Friday, September 8, 2017

Only the Government Will Save Your Ass This Time

Another great midnight meme from Noah at Down with Tyranny:

Charlie Pierce, down in Houston, "where there were people from the government, and they were there to help."
One of the things I noticed during my trip from Rockport to Houston in the aftermath of the storm was that the narrative of people helping people was true and righteous altogether, to quote Abraham Lincoln quoting the Bible. What also struck me was that, if we could convince people again that they could help each other through the institutions of self-government as readily as they could hauling bottled water in a truck, or navigating a bass boat through what once was a suburban neighborhood, we would go a long way toward being the country we say we are again. Self-government is a creative act that ought to renew itself, over and over again, through the collective action of the people who choose to govern themselves. As such, it’s possible for government to be a mechanism for charity in this country, because the government is us—or it should be, anyway—and we have convinced ourselves that we are fundamentally a charitable people.
It’s cheap and easy to point out that conservative Texas politicians have discovered a sweet-tooth for Big Gummint now that they’ve got a natural disaster and a public health catastrophe on their hands for the next decade or so. The job of reclaiming self-government is harder than the job of reclaiming the land and the sprawl of what Houston once was. We have been inundated by decades of mendacious propaganda, all aimed at convincing us that government is some alien entity so that we don’t once again engage the creative force of self-government and aim it at the people who are looting the country’s wealth and destroying its natural beauty. It’s worked, too. The many acts of charity in Texas over the past two weeks have been used far too often as anesthesia by the people who would rather not see the country apply its government as a permanent shelter for those in need. Look, they say, this is what people can do for each other. This is what the churches can do. We don’t need government program X, Y, and Z.

This is said, often, by people who did not go to those places, by people who would have fought the Morrill Act, and by too many people who would have walked out of the Congress in 1861. Nobody can do anything but admire the charitable whirlwind that was J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. But, out in the field, the little churches and small communities are hanging on by their fingernails. (One person told me that it was God’s miracle that there hadn’t been any of the customary summer thunderstorms since Harvey passed through. She didn’t know what she’d do with more water on her land.) The job of rebuilding (and, god knows, the job of preparing for the next hurricane, and the next one, and the one after that; they’re lined up at the moment like a chorus line out into the Atlantic) has to be done by the people acting through their government, and not through the little Baptist church with the twisted tin wall in its front yard.

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