The citizenry has been trained to expect that our Powerful Daddies and Mommies in government will -- in that most cringe-inducing, child-like formulation -- Keep Us Safe. Whenever the Government fails to do so, the reaction -- just as we saw this week -- is an ugly combination of petulant, adolescent rage and increasingly unhinged cries that More Be Done to ensure that nothing bad in the world ever happens. Demands that genuinely inept government officials be held accountable are necessary and wise, but demands that political leaders ensure that we can live in womb-like Absolute Safety are delusional and destructive. Yet this is what the citizenry screams out every time something threatening happens: please, take more of our privacy away; monitor more of our communications; ban more of us from flying; engage in rituals to create the illusion of Strength; imprison more people without charges; take more and more control and power so you can Keep Us Safe.
What makes all of this most ironic is that the American Founding was predicated on exactly the opposite mindset. The Constitution is grounded in the premise that there are other values and priorities more important than mere Safety. Even though they knew that doing so would help murderers and other dangerous and vile criminals evade capture, the Framers banned the Government from searching homes without probable cause, prohibited compelled self-incrimination, double jeopardy and convictions based on hearsay, and outlawed cruel and unusual punishment. That's because certain values -- privacy, due process, limiting the potential for abuse of government power -- were more important than mere survival and safety. A central calculation of the Constitution was that we insist upon privacy, liberty and restraints on government power even when doing so means we live with less safety and a heightened risk of danger and death. And, of course, the Revolutionary War against the then-greatest empire on earth was waged by people who risked their lives and their fortunes in pursuit of liberty, precisely because there are other values that outweigh mere survival and safety.These are the calculations that are now virtually impossible to find in our political discourse. It is fear, and only fear, that predominates. No other competing values are recognized.