In Praise of Negativity – and Democracy

At long last, it has come to this one, simple question:

Do we even want to do this anymore?

I’ve watched the norms of American democracy recede during my lifetime, no more so than over the past four years, and the past few days in particular. I’ve seen the erosion of democratic and republican norms that threaten the stability of everything this country has built over the course of the past 250 years. 

Among those ideals, embodied in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is freedom of speech, which evolved into the long-revered American freedom of thought, which very necessarily involves differences from one another about our way of thinking.  We are granted, by right, the freedom to express our own opinion and, when the mood strikes, to levy harsh criticism of those who would govern us.

That is America.  Love it or leave it.

It is for this reason that I find the current pro-authoritarian, anti-contrarian, anti-intellectual, only-kindness-matters zeitgeist to be exactly the sort of HallmarkTV complete and utter BS that ought to be slapped silly.

It isn’t just your obligation to speak up in the face of government malfeasance, it is frankly unAmerican not to do so.  Even when we’re talking about our own friends and neighbors locally. Unpleasant as it may be, the same principles of accountability apply on our decidedly small stage as they do on larger ones.

Recently, lawyers for Jared and Ivanka Trump threatened to sue the center-right Lincoln Project over, correctly, running prominent advertisements tying the Wonder Couple to certain, cruel Trump administration policies that might subject their victims to death, but more importantly would subject other beautiful people to scorn amongst polite society.  Offended, the wealthy couple did what most wealthy couples do when offended.  They threatened to sue.

The Lincoln Project was having none of it.

Writing in response to the Beautiful Couple’s lawyers, the Lincoln Project lawyers noted that, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, basic American democracy involves a “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

The Lincoln Project further quoted U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (no snowflake) who wrote that “[t]he sort of robust political debate encouraged by the First Amendment is bound to produce speech that is critical of those who hold public office.”

So, I ask you all – when you complain that local politics is too negative… when I call for accountability… when I levy the most professional criticism upon a public servant… are you American, or not?  Are you committed to the principles upon which this country was founded?  Or are you just here to wave a flag?  Because if it’s the latter, just go home, you sap.

The beef lately is that there is so much local criticism that it is actually producing change.  To which I say: good.  That’s the idea.

Recently, there was change in the Town Administrator’s office.  Good.  That’s how democracy works.  There was an election and the people elected made changes.  Since July, we secured a Fire Chief (which we didn’t have at the time we took action), a Fire Inspector (who was on his way out the door), stopped low-balling other fire inspector candidates, turned a Town Accountant vacancy that existed since March into a Town Finance Director position, and the Assistant Town Administrator position into a Communications Director position (saving you money in the long and short term).

Just tonight, we discovered certain healthcare reimbursement accounts were underfunded, and then discovered that our capital stabilization fund hadn’t been appropriately accounted for.  How did we discover this?  We made a change and brought in the right guy at the right time.  Wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Last month, some of us rightly questioned the idea of having a Fall Town Meeting indoors.  At the time the justification for the proposal was that Grafton was a “low risk” Covid community.  But, as critics pointed out, that was only true because we didn’t have things like large in-door gatherings.  The Town Moderator resigned in a huff and the narrative around town was that those who questioned him were just too gosh darn mean for questioning (questioning!) his decidedly bad idea. Three weeks later, look at the Covid numbers.  Did we make the right call?  Yes.  We did.  Is that good government?  Holy shit, yes.

Did all of this happen because we’re geniuses?  No! Of course not!  You wouldn’t trust most of us with a goddamn go-cart and a potato cannon.  We’re good because we’re on the ball and we’re on the ball because you demand it.

Never, ever stop demanding it.

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