Have you noticed how off-kilter our political moral compass is? There are fact-check organizations to catch public falsehoods and untruths, but I’m wondering about our internal ethical checkpoints. If what’s happening publicly is a reflection of what’s occurring privately, it appears we’re in a moral crisis together.
Federally, we’ve recently seen examples of both honor and shame of elected officials (from all sides of the aisle). On the floor of the U.S. Senate last week, we saw senators explicitly lie and obstruct the reauthorization of a voting rights bill foundational to our Constitution. Their false justification? An arcane rule they claim must not be broken (although it’s been changed over 150 times throughout history for other legislation far less important).
In Colorado, we’re not immune to unethical antics either. Currently, a county clerk is under a grand jury investigation and faces ethics complaints over allegations of abusing her official privileges to steal election information and distribute it to her partisan colleagues. In our Colorado state legislature last week, several legislators attempted to support the false allegations of our elections being stolen and also support the unlawful 2021 insurrection at our nation’s Capitol. Honorably, only one legislator broke from his party to defend the truth and the Constitution. That’s a person with integrity.
Politically, some of this is not new, unfortunately. When I ran for my second term in the state Senate, there were outright lies about me that were published in a fake online newspaper crafted by the opposition party leaders. Gratefully, I was the victor of that election in spite of that. But afterward, our relationships were strained for quite some time.
Although now it seems we’re at a precipice as a society. How do we demand honesty and truth with each other? We’re dealing with a plethora of perceived realities that don’t align with the truth — the facts of our history, or Constitution, or science, for example. These are not limited to only public servants. These untruths are among all of us. I acknowledge that some people may misspeak unknowingly. They may just be misinformed. I’ve been there and have had to correct myself for sure. But to purposely, divisively, steer people away from the truth is a different story. Why do certain people speak and vote with integrity and others lie? (That’s actually a loaded question for a whole other article.)
I’m not claiming to be a purist. I still sometimes feel guilty about lying to my kids about Santa. But I do believe that every time we lie we not only harm others but ourselves as well. Our bodies keep the score and those large or small infractions etch away at our physical or emotional health. So, if that’s true, what are we doing collectively to the body of our community, our state, our nation? No wonder we’re hanging onto our democracy by a thread.
So, where is our moral compass leading us? As our elected officials are a mirror of the population they serve, what does that say about all of us whom they represent? I intimately understand the political pressures of serving as an elected official, and I’m sure I was not always perfect while in office. But I do believe it’s incumbent on each of our public servants (and constituents) to at least tell the truth and vote based on that truth. As all of us feel these moral dilemmas crowding around us, may they inspire us to live ethical lives personally and publicly. May we call each other in and hold each other to account for telling the truth and upholding our elemental integrity.
Former Colorado state senator, now with a master’s in social justice and ethics from Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a writer, instructor, facilitator and conflict coach. Senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell on Facebook.