Do You Trust The Government?



The lead sentence on this morning’s Globe editorial jumped off the page at me this morning. “Do you trust government?” Well, how appropriate I thought. In this second-term silly season of distracting bogus scandals, what could be more to the point? After all, isn’t that the essential difference between the two major parties?

The editorial was about the recent 5-4 Supreme Court DNA ruling upholding the constitutionality of police procedures in states where DNA samples are collected from all

English: Supreme Court Associate Justice Anton...

English: Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia testifies before the House Judiciary Committee’s Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee on Capitol Hill May 20, 2010 in Washington, DC. Scalia and fellow Associate Justice Stephen Breyer testified to the subcommittee about the Administrative Conference of the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

people arrested, not necessarily convicted, for serious crimes. There was an unusual split on this, with liberal justice Stephen Breyer joining conservatives but with arch-conservative Scalia railing almost angrily against the decision. Justice Kennedy, usually the swing vote, wrote the majority opinion, reasoning that DNA is similar to fingerprinting and photographing faces, long accepted under the Fourth Amendment. But, the editor and Scalia are upset, nay, frightened, that DNA, unlike a mug shot, can tell everything about us.

It really does come down to trust in government then. Or rather, distrust. As used in a trial, DNA amounts to arcane numbers which identify people more reliably than any method ever used before, including fingerprints and mug shots, but it also has the potential to cache in a data bank complex medical information that could, conceivably, be used to characterize a person as to medical defects, race, or who knows what?  (Caveat:  if the GOP is successful in repealing the ACA, I might recant here, because then the insurance companies won’t have to cover pre-existing conditions and can start pricing according to those and any genetic defects!)  I can understand, however, that someone who distrusts government wouldn’t want this information in their hands. That would be, seems to me, someone who also believes the government might confiscate all the guns in the country if there were a national data bank of gun ownership, or maybe even someone who favors privacy laws strong enough that money could be safely hidden from the IRS in offshore bank accounts.

Personally, I do trust the government, at least in its present form under the bill of rights with freedom of speech and of the press. I have for a long time. The government virtually owned me for 26 years, as a member of the U.S. Navy, and knows all about me. It did thorough background checks on me from time to time for security clearances. It has my fingerprints and a fairly current photo of me, as of about 5 years ago. I might as well be branded “property of the U.S.”, but I don’t feel threatened because of it. I also don’t feel threatened if the NSA has in its vast data banks a record of every phone number I’ve ever called or from which I received a call. Privacy? There are limits, just as there are limits to free speech, as in religious nuts disrupting military funerals or yelling “fire” in crowded theaters.

The system we have is imperfect but it is, I submit, better than all the others and for sure better than anarchy. DNA has been invaluable in solving crimes, including many cold cases and in freeing many people wrongly convicted, some on death row. The only thing about this issue that scares me is that the Court came within one vote of deciding the matter wrongly. In the meantime, I plan to continue to have faith in the government. Faith that my social security and retirement checks will arrive on time in my checking account. Faith that the IRS will ensure that my neighbors pay their taxes fairly, just like I do. Faith that I don’t need an AR-15 assault rifle if a crime is committed against me, but that I can confidently call the cops to help. Faith that there is a dedicated group of people whose job it is to keep society reasonably civilized and safe, not just from terrorists but from criminals as well.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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8 Responses to Do You Trust The Government?

  1. Wish I had written this excellent post. Bravo! The hysteria surrounding these issues is breathtaking, Jim. Thanks for a moment of sanity.


  2. ansonburlingame says:

    Well said Jim and for sure I support your views expressed herein.

    Simply said, I, believe it or not, TRUST our federal government, the one established 200 plus years ago and still performing, by and large, under our Constitution.

    BUT, I do not broadly trust all the individual people in any government, even our own. I “trust” the office of the Presidency for example. But I suspect some individuals holding or having held that office will not always act in the best interests of all Americans. I trust our constitution and the laws supporting it, by and large. Some laws could be better and in some areas we need new laws. I don’t trust our politicians, individually or collectively to always create “good laws” or SCOTUS to always have a “good interpretation” of our own constitution, either.

    Thus free speech, freedom to express ideas, freedom to debate, etc., all within the law.

    By and large the “government” can probe all it likes into who I was in the past, who I am today and take some educated guesses as to who I might be tomorrow. I trust the government to do so.

    BUT, if some lamebrained “person” in the government gave you and Duane that information so you could blog about all that information, well I would sue the hell out of that “person” and may use some 2nd Amendment rights against you and Duane for using the material!!!



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      It ought to go without saying, Anson, that trust in government be conditioned on the Constitution’s checks and balances, and as I mentioned in the post, on the vital role of the press. What disturbs me most about our government, however, is demagoguery, particularly that which of late is enabled by appeals to religion and faux-patriotism by Tea Party fanatics.


  3. ansonburlingame says:

    So back to disagreement after a brief moment of sunshine.

    Demagoguery works both ways and is used from both sides, all the time, right, left, in between or otherwise. I don’t like it either but…….



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Now Anson, if you will review carefully you will see that nowhere did I say that Democrats never employ demagoguery. There are bad politicians on both sides in that regard. But apparently I need to clarify my previous comment for you.

      The kind of malfeasance perpetrated tends to differ in kind between the two parties. On the progressive side it tends to be feckless behavior grounded in poor judgement, as in the absurd and expensive role-playing exercises at IRS conferences, or in Anthony Weiner’s sexual social-media adventures. On the conservative side however, the screw-ups tend to be fiscally aggrandizing schemes wrapped in faux patriotism, religion, or both. The poster-pol’s I think of for this are Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin. They are I submit the more dangerous ilk of the two because their sins exploit basic values. When a Democrat screws with me, I feel like I’ve been robbed. When a Republican screws with me, I feel like I’ve sent money to Jimmy Swaggart before seeing the real him and now have to try to separate the truth from the lies.


  4. ansonburlingame says:

    OK, demagoguery from “my side” is worse than demagoguery from “your side”, right?

    I suppose that is a matter of opinion and thus not to be resolved very well.



  5. Hi Jim,
    Good post. I agree. My only squirm is seeing a reference to liberal justice Stephen Breyer. Are there actually any liberals on today’s court? Was Thurgood Marshall the last liberal justice?


  6. Jim Wheeler says:

    I guess ideology is a continuum, Helen. It does give me a good feeling when a justice crosses over on the merits of a case, as Roberts did on the ACA decision. It gives the impression at least that there’s application by these nine elderly people of real-world thinking to abstract issues.

    Good to hear from you again!


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