The erosion of trust that allowed the US public to lay down their arms is a result of a series of complex historical circumstances and conditions that would take many books to explain. Rather than describe every turn in the road in the vicissitudes of popular American political opinion, the causes of distrust of the government can be understood in terms of events and how they have shifted the balance of power in the era following the industrial revolution.
The Reagan and Bush Years: HostileTake Over of the US Government
More than any other time in history, World War II provided a frame work for America’s unlimited government resources to combine with its developed industrial and political matrix. Mobilized along with the military after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was literally given a blank check to do what was ever necessary to re-make the military in a display of capacity and resources that was unparalleled in the modern era. Industrialists and business people worked hand in hand with politicians and military heads which created relationships that continued after the war and began to exert an influence over national and local affairs—so much so, that former commander and chief of WWII allied forces and sitting president Dwight D. Eisenhower (a man who was privy to the inner workings of industry and the military) in his last televised speech to the American people before leaving office issued a warning against partnership without vigorous oversight:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” 
After Eisenhower the subsequent republican administrations (typically the party most associated with big business and the wealthy) took on the motto of ‘less government’ to curtail what was thought a tendency for democratic administration to support entitlement programs with tax money rather than facilitate the development of American economic prosperity (associated with the industrial and economic infrastructure and its controlling elite). With each republican president (from Nixon to Reagan), the winding down of the economy after the Korean War and subsequently the Vietnam War and post WWII as justification for an enormous military budget (which kept industrial production up), rather than blaming the changes of US economic circumstances on the transition from a war economy to a peace time one, it was attributed to government support of social welfare programs such as healthcare, the national school systems and even the national retirement benefit system (Social Security)
By the 1980’s, it was not uncommon to hear of people in retirement freezing to death because they could afford to pay their heating bill or buying cat food to eat so they could pay for their medication. At this time, American people began to perceive their government not as a regulatory body that safeguarded the rights and liberties of its citizens, but a tool for what would eventually be called “the one percent”, those who held the reins of the private enterprise to subvert the major branches of government for their personal gain.
Reagan began stacking the judicial branch (Supreme Court) with those sympathetic to big business interests—a trend that continued through both Bushes. During his administration, de-regulated legislative (and constitutional) safeguards that allowed big money to eventually fleece company pension plans; use of projected profits to claim losses to qualify for what Michael Moore called “corporate welfare” which, as the story goes, the government bankrolled with the treasury.
Proliferation of gun control laws didn’t really become fashionable until Reagan made all sorts of cuts to federal public subsidies that closed most of the institutions that treated and contained the mentally ill. As many might recall, this was responsible for a series of public shootings (including the Regan assassination attempt by a mentally ill person) as well as an increase in the homeless population.
But by 1980, the Republican platform said this:
“We believe the right of citizens to keep and bear arms must be preserved. Accordingly, we oppose federal registration of firearms…. We therefore support Congressional initiatives to remove those provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 that do not significantly impact on crime but serve rather to restrain the law-abiding citizen in his legitimate use of firearms.”
Unfortunately, as members of the NRA during the 1960’s, many participated in the divisive political rhetoric as Perlstein in his article How the NRA Became an Organization for Aspiring Vigilantes. It’s good to be reminded of the Black Panthers, a small group that received massive publicity precisely because they dared to “usurp” some of the privileges and attitudes white men had always thought of as inherently theirs. They embodied the frightening results of the bleeding hearts’ civil rights legislation, the rise of Black Power rhetoric; and the riots of the 60s. This combination of fear and resentment at black progress brought the “white backlash”, which was most clearly expressed in the Wallace campaign in 1968.
Many whites who had long been Democratic voters were attracted to the George Wallace presidential campaign — the campaign of a segregationist governor who had stood in the doorway of the state university to resist integration. Wallace constantly said “we got to get some law and order in this country”; he referred to liberals as “pointy headed intellectuals”, and surprised everyone by getting strong support in white working class communities in the North. The Republicans took the lesson and turned it into their “Southern Strategy” — appealing to racism in the South, while using a similar appeal to create what later became known as “Reagan Democrats”.
