Antidisestablishmentarianism. I’ve always wanted to have use for this longest-of-words word. When I first overheard it spoken – probably by my elders in mere cynical derision of overwrought terminology – I was in the fourth grade. I understood only two facts about this word: first, that it was the longest word in the English dictionary; second, that it was a word for which no actual English speaker ever would have use. I gleaned from repeated question-and-answer sessions with my parents that the word meant something like “being against being against establishments.” No use for such high flights of lexicological fancy, I might have reasonably thought at the time. But here we are, twenty years later, and I’ve maintained my amusement with the word while – lo! – discovered a practical use for the word.
Whereas it is popular these days to resent the establishment (particularly the political establishment) to the point of self-destruction, I find more and more that I am confused by a reaction of frustrations or failures in government to install replacements who are ignorant of the methods, facts, and procedures of the actual task of governing. A few years ago, I had a bad experience with a particular automobile mechanics shop. (When bad workmanship failed and exposed me to risk, it was a severe pain to have that mechanic even reimburse the replacement parts he had inexpertly installed on my cruiser-turned-deathtrap.) Rather than seek out a half-decent window washer, an expert accountant, or a failed entrepreneur, I did some homework, found a reliable mechanics’ shop, and took my vehicle there for more service (shout out: Big O Tires in Salt Lake City). That shop has done more-than-satisfactory work for the last seven years, and I’ve never looked back.
Here’s the thing: this is a pretty poor analogy for government, as governmental decisions are supremely more complex than automobiles. There are no handbooks for governance, no price code books, no how-to training seminars, no perfect ways to govern. But a person who has been working on the problem for a while, so to speak, and has found a way to make it work, is always preferable to a person who’s never had a turn at the wheel. When it comes to finding replacement parts, so to speak, we should accept only someone who has shown, through practical experience in government work, that she (or he) knows what she (or he) is doing.
That things in the halls of the United States Congress building are getting worse and not better, less rather than more civil, and more rather than less dysfunctional should not come as a great surprise to a people who have repeatedly opted for less and not more qualified candidates, more and not less populist ideologues, and worse instead of better people.
This is not a unique point. But I am glad I’ve found a term for my latent, conservative attitudes about government. Indeed, it is with Edmund Burke’s sense of caution that I approach my own civic duties. Governments must be of laws and not of men (or women). And we need those laws – that ordering – for our experiment in democracy to continue functioning. Therefore, I embrace antidisestablishmentarianism, in all of its caution and vicious immobility, and I reject disestablishmentarianism. The solution to a dysfunctional government is not to wreck it and see what happens. The United States is not a sand castle or an erector set. We should begin – finally – thinking carefully about whom we are selecting to represent and to govern us, or we will soon be at the mercy of the consequences of our own ill-considered decisions.