Washington is broken. Congress is rotten. The president is a fool. Politicians are bums. The government is incompetent. The country is incurable.
Does this sound familiar? Millions of Americans from every ideology distrust their federal government. Year after year, polls show that large majorities of Americans disapprove of Congress, the president and the government as a whole. They view it as bloated, out of control, ineffective, untrustworthy and destructive of the rights it exists to protect.
How can America fix its government?
Many people seem as convinced about the solutions as they are about the problems. Get people in Washington who have common sense. Get people in there who have common decency. Get people in there who can get things done.
No matter how negatively American citizens view their government, many hold out hope that the next election will turn things around—that their candidate will fix everything, or at least slow the country’s slide toward oblivion. Disenchanted Americans always seem to believe that almost anyone will do a better job than those bums who are in there now.
But this is the uncomfortable part: What if “those bums in Washington” aren’t bums?
How did America’s reviled politicians get their power, after all? Four years ago, eight years ago, 32 years ago, the American people elected them. Not because they were the crookedest and dumbest, but because they were the best and brightest.
Despite the terrible reputations that politicians have, when you meet one in person, you know you are encountering an impressive human being. Some are millionaires’ wastrels, devious manipulators or well-connected oafs, but most are formidable individuals with impressive qualities. They stood out in school, stood out in college, stood out in a profession, stood out in a city, stood out in a state, stood out from the entire country.
You vote for that policymaker because he is the most impressive person you can find. You believe he is a better representative than even you yourself would be. Because in America, if you can’t find anyone better and brighter than you, you can run for that office yourself.
Americans do not consistently elect the worst people in their society to become their leaders. They consistently elect the people they judge to be their very best. Yet yesterday’s “common-sense, American-values, fix-Washington” challenger is today’s out-of-touch, corrupt, insider politician. And he is up for reelection against a new “common-sense, American-values, fix-Washington” challenger.
Why aren’t Americans sending their best people there? Maybe they are. And those people are still destroying the country.
It’s comforting to think Americans can save the nation by electing brighter people. But it’s not true. The truth is more discomforting, because if there’s no hope in that, what hope is there? And if human beings can’t create free government in America, can they create it anywhere?
This lesson of our leaders is a lesson about ourselves. We are directly responsible: We voted for them. If they are ignorant, we have elected ignorant representatives. They represent our ignorance. If they are incompetent, we have elected incompetent representatives. They represent our incompetence. If they are corrupt, we have elected corrupt representatives. They represent our corruption.
If they are self-dealing, weak, petty, ineffective, detached, uninformed or dishonest, it is because they come from that kind of society, and voters could identify no better option. The pool of candidates we draw from is ourselves. Our leaders come from us. They are us. In office, they are what we ourselves would be. They become out-of-touch, ineffective and selfish, just as we ourselves would become out-of-touch, ineffective and selfish.
In America, we deserve the leaders we get.
And our leaders cannot make this country thrive or even survive. Our trial-and-error experiment in human government is about to expire. All that remains is for this precious republic that many of us love to succumb to its weakness, its indebtedness, its corruption and its depravity.
Where did we go wrong? We went wrong with something we barely clutched in 1776 and that we viciously slap away in 2016: “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” We don’t elect our most God-fearing, law-abiding, moral, humble, obedient individuals; we don’t even want to. America’s relative greatness and its imminent fate depend on our obedience to nature’s God.
Of all mankind’s miserable forms of government, free government has been the greatest. Yet even it is terminal. We have no hope, not even in elections. This leaves us one last resort. The government that we have rejected for millennia is not only our last best hope, it is our only hope. We would never vote for it, but it’s the only government that will make us truly free: the government of God.