Restoring faith in government starts with attitude change

The guest speaker at last week’s Pennsylvania Economy League meeting here, David Thornburgh, CEO of the Committee of Seventy in Philadelphia, addressed an appropriate topic – political polarization. In a presidential election season stamped with ugliness at every turn, Thornburgh’s observations were instructive. He said it’s hard to get millenials to come on board and have faith in our political process when they have no experience in their lifetime of collaboration in their government. It’s equally hard to expect them to be active participants in government when 50 percent of them are independent and the state’s primary election system is closed, shutting them out of voting. A good place to start in restoring trust might be to take Thornburgh’s suggestion and make Pennsylvania’s primaries open elections, meaning registered independents – 43 percent of the electorate – can participate. In this age of increasingly independent voting numbers, the closed primary strikes us as archaic. But actions by elected officials create or destroy the willingness of regular people to participate in the democracy. While political divisions are part of our system, how those divisions are handled publicly creates our image of government. Right now, that image is quite ugly and depressing, leaving people to throw up their hands and wonder whether it matters who is elected. But it does matter. With all our divisions and warts, we still are part of the greatest democracy ever created. Difficult as it may be, people need to have some faith in a system that has stood the test of time over almost two and a half centuries. But the stewards of that system – elected officials – have to start conducting business in a way that illustrates what the founders had in mind. Too often these days, elected officials promote negative attitudes about the system they oversee by resolting to the politics of ugly power grabs rather than the productive exchanging of ideas with an open mind. An attitude change by them would help.