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In a country such as ours, good government has to start at the bottom and work its way up. If we look from the top down, we will always be disappointed.
The last quarter-century of American politics has shown this more than ever. Instead of effective, bipartisan leadership in Washington, all we have seen is ineffective finger-pointing and short-term solutions applied as Band-Aids to long-term problems. The only thing that united our elected officials in the nation’s capital was the 9/11 tragedy, 19 years ago — and even that didn’t last for long.
For many, it’s all come to a head with the COVID-19 pandemic and how the country has seen roughly 1.9 million known cases so far. Both sides are looking for someone to blame. The Democrats say it was an inefficient response by the Trump administration. Trump and those in the government with him have blamed China, the source of the virus, for not being forthcoming, and said the failed impeachment attempt early this year interfered with the executive branch’s response to COVID-19. Both sides are trying to politicize a health crisis that has killed more than 108,000 people in this country.
In truth, both sides have valid points. It was probably inevitable that in the country that’s the center of world commerce and its single largest economy by far, that COVID-19 was going to take a severe toll. People came in and out of the country for weeks before the seriousness of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was fully understood. Some scientists believe it was in the country for quite some time before it was recognized. The national government could have been more organized and decisive in its response. China could have been more forthcoming about the outbreak, sooner than it was.
However, rather than point fingers about things that cannot done over now, both parties could sit down and spend their time formulating plans to better manage the crisis going forward.
But there’s a more important factor that isn’t spoken about enough, which is that the American people accept these failures of leadership. Neither side holds its alleged leaders in Washington truly accountable.
The national government makes fumbling, ineffective responses to natural disasters on a regular basis. Anyone remember Hurricane Katrina? That was the worst example, but there have been many others. It also messes up things in other countries, such as the disastrous interference in a whole slew of foreign nations. We can start with Iraq, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine, and that’s just some of them in the last 20 years. The government fails to maintain adequate national infrastructure or address any of the important issues of the new century despite running trillion-dollar deficits. We don’t have a coherent foreign policy for dealing with potential rivals who have risen since the end of the Cold War. Our roads are crumbling, our communications systems are outdated, and on the manufacturing front, we lacked the ability to even rapidly ramp up production of much-needed medical equipment when the coronavirus began running rampant.
We have been failed by our leadership. The Republicans have failed and so have the Democrats. In the past couple of months, I’ve seen columns from professed conservatives encouraging people to vote for the Democrats in November. Why? Six years ago, when millions of working Americans (including myself) lost their health insurance and were forced to buy inferior “Obamacare” plans, the Republicans told us to vote for them and they would fix it.
We did. For a time, the GOP held the White House and both houses of Congress. Our health care hasn’t gotten any better. Each side blames the other. In truth, they both get an “F.”
The problem isn’t what the national committees of both parties want you to believe; namely, “their party is wrong, and our party is right.” The problem is neither party is truly held accountable by the people, and due to the nature of our electoral system, it’s hard for the people to do this. But what they can do is hold their own senators and representatives accountable, along with their state officials.
We can flood their offices, insisting that positive action be taken. We can demand transparency in government, and we can demand they listen to us. We’ve seen some of that right here in the Old North State. Thousands of people rallied to get their churches reopened, demanding their First Amendment right to freedom of religion and for the right to safely and responsibly return to their places of worship. The groundswell brought about the lifting of more restrictions a few days later, which is something the governor’s office had said was unlikely just a week prior.
Our country is often called a democracy, but in truth, it is a federal republic — a nation-state where many powers of government are devolved to the individual states, because they can better serve the needs of their people than a one-size-fits-all national government in a large nation. We use this model, and so do many other large countries like Mexico, Brazil, India, Germany and Russia. It works best when people can rely on their local leaders to get things done, and when they hold them accountable if they fail.
So stay on top of your state leaders, who live and work among you, and hold the feet of your U.S. senators and representatives to the fire. No matter if you’re conservative, liberal or somewhere in between, remind all elected officials constantly that they work for North Carolina — not for the DNC or the RNC.
We’re a high-population swing state; they have to listen if we send a strong message. We can make things better at home and we can influence the country as a whole. If our elected officials fail to get things done, go to the polls and fire them. Rinse, lather, and repeat until they get the message.
For the past 127 years, our state’s motto has been esse quam videri, Latin for “to be, rather than to seem.” Let’s be the change we want to see, and which our state and our nation deserve.
John Cate writes for North State Solutions following a 27-year career as a print journalist in North Carolina.