Smaller government equals calmer tempers

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The midterm elections are here, and predictions have changed daily. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight predicts that Democrats will take the House but not the Senate. MyBookie says the odds are better that Republicans will keep control of both. Some Democratic optimists are still hoping for a bicameral #BlueWave.

Voter turnout is extraordinarily high, setting records and even exceeding what’s more typically seen in presidential election years. What seems to be driving it is passion — and ire.

Although great turnout is to be hoped for in every election, this level of public anger is not. Flipping between traditional broadcast and social media sites feels like a pingpong game of accusations. “Traditional” media blames President Donald Trump and Republicans for everything from the negative “tone” of public discourse to the mass murders at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh recently. Republicans fire back, pointing to over 600 threats or actual incidents of violence (Breitbart is keeping a tally) by Democrats against Trump supporters, going back to before the 2016 presidential election. Every day brings some fresh outrage.

Although “politics ain’t beanbag,” as the saying goes, no one can point to precisely when or why it got this bad. And there are even fewer attempts to offer solutions.

To my way of thinking, one of the reasons why passions have become so inflamed around matters involving the federal government (presidential and congressional elections, and federal court nominations) is because so much is at stake.

Too much. We have, over the years, given the federal government far too much power. And this is a bipartisan phenomenon.

The typical reasoning in support of a smaller federal government tends to be economic. But I’m arguing that there are psychological reasons why a smaller federal government is healthier for all parties concerned.

The only branch of the federal government that should be making policy is Congress. We elect our representatives every two years, our senators every six years, and — in theory — we the voters can remove them if they don’t please us.

But sometimes Congress is passive. Or deadlocked. Or there’s insufficient political will to make tough legislative decisions. So other branches have picked up the slack.

But what we have done, we can undo, if we have the gumption.

If the Supreme Court and the White House were not the go-to institutions for monumental policy decisions, the selection of those who inhabit those offices would be fraught with far less significance. Frankly, if even Congress acted less often and our state legislatures (and county boards and city councils) acted more often, all of us would have much closer ties and stronger input in the decision-making processes.

I don’t want to minimize the economic impact of our decision to vest the federal government with more and more power.

It’s long past time to take back a good deal of the power we’ve ceded to the federal government. For the sake of our republic, and our sanity.

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