Good Government

In Stories by Alex Harris

Ours is a republican form of government. We elect individuals to lead and represent, to identify, study and respond to opportunities and threats, to make judgments in the public interest. We do not demand that officials to follow the daily whims of public opinion. Rather, we expect them to employ sound reasoning and the special access to information and expertise accorded to their offices in order to make enlightened decisions that maximize the common good consistent with law and individual rights.

To benefit the public interest, republican authority must operate in accord with tenets of good government: transparency, disclosure, credibility, honesty, oversight, accountability, and humility. Presently, these tenets are being disregarded by our national government. The Trump Administration’s disdain for such norms is well documented, but the Republican-majority Congress’s complicity is less widely known.

Despite evidence of potential self-dealing and exploitation of office for personal gain, the Republican Congress has refused to inquire into the financial affairs of Trump Administration officials, reversing decades of regular practice (even where no evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing existed). Rather than execute its duty to oversee of the Trump Administration, the Republican leadership has diligently worked to shield it. Representative Devin Nunes, chair of the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, with the apparent blessing of Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, has engaged in a series of classified leaks, deceptive misrepresentations, and groundless attacks on law enforcement and intelligence agencies in order to protect Administration personnel, rather than oversee and enforce accountability.

Congress’s refusal to engage in meaningful oversight of the Administration is but one aspect of its perfidy. Throughout 2017, Republicans repeatedly attempted to ram through bills to gut the Affordable Care Act without holding a single hearing, without allowing time for the bills to be graded by the Congressional Budget Office, and sometimes with only hours between the time the secretly written bills were distributed until the vote was called. In public statements, Republican leadership repeatedly made transparently false claims about current conditions and the content and effects of the bills. Similarly, the recently enacted GOP tax law was written in secret, passed through committees with no real hearings, debate, or opportunities for amendments, and accompanied by bald untruths about its content and impacts.

Public officials of all parties “spin” and often extend members of their own party greater benefit of the doubt than they extend to members of other parties. But nothing of this scale or scope has occurred in living memory, not even during Watergate. The great fear is this pattern of dysfunction and disregard for democratic tenets will become a “new normal,” perhaps infecting state and local governments as well.

To guard against this danger, it is imperative that each citizen demand that elected officials of every party and at every level — federal, state and local — rigorously conform to the tenets of good government: transparency, disclosure, credibility, honesty, oversight, accountability, and humility.

The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.