On January 20th, the 45th President of the United States will be sworn into office. Over the years, I’ve been privileged to attend a number of these grand ceremonies, from the swearing-in of Congressman Ray LaHood in 1995, to the inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001, to President Obama’s State of the Union in 2012. Two of my children have interned in Washington DC, and I’ve returned often to visit.
That firsthand perspective is exciting... but the real work of elected officials? Tireless. Tedious. Thankless. This is the unromantic side of politics. One’s patience is tested; civility and decency are often nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, somewhere along the way, a majority of Americans lost confidence in their government and other social institutions. Just nine percent of respondents in a recent Gallup poll expressed great confidence in Congress. The Presidency and Supreme Court didn’t fare well either, at 36 percent each. And this trend extends well beyond government—from the media and the church to big business and the criminal justice system.
The latest census numbers portray an Illinois in decline—one of just two states to lose residents since 2010—including a loss of more than 37,500 in the last year alone. And with Chicago’s population again on the rise, downstate has been hit particularly hard.
Everywhere you look, there appears to be a crisis. People are divided. Uncertainty is pervasive. Nonetheless, we turn to our elected officials for leadership. It’s not easy to run for office, and governing is even harder. Good governance has always been about compromise—something we’ve seen too little of in Springfield and Washington lately.
The answers would seem to be right under our noses. From Lincoln to Dirksen to Michel to LaHood, our region has a long history of producing outstanding public servants. Recognizing this legacy, the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University promotes a return to statesmanship at all levels of government—a bipartisan approach to solving America’s most pressing problems.
It’s easy to mock such an approach in this hyper-partisan age, but the status quo is really not tenable for long. If we are to rebuild confidence in our nation’s institutions, our elected officials have quite a task ahead of them.
With the New Year before us, I hope we can all do our parts to make a difference in our own spheres of influence. Collectively, we can make an impact, and we have a responsibility—to our country and to our community—to do so. iBi