Public distrust in government leaders at every level is growing, and the events of the past week as America concluded the withdrawal of military troops from Afghanistan only heightens a general dissatisfaction that should concern us all.
Part of this dissatisfaction can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a recent report from the Peace Research Institute in Norway attests. Polling data from the report shows that, “In an already divided nation….COVID-19 is making the poor political situation even worse. …the burden the coronavirus is placing on society is driving more people to act violently at protests as well as creating even more antigovernment sentiment worldwide.”
This report only touches on one aspect of the general discomfort that the nation is now experiencing. There is an even greater cause and that is lack of thoughtful leadership present in our government and its agencies.
National leaders have become so partisan that they ignore the impacts of their decisions on their constituents or the long term ramifications of their decision as exemplified in the growing national debt which is now ballooning to $29 trillion and growing.
The public dissatisfaction is now present in local government as well. In certain communities local school board members have resigned, fearing personal harm resulting from the contentious environment in board meetings involving mask mandates, vaccine requirements and curriculum changes such as Critical Race Theory. This is a good example of the trickle-down effect of bad government leadership at every level.
The continuing erosion of trust in government leaders was heightened by recent events of the past few weeks as the nation watched in horror as President Biden unilaterally pulled out of Afghanistan without any consideration of our allies or the long term impact of his decision.
The desire to exit that conflict was never in question. Well over 80% of the nation supported that goal, but not the way it was implemented by the president and his administration. Now that withdrawal is complete the country is left with a feeling that something is amiss - there is no comfort that all American citizens and Afghan allies have been allowed to leave, and there is no understanding what to expect going forward.
Adding to this event on top of an already chaotic international scene with growing disputes with China, Russia and various Middle East countries, along with economic impacts of the worldwide pandemic, there is an obvious need for aggressive and confident leadership that has yet to appear in the Biden administration.
The current circumstances bring to mind a similar situation the country faced in 1976 during President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Then as now, the country was struggling with a failed withdrawal from another seemingly “endless war” - Viet Nam. At the same time the nation’s economy struggled with a new industrialized world and dependence on foreign oil that resulted in cars lining up for miles at gas stations across the country as the oil cartels reduced the flow of oil worldwide. The result of these combined events was a general dissatisfaction with the nation’s direction or malaise that became President Carter’s legacy.
President Carter, hoping to reinvigorate the nation’s “soul,” addressed the nation with a speech entitled, “Energy and the National Goals- A Crisis of Confidence,” which soon became his signature “malaise speech.”
In that speech he noted that the nation, in his opinion, was facing a crisis in confidence that he said was nearly invisible “in ordinary ways” and that it was debilitating the “very soul” of the nation.
“Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom; and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.”
The words President Carter spoke in that July 1979 speech could, with just a few editing notes, be given today by President Biden.
Unless there is a radical change in leadership from the current administration that shows a better understanding of the impacts of its decisions we can expect a repeat of the Carter years and a similar national malaise in the remaining three-year term of President Joe Biden. If there is no immediate change, then efforts should begin now to seek out political leaders who will think from a holistic approach, willing to unite the nation rather than divide it for partisan benefit.