During the recent campaign season and initial days of the current presidency, there appears to be a struggle among Americans as to the appropriate role and responsibility of government. President Lincoln in his noble address states, “and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I see and hear diverse opinions and corresponding actions concerning the role of government one position is that government is the solution to core struggles, challenges and problems; another position is that government is actually the problem to be solved in order for our democracy to thrive; and a third position is that government is actually the enemy and stands fully in the way of individual responsibilities and actions.
Going back to Civics 101, where we learned that the US Constitution divides the federal government into three branches to ensure a central government in which no individual or group gains too much control:
- Legislative – Makes laws (Congress)
- Executive – Carries out laws (President, Vice President, Cabinet)
- Judicial – Evaluates laws (Supreme Court and other courts)
Each branch of government can change acts of the other branches as follows:
- The President can veto laws passed by Congress.
- Congress confirms or rejects the President’s appointments and can remove the President from office in exceptional circumstances.
- The Justices of the Supreme Court, who can overturn unconstitutional laws, are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
The U.S. federal government seeks to act in the best interests of its citizens through this system of checks and balances. But what about us citizens who view government from the diverse orientations I identified earlier:
- Is there a checks and balance encouraging individuals to effectively share how they feel about their government and how they arrived at that understanding?
- Is there a common place to share diverse orientations of our understanding of the role and responsibilities of government?
- What are the rules of engagement that encourage us to examine our own understanding and explore other orientations to government?
- How do we ensure processes and places are safe for each individual to actively participate in such deliberations and decisions?
I encourage us all to examine our own experiences and how they lead us to our orientation to government and also engage those who have different orientations to share their experiences with us. Such deliberations may lead us to validate our stand and deepen our commitment to ensuring government abides by our desired roles and responsibilities; they may also lead us to better understand alternative views and appreciate that others’ experiences lead them to a different preference for government’s role and responsibilities.
Whether we find common ground through such deliberations or walk away more convinced of our orientation we will participate in one of the most important aspects of our democracy: civil discourse. Something I find lacking in our current political environment.