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Public Service in a Society of Equals

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
December 11, 2023

Democracy is necessary because life is not fair. Democracy is an all-volunteer political ideology in which every good performance is its own swan song. It says just what needs to be said and nothing more. Public service is background and foreground for democracy. In other words, it surrounds it. Good government happens on everybody’s watch when we insist on a society of equals.

The business of performative politics is hazardous as demonstrated in many examples in the current environment. Citing any of it would highlight the buffoonery, so I’ll resist providing descriptions. Public service is not comedy. It is government’s cure for vagueness. Citizens need a public service that is fringed with compassion in order to meet and defeat the pre-arranged surrenders of policy failure. When good results and effective government become the only thing we are talking about, then we’ll know we are doing it right.

Is democracy in its twilight? Is it losing its significance as a government option? Let us hope not. A twilight in democracy could mean its end and would suggest that citizen choice, free selection and justice and equality are over. Regarding the notion of justice, the author James Baldwin once remarked, I don’t know you personally, but I know you historically. How will history treat our present willingness to seemingly ignore tried and true democratic principles and what will that say about our historical nature to future learners? Democracy takes us to a place we want to be. We should see it as a lesson that never gets old.

It may be easy to mistake democracy as a soliloquy while forgetting that it is actually a chorus here on Spaceship Earth. Democracy is the personal and direct ownership of the results of intense debate. It is depicted in the topography of elections, policies, budgets and governance. The error happens when personal desire and agenda is substituted for the desires and agendas of everyman. The challenge is the obligation to bring in the chorus so that every voice is heard.

Some say that democracy is approaching the edge of a precipice. For confirmation, ask the generation before you. Democracy has survived as the one tool to address the partition between politics and policy, but as that circle narrows we squeeze out probable solutions for real representation. Public service has to be the positive reaction to the needs of citizens that is on a constant loop of growth and protection. Democracy’s infrastructure allows that growth and provides a cast-iron guarantee of the protection of that growth.

History, then and now, must pay its respect to democracy and its moral legacy. Our inability to recognize its beauty and to uplift and celebrate its moral legacy will not go unnoticed by society’s equals. Democracy’s beauty is its many tests, its changes and its steadfast sustainability. We must admit that we need a desperate remedy as an antidote for our willingness to seemingly fail in regards to democracy. I don’t know what to say about that, but I know what to save and I know what needs saving. However, I don’t recommend warming up the sad sounding violins just yet.

What is incredibly clear is that the real tenets of democracy have become polluted somehow. Democracies know that justice is not revenge and that societal anchors rooted in gotcha politics are foul and misplaced. Democracy should be the anchor because its design allows as much. For many, the governmental structure is held in awe, almost dreamlike due to its many and varied possibilities. Democracy’s influence has always been hearts first. Favorable experiences cause cues and cues of people to line up everyday with confidence that they will receive exemplary public service delivery. That experience comes from democracy’s unique and historical expansion of common governmental sentiments.

Many of us want to believe that there is a dream attached to the running of the government, but there isn’t. Our buildings look serious because they are supposed to represent the seriousness that goes on inside of them. While dreams can introduce us to new possibilities, it is up to us to construct those possibilities. Democracy directs the traffic of public service inflected by the needs of the people. When combined for good, both become an unstoppable trajectory of success. The ideological math of equality, representation and justice are what we need in order to be able to see eye to eye and heart to heart. When we accomplish this, only then will our history be thought of as a dream come true.

Author: The @Equal-Viewed image was taken and titled by Lisa Saye. Author: Dr. Lisa Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. She also served as Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities and as Associate Professor of Public Administration at American University Afghanistan. Dr. Saye can be reached by email at [email protected]

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