By Paul Fisk
I believe that there are many people who take pride in their public service.
John F. Kennedy’s admonition to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” was still fresh in our national consciousness when I chose a college major in political science and a field of graduate study in public administration. Public service was considered an honorable endeavor and hopes were high for a more just and equitable society.
After a 40-year career in which I’ve worked with innumerable dedicated professionals and in many different political, appointive and civil service roles, I still believe in those things. I’ve seen the seamier sides of politics, examples of inept governance, and reasons why “state worker” is a pejorative to some, but the positive aspects have outweighed the negative.
I trust I’m not alone in maintaining some pride in the profession. That has made it all the more disheartening to see how low we’ve sunk on a national level.
We now have a president whose only concept of public service is “What’s in it for me?” and a Republican Party convinced it must lie, cheat and steal to maintain minority rule. This is the result of decades of behind-the-scenes conservative strategizing to win control of state legislatures, gerrymander districts, suppress voting, promote racial animus, deny judicial appointments to Democratic presidents and gain ideological control of the federal judiciary in order to preserve power and enhance the wealth of the already obscenely wealthy. The U.S. Senate has ceased to function as a legislative body, only deigning to push through some questionably qualified ultraconservative judicial candidates, all at terrible cost to our democracy.
Our governments exist to perform critical functions that citizens or commercial organizations cannot perform by themselves. We rely on governments to defend us against outside aggression, ensure public safety, protect our air and water, ensure our food and medicines are safe, promote the general welfare, provide education for all and generally protect us from the inevitable excesses of unbridled greed. We expect these things to be done fairly, ethically and competently, particularly in emergencies.
Donald Trump brought to the presidency absolutely no understanding of, or belief in, the concept of public service. He appointed to top positions the unsuited, incompetent and conflicted. He then systematically weeded out those not personally loyal to him above all. Appointees were often openly opposed to the very purposes of the agencies they were to head, or they came from or lobbied for the very interests they were supposed to regulate.
Much of this was the result of the Reagan-era dogma that “government is the problem” (so there’s no point in trying to efficiently and effectively run organizations that should not exist in the first place). Corruption replaced competence as “leaders” with no sense of public ethics or service were allowed to run amok. Scientists and those committed to ensuring ethical conduct were cast aside and vilified. The Justice Department became the personal arm of Individual One to reward friends and persecute enemies, all under the guidance of his Consigliere General.
Then government failed us tragically by spreading fatal disinformation about the pandemic, largely ignoring the economic distress of millions and denying the existential climate threat facing us. Thousands died needlessly and millions face financial ruin, even homelessness, from the ignorance and arrogance of the administration.
Public servants and other citizens should understand and be incensed by this abdication of responsibility and rejection of our finest public traditions and better angels. Vote accordingly, to reverse these affronts to our democracy.
A couple end notes from Ken Kruly
Go to Investigative Post’s website for the latest post of “Money in Politics.” Just for this week we are focusing on voter turnout numbers rather than dollars. You can also click on our latest podcast about the topic of the week. You can reach the site here. https://www.investigativepost.org/
On Election night tune in to WBFO (88.7 FM) for election analysis. I’ll be joining News Director Dave Debo and Warren Galloway as we review the returns beginning at 9 p.m.