In a video, the former California governor begs for people motivated by a commitment to service to step up. They’re already all around him.
There are many questions to be answered about last week’s sickening attack on the U.S. Capitol by right-wing insurrectionists. Among them is how Americans came to be so ill-served by their political leaders and what needs to be done to repair our system of representative democracy.
On Sunday, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a video in which he addressed the insurrection from the perspective of someone who grew up in the shadow of Nazi Germany:
“What we need from our elected representatives is a public servant’s heart,” Schwarzenegger said.
“We need public servants who serve something larger than their own power or their own party. We need public servants who will serve higher ideals—the ideals on which this country was founded and the ideals that other countries look up to.”
I would suggest to Gov. Schwarzenegger that he can find the people who serve such higher ideals all around him. They’re the career public servants who protect us, ensure the safety of our food supply, deliver the mail, oversee social safety net programs, regulate public housing, monitor election processes, and implement and manage many, many more initiatives. In short, they take seriously the oath they utter upon starting a government job: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Over the past four years, federal career civil servants have shown more commitment to the Constitution and the ideals of American government than their political leaders. They are, in large measure, the reason why our battered republic has survived the assault it has endured. That attack started the day the president of the United States took his own oath of office, spoke of “American carnage,” and then delivered it.
This is not to suggest that political leaders are unnecessary, or that our democracy is irreparably damaged. It is to say that the people who can show the way back are already serving us. Sometimes their efforts are misguided or ineffective. And they must always follow the will of the people by doing their best to implement the policies of elected leaders and their appointees.
But those political leaders, not to mention elected officials, could learn a lot from career employees not only about how government works, but about the importance of serving ideals bigger than yourself.