By Derek May:
In his 1981 inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan infamously stated that “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” That decree essentially encapsulated the Republican approach ever since. One of the many things that continues to divide our nation is whether he was right. Does the government help or hurt? Should it be more involved or less?
These questions and philosophies lead to a fundamental question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately:
What is the role of a government?
I often go back to another president, Lincoln this time, who said:
“The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves—in their separate, and individual capacities.” —July 1, 1854
I’ve always liked this idea because it just makes common sense. Humans collect themselves into communities of various sizes because we’ve long recognized that we are stronger and safer together. This is true whether it’s a hunting party facing a sabretooth tiger or a democracy trying to establish its sovereignty amongst a global network. We need one another, and we need a collective voice. Because I don’t know about you, but I seem to have lost Xi Jinping’s number so I can ring him up and ask for a better trade deal.
Of course, that’s silly, right? I’m not supposed to call up world leaders. That’s not the way. Things have to be done the right way, right? That requires a structure of leadership, laws, regulations . . . ugh, you know, a government. So we vote and put our trust in elected officials to be our voice. Because that’s the right way to do things.
But . . . is it?
Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to agree on what “the right way” is anymore. I feel like in my imagination this used to be straightforward: we have laws and systems in place that tell us exactly how things should be done. And we all agreed to these laws and systems, right? Didn’t we? Because when things don’t work, we’re supposed to come together and propose solutions and take a vote, and there you go!
But for decades now people have been shooting up our schools. They have been killing our children, and our teachers, and our friends, and our families. And each time people demand action. And each time there are indeed representatives who ask what we can do. And each time we are told this is not the time. This is not the right way.
If we can’t even bring it up for discussion, then what can we do? What even is the function of government in that case? America was founded on people sick of not being heard by the British government, and they protested, and they fought.
And recently, three members of the Tennessee House of Representatives joined the protest of voices seeking change. Sounds like their job, right? Not so fast. They didn’t do it the right way. Two of them have now been expelled.
The two who happened to be Black.
Is that blatant racism? Well, we could talk about that. We could discuss it, but we have to agree on a way to do that. They say Critical Race Theory, which was designed just for these sorts of discussions, is not the right way. We could read about it in books . . . , well, no, people are upset about books that discuss this. They’ve gone so far as to ban them. So that is not the right way. Maybe we can talk about all these complicated matters with our teachers and educators—well, no, can’t do that either.
Ok, but surely—SURELY—some things are simply cut and dry, black and white. Take crime, for example. In a country built on the foundation that all are equal under the law, anyone (regardless of wealth, power, or status) who commits a crime should be investigated and given a fair trial. That is the right way—unless you’re a former president, in which case that is clearly overreach. In fact, the right way would be to investigate the investigators, right?
There sure seems to be a lot of debate about the right way. I come from a long line of immigrants. My mother and her entire side of the family were born and raised in Germany. My grandmother lived through Hitler and World War II. But eventually, they came to America. But they did it the right way (both my grandmother and mother married Americans—soldiers to boot). They didn’t caravan north and wait at border crossings or, heaven forbid, try to cross illegally. Nope, they did it the right way. I grew up thinking this was pretty straightforward—and yet, today as I learn about the plight of many of these immigrants and refugees, I realize most of them ARE trying to do it the right way. They apply for legal asylum. They wait for days for online appointments with officials. They wait YEARS for hearings on their cases. And the whole time, they are prevented from actually working, from contributing to their own survival or to our national economy.
The right way sure seems fixed to me.
But if we want change, it’s just a matter of making our voices heard; that’s why our vote is so precious, why people protested and fought and died for it, isn’t it? Unquestionably—as long as you do it right. You can’t do it at ballot drop-offs, or on college campuses, or by mail. In fact, you can’t even do it in fair districts, because lines are drawn to make your vote is either moot or, astoundingly, helping someone else. This is the right way, because otherwise there might be voter fraud.
What about marrying the person you love? Sure, if it’s the right person (of the opposite sex). What about dressing how you like? Sure, as long as it is modest and reflects the right gender. Surely one can choose what to do with their own body? Absolutely, as long as it’s done within strict guidelines (written by the right people).
Things must be done the right way, and yet, it sure seems that every right path steers you directly into a roadblock. And every fight to tear down those barriers is itself put to a stop. If the government that exists to do things we cannot do ourselves is the very same institution preventing us from helping ourselves, then perhaps Reagan was right. Maybe government IS the problem after all.
And maybe the only solution will be a few people doing the wrong thing the right way; what another great leader called “Good Trouble.”
Yeah, that seems right.
Derek May, of San Antonio, TX, is Editor-in-Chief and occasional writer for Flapper Press. He has written nearly 50 movie reviews for movieweb.com and completed 13 original feature film and television screenplays, many of which have been winners or finalists in such prestigious competitions as the Walt Disney and Nicholl Fellowships, the Austin Film Festival, and the Creative World Awards. He served as a judge for 10 years for the Austin Film Festival and Texas Film Institute screenplay competitions. His latest project has been the highly acclaimed stop-motion animation fan series Highlander: Veritas, which will release its second season in July 2022.