Most of us can remember feeling that someone had done us a great injustice. On those occasions, we want nothing more than to exact revenge. I remember being unfairly treated as a lowly ROTC cadet by one of the sergeants who resented the fact that my brother had been promoted to captain and company commander over him.
I was ambitious and worked extremely hard, resulting in my promotion in record time to the rank of colonel and city executive officer. This individual was now firmly under my command, and I could have wreaked havoc in his life. Instead, I chose to give him extra responsibilities. Responding to the challenge, he proved himself to be quite capable, earning further promotions. Because I resisted the urge to retaliate, we both won. This same principle applies in politics.
Unfortunately, in the past, we have been a reactionary country, resulting in political shifts back and forth from left to right without a lot of forward progress. After attaining power, both sides act in ways that are less than honorable, but they justify their actions by citing similar transgressions performed by the other side. This immature behavior is vividly exhibited by President Obama in his shameless use of executive orders to try to force the eventual success of Obamacare.
Administration supporters defend his strategy by pointing out that previous presidents have issued even more executive orders than Obama. It’s like saying that punching someone 40 times is more harmful than shooting him four times. However, it’s not the quantity of executive orders that matters, but their impact.
There are always people who attempt to pick apart an analogy, but most readers will see the point. In the current controversy, a massive politically motivated government program was forced on half of the population with their opinions completely disregarded. No legislation of this magnitude ever had been passed in the history of the United States by one party with unanimous opposition by the other party. Each executive order to sustain Obamacare is like pouring salt in a wound. Furthermore, the concept of seeking common ground is further damaged.
When the political pendulum swings again, which I predict will begin this November, it is imperative for the sake of our progeny that those in power act like “the adults in the room” and govern in a lawful and constitutional manner. This means refraining from the use of excessive government interference in choosing winners and losers. It also means an evenhanded enforcement of all of our laws rather than repeating the Obama administration’s practice of selective law enforcement. Adult governance is founded upon objectivity, not ideology.
The American people have suffered through decades of power-drunk politicians, many of whom practiced deceitful manipulation. This has caused tens of millions of Americans to abandon in disgust their duty to be informed and responsible voters, which only makes the situation worse.
I have encountered a large number of elderly people who have told me that they have given up on the United States and are simply waiting to die. This is the reason that more eligible voters opted not to vote in the last presidential election than actually voted for either candidate. Many of these people are members of “the greatest generation.” They fought tangible and visible forces that threatened our freedom. The forces facing us now are less tangible, but are nevertheless at least as lethal to our way of life.
Despite all the naysayers on both sides, I am convinced by the people I encounter on the speaking circuit that common sense, honesty and fairness can return to the corridors of power in America. We can govern in a manner that not only re-engages millions, but also provides liberty and justice for all.
As it was in the days of the Founding Fathers before the American Revolution, now it is necessary for ordinary Americans to engage their neighbors, friends and colleagues in serious discussions about what kind of nation they want to pass on to their children and grandchildren. It is important that everyone knows who represents them both at the state level and at the national level. The party affiliation of those representatives is not nearly as important as their voting record. Every American, regardless of their political affiliation, must distinguish those who represent the free-enterprise system based on personal responsibility and equal treatment from those who are willing to give away our personal freedom in order to enhance the size and scope of the government.
The power to reverse the deterioration of our nation is within the hands of “we the people.” We must realize that our countrymen are not our enemies, and we must understand that we cannot rely on those in the media and in politics to tell us the truth. We need to go beyond them and rely on ourselves to craft a truly free America that works for all of us. This means we must become informed voters and use our votes effectively to choose the kind of leadership that represents the will of the people.
• Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.