Jeanette Rusk Sefcik: Anti-government is anti-us and anti-U.S.

(Bob Daugherty | AP file photo) Then-President Ronald Reagan holds up 14-pound continuing resolution for the budget, part of a total package weighing 43-pounds, which the president said was two months late from Congress, during his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 25, 1988. Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, left, and then-House Speaker James Wright of Texas listen behind him.

One of the most destructive forces in our struggling democracy today is the widespread anti-government sentiment. After all, what is “government”? It is “us,” and the ways we work together for the common good.

Government bodies staffed by our chosen representatives are tasked with working for society as a whole. They are the antidote to rugged individualism, runaway capitalism and all the other special interests.

How much government should we have — or, in other words, how much regulation or limitation of individual freedom — is a reasonable question to ask. But it is utterly destructive to our democratic system to think of government itself as the enemy.

The modern anti-government movement is firmly rooted in the nation's past. From revolution against the English monarchy, to tax rebellions, to pioneer self-reliance, to federal government involvement in civil rights and social welfare, to the more recent Sagebrush Rebellion, resentment of government action has always simmered.

But it was Ronald Reagan who brought this simmering pot of supposed grievances to a boil when in his 1981 inaugural address he asserted that “Government is not the solution for our problem; government is the problem.”

Twenty years later, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist hammered that view when he said, “I don’t want to abolish government, I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

The culmination of the anti-government trend seemed to be when the radical right in the U.S. was looking for a new bogeyman after the fall of the Soviet Union and communism. They found it in the government-as-enemy diatribe. If the vitriol had been confined to that extreme right minority, it would not have been so harmful. But it has spread to the general population, and way too many people start their socio-political discussions by expressing their distaste for “the f---ing government.”

Besides the government in all its iterations at local, state and national level, the other major forces in our society are business, religion and an array of special interest groups. All of these other institutions focus on a subset of our society and the interests and welfare of their group. It is only “government” whose purpose is to “promote the general welfare,” as stated in the Constitution.

It is very important to look critically at government agencies and officials and to root out corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency. But perhaps more than any other time in our history we need a good strong government to act as the “us” or “We the People” factor in solving our many problems.

It is partly the anti-government fervor that led so many Americans, for the first time ever, to vote for a person who had not one whit of government experience, someone who only understands private and personal interests, not the public interest.

If you don’t believe in the institution you are part of, of course you are going to be trying to tear it down. That’s the end result of this toxic movement. And when it’s small enough, and weak enough, then you end up with an autocracy that chooses who and what it will stand up for.

In this election season, I urge citizens to take another look at their view of government and its role in upholding our common interests and values. Maybe if we can understand the importance of this institution, then we will vote for honorable people with experience and qualifications who can themselves help restore respect for the sacred work government does on behalf of “us” and our U.S.

Jeanette Rusk Sefcik

Jeanette Rusk Sefcik, Glendale, is a retired newspaper reporter and editor, having worked at newspapers including the Tucson Citizen, Daily Spectrum in St. George, Southern Utah News in Kanab and Lake Powell Chronicle in Page, Ariz. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona.