All of us contribute to and participate in society and politics in different ways and through different channels -- most of us anyway. Some stay on the sidelines and don't want to be involved.
Much of the polarization that has characterized this current unprecedented era is driven by anti-government sentiments among a significant segment of those who are politically active and who implicitly suggest that those working within government are preoccupied with protecting their own interests, including the next election cycle. Yet, those checkpoints provide constitutional and institutional guidelines and road maps for traveling within our composite society and beyond.
We have witnessed intensified efforts to distort the role of government and to disdain those dedicated public servants who are dutifully carrying out their responsibilities, unlike President Trump, who abdicated his most significant duties. So, this is a crossroads moment, a time for examining and reflecting upon where we are going and where we should be going. What, for example, about the role of political parties? There have long been questions as to the place of parties and to what extent they have or should have a major role in the electoral-campaign process.
The beginning and ending of years are appropriate times to consider the ongoing effects of the political parties, especially the future of the Republican Party if Trump maintains his hold on the party where he has established himself as a golf-course walking, "fake news" talking, and rumor-mongering leader. Trump also insisted that the number of virus cases is being exaggerated by public health officials – a claim leading to disbelief and anger among those who lost family members and friends to the virus.
With no real grounds or legitimacy, Trump has continued his campaign to overturn the presidential election results.
And, as noted, we have seen the rise of an anti-government movement, spurred in particular by Trump. Though it is sometimes exaggerated, elements of this effort are creeping beyond the fringe and Trump has relied on his base support in his disruptive and terribly destructive campaign.
Having known, and in some cases, worked with many government career professionals or those from public agencies over the years, I could cite many examples of impressive performances.
You may have heard of a movement or small group called Deep State. This involves one of the better-known conspiracy theories, supposedly a secret network -- although there are differing versions of how it worked. Candidate Trump frequently pointed to Deep State as public officials running or influencing government through secret manipulation or control of government actions or policies, mostly with no or little evidence to substantiate the claims.
I am reminded of some of the dedicated individuals who were deservedly, if belatedly, honored for their exemplary public service. When you hear of someone being called larger than life, it might best apply to Allen "Tex" Harris. Our families became friends when Tex was a law student at Texas and I was teaching at the University of Texas' LBJ School of Public Affairs and realized we had strong mutual interests. He went on to a distinguished career as a foreign service officer, serving at several important posts overseas as well as positions within the U.S.
Tex was a gregarious giant of a man and a basketball player in earlier days. He was a mentor to friends, family and former students. When assigned to Argentina during the period known as Argentina's "dirty war," Tex took it upon himself to confront the right-wing military dictatorship there and to investigate and expose the extensive human rights violations -- which the U.S. government had often tolerated. He was a courageous advocate and his service also included notable time in South Africa as that country was moving away from Apartheid. This personable diplomat represented the best in American values and principles. There was never a shortage of matters for discussion if Tex was around.
After Tex died last year, a panel discussion, "Paying Tribute to Tex Harris," recognized Tex's extraordinary efforts in Argentina and elsewhere and his leadership in upholding and protecting the status of career foreign service officers. Most of those participating in the panel had worked alongside Harris in the face of physical threats. It was apparent that he was held in high regard by his colleagues as well as those in other countries who considered him a champion of human rights. He made a doggedly persistent effort to help those seeking news about the thousands of those who had "disappeared" in Argentina.
Many of us who were friends of Tex had long received a steady stream of online communication from him -- with valued information and keen insight, and, in my case, sometimes comments that were mindful of the dissent he could wield so effectively.
Finally, as we consider the beginning and ending of years, I want to make note of the richness of our culture. This recurred to me as I was reading a rather random listing of well-known Americans who died during 2020 and reflecting on the vibrancy and diversity of contributions to society and public affairs.
As you peruse this listing and what these individuals represent, we are not thinking of Deep State and conspiracies such as Q-anon, but of those who make valued contributions to our society – demonstrating the cultural richness and constitutional commitment of the American people.
Here's the random listing of a very tiny portion of those figures who died in 2020, some prominent for contributions years ago, most of them from causes other than covid:
Kenny Rogers, Sean Connery, Arkansas newspaper editor and legislator Charlotte Schexnayder, Alex Trebek, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Jerry Jeff Walker, Kobe Bryant, Joe Morgan, John Lewis, Don Larson, Whitey Ford , journalist Jerry McConnell, Arkansas author Charles Portis ... and more.
Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected]