Maybe we are going to have to start calling it something else.

To some people, the very word “government” conjures up an image of jackboots and oppression.

Listening to debates on such issues as taxation, homelessness, abortion and health care — not just in Utah — you get the impression that a great many people, some of them holding political power or social influence, believe that government is, by its very nature, evil. Perhaps a necessary evil, but evil just the same.

A belief that seems to hold quite a bit of influence in many places is that the purpose of government is to be mean to people. And that the Constitution of the United States, the state constitutions and other basic laws exist to be sure that government is only mean to the people who have it coming — you know, poor, brown, female — and leaves the rest of us blissfully alone to make our own way in the world without the yoke of oppression.

Until something happens. Like the banks needs to be bailed out. Or the fossil fuel industry needs more subsidies and fewer regulations. Or even rich people start worrying about global pandemics.

Then, our government is Dudley Do-Right to the rescue. Unless he’s lost his pistol and just fired his third horse.

State officials in Utah pretty much ignored the growing homelessness problem in Salt Lake City until, a couple of years ago, it was suggested to them that they could basically militarize the problem, crack down on those smelly people, march a bunch of them off to jail and make the Rio Grande neighborhood safe for gentrification.

Since then, there’s been a lot of work and money put into a more humane approach involving better services provided in cleaner and safer buildings. But it continues to be like pulling teeth to get the state to fund human services with a fraction of the amount that it was willing to spend for billy clubs.

For several years now, it has been an all-hands-on-deck effort of people who care to drag first the United States, then Utah, toward building a First World health care system, one that allocates resources based on how sick you are, not on how wealthy you or your insurance-providing employer happen to be.

But dangle before many of the lawmakers in Utah and a few other states the possibility of cracking down on women seeking abortions, and our elected leaders are all in.

Not only does the purpose of government instantly shift from humanity to misogyny, some lawmakers and activists get to savor the possibility of imprisoning doctors and women for long stretches in retaliation for providing or availing themselves of a medical procedure that, in civilized nations, is a basic human right.

Even those the anti-abortion movement claims to help, the unborn, are only eligible for government assistance when the process includes being deliberately cruel to the women involved. Otherwise, where’s the fun in that?

Oh, and once those children are born? Sorry, kid. No government assistance for you. That would be oppressive. Don’t you see that we’ve set you free? Now, go away and don’t bother us. We’re busy giving tax cuts to the rich and repealing environmental standards.

And now, almost four years after we elected to the highest office in the land a buffoon who showed no stomach for the hard work of governing, it may be becoming more obvious that deliberately disempowering the federal government by racking up towering debt and chasing away all the competent adults and best brains in favor of toadies and grifters, wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The sudden resurgence of Joe Biden’s political fortunes are likely to be based on the feeling that, while Ol’ Uncle Joe may have lost a step, and may have some really embarrassing male supremacy artifacts in his closet, he at least knows where the Centers for Disease Control is. And that he will find, or find someone who can find, competent people and adequate funds to run it.

Yes, we have constitutional protections, a free press and elections because we know that government strong enough to help us is also strong enough to hurt us, if we don’t pay attention. The watchdog can slip the leash.

But, like the authors of our nation, the ones who tossed out a self-serving government to install a public-serving one, we know that freedom from crime, invasion, disease and want doesn’t come from a lack of government. It comes from people willing to the work of good government.

And, if that still sounds too oppressive, let’s call it by it’s other name.

Civilization.

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, has been more of a bother to government than it has ever been to him.

Twitter, @debatestate