Government is the system or group of people that rules an organized community, usually a nation. Governments set the rules for everyday life for their citizens and protect them from outside interference. They also provide social programs to help people live better. These services are not always popular, especially when they increase the cost of living or reduce a person’s sense of responsibility for their own welfare.
In the United States, our government is called a representative democracy. This means that a group of people—the legislature—is elected to make laws for the whole country. In our case, the legislative branch is Congress. Congress consists of two parts: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House has 435 voting members—one for each state, plus one for Washington, D.C. The number of representatives changes every 10 years to reflect population growth. The Senate has 100 members—two from each state, with the exception of Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. The number of senators also changes every 10 years, based on population growth.
Congress makes laws and the President, in the executive branch, carries them out. The Judicial Branch makes sure that laws and how they are enforced are in accordance with the Constitution. The framers of our Constitution knew that making any of the branches too powerful would lead to big problems, so they designed a system where each branch could check the power of the other branches—like referees in a game. This is called the system of checks and balances.
At the local level, city councils govern cities and towns. They oversee budgeting for civic functions and projects; develop and pass city ordinances; and provide recreational, educational, and social services. They are a part of the legislative branch, along with the mayor. The judicial branch of local government is the municipal court system, which hears cases for low-level violations, such as traffic tickets. If a case involves a violation of state law, the cases may be escalated to higher-level districts, circuit courts, or the state Supreme Court.
Many Americans believe that a large part of the role of Federal government is to protect the rights of all people. This includes ensuring that everyone has access to common goods such as education, firefighting services, and the natural environment. This is why there is debate over whether the federal government should manage some areas of the economy, including providing health insurance and paying for public works such as roads and schools.
Some people are against the idea of government running these services because they think that it will take away our sense of responsibility for our own well being. However, others believe that it is the right and duty of governments to protect their citizens and make their lives easier. The debate over this issue is likely to continue for some time. In the meantime, we need to understand how different forms of government work, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.