"Government," Barney Frank used to say when he was a member of Congress, "is the word for the things we do together."
We hope the former Democratic lawmaker from Massachusetts took a break from his banking job to see what's been going on in the Houston area since Hurricane Harvey hit.
Did he note the "Cajun Navy," an armada of fishing boats that came in from the Louisiana Bayou to help stranded Houstonians? This, it turns out, was the norm. In the Meyerland neighborhood, a Houston Chronicle photojournalist spotted teenage boys who spent Sunday in their boat picking up stranded residents.
Houston police received so many offers from citizens with boats that they were unable to field and respond to all the calls.
One furniture store made itself a shelter, announcing, "Gallery Furniture is welcoming Houstonians in need of shelter from rising flood waters to the location off I-45 North between Tidwell and Parker. Gallery Furniture is stocked with food, water, plenty of mattresses and looks forward to keeping their neighbors safe from the storm."
When the local ABC News reported a list of shelters, it included eight churches.
These stories, and hundreds of others like them, are what we expect in America. The literal "first responders" in any situation will always be neighbors or other Good Samaritans who happen to be in the right place at the right time, with the right attitude. This was true on Sept. 11; it was coworkers who carried wheelchair-bound office-mates down dozens of flights of stairs. And it was ordinary men armed only with an instantly formed camaraderie and the Lord's Prayer who brought down the terrorist-hijacked plane flying toward the U.S. Capitol with the intention of crashing into it.
You cannot have police or rescue personnel on every corner awaiting every disaster. Government simply cannot fully prepare for every emergency. Civil society, as a whole, can provide a safety net far more comprehensive than any government can.
Government, including the state and federal government, will properly play a large role in aiding with the flood disaster in Texas. Central government can bring in the most money, the biggest tankers, the most trucks. Federal agencies have also acquired expertise by handling hurricane flooding everywhere from Galveston to New England.
But the federal role will always be anterior, in time and in moral importance, to the local, voluntary, individual efforts.
That is, American Greatness is explicitly not a government program. It is the freest people on Earth giving their time and resources and risking their safety, to help neighbors, including neighbors from hundreds of miles away whom they have never met. May it ever be so.