If government-citizen relationships were like marriage relationships, many in the U.S. are contemplating divorce. Recent events in Egypt in which a mass uprising toppled a 30-year dictator, remind me of a still summer evening when I heard shouting. Going outside to investigate, I witnessed a man throwing clothes, furniture, and pots and pans off his balcony.
The End of a Relationship
“I paid the deposit here, you can’t do this!” the woman screamed. “Well I’ve been paying the rent, so we’re even,” he replied. The woman, watching her belongings accumulating on the ground, asked, “Where am I supposed to live?” The man answered, “I suggest you ask your boyfriend.”
The Relationship Between a Government and Its People
In governments, the deposit was paid when the current government came to power; in our case perhaps, paid by the American Revolution. But the rent has been paid in taxes ever since, so we’re even. The fact that a government is in power does not mean it should be. There are certain relationship rules citizens expect their government to follow, a certain amount of fairness at the minimum. When our founders felt England was uncaring, not listening, and borderline abusive, we threw them out. The same thing happens all over the world when the government crosses the final line and lays the last straw on the camel’s back.
What Causes Revolutions?
Exactly where is that final line? It is impossible to say, but citizens, like spouses, will tolerate a lot before the final rupture. After all, Egypt’s Mubarak was in power for thirty years, stifling dissent, violating human rights, and funneling wealth to a small group of elites. It would be like living with a selfish, control-freak, cheating spouse.
Bolivia’s Popular Uprising
For example, in Bolivia in 2000, the poorest citizens spontaneously flooded into the streets to oust what they saw as their government’s mistress, the U.S.-based Bechtel Corporation. Bechtel was in charge of water in Cochabamba and drastically raised the price of water while forbidding the people to even collect rainwater. While citizens will take a lot, it seems they draw the line at being deprived of the necessities of life. In Egypt, the rampant poverty of the vast majority combined with the flagrant wealth of a few, high unemployment, and no hope for change struck the match.
Distrust of Government
Could such a revolt happen in the U.S.? Trust is one of the most important characteristics of a relationship, and trust in the U.S. government is at an all-time low, according to Gallup. Americans do not feel that they are being heard, they feel that the taxes they contribute are being spent foolishly, they feel that the government is infatuated with special interest groups and is ignoring their true partner. Resentment of Securocratic controls cause spats, like the naked Xray installed in airports and wiretaps on private phones without court orders.
Does Anything Change Due to Elections?
But America has a few emotional safety valves. For one thing we hold frequent elections, in which promises are made, like the promises of an abusive spouse that “It will never happen again.” “He’s changed,” the citizens tell themselves, like abused spouses tell them selves. When time goes by and it’s business as usual, anger…and grief build. Anger and grief are not enough to start a revolution, however.
Distrust of News Media
Cheating spouses must lie, they must keep secrets, if they want their cake and eat it, too. Mubarak controlled the flow of information to his people almost totally. In the end, the internet filled the gaps, and when he tried to shut down the internet to the entire country, the people found ways around his attempt. In the U.S. trust in the news media is also at an all-time low. Americans have a suspicion they are not getting the truth. Since major defense contractors now own the media outlets, the likelihood of getting news critical of either corporations or wars is slim.
What Did Wikileaks Reveal?
When Wikileaks released information embarrassing to to the U.S. government, the official response was to brand the group criminals, terrorists, and to seek to prosecute. Legal ramifications of leaking classified information aside, what did the leaked documents reveal that caused such a fuss? They revealed that Arab leaders were lobbying Washington to go to war against Iran, that civilian casualties in Iraq were much higher than the Pentagon reports, that American soldiers machine-gunned civilians from a helicopter, and that diplomats are (sometimes petty) human beings. (Warning: the video of the helicopter attack is very disturbing.)
When Government is the Threat
Trust erodes, promises are broken, secrets are kept, but this is not enough to start a revolution. When the wealth of a nation has accumulated sufficiently in the hands of a few and the citizens decide that their ability to live is threatened more by the one who is supposed to protect them than by external dangers, then revolution comes.
What Can an Average Citizen Do?
But what can we do? If we can’t be part of the solution, we can at least not be part of the problem. We can look for the truth behind the propaganda and not help spread propaganda our selves. Whether liberal or conservative, we are united by being American people. United people are an irresistible force, as events in Egypt demonstrate, and it is a force greatly feared (and discouraged) by those in power.
1). Beware of red herrings: Deliberate attempts to direct your attention to a false threat, so you won’t notice the real threat. Are terrorists or immigrants really the primary existential threats to the United States at this time? Is fighting them worth sacrificing Constitutional rights?
2). Always ask, “Who benefits?” Who benefits from increased military spending, or deregulation of stock markets? Someone is benefiting from this policy, this press release, this legislation-who is that?