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  • Last modified 63 days ago (March 21, 2024)

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Pondering ideas
both noble and Nobel

As hellacious as making two flights to and from Washington in six days was last week, the fruits of those flights were heavenly.

Particularly pleasing was an opportunity a week ago today to spend time with 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa.

A diminutive figure at barely five feet tall, she is, as the United Kingdom’s Guardian describes her, a moral giant who possesses none of the aloofness or self-importance one might expect from a Nobel laureate.

Like me, she believes that the polarizing impact of social media and the hidden ways in which mega-corporations profit off our privacy play a leading role in the challenges democracy faces worldwide.

Moving from dining with her to listening to State Representative Scott Hill talk Sunday to members of the local Patriots for Liberty group and then to attending a city council meeting Monday in Marion was quite a transition.

Among the Patriots, you find a sense that government no longer is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Hill didn’t come right out and say it, but his references were clear when he noted how Kansas has among the nation’s largest number of government employees per resident and how reforming local education and presumably local government is so difficult because so many local residents derive their livelihood working for them.

A day later, we saw those difficulties play out when the city council once again met, admirably without any rancor but also without any meaningful discussion of keeping government spending and priorities under the direction of elected officials rather than staff and consultants.

A question about an expenditure equivalent to more than eight mills on tax bills was brushed off with the assertion that it had been included in the city’s budget even though no meaningful discussion of that budget ever occurred at the council level.

One council member rightly questioned a second consecutive appearance of thousands of dollars in clothing expenses but did not press the issue when told it was for a particular department.

Priorities for street repair, which elected officials always used to weigh in on, also seemed relegated to be determined by staff and consultants.

Yes, the session ran much more smoothly than did council sessions under previous regimes, but the sense of whether spending and priorities were under the control of people elected to oversee them was missing. And with it was the sense among average citizens that they — or, at least, their elected representatives — had a voice in how their tax money was being spent.

It’s that sense of powerlessness, compounded in the echo chambers of social media, that creates the type of disenchantment with the current state of government represented in Patriots meetings and that drive voters to champion candidates like former President Donald Trump who give at least the appearance of battling “the system.”

The so-called deep-state swamp that so many people want to drain isn’t confined to inside the Beltway. Well-intentioned people wanting to keep our community firmly rooted in Pleasantville allow it to flourish locally, as well. That’s how things like last summer’s raid on the newspaper get started. When we surrender power to bureaucrats, we may make government seem to run smoothly, but we can only hope that they don’t, as Ressa’s did, prove more malevolent than benevolent.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified March 21, 2024

 

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