By Jim Kempton
The crises facing our town are in some ways a microcosm of the nation, and in other ways, the polar opposite. We are experiencing an opioid epidemic, a challenge to find good jobs and a serious and worrisome erosion of our coastline. On the other hand, we are blessed with excellent schools, a robust and trusted local press, and perhaps most positive of all, a solid, respected social leadership structure.
I’ve known most of the past leaders of our City Council, municipal administration and civic organizations. The vast majority have been truly fine people who have struggled to do their best to better the lives of citizens.
There have been a few outliers. At least a couple of churches have had scandals similar to the Jimmy Swaggart and Tammy Baker type. And a few of our own past local politicians have misled the public.
But on a national level today, we are seeing an attack on the very foundations of our social order. It should not be surprising when leaders fall short or humans misbehave, but in past times—when caught red-handed—people at least felt remorse, and in general, were dismissed by their peers who knew wrong when they saw it.
At the moment, that sense of shame seems to be missing. Leaders deny their bad deeds by attacking the victims or claiming the evidence as fake, as if to turn logic on its head. Their supporters point fingers at others (“whataboutism”) using deflection to make misconduct seem acceptable. The most appalling current defense strategy is to hide behind the refuge of patriotism or excuse vile behavior with biblical allegories. For anyone who is trying to teach their children to be good citizens and good humans, this distortion of moral reality is almost debilitating.
As leaders are held to a higher standard, this elevated expectation is exactly what should qualify them to take these positions of power. So let us make a pledge: that those who aspire to lead our city will think first of their residents, then their nation and lastly of themselves. We can debate differences of policy, variation in vision, or order of priorities. That is what a democratic republic is designed to do, and our founder’s created one that has been as balanced and resilient as any in human history. But we cannot accept a dismissal of the facts.
For those who would defend a leader whose actions have produced evidence of lies and wrongdoing, it demeans our society by normalizing it. Although never quite like today, over our lifetime, both parties and both houses of government have occasionally been lax with the facts. And the few mistakes our own town has made were from accepting the same kind of misinformation.
They say all politics is local. If that axiom is correct, we should set an example for everyone right here at home.
Jim Kempton is a surfer and writer in Orange County. He hopes that with so many things coming back in vogue, common-sense-ethical behavior will someday be one of them.