By the time this essay is published, the Memorial Day wreaths will be gradually surrendering to the elements and the solemn ceremonies will be faint memories. Politicians of all stripes will have called upon their fellow citizens to remember those who served and those who have fallen. They will have called upon us to honor the memory of those who sacrificed by living out the principles that established us as a free people.
I believe that in the America I love people do their very best to honor the men and women who have served us so faithfully. They do their best to live by those founding principles.
But, the America I live in is not quite the same America I grew up in. Our great national experiment in democracy seems to be in decline. Why? The American people are the same - resilient, patriotic, and willing to change. The truth is, America’s failures are almost exclusively systemic. They can be laid squarely at the feet of our leaders.
A few of our leaders see this. In a recent op-ed, Representative Don Hill wrote, “I will respectfully, but candidly, observe that confidence in leadership - both legislative and executive - is very low.” He was almost right. Our confidence in our leaders is now close to non-existent.
Why is this so?
Can a free man have everything he has ever worked for taken from him by an unelected bureaucrat? That’s what happened recently to North Carolina businessman Lyndon McLellan when the I.R.S. took every penny he’d ever saved. He’d worked hard and set aside $107,000 in his savings account. Had he committed any crime that would warrant the seizure? No! Using what some writers have called a “Kafkaesque” administrative cloak, the I.R.S. seized McLellan’s savings with the stroke of a pen. The affidavit read, “The United States of America, Plaintiff, v. $107,702.66 in United States Currency, Defendant.”
McLellan wasn’t guilty of any crime, nor was he charged with one, but, it didn’t matter. The I.R.S., in a fit of cruel creativity, claimed that his money was the guilty party. Guilty of what? Who can say?
Sociologist Charles Murray recently lamented, “America is no longer the land of the free.” To bolster his claim, he cited many examples of the way government overreach has stifled freedom and put us at the mercy of shrewd politicians and un-elected bureaucrats. Did you know, for example, that the federal government now has a list of 4,450 crimes a citizen can supposedly commit, buttressed by over 175,000 pages of legal gobbledygook? Most of them have nothing to do with real crime, like murder, rape, robbery, or assault. They’re considered crimes because we just might be doing something the government disapproves of, “crimes” like those Lyndon McLellan’s life savings supposedly committed or administrative “crimes” of one sort or another. Ask the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose only crime appears to be housing and feeding the poor. Ask anyone who’s been needlessly subjected to government surveillance.
Unfortunately, the feds have nothing on state and local politicians. Ask the independent contractors of Uber, for example. Or, ask the young college students who painted our house last summer why they were needlessly harassed by some arrogant bureaucrat from Topeka.
Our founders were reasonable men. They didn’t want change just for the sake of change. They pleaded with their leaders – “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.” They concluded, sadly, that “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
Our founders were willing to resist the tyranny of King George and Parliament. Freedom was so dear to them that they were willing to be deprived of almost anything to secure its blessings. As proof, author Donald Moran cited the diary of Private Joseph Plumb, who endured the brutal winter of 1799 at Jockey Hollow, a Continental encampment near Morristown, New Jersey: “I do solemnly declare that I did not put a single morsel of victuals into my mouth for four days and as many nights, except for a little black birch bark which I gnawed off a stick of wood.”
The same spirit that animated Joseph Plumb at Jockey Hollow still animates the American people today.
Unfortunately, too many of America’s twenty-first century leaders are now proving themselves to be “unfit to be the rulers of a free people.” King George and Parliament would be proud of them.