Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Government and trust-

I grew up in the 1960's. Turbulent years. Years of change.

My father has always been an American patriot. He instilled a respect for an idealized America that I adopted readily. He grew up in difficult times. Turbulent years. Years of change. My father loves his country, and has always had hope for the future.

The idealized America I learned to love was not just a fabrication of my father's experience. It was sculpted in the 1950's. Post World War II America, on top of the world as a consequence of changing events. Growth and prosperity. A time of reformulated identity.

I grew up in the 1960's. There was a war in those days. A protracted war in a distant land. I grew up with the growing belief that the country I loved intended to gather me up and send me to that distant land, to kill and probably be killed.

Needless to say, this challenged my love for my country. It did not destroy that love, but it did change the nature of that love.

I joined the Army in 1972. I had no other solid prospects, and it seemed wise to go into the inevitable with some degree of control. I had trouble in those days seeing past my probable death in Southeast Asia. It impacted my capacity to dream of any kind of future.

I did not go to Viet Nam, and I did not die there. I fought the Cold War in Germany, and on the whole it was a good experience. However, I had lost my trust in the government of the nation I still loved. I was proud to have served the people of America, but I was not sure I felt that way about the government I served.

The years between then and now have been filled with challenges to that love of country. I still believe our system of government is one of the best in history. It is not, however, the unsullied gift from Heaven that the glorious 1950's painted.

There were lies then, and there are lies now. People have died as a result of the lies. Sacrifices offered by the rich and powerful in the name of a Great Nation. Sacrifices they did not have the right to make, even though they were rich and powerful.

I am still idealistic enough to believe that a nation founded on lies is unworthy of the trust of its people. I am still naive enough to believe that a little gained by truth is better than a lot gained by lies. I am wise enough to know that we would not survive long as a nation if those who governed were so rigidly idealistic.

The realities of the world demand compromise, and compromise always diminishes ideals. Yet to abandon ideals is to yield to a pragmatism that will spirals down into a meaningless existence. It devolves into a mindless cannibalism devoid of purpose.

Perhaps that is the purpose that government ultimately serves. It is a system by which we act out the struggle to rise above the chaos that is the absence of ideals. It is constantly compromised, and always falls short. In falling short, however, we still rise above the chaos.

The ideal government can be trusted. A government compromised by lies cannot be trusted. However, even a compromised government can stand above the chaos of the absence of ideals.

I will never again trust my government. However, I need not abandon that government, for in the course of governing much good is done. It is imperfect, and bears constant watching. It requires constant attention, and over time it can be made better. The ideal of truth can still be the goal toward which I will move the government of this nation, to whatever degree I can as a simple citizen.

It would be nice to be able to trust our government, but we cannot. The history of lies denies that trust. We can strive to make it better. We can hope for a day when such trust is warranted.

It is hard for an idealist. We have so far to go.

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