Trust of government is in precious short supply here. Such a toxic situation — however well-justified — cannot endure. Not if we want our metropolis in this present day to measure up to its historic achievements.
Metro Atlanta’s future as a place that makes big things happen hangs to a great degree on whether we can power past the mistrust and anger that has descended upon this place, and the entire nation.
The rest of America may have trouble doing so, but we’re confident our Atlanta is more than up to the momentous task of claiming the present problems and working through them toward a better day.
To continue on, mired in the current community mindset, should not be an option. How can it be when a new poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that six in 10 respondents believe that “not very many” or “hardly any” government officials are honest?
A similar majority believes that our government wastes “a lot” of money.
That’s a double tragedy, and demands change in the halls of politics. If that happens, the people will respond accordingly.
The AJC poll’s findings are not surprising. In fact, they’re consistent with election results from July 31, when the hard-won, long-in-coming transportation referendum was buried by a nearly 2-to-1 margin as groups ranging from the tea party to the transit-friendly Sierra Club of Georgia united in pushing for its defeat.
The widespread message of mistrust of government has been decisively voiced and plainly heard.
That’s where we stand now.
We can’t stay here. We have to move on – and move ahead. Tough work that, but we’ve got to do it.
Doing so requires two very important, broad things to happen. First, our politicians and all other government workers must start behaving as though they’ve taken heed of taxpayers’ plain message. And that, really, will be the easy part.
The second, critical step in our view calls for each of us to examine ourselves and embrace a new civic posture. Metro Atlantans should productively build upon anger at government.
Righteous citizen indignation is powerful, true. But miscontent alone can’t push us toward positive fixes and effective resolution of problems, we believe.
Battling political leaders to a civic standstill on big issues, as happened in the T-SPLOST’s drubbing, may feel good, but it doesn’t at all work for our town’s benefit in a dynamic, free-market economy. Stasis fuels stagnation, then decline, marked by a dying-off of investment, jobs and prosperity.
Yes, it is tempting to oppose civic initiatives — especially ones with big pricetags — in a time when too many of our elected leaders too often seem primarily devoted to the pursuit of corruption, incompetence, buffoonery or all three.
It’s hard to think differently when some pols seem caught in endless bickering or bureaucratic inaction that leaves jails without functioning locks and voters without reasonable assurances that their ballots counted — or were counted.
Ditto for Gold Dome politicians clinging stubbornly to a sky-is-the-limit cap on gifts lavished their way, even as important legislative work remains undone, or haphazardly done, year after year. And don’t forget the long caravan of politicians whose antics have landed them in prison cells.
All of which is profoundly discouraging.
What is exciting, and encouraging, is that We the People still intuitively know what needs to be done around here. The AJC’s poll clearly points out that metro Atlantans understand well our worst problems.
More importantly, they know that effective fixes will cost money and they’re willing to pony up — if our politicians and bureaucrats will but prove themselves as up to the task and worthy of voter trust.
Two-thirds of people polled said they would be willing to pay a new fee or tax to “help reduce traffic congestion in the Atlanta region overall.”
Seventy percent of adults polled even supported funding to expand rail transit service beyond the current two-county system.
So much for anti-transit antipathy. More than three in four respondents said they’d be willing to pay new costs to improve educational quality here.
That metro Atlantans indicate they’re willing to invest to move us ahead may seem surprising. Not to us. We believe it’s in our DNA.
Consider these words of Henry Grady, from the time of a pivotal election in the 1880s: “Atlanta is built in the heart of a united people. Her glory is the comradeship of her sons. Her boast and her strength has been that her name has had the power to fuse all factions, bury all differences, silence all bickerings. To this, more than to all other things combined, she owes her greatness.”
That sums up the powerful civic spirit that led us to greatness. It can do so again if we reclaim it once more.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.