What is the purpose of government? What is the purpose of the Constitution?
I think the Constitution makes it clear: the purpose of the Constitution is to make sure the government becomes greater than the sum of its parts and protects the threatened and the minorities from the tyranny of the majority — or the powerful.
We have a legislature with two bodies: one that gives all states an equal share, and one which favors states with larger populations. The existence of the Senate proves that the larger states, such as Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, wouldn’t be able to impose their wills upon the smaller states just by the sheer force of population.
The First Amendment very clearly gives minorities and the weak the right to speak their mind, to gather, to believe and worship as they would (or not, as their own belief dictates), and so forth. Indeed, children’s history classes tell us that English colonists sailed to the colonies in America so they could practice as they chose, be they Puritans, Catholics, or worse.
The Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments guarantee the rights of the citizens even as the governments pursue justice. Searches must have valid grounds and be approved by a magistrate in most cases. Trials must be prompt and fair. The accused have the right to a trial by jury. And, remember, the burden of proof is to prove guilt, not innocence. We don’t say a jury found someone “innocent”; we say they were found “not guilty.”
Subsequent case law established or validated by the Supreme Court over the years clearly checks the power of law enforcement in favor of the accused. Having proof that someone did something isn’t enough; that proof must be legally obtained. We may hate it when that lets an obviously guilty party escape a conviction, but it strongly deters the police from going on rampaging searches that convictions would outweigh the inconveniences of all those illegal searches.
The fact that we have a judicial system and law enforcement forces is itself testament to government’s role in society, to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. We don’t brook vigilantism; we expect crime victims to report offenses and then let impartial forces investigate and, when appropriate, bring the alleged perpetrators up on charges before an equally impartial judge and jury.
Part of the role of government, in the same sense of protecting the weak and the powerless, sometimes includes redistributing wealth. If one part of the country is experiencing famine and another feast, the same spirit protection would help deliver food or whatever may be needed.
All of this makes me very confused about libertarians and our present (and recent) candidates for the GOP nomination for President. They all seem to assume that government is at best a necessary evil, and that the role of government is to make it easier for those with power and popularity. Don’t regulate those too-big-to-fail banks; trust them and get out of the way, because their size clearly means they’re good at what they do. Islamic immigrants are a threat to the status quo and a drain on our resources; don’t bring them in unless we’re absolutely sure it’s to our benefit. A trade pact like the Trans Pacific Pact will help us all by helping the companies that employ lots of workers; we don’t need specific protections for labor because, well, we just don’t.
These people don’t want government to bring out our best selves; they want government to protect those already on top of the heap from those who don’t deserve a place on the heap. Taxes? Get rid of ’em! Environmental protections? Maybe we don’t need them. Get rid of ’em, just in case. Protection for minorities? Most of them are deviates, heathens, or lazy bums! It’s against my interpretation of my religion, and I’m well meaning, so there!
And, my favorite: don’t bother with niceties in war; it’s more important that we do everything we can to win than to preserve our humanity and sense of decency.
I don’t want a strong authority figure as President. I want someone who will help bring out the best in all of us by protecting and enabling the least of us the most and the people with the most the least.