LETTER: These are not normal times.

Letter To the Editor from Richard Wolfram, Old Greenwich

These are not normal times. Fish rot from the head and the same applies to the source of our national political divisiveness, virtually unprecedented in our lifetimes.

On this point, several recent letters to the Greenwich Free Press prompt the following observations relating to the upcoming local election, in particular for First Selectman and Selectman.

Here’s a quick overview:

• Today’s political climate has driven many of us deeper into ‘tribal’ corners, discouraging informed voting and making civil discourse more difficult.

• This is happening nationally and quickly translates to the local level, right here in Greenwich.

• To help shore up our democracy at a time of real internal and external threats, we must carefully examine the candidates’ records and views, and not vote on the basis of mere popularity or labels but on the basis of merit. There is no excuse to vote for one or another candidate in these elections without being informed about their record and views, and those of the opponent. Our democracy depends on it.

• And our democracy also depends on calling out the corrosive words and actions coming right from the top. Citizenship, and civic duty, start locally, right here.

• Sounds simple. But if it were, we wouldn’t be in this fix. For more depth, read on.

First, one recent GFP letter decries our tribal political affiliations and, at least by implication, the hardening of those positions, often blindly. Agreed. So how do we stop digging ourselves deeper into our corners? One practical, immediate step would be for all voters in this election to put labels aside and educate ourselves about the candidates on the merits – their legislative/municipal records, other public and private sector experience, and their views on the range of subjects on which they have voted and/or implemented policies. Obvious point, right?

One would think so, but it bears repeating. In fact, informal, unscientific sample polling suggests that a number of voters have made up their minds without knowing anything – anything at all – about the other candidate, and this by their own admission. Elections should not be popularity contests. If democracy doesn’t extend beyond the tips of our noses in actual practice
then we’ll get the results we deserve.

Local contests may not seem like the most consequential affairs, but as we’re constantly reminded, elections matter. We have a civic duty to know who the candidates are, their express views and also, importantly, as reflected in their record. And in those records we should find the values and priorities we want to see identified with Greenwich, to move it forward.

The country is approaching a crossroads on any number of issues, and if Greenwich doesn’t get with the program, it will be left behind.

Second, as to civic duty, another letter decries the degradation of civil discourse. Again –agreed. These days, what is national quickly finds expression at the local level. So how do we improve it? Not by papering over it, trying to shut out the awful noise or pretending it doesn’t exist. That won’t make it go away. The only sure-fire cure is to fix it – for a start, here and in
communities around the country, by standing up, calling out the lies and the degrading, ad hominem insults of patriots, career civil servants and elected officials doing their constitutional duty, not to mention ordinary citizens in all walks of life.

Civil discourse does not mean silence. On the contrary, restoring civil discourse right now, from the local political arena to the national stage, means disavowing such words and actions – and acknowledging who and where they come from rather than pretending they’re somehow just vaguely ‘in the air’. This should be everyone’s obligation in a democracy, but public figures
have a special duty, to lead by example.

The candidates should show that as a community we will not stand for this, that we will not allow our democracy to be assaulted, as it is now on a near daily basis, threatening the very institutions and processes that define our way of government. In these fraught times, what a candidate says and does not say in this critical regard is worth a listen. A careful listen.

Because, in fact, I’d say it speaks volumes. And it will reflect on us as a community if he or she is elected.

Richard Wolfram
Old Greenwich