This is so exciting. Today you’re going to meet somebody really important.
I want to introduce you to the new ruler of the nation.
OK, this is weird, but… you’ll have to go to the bathroom to meet them. I know, just trust me.
All right, once you’re there, make sure you’re facing the mirror.
Now say: “I am the ruler of the nation. I always have been. Happy to meet you.”
Wow, what a momentous day! Who knew you were the ruler all along? Whatever will you do with all your new-found power??
Oh… you thought I was referring to the president?
What on Earth for??
Perhaps you hadn’t heard: the president is not a “ruler” of anything. He’s just one man, a public servant–with everything that phrase implies–in a very large government.
Sorry if it scares you. You’re in charge, bucko.
You always have been.
One Man Does Not A Nation Make (Or Break)
Isn’t it interesting, though, how people are willing to pin the entirety of their hopes (or bemoan the coming apocalypse) on one person taking office? It’s probably a holdover in the collective unconscious from times when we were ruled over by emperors and kings.
It’s as though we’ve gotten a brief, two-hundred-year glimpse of a monarch-less society, but never really absorbed what it meant—we never took it to heart.
We think voting means switching an old monarch for a new one. An election, in our minds, might as well be a “coronation”–we believe we’re electing a ruler or a king. We don’t disagree, in principle, with the idea of being ruled, we just want to designate who will be doing the ruling. We have no conception that a government by, of and for the people means we are the rulers, a fact which does not change when someone new takes office.
That’s right. We authorize the government to work on our behalf.
No one gets to rule over us.
An alien concept to people today. They speak of elected officials as so-called “leaders” and look to them to change their lives, to usher in new golden eras, or to end society as we know it.
All of which would be true under a king or an emperor. When such a regime changes hands, the entire kingdom is affected by the whims of one person. (Though, not all monarchies and dictatorships are absolute. Watch the film Elizabeth to see a portrayal of a monarch struggling to impose her will against an obstinate Parliament. Even such societies recognized the need to impose limits on absolute power by one person.)
Our system, by contrast, is designed to be immune to regime changes. Rule of law persists, even though the regime goes through a temporary change in stewardship. The president is only the nominal head of one of three branches of stewards, all of which are supposed to carry equal authority and function as checks on the power of the other. And all three, including the executive branch, are answerable to a still-higher authority: the Constitution.
A president’s primary job–what he swears to upon taking office–is precisely not to impose his whims on the nation, but to protect and uphold the Constitution. The rest of the executive branch, and the other branches (legislative and judicial) are partly tasked with making sure he does.
And, ultimately, as the real boss, so are we.
But truth is repetition.
We hear something enough and we start to believe it: that someone will be “taking power” or perhaps that we are “putting someone in power”. That he will show “leadership” in “turning the country around”, like the captain of a ship.
Listen, this is something you’re going to have to come to grips with: authorizing someone to work in government does not mean surrendering authority to them.
This is something that people today simply do not understand. A president does not “take power”. We still have supreme authority in our system over the president. It feels enormously redundant to say so, but unfortunately necessary: the people, in a republic, are the ultimate authority. (In logic circles, this is known as a “tautology”. It’s the equivalent of saying: “the people, in a system governed by the people, are the governors”).
The president answers to us. The governors.
An election does not change the “ruler” of a republic. That is YOU. Forever.
Congratulations. All Hail the Chief.
Our authority is mandated in the form of the Constitution, which the president must answer to, or face removal from office. Impeachment is a power we still possess, no matter who sits in the Oval Office. True, we’ve never used it on a president (we acquitted both Johnson and Clinton, and Nixon resigned prior to what was almost a certain conviction). But we have removed district judges and even one Justice of the Supreme Court. We’ve exercised the power of impeachment before, and we’ll do it again.
The chain of authority is clear: do the job mandated for you by the Constitution, or you’re gone.
Meanwhile, Back In Reality…
Now, you’re probably thinking, that may be the case on the books, but reality is a far different beast.
Sure, “by law” no one person possesses the “official” power to impose their whims on the nation, but, in this day and age, no one stops the sitting president from doing so. Since people are largely ignorant of the machinations of government (indeed, since government is so pervasive in our lives how could they possibly keep up with it all?), and since people are largely fearful of authority, a president, now, has powers much closer to a monarch simply because no one will stand opposed.
In fact, does anyone really care about the Constitution or whether it is upheld? They want a monarch to wave his wand and make sweeping reforms and make their problems go away. (Or: they want a monarch to be responsible for all the ills of a society, rather than accept their own culpability in the corrupt system).
Don’t we all know it? Isn’t the president, upon taking the oath of office, really just mouthing the words about the Constitution? Doesn’t he know, in his heart of hearts, that he is becoming the monarch–the so-called “leader of the Free World”? He might be saying the word “constitution”, but he’s thinking the word “emperor”, right?
All true. No argument from me.
We’ve been in the process of allowing government to take incrementally more and more control of our lives, unopposed, for more than two centuries. But we’ve been doing more than allowing. People no longer want those freedoms. We have now reached an age where people are so willing to follow the whims of a dictator or monarch that they are practically crawling over each other to put one in power.
All the more reason to remind ourselves, now, today, of what is actually on the books. Of who the rightful head of government is.
An election reminds that we are the boss, and that we must remember it, today of all days, before surrendering any more control to a “ruler”. We must adopt the mindset (which also happens to be the legal truth) that the president is not the highest authority in the land. That he is a public servant to you and I, answerable to our authority. That it is our decisions that make or break our lives. And yes, this includes taking responsibility for the bad decisions.
You see, it is not (nor has it ever been) “the Reagan economy”, nor “the Bush economy”, nor “the Clinton economy”, nor “the Obama economy”. It is, and always has been, OUR economy. Yours and mine.
