Last week we discussed the importance of returning to American values. This is truly important because, in many ways, our great country is now at a crossroads. Will we continue to build upon the values that helped to make us great, including a reliance upon our native ingenuity, creativity, and work ethic? Or will we get soft and look evermore toward bigger government to take care of us?
Today we are facing daunting challenges to our economic way of life. So it’s naturally important for our general feelings of economic confidence to believe that government is “doing something” positive about the situation. But this also brings upon us the risk that we, and the government, will see government as the solution to our problems. And that is a dangerous course to take for our future, and for the future of our children.
Alexis de Tocqueville, after his famous tour of the United States in 1831, drew attention to this problem when he said that people are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. So people strive to satisfy them both at once, and that leads to irresolvable problems. Then de Tocqueville went on to anticipate the time that democracy would eventually collapse. He said that would occur when the people’s elected officials finally learned that they could bribe the people into voting for them with the people’s own money.
We are close to that situation today. It is time for us both to be aware of this fact, and to take action to assure it doesn’t happen. How can this be done? First by understanding that government is not the answer to our problems. In fact, as stated by President Ronald Reagan, in many ways government really is the problem because it tends to destroy private initiative.
Second, we must not accept mediocrity or laziness — in any one or any thing, beginning with ourselves. I once had a clerk who had a hand-written sign on her desk that said “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” This means, among other things, that if a system, or a government program, is not working, it is up to us to fix it.
For example, if a television program is harmful for our children because it shows too much violence or sexual content, don’t rely upon government to act: Monitor what your children watch, and turn off the television if the program is unsuitable. If there is no money in making television programs that cater to violence or sex, Hollywood will make different types of shows.
In addition, each of us can help to change our social morays. That means, among other things, that if a male, regardless of age, fathers a child, that male is responsible for the child’s support and upbringing. Every time! Our mores should be that a real man supports his family. But somehow society has allowed our social mores to be accepting of out-of-wedlock births and single motherhood. So, since it is our country, it is our responsibility to change away from that acceptance.
As a trial judge with 25 years of experience on the bench, I can also tell you that today we have many too many of our young people locked up. These are our children, so what is the matter with us?
Most of the problems are caused by a failure to have positive mentors and other role models for our children. We must realize that someone will always mentor our children.
And if it is not from their parents, debate teachers, basketball coaches, or YMCA instructors, children will get their mentoring from gang leaders, drug dealers, or even people like Charles Manson. Say what you will, Manson was brilliant at “mentoring” his “family,” and there are many people in our world today just like him. But give our children another vision, and the children will discover another way.
Let’s also help more to get government and its never-ending laws more out of our lives. For example, no employers hire people so they can discriminate against and harass them for racial, gender, or sexual-preference reasons, and then fire them. That makes no sense in real life. In fact, in almost every case, the employers have already “passed the test” by hiring those employees. So we should change our laws to allow an employer to fire any employee within the first year of two – for any reason at all.
What would be the result of changing this employment law? More of these protected classes of people would have jobs. Today, if an employer gets sued for discrimination, that employer, whether found liable or not, is likely to think: “Who needs it? Why should I take a risk in the future by hiring such a person?” But if there were this period of immunity to see if the employee was able to be productive, even if the original employee didn’t work out, the employer would not be deterred from hiring someone similar in the future. So this law actually works against equality in employment.
There is a story that, at the close of our Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what type of government the delegates had agreed upon for our country. He responded: “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Our Founding Fathers established for us a government ruled by law, but based upon the individual “We the People” as the sovereign.
But each of us must do our part. If we don’t vote and oversee government, some special interest will. If we don’t monitor and mentor our children, and provide them with productive visions of the future, they will be more likely to become unproductive and antisocial. And if we are not vigilant, even in these turbulent economic times, we will lose our cherished Republic.
As Anne Frank wrote in her diary, which became a literary classic: “A quiet conscience makes one strong.” She is right. We need that quiet conscience now. We must rely on ourselves and our innate abilities and ethics to overcome our problems of today. And we must not give in to the false but seductive allure that the answer lies with the all-knowing and all-protective government.
If it’s to be, it’s up to me.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or via his website at www.JudgeJimGray.com.