“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” This is the mentality shared by a growing number of Americans who would allow government to run roughshod over their rights, rather than raise concern about the vast expansion of the Surveillance State in the past decade. To this cadre of citizens, government knows best as its leaders implore us to “trust them” while they pursue the “bad guys” on our behalf.
Were it that simple.
The admonition to “trust us” is more than a simple justification of government malfeasance. Big Government cheerleaders use it to “freedom-shame” their critics by setting up a straw-man argument that if one opposes surreptitious surveillance or illegal methods of law enforcement investigations, one obviously must be guilty of some crime they wish to hide. After all, how can you not “trust” Uncle Sam in this 21st Century? How can one be skeptical of a government so benevolent it has gone $17 trillion in debt caring for us?
The answer lies in our Constitution, as well as in the Federalist Papers that so eloquently explain our system of government. As noted in Federalist 51, written 225 years ago by James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” (I paraphrase): “If men were angels, we would have no need of government, but men are not angels and we therefore institute government among men to protect us from the abuses in which government inevitably will engage if left to its own devices.”
Clearly, our Founding Fathers understood the fundamental nature of government: that, as an institution, government seeks power. They knew also that power, once obtained, tends to corrupt, hence the checks and balances built into in our constitutional republic.
Yet, in our post-9/11 world, the will to demand government operate within the law and the Constitution, and the courage to criticize it when it appears not to so operate, too often is trumped by fear. Fear in myriad permutations – fear of terrorist attacks, fear of crime, fear of accidents, fear of . . . you name it.
As Edmund Burke understood in 1757, “no passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Unfortunately, government leaders today -- as in 1776 when John Adams noted that “fear is the foundation of most governments” – understand this fact all too well.