Speak Truth to Power

When I was 16, I got in an ugly shouting match with my father and he punched me in the face.

He stood in front of me, fists raised, awaiting my counterpunch. But his good fathering of me over the previous 16 years overcame the bad moment between us. I didn’t punch back. I instead squared my still-narrow shoulders to him, looked him in the eye and said quietly, “Don’t ever hit me again.”

And he never did.

My father was a good man, whom I loved until and after he died 15 years ago, who’d done a bad thing that day. I called him on it, as he’d taught me to, and we both became better people for it. I too have done bad things with those I love, they too have called me on it, and we too have become better people for it.

Such is the nature of humans and power. Power does not make a person bad, but it enables them to do bad things if they aren’t called out for it. The Quakers had an expression for this: “Speak truth to power.”

America was born because wise and courageous people spoke truth to power, and America survived because they established a system to ensure that people could always speak truth to power.

People spoke truth to power in demanding that women have the right to vote. People spoke truth to power in abolishing racial segregation. People spoke truth to power in protesting a mismanaged Vietnam War. People spoke truth to power in reclaiming the presidency from Richard Nixon.

Americans know that government is to serve us, not the other way around. Our government is indeed “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The 51,000 dead Americans over whom Abraham Lincoln spoke those words at Gettysburg did not die in vain, and the system so conceived has not yet perished from the earth.

So forget the mendacious sound bites about little policies that pollute the airwaves this election season. Much more important is the allocation of power between a people and their government.

“Abusive” is not too strong a word for our current government. We were promised a new government of hope and change. What we got is an old government of intrusion, a stealthy government of deception, a manipulative government that divides us to conquer us.

I see a government that is too big, too powerful and too arrogant that intrudes into our lives while failing to perform its basic functions.

The government seizes power over our health care dictatorially, lies to us about the effects blatantly and rolls out a gargantuan replacement program incompetently.

The government that is supposed to keep us safe from attacks from abroad taps our telephones and intercepts our emails at home.

The government that is supposed to guard our national borders has left them wide open while a lethal disease spreads into the country and terrorists threaten to come here to behead us.

The government that is supposed to protect our liberties spies on newspaper reporters.

The government that is supposed to heal injured veterans lets them die on waiting lists.

The government that is supposed to follow the rule of law commits contempt of Congress.

The government agency that is supposed to collect taxes targets taxpayers for their political beliefs, leaks their tax returns and pretends to lose emails between itself and the White House, and the bureaucrats in charge plead the Fifth Amendment in sworn testimony to Congress.

The local government in Houston last week subpoenaed the private emails and Sunday sermons of church pastors for opposing a city ordinance that mandates access to opposite-sex showers and bathrooms in both public buildings and private businesses. In defending the subpoenas, the city stated that the pastors are “fair game.”

Re-read that last sentence. That’s right. The government called church pastors “fair game” for daring to express their beliefs from their church pulpits.

I love America. But the American government is run by humans. Humans are fallible. Unless held accountable, fallible humans with power will abuse it. And they have.

We’re being punched in the face by our government.

Americans are the product of two centuries of good parenting and should not punch back. We’re Americans, not a mob. But we the people should square up, look our government in the eye and say, “Don’t ever hit me again.”

We should speak truth to power.

(Published Oct 26, 2014 in The Aspen Times at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/13525872-113/government-power-truth-spoke)

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