Misunderstanding Government

As a werewolf who occasionally has political discussions, I notice the government tends to come up a lot.

Some discussions – almost exclusively the ones I have with right-wingers – have led me to an odd realisation: I think a lot of people don’t actually understand why governments exist, what they’re supposed to do and what responsibilities certain positions entail. There is a general understanding that the president of the United States or the primeminister of the United Kingdom is “in charge of the country,” and that the legislature “makes laws,” but not very much beyond that.

This strikes me as a problem, because governments are all at once the entity that makes decisions that affect the entire country, the entity whose decisions the country evaluates when deciding who to give power to and the entity that decides how that power is distributed.

One of the most common misconceptions I see among right-wingers is mistaking celebrity for competence. People assume that because of the prestige a high office holds, prestigious people will be fit to hold it. This is the sort of belief that got us Reagan and Trump, whose administrations have done grievous, possibly irreparable damage to the world at large.

Government isn’t supposed to be fun or exciting. Its purpose is the creation and maintenance of a functional society. The intended purpose of government is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its citizens, and this isn’t always a glamorous job. Sometimes, boring legislation will have to be passed, taxes will have to be levied to fund projects, and representatives will have to engage with unsavory people. An honest and functional government doesn’t generate all that many interesting headlines. It gets a job done.

Trump isn’t there to make TV appearances signing bills or play golf. He’s there to administrate a country. Theresa May’s job isn’t to keep her party in power, it’s to do what’s best for the country, and hobnobbing with the DUP certainly isn’t that.

Government isn’t a football match which a political party “wins” – or at least, a government that intends to be functional shouldn’t be. Very often, to get things done, the ruling party must engage and make compromises with the opposition. A representative’s job is literally in their name: they represent the people of their constituency, even – perhaps especially – the people who voted against them! Efficient government requires co-operation, even between people who nominally disagree.

The idea of ever considering other people’s views or compromising offends right-wingers, although they demand it of us constantly. Any right-wing politician who compromises with a left-winger is considered “weak,” while rudely dismissing the opposition is seen as “strength.” Accommodation of right-wing views is demanded of every left-wing politician, yet is never seen as sufficient to please them.

Government can’t provide instant gratification. Some problems may take years or even decades to fix, but governments aren’t really able to say this. People want solutions now, and they balk at the idea that societal issues may take serious time and money to fix. This locks us into a vicious spiral of governments promising quick solutions in order to win elections, and then being rejected by their own voters when they can’t meet their own unrealistic timetables.

Right wingers demand simple, quick solutions for complex problems, and when left-wing politicians can’t offer them, they’re ridiculed. But again, complex problems don’t always have easy solutions. Sometimes the only solution is a lot of hard, slow, unglamorous work.

Government sometimes has to deal with unpleasant people. A big sore spot for a lot of right wingers is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as “the Iran Deal,” which addresses Iran’s nuclear program. Right wingers questioned it – why were we negotiating with Iran at all? Why couldn’t we just cut them off entirely, isolate them? But ultimately, if the west had not participated in talks with Iran, we would have renounced any ability to influence the deal that was eventually arrived at. Iran would’ve made a deal with someone with less scruples, and less restraint on selling them uranium.

A governments can’t be perfectly isolationist and non-interventionalist, because it’s on a planet where other governments exist. That’s why the United Nations exists – to standardise and adjudicate the protocol of negotiating with other governments. That’s why the European Union exists – to allow simple and standardised tariff-free trading in a common market.

There’s the right-wing’s generic hatred of “bureaucrats,” despite the fact that bureaucracy is literally necessary for civilization. The phrase “unelected bureaucrat” gets thrown about a lot, but of course bureaucrats are unelected. The entire point of a bureaucrat is that they handle logistical and clerical minutae. They’re assigned based on competence, not popularity.

Ultimately, society at large needs to develop a more mature understanding of and relationship with governmental structures.

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