We keep feeding the hippos
Arrogance born of optimism led to a government run by the biggest constituency in the nation: itself. And here, we find the natural habitat for America’s hippos.
Hippos are killers. National Geographic: “when a hippo takes a human, there’s nothing anyone can do.” The late Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, was more careful around these aggressive giants than any other animal. Hippos are territorial, angry, and deadly. In Africa, they kill about 500 people a year, and the number is increasing as humans encroach on their habitat. Politically speaking, America is full of hippos, and we feed them way too much.
Lets me paint a picture of a couple of Americas. There’s the America from the 1950s and 60s, where if you were white and protestant, you didn’t have to worry about having your rights protected. These Americans grew up, many of them served in the military in Vietnam, and they did their service. They’re suspicious of “the government” except when they are running it. Let’s call this the “first America.” (Not because it came first, or it’s prime, but because I described it first.)
Another America is if you were a minority growing up in the 60s and 70s, you fought for everything from having your neighborhood cut off from the “good parts” of town by an interstate bypass, to “white flight” when integration and busing came around for schools, to mortgage and rental discrimination, to police brutality. Let’s call this the second America.
Yet another America is the one where racism is wrong, the Soviet Union is defeated, and we had a chance to mold society into something useful, if only we could agree on what useful is. These grew up in the 80s and 90s, and government service was thought to be a good way to engineer our future. Many fought in the Gulf War and a good number joined the military after 9/11. I’ll call this one the third America.
And there’s today’s America, where the three Americas fight over territory. The first America is dominated by Trump supporters, who yearn for the day where they didn’t have to fight for their “rights.” I keep reading that the rights of straight, white, Christian Americans have never been more vigorously defended. David French hits this theme a lot. But he misses a very large point. Why should a baker in Colorado have to go through years of court battles to “win” when those attacking him are doing so simply because they can? The whole point of MAGA is that the first America shouldn’t need to be defended. It should, in their view, just be America.
But the second America is used to fighting. They are also used to winning their fights. They are not used to seeing their movement taken over by people who want more than just rights, but domination and revenge. My problem with CRT isn’t with the dry academic and historical aspects of the theory, it’s with the people who take that theory and turn it into a device to make the first America pay by subjugation, sacrificing any gains in equality for domination. As a metaphor, I hear a lot of people who object to Christianity do so not because they are incapable of believing God exists, or that Christ was crucified and rose. They are simply convinced that Christians, who are supposed to believe that and act like it, don’t.
The third America had promise, but the arrogance born of optimism led to a government run by the biggest constituency in the nation: itself. And here, we find the natural habitat for America’s hippos.
The biggest unions in America are the National Education Association (NEA), followed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). What do these unions have in common? They are dominated by public sector (read: government) employees.
Since 1982 through 2020, the number of active government employees has ballooned from 15.87 million to 22.69 million. While the federal employee headcount is close to what it was in 1982, the number of state, county, and local employees has grown 52%.
Add to that the number of “annuitants” or recipients of pensions, and the number who receive paychecks from the federal government swells from 2.9 million to 4.5 million, according to OPM. Over a half million live in the DC-MD-VA-WV metro area. The number on state and municipal pensions is guaranteed to be a huge number. CALPERS—the California state pension fund—is the largest investor in the country.
The hippos in government don’t vote as a block on social issues. But they do have one overriding interest, and that’s receiving their paychecks. When their paychecks are threatened, they become aggressive, angry, and territorial. They attack like hippos. No government office can survive them when they do. Mask mandates only rolled back after millions of Americans finally sickened of the government caving to its own constituencies—teachers, bureaucrats, and the medical administrative state.
America’s stunning loss in Afghanistan was in part due to the idiocy of federal contracts and administration of them with the Afghan national government and our own defense contractors. Following 9/11, the empowering of spies and the intelligence community, mixed with the police state of DHS and the militarization of local police, and even the EPA having an armed strike force, has created a constituency with enormous privilege and almost irresistible temptation to use it.
The first and third Americas are heavily invested in the hippos of the government. This is why both Democrats and Republicans have no problem funding it and feeding it. Neither party is particularly interested in cuts. They only fight over breeding rights and the best watering holes. I’ll never get over the fact that Donald Trump, the Clintons and Nancy Pelosi have more in common than West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But McConnell and Manchin get along better in public. McConnell and Manchin also realize who the others serve.
The second America is most concerned with the plight of SNAP recipients, and should be. According to the Census Bureau, more than 75% of welfare families had at least one person working, and many had two, back in 2018 before the pandemic. The Trump and Biden administrations injected billions into the economy and took many of these out of the work force. Now many are back, but not in the jobs they had, or earning what they did.
There is a symbiotic embrace between those who receive government benefits and those whose job is to pay those benefits. Without the one, the other has no purpose or job. Democrats have always built palaces of aid to supposedly bring the poor out of poverty, but end up enabling the very people they trust to do that—the government—who set up permanent programs not designed to end poverty, but to sustain it indefinitely. No program wants to defund itself. No worker wants to cut himself.
Meanwhile, the third America finds itself with an enormous number of illegal aliens, fentanyl-addicted unemployed young people, college graduates with crushing debt, and a government set up to feed the hippos.
The problem with feeding hippos is that when you stop, they attack you. We have all the rights we need. What we really need is for someone to stand up and stop feeding the hippos.
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