In today’s political landscape, government and the people do not have an equal amount of power. Such a notion really is indisputable, considering the fact that our military just aided Saudi forces by supplying weapons and mid-air support to their air strikes, which bombed and killed a bus full of schoolchildren in Yemen Thursday. However, not one of them will face a prison sentence, or any real punishment at all. In fact, most of this, like the planes, flew under the radar of the people entirely.
Clearly, if an individual did this, he or she would be looking at a nasty punishment, likely involving the electric chair. But ironically, the death penalty is also an example of government carrying more rights than the people. As the average time spent on death row exceeds 15 years, it is safe to say that this is no act of self defense. Thus, it is yet another legal ability government has, but the people do not. It’s darkly and bitterly funny how the state sees killing. They kill people who kill people, because killing people is wrong, right? Got it. How else would you deal with someone who does something so morally reprehensible as killing someone?
Now, the list of government privileges that the people do not have goes far beyond these two. For example, the government may confiscate your land through eminent domain, then take and sell back your right to fish on that land. Imagining the consequences of an individual trying to do the same to his neighbor leads down a wicked path to the end of a shotgun barrel, not to mention a potential for some more government-approved killing as well.
Despite this clear power imbalance, the most crucial part of the Declaration of Independence directly warns against such an atrocity.
To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The Consent of the Governed clause is a tremendously important segment of the document. Though not legally binding, it establishes an important precedent for the types of government that may exist.
Essentially, this clause states that the people may choose what powers they give to the state. Power begins with the people, and then, they may delegate them to the state at will. But how can the people delegate powers that they don’t have in the first place?
The question stumped Vermont’s very own Senator Bernie Sanders, in a 2008 interview. The independent, on a YouTube show with Jan Helfeld, agreed that all just powers of the government are derived from the people. But then, after some back and forth questioning, Sanders admits that people do not have the right to initiate force against others (sans self defense).
As Helfeld excellently questions after this, how can the people delegate this right, if they do not have it? If the people give their rights to the government, and that is the only form of just government, how does a just government obtain rights that the people did not have, and thus, were entirely unable to give away? This sends Sanders, and likely many others, into a tailspin.
The senator admits that the people give the state the power to make war and roads. Then, he goes so far as to say yes, people can give government rights they do not have. However, this is entirely contradictory to his previous statement.
In no way is Bernie Sanders alone in his clearly contradictory beliefs in this manner. He just happened to be unlucky enough to get caught under the net of Helfeld’s tough questioning. When it comes down to it, all 100 senators have the same ideals as Sanders, in this way. All claim a desire for a just and representative government, as outlined by the founding documents of our country. Yet, all support a government with rights that the people do not have.
Last March, the Senate voted, 55-44, against a treaty that would have made it more difficult for the president to place troops in Yemen without congressional oversight. In fact, Sanders, along with Senators Mike Lee and Chris Murphy, were on the right side of this one. Had the bill passed, Congress would have needed to approve any further military action. But in this case, even the right side ignores the real issues.
Regardless of whether or not the president or Congress is stationing troops in Yemen, there is a body forcing troops to go to Yemen. Yes, it is true that the draft is not currently active, and those in Yemen are volunteers. But the Senate made sure in 2016 that they had the power to round up the troops if necessary. When the civilians do that one, it’s called kidnapping.
Ultimately, it matters little whether the men (and women now) in Yemen are volunteer or recruit. Likewise, it matters little in the 39% of the world’s countries the United States is fighting terror in. Spoiler alert, terror is winning. With each civilian casualty, terror spreads. And as it all happens, the government approves it, clearly without a justification.
Thomas Jefferson was an imperfect man, owning slaves and having an affair with at least one of them. His public policy was also, in many cases, hypocritical, as his distaste for noble blood matched his equal belief that white blood was superior. But, when it comes to the Declaration of Independence, the third president is spot on.
A government, if it is to exist at all, must derive its rights from the consent of the governed (not from 51% of them, either). Today’s state entirely ignores this principle. In many cases such as with Senator Sanders, our elected officials do not even realize their own hypocrisy. It is time to take the government back, end the wars, bring the rights back to the people, and eliminate those rights which do not exist at all. It is time to ensure equal standards exist between government and the people. The future of our country and the lives of those abroad depend on it.
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