Often, men in the United States argue over two diametrically opposed possibilities when it comes to the power of the government.
The first is that the state is wasteful, inefficient, and most of all, incompetent. The US Postal Service is an often cited example by proponents of this position. Not only is this agency totally bankrupt, it took a private company like Amazon to finally revolutionize delivery and logistics in our lifetimes.
Then you have the flip side of the coin in this debate. These advocates believe that government is nearly all-seeing and all-knowing. Not only is it enormously capable, it can increasingly do whatever it wants wherever it wants. The quintessential example here might be the US Army, which can often reach across the globe in record time.
But which view is reality in 21st Century America?
Certainly, resolving this argument can give us insight into how the next decade might go for us. And this is especially true as politicians become more eager to persecute their political opponents, even everyday men and women.
Regardless, the answer is actually somewhere in the middle for the US.
We need look no further than the recent and glaring address to Congress by the current administration. Simply look at the photo below. Taken only a week ago, it represents one of the highest bodies of authority in our society. But when you look, what do you see in it?
Beyond all the rhetoric and political PR, you can’t help but think of how it looks like a scene out of some bizarre, feel-good geriatric movie. In this feature film, a nursing home full of decrepit, sickly has-beens has gone on a visit to a weird theme park, which so happens to have a replica of the halls of power in our land. In their giddiness for a past that no longer exists, these old fogies have decided to play pretend and to share, to a mostly empty room, their moral vision for the clown world they believe in.
You might see delusion in that photo. Or maybe an embarrassing display of melodrama. You would probably also cringe if you listened to almost any part of that moral vision.
But when you look closely, what you don’t see in abundance is sanity, intelligence, commonsense, fortitude, or any number of other laudable values.
Quite the inverse actually.
Something similar happened after the Capitol “insurrection” earlier this year. What was a rather tame protest was used as an excuse to turn the seat of our government into a fortified stronghold that looked like something out of a post-apocalyptic war story. Politicians have even taken to calling the protest, rather ludicrously, the worst attack on America since the Civil War. If you weren’t paying attention, you might think that this too was a show of strength.
Instead, however, if you look closely again, you’ll see it’s really a demonstration of outright impotence.
As is often the case, strength and superior capabilities are not always what they seem. Sometimes, the loudest voice is the one most filled with fear. And bullies almost always buy into their own bullshit, if only because it’s the easiest thing in the world to believe your own words about yourself. This doesn’t mean they can’t cause pain in the lives of others; of course they can. Stupidity can be almost as equally destructive as malice. And it also doesn’t mean that other parts of the organization that is the government aren’t effective at their respective duties, although that’s increasingly in question.
But usually, to assess real strategic superiority or power, you only have to remove the self-reassuring talk the opposition needs to tell itself. And to look beyond mere professing of faith to their own kind. Once you do, you’ll often find that the people going out of their way to appear threatening or formidable, as loudly as possible and even to the point of concocting imaginary terrors like fake pandemics and fake insurrections, are the ones most in doubt about their own control and authority.
Look closely one last time at that photograph.
After you’ve looked past the suits and ties and tuned out the mindless ramblings, if that were you in the photograph, would you see confidence in your ability to meet the future… or uncontrollable panic?