Beware of dangerous rip currents that threaten our government

May 1, 2023 5:45 am

(Photo by JaveLin/iStock Images)

On an almost daily basis we are confronted with the choice of continuing to believe in the role, value and integrity of our government or conclude that it is irretrievably broken.

At a minimum we must seriously ask: Are we at risk of succumbing to what appears to be inherent and intransigent dishonesty and hypocrisy practiced in the institutions and by leaders we have come to rely on?

The recent revelations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted expensive gifts, lavish vacations and a property purchase, and that Neil Gorsuch had a real estate transaction with entities that had issues appearing before the court — and that they failed to report them — do not bolster our confidence.

Do you think that issues you care deeply about will get a fair hearing when brought before the Supreme Court? How confident are you that the court we consider to be the ultimate arbiter will uphold and be governed by the rule of law?

The public’s trust of the Supreme Court is at an all-time low.

The growing cynicism and mistrust of leaders and institutions at all levels of governance in our republic are transforming a less threatening undertow of apathy into a potentially dangerous rip current of deadly disregard.

As you know, a rip current — generally unnoticed — does not pull people under the water. It pulls people away from the shore. A drowning death occurs when the person no longer has the energy to continue to fight to get back to shore.

Are faithful, seasoned and concerned citizens growing tired and weary of trying to fight against those who are undermining the very fabric of our democratic republic?

Oceanographers will tell you that an undertow is most dangerous to children or inexperienced swimmers. Whereas, a rip current can exhaust and kill the most experienced swimmer when they have to constantly swim against the flow.

For decades, there has been concern about young people being disengaged and turned off by politics and the political process. They are more susceptible of being lost to the undertow of growing cynicism.

Today, unfortunately, this undercurrent of cynicism is not just among young people. Evidence abounds that it transcends age, sex, race, ethnicity and economic class.

But something more dangerous and more deadly is lurking: The rip current of total disregard.

The political undertow of apathy and cynicism claims another every time someone tunes out our democratic process. But the rip current of total disregard, if it claims too many, can lead us to a point of no return.

What do you feel Americans are up against when we look at the barrage of unethical, even illegal behavior of governmental officials and the institutional processes that fail to hold them accountable — at all levels?

We have seen it from the White House to the statehouse. From the county seat to the city council. From an appointed board to an elected board.

You can hardly look at any news outlet without learning of the latest transgression, proven or alleged, committed by someone who is supposed to be a protector of the public interest and a keeper of the public trust.

When we look at the pervasiveness of illegal behavior among our elected and appointed officials and the negative undertow and rip current it breeds, we must search our individual and collective souls to uncover the reasons why this problem seems to be worsening.

Does the blame lie solely with the perpetrators? Or must the blame be shared by us, the public, for our continual tolerance through our silence and lack of demonstrative steps that would clearly convey our outrage?

How can it be okay for Supreme Court Justices to accept expensive gifts, take lavish trips, enter into real estate deals and not be held accountable by the reporting requirements and ethical standards governing the behavior of an officer of the court?

How can any citizen — including a past president of the United States — not be required to abide by the laws of the land?

How can a member of Congress whose entire resume is a compilation of lies and misrepresentations, and whose behavior remains one bold face untruth after the other, still be allowed to serve?

One can look at what is going on in their state, city and county and find similar instances of threats to the integrity and foundation of our governing entities.

There are so many questions to grapple with when we see our elected or appointed officials consumed, and often dethroned, by scandal. How much of it is contrived by political enemies or opposing factions? How much is due to a character flaw, a lack of a moral center of strong ethical values, personal agendas and financial greed?

It is little wonder that public trust and confidence in our government and its leaders are at an all-time low at almost every level. How could anyone possibly expect citizens to stay engaged, and not succumb to the undertow of cynicism, or fall victim to the rip current of total disregard?

An experienced and knowledgeable swimmer knows that the rip current can be deadly; and it is wise to stay attentive during the swim, remaining close to the beach or near the shore.

But, like the good swimmer, we as concerned citizens must remain watchful and stay connected to the institutional government that defines us and our way of life.

We must be vigilant and fight to reclaim and preserve our system of government as we navigate and work on the imperfections.

The political undertow of apathy and cynicism claims another every time someone tunes out our democratic process.

But the rip current of total disregard, if it claims too many, can lead us to a point of no return.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Janice Ellis
Janice Ellis

Janice Ellis has lived and worked in Missouri for more than three decades, analyzing educational, political, social and economic issues across race, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status. Her commentary has appeared in The Kansas City Star, community newspapers, on radio and now online. She is the author of two award-winning books: From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream (2018) and Shaping Public Opinion: How Real Advocacy Journalism™ Should be Practiced (2021). Ellis holds a Ph.D. in communication arts, and two Master of Arts degrees, one in communications arts and a second in political science, all from the University of Wisconsin.