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Three Images of our Federal Government

It seems abundantly clear that we cannot adequately address the climate crisis without the appropriate government policies and regulations. Our dilemma is that many popular images are preventing government from doing its job. If we cannot imagine government protecting the planet, it’s probably not going to happen. So, we need to check our images. There are many, of course, and here are three. Please send in yours in the comments section below.

1. An alien encroaching on local sovereignty

Following the Civil War, the Federal “Freedman’s Bureau” brought needed assistance to newly freed Blacks. For some whites, those who gave assistance were seen as carpetbaggers (white Northerners) or scallywags (white Southerners) who were preventing a return to “normal” southern life.

In his book, Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power (2022), Jefferson Cowie illustrates time and again the dominance of the image of the federal government as an intruder on local and state sovereignty—the freedom to dominate others.

Combatting the freedom to dominate in its most visceral forms, as Native Americans trying to enforce treaty rights and African Americans struggling for the freedom of political participation during Reconstruction learned, required a social contract in which the federal government worked aggressively to restrain the freedom of the dominant class. In the case of lynching, the federal government could never manage to make lynching illegal despite the introduction of literally hundreds of anti-lynching bills in the 20th century. (241).

This image, like the image of federal government as a bunch of carpetbaggers and scallywags, belongs to the legacy of the “lost cause,” which continues to influence the attitudes of many white Americans.

2. A reluctant protector of Civil Rights

Given that our nation began as a slave nation (4 out of the first 5 Presidents were enslavers), the movements for human rights have always been an up-hill battle, and yet, things have changed. Still, the struggle continues largely within our original social climate of injustice.

3. A “Criminal Enterprise”

Remember that the RICO case against Trump and gang refers to their actions while still in office. Did they make our government a “criminal enterprise”? Well, no. Our government also upholds the rule of law, and we have laws that protect our democracy, or at least that’s how it looks in this case. Still, until we recover from our original crimes against humanity, any flag waving would be not only premature, but also a lie.

Please share your images below


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