Does the federal government’s “inexorable bloat” make it a clear and present danger to the American people?” That is a question for public safety as well as a question for politics in America, writes Dan Henninger in the WSJ.
The number of catastrophic events attributable in no small part to federal-agency failure in recent years is staggering. Missed signals at some level of the federal government or other public agencies preceded mass shootings:
- Sutherland Springs, Texas (25 killed)
- Charleston (nine killed)
- Orlando nightclub (49)
- Fort Hood (13)
- San Bernardino (14)
- Boston Marathon bombing (3 killed; multiple severed limbs)
The creation of the Department of Homeland Security is a case study of the Do Something Syndrome, continues Henninger. It is responsible for monitoring terrorism, ensuring the safety of more than 825 million annual passengers in U.S. airports, and controlling the flow of immigrants into and around the U.S. “Does the phrase “falling through the cracks” come to mind?”
One verity now of “our democracy” is that any effort to enhance the possibility, say, of early intervention with the mentally ill or even would-be terrorists will have to run through a matrix of pre-existing legal, cultural and political constraints. The legal and mental-health activists opposed to civil commitment of disturbed persons make the National Rifle Association look like Little Bo-Peep. Suggesting out loud a predictive link between terrorism and radical Islam will draw condemnation by superiors.
The developing theme here is bigness. And whether the modern unavoidability of bigness means we must be its inevitable victims. Scholars who study organizations have a name for the odds of catastrophic error in large, complex systems. It’s called “normal accident theory.”
Our federal bureaucracies are not the only ones capable of producing unintended catastrophic events on a grand scale. Facebook, Google and Twitter are epic machines, which, like the always-on Web, have “liberated the world’s previously closeted fanatics and helped turn borderline psychotics and terrorists into up-and-running threats.”
Read more from Dan Henninger here.