The Coin of the Realm
By Lee H. Hamilton
Debate in Congress has always been contentious. I can remember times on Capitol Hill when "debate" was actually more of a screaming match than a civil discussion. Back then, we had a colleague who stepped forward at these times to remind each side that if we wanted to get anything done - rather than just shout at each other for the cameras - we had to have a measure of trust in one another. He was right.
Representative government depends on trust. It depends on trust among policy-makers in Congress, and on popular trust in the people who make decisions on Capitol Hill and in the White House. It depends on trust in those who are charged with implementing those laws. And it requires trust in the institutions in which those decisions are produced and implemented.
Trust really is the coin of the realm. If there's nothing but cynicism, deep suspicion, and lack of confidence in the system, it cannot work.
Think about it from the point of view of ordinary citizens. We have to believe that our voices will be heard, listened to, and taken into consideration in the halls of power. Which is why it is so damaging when government acts in ways that diminish trust. If you feel that government is just helping corporations and rich people, you lose confidence in the system. And government has to be able to deliver the goods, the services, the protections that people expect.
The same with our elected representatives. We have to believe they will, in fact, level with us rather than present half-truths and distortions, and will act in our interests. If they can't show they're able to function according to the rules, traditions and norms that we expect, if they are unable to acknowledge the facts, if they cannot rise above division and gridlock and negotiate to get things done, then we lose faith.
There is no doubt that my colleague was right. If the various levels of government don't enjoy the trust of the people, then representative democracy doesn't work. Which is why the low levels of trust we see in the United States today are so worrisome. How far down this road can we go before we lose the ability to function effectively as a democracy?
Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar of the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.
Letter to the Editor
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
During the past six weeks I have visited every neighborhood in Tower, most homes and businesses, and I believe, spoken with at least half of Tower's residents, if not more. As a somewhat reserved Scandinavian I've come to realize that there must be a little bit of political blood in my veins after all, in spite of what I have always thought and said. Visits to homes and doorstep greetings, and some living-room talks, with Tower residents was extremely energizing, interesting and entertaining. I learned how much the people of Tower care for our small historic town, their appreciation for simple, smalltown living, quality of life and the beautiful nature that surrounds us. I was reminded how much interacting with people means to me - that's the bit of political blood that I found in me.
I also learned about citizen concerns, many of which were expressed in direct and serious language that emphasized issues of importance for the entire town and surrounding areas. The typical concerns of streets, sidewalks, safety issues and blight were mentioned, but also more serious issues, like that of taxes, economic development, city government transparency and fiscal responsibility that came out loud and clear. I won't forget those conversations and concerns and I intend to have many more of them.
I am extremely grateful to the citizens of Tower for empowering the City Council with bringing the long-time experience of former Tower Mayor, Steve Abrahamson and the wisdom of new Tower resident Rachel Beldo with a fresh perspective of Tower, as colleagues on the Council.
As many of you know, I use the word, "Vision" often. All of us have a personal vision for ourselves, for our families, for our places of work, and for our communities. It's not unlike faith in many ways. Our vision shows us the way; we believe in the path that we must follow for the vision to become reality; and we act accordingly to follow that path.
I want to thank my wife Marit, my teammate, in all I do. We made the decision of my candidacy for Mayor of Tower together. We are both civic activists and volunteers and have always contributed our time and talents in the communities in which we have lived. A few years ago, we chose Tower as the place where we wanted to live, contribute, and to enjoy the company of the many friends that we knew we would make here. Our "vision" lies with Tower's sustainable future, and our legacy will be to have shared our common vision and values with you! The journey begins this coming January and success will come over the next four years. We look forward to working with you!
Mayor-elect. Tower, Minnesota