Perspectives: Citizens or subjects, America’s identity crisis

OPINION – Many Americans today can’t decide if they are supposed to be citizens or subjects. One of the reasons we’re facing a national identity crisis is that we’ve forgotten what it means to be a citizen.

This means that we spend a lot of time arguing about what government is doing and is demanding that we do. Unsurprisingly, we spend very little time questioning whether the action in question is within the proper role of government in the first place. Is government supposed to be our servant or our master?

The answer to this question depends heavily on whether or not we understand the difference between citizens and subjects.

Columnist Charley Reese once wrote about the rules of citizenship, boiling them down into three concise points:

Rule No. 1 is that people given power will tend to abuse it.

Rule No. 2 is that politicians have an inclination to lie.

Rule No. 3 is to always oppose excessive government secrecy.

These rules were once well understood by the average American, all the way back to the founding of this nation. But years of state-sponsored indoctrination and a growing dependence upon government-dispensed favors have created a kind of national amnesia. Even though most Americans have forgotten these rules, they still apply from our local governments up to the national government.

The first rule about abusing power is one that has held true for the entire history of mankind. It’s why government power is to be checked and balanced to prevent any one branch or individual from becoming too powerful. Charley Reese rightly pointed out that not everyone in government abuses power, so it is our duty as citizens to recognize those who don’t and to refuse to elect those who do.

The second rule about politicians lying can be observed today in the shameless threat inflation and distortions that are being told to justify aggression against Iran. This rule of citizenship is among the most important, according to Reese, since lying is so pervasive in politics today. He states that, “Citizens should consider a lie a mortal sin in the realm of civics, for lies are an attempt to deceive the people about very important matters.”

When a politician lies, he or she is directly attacking the very concept of self-government that presumes that the public will make the right choices if we know the truth.

The third rule regarding government secrecy has become more important than ever in our so-called post 9/11 world. Not only does our government cooperate to spy on us at all levels, but it also claims the power to secretly target people for extra-judicial assassinations in the name of national security.

Governments that operate in secrecy and the loss of personal privacy go hand in hand, said Reese. But many otherwise rational Americans have been persuaded to surrender crucial due process protections for a false sense of security from the very state agencies that could someday target them. Subjects maintain that they have no choice but to submit.

Citizens, however, should be actively voting out of office every politician who supports such measures. They can also encourage their state leaders to exercise their state’s powers of interposition to deny federal overreach.

One reason that folks tend to get angry over draconian government mandates is that they already know that they will compromise and obey even the most oppressive dictates. They believe they are subjects and must do exactly as they are told, no matter what. On the other hand, citizens who understand what government may or may not rightfully do, will reject unjust dictates and live their lives as freely as possible.

There are times when ignoring the state is justified because the state is in the wrong.

Subjects tend to conflate this lack of submission with a state of anarchy where every man is a law unto himself. But there is a proper place and time for peaceful disobedience when government exceeds its delegated authority. Rosa Parks is a good example of a citizen who publicly flouted an unfair law that required her to behave as a subject.

Good citizenship is not the same thing as blind obedience. It entails knowing when to support good government and when to say “no” to policies that treat us as subjects.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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  • Ed Kociela October 15, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Good points and i would love to vote out the scoundrels except, I have seen, in nearly 20 years in Utah and 40 years of voting in general, acceptable alternatives. I have seen some candidates here who could barely walk and chew gum at the same time whether from the party I am registered under or the alternative parties. At the same time, I also cannot vote for the many charlatan incumbents who will win anyway because, well, this IS Utah and if you have that “R” behind your name you can plan your victory party the day after the primaries. It’s all fine and well to say through the bastards out, but the new bastards aren’t any better and the system is so rigged that even if–and that is a HUGE if–somebody with an IQ with more than three digits is nominated or runs, they don’t have a chance. The only Utah politician who truly represented all of the people of this state since I arrived here [Jon Huntsman Jr.] is out of politics and we are inundated with Chaffetz, Lee and their ilk.

    • Murat October 15, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      I find it amusing that you make a living as a writer and yet in this comment you make several blatant errors, such as misuse of the word ‘through’, a clumsy first sentence, and a call for a politician with an IQ greater than three digits, which is unheard of even among geniuses. Lay off the tequila.

      • Dghws October 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm

        Can someone please give Murat a job or a volunteer project and get him off the library computers??? Either option would give him something productive to do and a chance to have as Teddy Roosevelt said, “work worth doing.” Murat maybe you should just lay off…local genius in your own mind or not. Part of being a “genius” might be knowing when what you want to say isn’t wanted.

        • Murat October 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm

          I’m glad you’re having a good time!

          • Roy J October 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

            Your cause must be pretty desperate if you’re the best recruiter they could find. Stop trying to proselytize us with that battleaxe, son! You’re killing us!

  • Murat October 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    The general populace is seen as a resource to be exploited in every way possible and will soon be disposed of due to its noxious odors and rapidly approaching obsolescence in light of the staggering technological quantum leaps currently taking place.

    • Dghws October 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      Where will that leave you, oh, noble one?

      • Murat October 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm

        I’ll be in a classified facility.

        • Roy J October 20, 2012 at 10:29 am

          nuthouse. Dghws, in his case its’ probably ‘oh ignoble one’. Don’t forget to kowtow on your way out, Murat.

  • Curtis October 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    You know that “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” was fiction – right ??

    People going into politics have pretty robust egos. They think they know what is best for their constituents and the best way to do things. The higher the level of political office the larger the ego. When they get to Washington (or Salt Lake City) they find a staff and bureaucracy ready and eager to help them. They also get lots of positive reinforcement (i.e., stroking) from staff, bureaucrats, lobbyists and other favor seekers. They start believing their own press releases about how great they are. Over time this leads to great arrogance and disdain for mere mortals – look at Biden and Hatch. I’ve seen inklings that Chaffitz and Lee are beginning to feel the rush of the power that goes with being in the House and Senate.
    I don’t believe that people go to Washington with the deliberate intent of amassing power and authority at the expense of the folks back home. It’s just that since they only want to do the right thing and know how best to do it, it only makes sense they have the ability to do it; like the proper and necessary clause in the Constitution. And of course they can’t do the right thing if they aren’t reelected so they do whatever is necessary for reelection because in the long run their being in Washington is what is best for the folks back home.
    Our elected officials are not bad people – or don’t intend to be. It’s just that the environment they operate in and their inherent personalities cause them over time to behave in certain ways – fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly.

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