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The consent of the governed

MICHAEL GEBELEIN
Managing Editor

Between the inanities of hot dogs and fireworks and cold beer, we should all stop for a moment on Independence Day and take a look back at the document we have to thank for really touching off the revolution that led to the creation of this country.
I think, many times, we’re quick to forget the insurrection and violence that birthed this nation. We’re too far removed from it. Most of us have no concept of the blood that was spilled to make this republic a reality.
It couldn’t have happened any other way. World history — and not just American history — has shown us that colonial powers are never keen on giving up the honeypots of their colonies. When a nation has in its economic interest the oppression of a huge population, the only way to break those chains is through sustained, brutal combat between the oppressors and the oppressed.
The Declaration of Independence makes very clear the principles the signers believed the British Parliament and the king had violated — “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Scholars have been quick to point out that the preceding phrase isn’t anywhere in the Constitution, and the obvious hypocrisy of the idea that “all men are created equal” in a slaveholding nation. But that doesn’t make the statements any less true.
That’s the most quoted line in the Declaration, but I find the one that directly follows it to be of equal importance: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
We live in tumultuous, ugly times, and the fractious political scene has taken the vast majority of Americans away from “consent” to outright apathy. And that apathy has been taken as a signal that government can do whatever it wants, because no one cares or is paying attention anyway.
They’re right.
When we treat legislators as a separate class, when we elevate them to a position of authority without recognizing that they only have that authority because we give it to them, we cannot blame them for falling into the pockets of lobbyists and special interests and corporations and rigid political ideology, with no regard for the impact of that ideology in practice.
Pockets of the country are waking up to this new reality, slowly. The tea party, the short-lived Occupy Wall Street movement and Moral Monday are all indications that a much-needed populist streak is gaining a foothold in our collective political mindset.
That the tea party has been neutered by establishment Republicans, OWS died on the vine and Moral Monday is doing little more than blowing hot air is unfortunate but, no matter where on the political spectrum you fall, it’s encouraging to see that a few people are paying attention.
Let’s make our consent mean something.
Michael Gebelein is managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.

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