Back in the days of my misspent youth, my ultra-libertarian friends and I would often argue the question, how much government do we really need. If we could just get rid of excessive regulations, promote competition and take advantage of its self-regulating benefits, then we wouldn't need so much government. There is some truth to that, though I confess that my friends put much more faith in power of the "invisible hand" than I did. I tended to side with Friedrich Hayek who said that liberty requires a strong government, one that can defend the freedom of its citizens and provide them a level playing field for the pursuit of their aspirations. It doesn't need to be perfect, but it needs to be predictable, and it needs to be fair.
Imagine a Super Bowl without referees. Not happening. We'll never see a Super Bowl without referees no matter how much the fans complain about them. The refs got this offsides call wrong, or they blew that pass interference call, but at the end of each game, most agree that it was fair for both sides. If the fans didn't think so, if everybody believed the games were fixed, hardly anybody would bother watching. And then where would ticket prices be, and the ad revenue, and all the business that surrounds the games?
This notion of fair competition and its benefits is one of the things that drive libertarianism. In almost all business circumstances there ought to be competition, and it ought to be fair. Good things come from it, like better service and lower prices. When companies compete for your business, things like that come about in the normal course of events. It happens because people tend to do what they think is in their own best interest. It is in a company's interest to provide customers with some advantage to using its products and services rather than its competitors. All people, almost all the time, do what they think is in their own interests. We might be wrong about what's best, and other people might disagree with what we think is best, but that doesn't stop us from striving for it.
I'm not sure everybody believes that. As the story goes, F. Scott Fitzgerald said to Earnest Hemingway, "The rich are different from you and me," and Hemingway replied, "Yes, they have more money." Must have been early in their careers, since neither one of them spent a lot of time being poor. At any rate, I subscribe to the Hemingway viewpoint rather than the Fitzgerald. People are much the same, although different circumstances can drive people to do different things. In the end, everybody does what they think best, whatever that may be, and however ill advised it may seem to somebody else.
Those ideas played a large part in the design of America as set forth in the Constitution. People are pretty much the same, and they tend to do what they think best, and that includes people who wield great power. Our founding fathers did what they thought best by striving to design a government that would not easily be used to advance the interests of the officials in it. That meant the power of government had to be limited, and the establishment of three competing branches, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, was meant to keep it that way. Power not explicitly given to the federal government was reserved for the states and for the people. In general, government was supposed to play the impartial referee rather than the overlord.
My, haven't we come a long way. Nowadays, there seems to be a widespread rejection of the notion that people are much the same. Instead, a substantial number of Americans believe there is good, and there is evil, and that each is easily recognizable. The good are compassionate, kind, and inclusive. The evil are greedy and unfair, and they say hateful things. Redemption is rare. The good and compassionate among us believe that the evil and the greedy should not be allowed to say those hateful things, and they believe government has a role to play in this. Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution guarantees everybody the right of free speech, which includes the right to say unkind things. And so the good, compassionate people sometimes go out and break windows, beat people up, and set fires in order to stop the evil, greedy ones from saying them. If only we could change the government and make mean speech illegal. Then, the good, compassionate, inclusive folks wouldn't have to break any more windows, or burn any more houses and cars. But for now, desperate times call for desperate measures.
In the meantime, the good, compassionate Americans work for change, and there is a wonderful diversity of opinion as to what is the best way. Someone named Sarah Silverman suggested that a military coup could save America.
Based on that I would say there are two kinds of people, those who get it, and those who don't. Sarah doesn't.
Or maybe she does. I know some people who would rather not publicly admit that they voted for Donald Trump last November. They might lose friends, or their jobs might be threatened. Maybe Sarah is in the opposite sort of a quandary. It's true, she could just keep her mouth shut. But maybe she's looking for work, and a good provocative tweet might make her noticeably attractive to like minded potential employers — like the Democrats. In any event, with her tweet she did what she thought was in her interests.
And she might have been wrong about that. She might be like millions of Americans who only know that the November election didn't give them what they wanted, and who now call for some drastic measure to fix the "broken" system so that it does — impeachment, coup, abolition of the electoral college, taking it to the streets. The options are tossed around with little thought to what might come afterwards. But what these particular Americans are asking for is that somebody should be given power, somebody should take control, so that they can have what this election didn't give them.
For over 200 years the Constitution has served as a limit, imperfect as that limit may be, on the power that the government may exercise over the people. When we have taken the drastic step and ceded the necessary power for government to "fix" itself, will future officials exercise it in ways that serve our interests or their own? If you think it will not be their own, then maybe you just don't get it.