A Pot of Lentil Stew- A commentary from the cliffside
Throughout this entire election cycle that ended with the subsequent election of Donald Trump, I have struggled with the reasoning that people use to justify their faith in various business models to be applied to the fixing of government. It often puts me in mind of the biblical tale of Jacob and Esau. The tale illustrates the diametrically opposed personalities evidenced by the twin sons of the patriarch Isaac. Jacob was the younger and was studious, attentive to the needs of his parents, and his tribe. Esau, the first-born, was bold and mainly concerned himself with the arts of hunting and trapping; often neglecting his obligations as his father's heir. One day, Esau returning from the hunt with a ravenous appetite, is taken by the aroma of a savory lentil stew being prepared by his brother Jacob. Esau's hunger and impatience has risen to such a height, that he bargains away his birthright to satiate himself with the pot of lentil stew.
The birth of our nation was attended by our country's brightest minds - some would say the brightest of that century - they gathered to debate and craft a system of government unlike any other. These minds, many forged and fashioned by a surge of knowledge and discovery that became known as the Age of Reason or The Enlightenment; sought to move away from the rigid confines of absolute monarchy and closed-mindedness of The Church.
This liberation of expression was midwifed by men of science and philosophy such as; Francis Bacon, John Locke, and given form through the writings of Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, and John Hume - to name but a few. There were doubtless many contributions by women - but history has been woefully inadequate in recording them - or merely my own knowledge. Championing the triumph of reason in the Colonies was Benjamin Franklin, who can best be described as the eighteenth century conjoining of Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein into one person.
His many brilliant contributions made him one of the most illustrious and respected men across the world. If there were only one person that could be named as the true parent of the nation, it would no doubt be Franklin. This is by no means meant to disparage the other founders; who in turn brought many talents to the effort, but none so much as Franklin. In Franklin was the embodiment of everything we cherish in America; a soldier, a local political office holder who was committed to returning to private citizenship, a Statesman, a free thinking journalist, and a successful businessman. It is this last that I underscore as being somewhat different from most of his compatriots. Washington, Jefferson, Adams...were all dreadful businessmen, often having to borrow on their names to keep their ill-run concerns afloat. Franklin was a successful entrepreneur; building wealth through businesses as opposed to landholdings. Franklin wrote frequently about the obligations of wealthy citizens to participate in maintaining order, providing for the poor without encouraging indolence, and to be wards against corruption.
The framing of the Constitution carefully drafts a "balance of powers" in order to prevent the inequitable influence from any one quarter. We have the People's House to represent their will in Congress. Yet as the passions of the People can, from time to time, become irrationally inflamed by events, the Senate is imbued with the true powers of oversight; being itself moderated by both the Executive and Judicial branches. Noting, that Heads of State can often glance in the mirror and reflect upon distorted self- image, the Constitution intentionally bridles the Executive. The Presidency is capable of inflicting the greatest damage but through strict forms of accountability to the Congress and SCOTUS, it is actually the weakest of the three branches.
Recognizing that commerce is the lifeblood of any nation's economy, it soon also became apparent that commerce not answerable to the whims of a monarch, and free to pursue it's unrestrained appetites produced perils of its own. Government and Commerce are forces diametrically opposed that are sometimes forced to ally themselves to achieve a common end but are very necessary for their mutual survival. Government also is tasked with ensuring that all of life is not reduced to a cost equation or transaction ledger, that no sector of the population is unduly burdened with national obligations, nor any sector unduly freed of those same obligations. Many of us may differ on the details of just where that rubber meets the national road. The business sector, by its very nature, often pursues the greatest latitude while seeking to escape accountability for its miscalculations - often deferring the monetary liability to the public trust.
The term "Free Market" is often misunderstood to be some mythical place where there are no real rules to the road other than market value and viability. Think about that and the utter chaos that would exist if that were true. It is in fact government regulation that gives both form and stability to the market and it is government's function to respond to commercial excess. I believe it also to be a public misconception that government ineptitude has somehow arisen through it's own incompetence as opposed to the direct intervention of commercial corruption. The befouling of our waterways, the poisoning of our air, the stripping of our land based resources while injecting toxic by-products into the earth, endless species in the food and natural chain being pushed into oblivion due to unbridled human commerce; they have resulted in numerous and infamous events throughout our history and around the globe. Three Mile Island, Love Canal, the Bhopal disaster, the cancer ridden waters of Long Island, endless coal mine collapses and safety violations, Kerr-McGee Plutonium -where Karen Silkwood lost her life...the list stretches back to the roots of the country when lumber mills saw the Redwoods only in terms of running board feet.
The incoming administration is so overbalanced by the interests of Big Business, that it threatens the very balance upon which our government is founded. We need to lessen the influence of business, not increase it, we need greater lobbying reform to decrease influence peddling. We need to devise a system of publicly funded elections where the results cannot be purchased by the highest bidder , nor easily swayed by outsiders. There should never be any question that results truly reflect the desires of the governed. There should be no permanent class of politicians, ensconced for entire lifetimes and creating dynasties through their progeny. I pray it is not already too late - that we have not already yielded to the temptations caused by yearnings and discomforts of the moment...prompting us to trade our sacred birthrights for a hot bowl of soup!