set: Whatever the government does or says is all right because it is “official.” Too many Germans behaved like the guy who admitted in these cyberpages a while back he didn’t want to know what our government is doing. I have a news flash for that person: Vigilance in learning the lessons of history so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the 1930s and 1940s Germans is not “mindless”; what is mindless is reacting to government crimes by sticking your head in the sand.
The fact that other countries deprive their citizens of their civil rights and even human rights does not entitle my government to take away mine on the premise that other countries are worse.
Make no mistake: America is the American people, not merely its politicians and bureaucratic “officials.” Those who oppose government crimes are the not the ones attacking America. The government criminals are the ones attacking America.
And if you don’t like being compared to 1937 Germans, here’s an idea: Quit your whining and stop acting like them.