There are two kinds of people in this country: people who see government as THEY, and people who see government as WE.
The former, the THEY-ers, like to use terms like the government(!) and tyranny and they see state and federal institutions, and their leaders, as nefarious and oppressive and untrustworthy. THEY-ers see themselves almost as unwilling subjects ruled by a separate entity that needs constant reminders of how useless and unfair it is.
The latter, the WE-ers, use terms like governance and reform. They see government as a set of institutions and processes that we citizens own, staff, and fund. WE-ers may not like every aspect of how government works, or every leader in it, but they understand the system is something that multiple generations of “we” created and that it’s ours to either accept or fix through debate and political processes.
Count me among those who believe government = WE. For one thing, I just find that outlook to be more pleasant and optimistic and in line with my tendency to act rather than complain. We have this thing, needs some work. Can we fix it? Sure we can! What can I do? And, government = WE is the approach you will find most common and effective in the real world. Employees of big companies, for example, don’t last very long if they think and act like powerless ruled subjects under an autocratic empire.
Disgruntled rancher Ammon Bundy presents himself as a THEY-er. He and his gun-toting buddies made a miscalculation in their decision to turn a peaceful protest into an armed occupation. They will not get what they want, they already look like fools, and they may also end up dead or in prison.
But let’s use this THEY-er of the week to make two larger points:
Point 1: the character difference between a THEY-er and a WE-er is accountability, one’s ability to look at a problem and ask, “what could I have done differently, or what can I do now, to improve the situation?” A THEY-er will point at an institution and say “that needs to go” or “that’s out to get us”. A WE-er will point at himself and his neighbors and say, “this system that we all own isn’t working well for any of us, we can do better here, and here is what I propose…”. (There are legitimate reasons why the federal government owns so much land in the West. If Bundy and his crew were WE-ers, they’d propose changes to the system and drive those changes politically and legislatively so that the outcome is fair for all citizens and not just the ranching crowd. True, huddling around fires at a vacant bird sanctuary looks better on TV.)
Point 2: the Second Amendment, which provides Mr. Bundy’s ability to carry a gun, was itself a creation of WE-ers for a population of WE-ers. It was a mechanism for a young country to self-defend against insurrections, not a mechanism for a population to fight and overthrow its own government. The historically accurate narrative has been stolen by THEY-ers and reworked into fear-based variants of the government is coming to get your guns, and the result is that nothing gets done to properly regulate the firearms in this country (something most of the WE crowd are actually demanding).
In this political season, we should all be wary of candidates with THEY-er tendencies. (Looking at you, nearly every candidate for the Republican nomination, but especially Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz.) Low-accountability people should be in low-responsibility jobs. They can do real damage in leadership roles (or simply fail to show up). And by the way, what is it about these people that makes them simultaneously hate the government and also want to lead it? That mentality can’t be good for any of us.