Every new administration brings a new set of reformers and world-makers—those who think their decisions and regulations will fashion the new utopia. And somehow, despite decades of failure and disaster, they also manage to convince a new throng of followers. But they forget one thing: for all its power, government has not one scintilla of a clue of what to produce, or how much, or what price to charge for it. Those decisions are made by us. Billions of us. All the government can do is react to what we produce and buy, then restrict, divert or take its cut.
Think of it: even if the totality of government were put to this one task, they could not with any rationality or sense make a single one of the hundreds of economic decisions you and I make every day, from what products to buy, to what price we are willing to pay, to how much to save or invest, whether to rent or buy, how much gas to put in our car, how much or little we are willing to work, to what jobs we are willing to work or not, whether to work for someone else or start our own business, to what education we need or what hobbies or leisure to pursue instead.
There’s hardly a decision you make in the course of a day, including the decision to do nothing rather than something, that doesn’t have some economic result.
To believe that a single elected official possesses some insight and wisdom about these decisions that the rest of us do not is, frankly, ludicrous.
And yet every administration tries to impose its version of how it wants those day-to-day decisions to be made. And the track record is clear. They cannot create, they can only control. They cannot produce, but they can undercut production by reaping a percentage off the top.
Such is the nature of the only thing government can bring to bear on an economy: force.
Governments can only restrict economic choices. They can only replace, through force, their choices for ours.
That’s what every economic reform, every tax, every new regulation does: it restricts you and I from making the choices that we would make, and instead imposes the choices of the monarch, dictator, ruler or administration.
Here’s what economic dictates cannot do: they cannot conjure prosperity. They cannot dictate wealth into existence. They cannot order economic surpluses. They cannot create growth simply by declaring it. (Not even with so-called “stimulus”.) All they can let the real wealth-creators (you and I) do their work and then take their cut, exactly in the manner of roadside bandits.
Bottom line: it is our economic decisions, not a president’s, which make a prosperous or a failing economy.
Calling it the “Bush economy” or the “Obama economy” combines mental blurriness with vicious scapegoating. Would that it were as simple as laying the praise or the blame for economic conditions on a single person. That would sure save us a lot of mental effort and self-responsibility, wouldn’t it?
But the glaring fact remains: those billions of people making the many billions of choices, every day. The economy, we are forced to admit, is us, the multitude. Quite a different thing from the myopic regime under which it’s trying to operate. We should say “the economy under X regime”, or the “Y regime under which the economy is fighting to survive”. The economy is the people, making our day-to-day decisions and trying our damnedest to survive and flourish in spite of the current administration’s vision for how we ought to do so.
The only question with regard to a new administration is this: are they going to stand aside and allow us to make our own decisions, to decide for ourselves what to buy, focus on, produce and create, and to what degree, according to their utopian paradigm, do they intend to tax, tariff, regulate, restrict, hinder or get in the way?
Governments are Only As Good as the People
Tyrants do not wrest power from weak people. People surrender their power, placing their hopes and fears into tyrants. Tyrants merely ride the crest of the historical waves that start, usually, before they are even born. The ideas espoused by the tyrant are already popular, already accepted, by the time they come to rule. There is nothing special in particular about a tyrant. If it wasn’t them, it would be someone else, riding the same historical wave.
Whether Chavez, Hitler, or Julius Caesar, tyrants always come to power with a throng of popular support, believers in mass crowds chanting their names, who think that now, life will be better, since the ruler must possess some special insight that that people do not.
In this sense, it is we, the people, who have responsibility for whatever happens to us. We surrender our liberties because we want to be ruled by someone. We give government vast powers because we want to be told what to do by wise leaders. We grant the ruler permission to rule us. Governments do not become “corrupt” and turn against their people– we become corrupt and use government as a tool to further our ends through force.
We’re the tyrants.
This is why what is needed is not “democracy”, which really just tyranny of whatever ideas happen to be popular, but a return to the principles of the Constitution.
Paradoxically, in a corrupt society, it requires a president who ignores the will of the people and devotes themselves 100% to upholding the Constitution, no matter how unpopular it makes him.
To uphold and protect the Constitution is no light thing. What most see as “power”, I see as enormous act of servitude. It is an awesome responsibility. Any powers the president possesses, we grant him, in trust, and with heavy obligation. If he doesn’t hold up his end or violates that trust, we possess the power to remove him.
When we don’t do so, it is because we want him to violate his oath and overstep his authority.
A president doesn’t wield incredible, frightening powers. We do.
So What’s it Gonna Be, Boss?
Today, regrettably, we are offered a choice of negatives. Not who will stand for the Constitution, but who will attempt to violate it the most, and who the least, and in what respect?
Forget the silly discussions of “moral character”, past dalliances, birth certificates, and even polls and debate performances (which, let’s be honest, are little more than trained circus acts with planned sound bites) and turn your mind to what is pertinent to you, in your role as Governor and Supreme Ruler of the people.
In your opinion, Governor:
- Will the candidate uphold and defend the Constitution, or will he overturn and undermine it?
- Will he use the force at his disposal to protect the people he has sworn to protect, or to impose controls upon them?
- Will he allow the people to flourish by making their own decisions, or will he hinder those decisions by presuming to make them himself?
- Will he serve us, or impose his whims?
Remember, when you vote, you are not electing a boss. Farthest thing from it. You are the boss, hiring someone to be your temporary steward, your constitutional Head of Security, as it were.
Perhaps a “guard dog” is more apt. You want the winner of the election to watch over the Constitution with the fervor and zealotry of a dog defending its master’s home.
And let’s be honest: we should be so lucky. A dog, after all, does not take his position lightly, behaves with fanatic loyalty to his master, and doesn’t try to make deals with crooks coming into the house.