Black activist leadership after the King era were fully aware of how and why the militia groups (through the NRA) supported the segregationist movements against them. When the militia groups finally realized their rights were also being threatened by the political establishment, the damage and ill-will kept any alliance for a unified effort against their mutual enemies in Washington impossible.
By the 1980’s, the Reagan administration under the mandate of a new business paradigm for social services that saw institutions such as hospitals, clinics, public schools as a liability – making such public service in the wake of government cutbacks a financial burden to city and state revenues. Though in theory, such services were paid for by tax dollars, cuts in corporate taxes said to aim at boosting Gross National Product (GNP) in the wake of the inflation caused the energy crisis (making America not as competitive as Japan and other emerging world markets) brought the short fall of the government deficit on the working and middle classes. Deregulation lead to a number of scandals. College scholarships, public subsidies and services were cut while big businesses and their affluent owners were able to make money with less government regulation in expectation that the new found profits would “trickle down” and revitalize American financial circles and put Americans back to work.
Instead, US financiers took advantage of the new rules (which were created for them to do so) and made record breaking profits. Rather than re-employing the legions out of work, profit takers ‘downsized’ and consolidated their companies and holdings; often farming out labour to foreign markets; which, thanks to new regulation was legal. The lack of regulation and oversight produced numerous scandals such as ENRON.
Another proposed tactic to curve employment and decrease government expense was privatization of public services. “ Reagan similarly made privatization a theme of his presidency,” Unfortunately, this tended to lower the standard of care to the poor in hospitals and other public service institutions privatized while encouraging graft oddly unanticipated by the republican architects of privatization:
“Citizens must receive the fair market value for any public assets put in private hands. …And again, basic political economy matters: Elected officials have an incentive to accept a “bad deal” if control over the cash inflows strengthens their own political position. Machiavellian motivations aside, public servants may also simply lack the technical and financial skills to get a fair price for taxpayers.”
In the 1970’s and 80’s many militia groups began speaking out against legislation which attempted to circumvent the Bill of Rights while making some attempts educate the public on it. It was little wonder the militias (armed citizen groups), who are constitutionally empowered to monitor rouge elements in the government, saw the political climate at that time as a hostile take-over of the national identity. Like the Panthers, the militias were largely discredited by acts the media tied to them (Oklahoma City Bombing)—yet despite the governments even longer list of infamous violation of public trust, the ‘big questions” have yet to be asked.
‘The Big Questions’
Conspiracy buffs are often portrayed as fanatical and deranged. However, over the last decade an entire new paradigm has been ushered in with respect to Federal Law. Osama Bin Laden and Sadam Hussein are dead, and Al-Qaida is being contained and the fabricated threat regarding weapons of mass destruction that had the ability to destroy ‘freedom loving people everywhere’ are situations that have all been diffused. So one must ask the question, why are all the war time laws like the Patriot Act being extended whilst, more restrictive ones that curtail US citizen rights are being written each year? Who’s security is the government really concerned with?
With any real legal opposition put to bed by a series of constitutionally contradictory national and local laws that abridge the first and second amendments; Patriot Act; and in particular, US Congressional Bill S. 1867—giving the US military permission to dispense with the protections provided by the Bill of Rights, for the suspicious mind, another agenda seems to be afoot. Even those who are not prone to conspiracy theories may raise a wary eye brow to the latest and most troubling news — Obama’s signing into law the authorization for the use of drones over US soil.
Is this not the mechanism of “Big Brother” and the police state?
Finally one must ask how can the US judicial (The Supreme Court), Executive (The President) and legislative (Congress) branches abrogate or suspend the Bill of Rights when it is specifically forbidden to do under the Constitution they were suppose to defend?
What should be more troubling to the American people is, with no assault capacity outside government controlled agents; military drones surveying the skies; militarized local police with a military that can and suspend their rights at will, if the US were to acquire a tyrannical government, who could, under the present circumstances, resist it?
Regardless the endless rhetoric about Kamikaze terrorists and pretense of escalating mayhem lurking behind the police barricade, America has been sold the understanding that the only way it can escape its preconceived notions about the ‘big scary’ global world beyond its borders is to tacitly relinquish, little by little, the remarkable vision its forbearers had of a place a man could live free and pursue his dreams. Today’s American people appear to have exchanged its promise of a dream life to a cage of oppression chained by the delusion of their fears.