Consent of the Governed

“Do not discuss politics or religion in general company.” This has been a rule of etiquette at least since 1879.[1] In my previous blog pieces and posts, I have tried to respect this rule, although I have touched on both religion and politics from time to time. However, I feel that our current situation in the U.S. dictates that I risk offending some by addressing socio-political issues I believe to be critically important to us all. Our economy, society, and the earth that sustain us are all at risk.


The “great American experiment” cannot be sustained without a political system firmly rooted in a moral sense of responsibility to secure liberty and justice for all – including those of future generations. It has never been unpatriotic to criticize one’s government when it fails to serve the common interest of the people – as did Patrick Henry in 1775. In fact, I believe it is unpatriotic to support one’s government or consent to one’s society when it fails to give priority to the good of the people in common over the collective self-interests of individuals.


We in the United States currently live in a deeply divided nation – divided economically, socially, and ethically. The divisions I see and feel as I travel about the country today are quite similar to those I read about in the times leading up to the Civil War. Families are divided within and among generations. The social fabric of communities is being ripped asunder. Our governments are essentially dysfunctional at all levels – local, state, and national. Those on one side of the divide see an oppressive government that is a threat to individual freedom and liberty while those on the other see a powerless government that is a threat to social equity and justice.


The government of the United States was established for the purpose of balancing individual liberty with social justice. It was committed to ensuring the freedom to pursue self-interests – as long as the actions of individuals did not infringe on the constitutional “rights” of others. Our current government obviously is failing in this responsibility, at least in the minds of the vast majority of Americans. According to numerous polls, at least two-thirds of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, regardless of which party controls the various branches of government at any given time.


The American Declaration of Independence states that governments derive their “just power from the consent of the governed.” Our government has lost the “consent of the governed” and thus has lost its “just power” to govern. I have made this argument in my book, “Revolution of the Middle – and the Pursuit of Happiness,”[2] which is available through in Kindle and audio formats. I plan to take a somewhat different approach in future blogs and posts. I plan to anchor my comments in the historic documents upon which our government is rooted – the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.


I am not an academic historian or constitutional scholar. I will not attempt to review what historians have written about the evolution of our government or critique Supreme Court rulings leading up to current interpretations of our Constitution. The interpretations of our history and rulings of the Supreme Court have led our country to the crisis with which we are confronted today. I will interpret our founding documents as an interested, informed, hopefully thoughtful but admittedly fallible, citizen of this still great nation. My purpose in this endeavor is to help restore hope in the possibility of restoring the consent of the governed by focusing on the rights and responsibilities necessary to ensure liberty and justice for ourselves and our posterity.


First, I want to make clear where I stand politically and religiously. If I were asked to label myself politically, I would call myself a progressive. I believe in the necessity of effective governance. I also believe that the basic laws of nature, including human nature, must take priority over the preferences of individual societies, and the needs of societies must take priority over the desires of individuals. Individuals can truly be free only within the bounds of a socially equitable and just society, and equitable and just societies can be sustained only by respecting the basic laws of nature. I respect those who disagree. I know why I believe what I believe and ask only as much of those who disagree with me. None of us is infallible.


I am a Christian but not a fundamentalist. I believed that each of us is here on earth for a purpose that in some way is meant to contribute to some greater good. No one’s purpose is any more important than any other – no matter how society might judge our different contributions to the greater good. The sense we get from our “small voice within” – our soul, our spirit, or God – is our guide along our path through life. Sometimes the voice is clear; often it is far less so. As a Christian, I believe that small voice is the Holy Spirit which Jesus said would be sent to guide people after his death. My belief is reconcilable with the beliefs of many others who are guided by a spiritual sense of good or bad and right or wrong. I respect those who believe differently, as long as they don’t attempt to impose their beliefs on others.


Finally, I think Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States was valid but nonetheless a mistake. I believe many who voted for him were trying to “send a message” rather than elect him as their president. They were saying the current system of government isn’t working for them. With different rules for nominating, Bernie Sanders could have been the Democratic nominee and would have attracted voters with similar sentiments. The numbers of people demanding fundamental change are large and growing, among Democrats, progressives, and independents as well as conservatives, Libertarians, and Republicans. We are just demanding fundamentally different kinds of change.


The danger in the Trump presidency is that he may believe the election has given him an individual mandate to rule the country as he sees fit. Anyone who doesn’t do what Trump feels he has promised his people he would do gets “fired.” If Congress or the courts try to stop him, he will find a way around them – like he has subverted the rules of business. My fear is that he believes he has a mandate to recreate government as he chooses to carry out his agenda. I applaud and support those who share my fears and are committed to preventing President Trump from carrying his corporatist, militarist, extreme-nationalist, political agenda. Their numbers are many, and I trust they will be successful with or without my help.


With Donald Trump as President, all three branches of our government are now dysfunctional. Congress and the Supreme Court have been dysfunctional since the 1980s. The political loyalties of our elected representatives and appointed judges now take priority over the common good of the people. Members of Congress spend more time raising funds for reelection than working on legislation. They are forced to vote in blocks if they expect legislative or elective support from their political party. They defy their party only when necessary to serve politically powerful constituencies back home, rather than represent all of their constituents in working for the common good of the country. The balance of the Supreme Court swings back and forth with each new politically motivated appointment, as does the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. There is no consensus in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of government. Our government has lost its “just power to govern” because it has lost the consent of the governed.


Regardless, I still have hope that we can resolve our current crisis of confidence in governance. I believe we can find a way to continue toward the utopian vision of the founders of this still great nation. We can learn to work together through government to ensure liberty and justice for all – for ourselves and our posterity. I will continue to write on issues related to agricultural and economic sustainability – as I have done in the past. My future “political and religious” blogs and posts will focus on finding “common ground” upon which to rebuild the consent of the governed and reestablish our government’s just power to govern.

John Ikerd