The Social Contract

Pres. Donald Trump has three rhetorical ticks that give me heartburn. He uses the phrases “people tell me all the time” and “they say” when he’s making things up. He accuses the media of disseminating “fake news” whenever reporters disagree with him. He rants about the “shadow government” when bureaucrats cannot enact his mandates immediately because they contravene law, policy, or protocol.

All three of these tendencies indicate a disregard for the social contract between a government and its people. A politician who favors fiction over fact merely serves himself. A politician who tolerates the press only when it serves his purposes cannot be trusted. A politician who does not understand the necessity of law, policy, or protocol will ultimately expect the government to serve him rather than the people.

Pres. Trump won the presidency at least in part because the people, tired of explanations for complex economies and treaties that they haven’t studied or don’t understand, placed their faith in a candidate who offered simple solutions. They wanted black and white explanations and actions rather than those that accommodated the gray areas of real, human affairs. They expressed a lack of faith that government had been doing anything the majority wanted.

Simple is as simple does.

Pres. Trump’s supporters–and there are enough of them, I suspect, to give him another four years in office–have not yet allowed themselves to see the potential damage to our system of governance wrought by a person who governs by executive order rather than through other elected leaders. (One could levy the same charge against Pres. Obama, I know, but the problem seems to be getting worse.) Nor do they want to consider the ways that asking foreign powers to spy on political rivals would shatter traditional concepts of sovereignty. They share his frustrations with the slowness with which the republican system can bring about change, and enjoy lashing out at the “elites” who have respected the laws that stand in their way.

Rousseau’s idea of the social contract centers around the notion that the people have a right to decide the laws under which they live, and that the government must apply those laws fairly. America’s republican system of government divides the responsibilities of administering those laws to three branches of government that should check and balance each other.

My questions for students are these: what does the ideal relationship between citizens and the government look like–in other words, how should we articulate the social contract in the 21st century? How should leaders in our republican system of governance encourage the people to place faith in it again?

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4 Responses to The Social Contract

  1. Blake Cheater says:

    The ideal relationship between citizens and government will probably never be achieved. However, if it were up to me, term limits would be introduced, and career politicians would cease to exist. The ideal would be for ordinary people to circulate in and out of government, representing their region. They would bring their problems and solutions and work together to help strengthen the union they reside in. Citizens would have more say in what the government does, with power being delegated to states. The federal government would be made efficient by making it leaner and ridding it of career politicians. The phrase “faith in government” seems like it just came out of Communist China. Should the people trust the government? Ideally, yes, since the public put the people there in power. However, today, gerrymandering hurts the election system and shady figures in government – both democrat and republican – have caused much of the public to distrust the government.

  2. Davan Reece says:

    In the closing lines of his eternal Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the success of the Union in the American Civil War would provide a government that is “for the people, by the people, and of the people.” This is ideal, and sadly, null and void. Money and personal greed have infected the US political machine like lead in Flint, Michigan’s water supply. Everything from a disastrous Citizen’s United decision to billionaires like Tom Steyer paying their way onto a debate stage has wrecked American confidence in our own political system. Corporations buying out politicians on both sides have been the strongest deterrent in the latter days of the American experiment. Taking away big money’s influence won’t take back Washington, but it is a vital step. In the end, it won’t be the politicians who put the faith back into governing, that’s like asking the Devil to convert people to Christianity. It’s going to be on the people to elect (or run) for real change.

  3. William Shy says:

    Get rid of the party system. When people don’t do research on candidates, they often default to whomever is in the party that they identify with. This can sometimes cause people to vote for someone who at first seems good but isn’t actually. Getting rid of the party system will also allow more open-mindedness among all people and politicians and will allow more neutral and realistic ideas to be brought up and acted upon. The ideal relationship between people and government is difficult to say. On one hand, it is ideal for the people to have a say in government, while on the other hand, sometimes you need your leader to step up and take control even if it goes against what the people say. I think we also need to eliminate the limit on the number of terms a President can serve because the only reason it was established was because FDR was elected four times, but if we have a term limit then the people don’t have as much say. Most Presidents wouldn’t last more than two or three terms anyway.

  4. Bob says:

    In my opinion, there will never be a perfect relationship between government and people due to the fact that different demographics/people want different relationships with government. In order to reach a higher degree of appeasement, more power would have to be given to state government in order to serve the wants of that region/demographic. By giving more power to state governments, people would, theoretically, be happier with government regulations due to the fact that their state’s views would be governing them, not the country as a whole. A term limit should also be introduced in every branch of the government because political views change as time goes by and pretty rapidly; therefore, those in power should also change with these political shifts. Another way to win back the trust of the people is to actually hold people accountable for lying in their campaigns. For far too long, fear mongering and scare tactics have put unqualified officials into a position of power, hindering progress all across the country. The party system in America is a prime example of this. Political uninformedness mixed with the scare tactics causes qualified candidates not to be elected, based simply off of the letter next to their name(*cough* Tate Reeves and Jim Hood *cough*). Like I said earlier, there will never be a perfect relationship between government and the governed, but the relationship can always be and should be improved.

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