The people we deserve

To be clear, I am not arguing or suggesting that the American people have lost all virtue, never mind that there’s a holocaust around the corner. What I am getting at is that George Washington’s argument works the other way around, too. When the “general Government” starts to degenerate into “a monarchy, an Oligarchy, an Aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form,” the virtues of the people degenerate as a result. As Joseph de Maistre said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

We don’t have a monarchical, aristocratic, or despotic government — though there are aspects of our government that are far closer to such adjectives than many would like to admit. But we talk about it like we think it should be. In the wake of this horrific shooting in Florida, journalists and politicians are shouting demands at the federal government and the president of the United States that neither can achieve if they are to stay consistent with the Constitution.

“Get rid of the guns!” “Stop this from happening!” TV hosts scream, as the networks shove cameras in the faces of grieving mothers and fathers of children still in body bags, while crediting their utterly understandable cries of anguish as coherent public-policy programs. The assumption is that, if only the president’s heart were in the right place, these terrible things wouldn’t be happening. It reminds me of the old lament of the Jews harassed by the pogroms, “If only the Czar knew!”