“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
We’ve all heard this idiom, and I believe it’s an accurate description of our national journey that has resulted in the corrupt government we suffer today, at all levels.
It’s not possible to recapitulate all of America’s history in a blog post. There are plenty of great books out there that do this wonderfully, and I’d be glad to recommend a few titles if asked.
Once over- very lightly: When the United States started the Great Experiment in republican government, the voting citizenry was fairly homogeneous, sharing a common religious and moral belief system. General literacy was higher than it is now, which I think was a huge factor in what came later. Agriculture was king, and from the landed gentry of that time came the first slate of leaders. Keeping everything on the same page wasn’t too difficult.
Then came the period of expansion, where new challenges arose, but still the populace was mostly of European descent, and agriculture was still the thing. Onwards into the Civil War, where (rightly) the nation decided it was time to make good on “All men are created equal”. The slavery question had to be settled, and so it was.
The industrial revolution ushered in monumental change to America. The shift from agribusiness to manufacturing developed very quickly, and our population demographic changed along with it, as immigration increased to meet the needs of industrial production. The frontier was closed, and pioneering became a thing of the past by the end of the 19th Century.
The rise of industry created some extremely wealthy individuals in America, along with a new wealthy class not bound to the land. The influx of immigrant labor flocked to the cities where manufacturing jobs were, and for the most part lived an existence so rugged we cannot fathom it today. But, more often than not it was a better existence than where they came from. To truly grasp the progression of historic events must be looked at through the lens of their time, and not of the present.
This is where the “good intentions” come in. During the heyday of the Industrial Revolution with the “Robber Barons” on one end of the economic scale, and the desperately poor immigrants on the other, a movement started with the goal of decreasing the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots”.
This was called the Progressive Movement. In the mid-1890s this movement began advocating for more government involvement in economic and societal affairs, advocating that government should be run by professional managers and experts in order to bring more good to more Americans. This should sound familiar. And at this point, I believe it was an altruistic movement, more motivated by compassion than self-interest and greed.
The Progressives made headway, and the two terms of Woodrow Wilson are usually singled out as the end of the Progressive Era. World War I came along, and after that a decade of prosperity, due in large part to the lack of impact of the war on America compared to Europe. Business took off, and the party lasted almost ten years.
The wheels then came off the economy, and the world was plunged into the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt was elected to the first of four terms as President in 1932, and for the years running up to the next war built a bureaucracy the likes of which the United States had never imagined, to try to govern the country out of the depression. Agencies upon agencies; alphabet soup- all aimed at professionally and expertly managing America back to prosperity. The Progressive Dream.
This bureaucracy was not successful in restoring the economy. But World War II was, and at the end of that war America alone stood untouched in comparison to the other great nations of the world, and had this marvelous bureaucracy now tasked with feeding and rebuilding that world, in America’s image, and at a profit. Eisenhower called it the “Military-Industrial Complex”, and he was correct in warning us about it. The word he left out of his catchphrase was “Intelligence”, for the three-legged monster truly was, and is, the relationship between our massive government intelligence gathering bureaucracy, the military and the industries that feed both. By the end of the 1950s, this unelected and unaccountable entity was in effect running the show.
If I had to point at the time when our government began to regularly lie and manipulate the citizenry to maintain control and execute their agenda, it was upon the death of John Kennedy. It was all downhill from there with Vietnam, The Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Carter, Iran, Iran-Contra and more. Scandal, subterfuge and clandestine operations became the order of the day, and it’s all with us still.
Combined with this was our bureaucratic elite bringing their second and third generation offspring into the family business of running the United States. While the first of each generation may have been capable, the old saying “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” is evident. The Clans Kennedy, Bush, Daley and others launched their mediocrities into the public arena. Others realized that the competition was no longer that strong, and with morality transitioning from a more absolute perspective to relative, public service became nothing more than another way to generate wealth, with the added benefit of becoming immune to laws applicable to the regular populace upon gaining admission to the club. Members of Congress now grow rich trading on inside information, as do bureaucrats paving the way Big Pharma, Big Tech and others, becoming wealthy beyond what normal GS-scale wages make possible.
Government service has become the career of choice for the grifter class in America, effectively our rulers. Look at the quality of the people we elect, or allow to be elected! Generally these are people of no ability or accomplishment, pandering to the carefully created special interest constituencies.They get elected via fealty to the machine; service to those in power. Each office is a stepping stone to the next, with very little delivered to us, the citizenry. How many times have we seen a person of no particular skill or ability be elected as a mayor of a city, to later parlay that into a national office as Congressman or Senator, leaving zero accomplishment in their wake?
Our current president stands accused of leveraging his offices for personal wealth-building, using his son as his bagman. We have a Speaker of the House who regularly outperforms the S&P 500 in her and her family’s stock trading, along with many, many other Members of Congress. They go to Washington poor and return home as millionaires.
We have military personnel exiting service to work directly for, or as lobbyists for defense industries, and then returning for more “service” in appointed political offices to further their masters’ agenda. Our government shows more interest in serving the needs of a foreign power than those of its citizenry. Corruption is the rule, not the exception.
All this is at the expense of us, the American people, who by and large still watch and let it happen.
I’m not sure any of this can be fixed. Perhaps it’s too late- many think so. If we are going to try, it’d better be soon, for we are quite a ways down that road to hell.