In God We Trust

"in god we trust"
"in god we trust" by shoothead on flickr

In the United States our currency now carries the phrase “In God We Trust”. It wasn’t always so. The first time this phrase was placed on a coin of the US was in 1864 during the Civil War. The phrase was officially adopted in 1956 as the motto of the USA in our struggle with “godless” communism. Nevertheless since the only thing backing our currency today is “the full and credit of the US government”, In God We Trust is as much a statement of fact as a slogan. Because at the moment the full faith and credit of the US government is in doubt, and trust in God appears to be our only fallback position.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are numerous solutions to the current debt ceiling crisis, from the simple to the creative, but they all require the willingness of our elected leaders to act. Psychologists talk about the fight or flight mechanism, and it is true that those are two frequent responses to fearful situations. There is a third response, however, the freeze response where the frightened party becomes immobilized and neither runs or fights. The deer frozen in the headlights of the oncoming car, the sparrow frozen to the limb in fear of the snake,  the opossum that faints and plays dead as the dog approaches — these are cases where action could potentially save lives and yet the freeze response leads to death.

The US government is frozen in fear of a minority of members of the U.S. House (fewer than 25%) and of potential primary challenges from people of similar belief. For months no other legislation has been considered except what would appease this minority. Now in a few short days we face a thoroughly artificial economic crisis and our government and its leaders seem frozen in place — unable or unwilling to act. And so we are left to hope and pray, In God We Trust. As we hurtle toward a totally preventable crisis, In God We Trust. While our leaders remain frozen, In God We Trust.

“L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!” said the Parisian revolutionary Danton. And audacity is once again on the side of the revolutionaries. If action does not come from our elected leaders, I fear the seeds of a second American revolution are being sown here today. A second revolution founded on very different principles from “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”. Our leaders must act to maintain the full faith and credit of the government, must maintain and strengthen the social safety net, and must find a way to provide work to the jobless, or we eventually risk revolution.

Is this mere hyperbolic rhetoric? The last time we as a nation were more divided than this we fought a Civil War. Of course, we are not there yet, but if the government defaults on Wednesday — even if it is quickly repaired — a crucial element of faith and trust will have been lost. Just as when a spouse cheats there may be forgiveness, but trust is irretrievably diminished, so too if extremists succeed in sending our government into default they will lessen the mutual trust of every citizen while emboldening the extremists to strike again. This was the pattern that led up to the Civil War. For 40 years through compromise after compromise the Union was preserved while our internal division grew and our mutual trust faded.

As a general rule, revolutions are bad for the poor; are bad for the weak; are bad for minorities; are bad for the rule of law; and are bad for civil liberties. If the financial stability of our country is undermined because of the actions of a handful of extremists, then they are effectively fomenting insurrection, and they pose a domestic threat to our Republic. Capitulation to the audacity of the extremists in the House will not lead to peace and prosperity, but to revolution and ruin.

I hope our elected leaders awake from their paralysis and understand that this is a time that demands action.

Extremism must not be allowed to triumph.

God Bless the United States, and God bless us all.

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