Musings on Social Equity, Public Administration, and a Free Society

I was quite horrified when Donald Trump floated the idea of a religious test on immigration. Such a ban is against everything the United States is about. Heck, it is against everything a free society is about. In my opinion Khizr Khan nailed it, as did John McCain when expressing his contempt for Trump’s reaction to Khan’s speech. Defining what is the “right” and “wrong” type of American, or declaring that the loyalties of some Americans is in question due to their backgrounds or religious beliefs is a dangerous game. What comes next, questioning one’s citizenship based on their opinions? It is made scarier when there is a cult of personality around someone whose opinions are more often than not devoid of substance or ideological coherence.   What makes America great is not some protector that keeps us safe from all harm, or the homogeneity of our population, but the very diversity of thought, background, and lifestyles that are the hallmark of a free society.

I was reminded of this last night as I ran through Menominee Park here in Oshkosh, WI. The park is a large public space on the shores of Lake Winnebago. I ran by people of different races, heard different languages spoken, saw different styles of dress, and rich and poor alike enjoying a beautiful evening in a common area. The scene refreshed me, and served as a reminder of the promise of a free society. A place where all of us agree to give up a degree of freedom and treasure in order to live as we want to live. I am not naïve enough to think we are a society without serious flaws, or that the freedom to live as we wish is applied equally. The concept of social equity is not yet nor likely to ever be achieved, but what matter is that we try…especially those of us in Public Administration (always a PA angle of course!).

To me Public Administration, both the practitioner and academic side, is about creating government and nonprofit organizations that are stable, effective, efficient, and equitable in administering the will of the people. The great man theory does not apply here. Quality government cannot be created by a person of movement, but rather requires systems that are predictable and thus able to persist in realizing their missions despite the shifting winds of politics and politicians. This does not mean politicians are bad. Quite the opposite, politicians are necessary for articulating the will of the people. But the will of people cannot be expressed and implemented by a single authoritarian figure. To do so is to forgo equity, and the very systems that make a free democratic society sustainable.

It is an odd time in American politics and culture. A time when the steadying hand provided by effective public and nonprofit sectors is needed. My students likely get sick of hearing me say this, but government is us. We all own it and have a right to share equally in its benefits and trials. It is up to us in PA to make it happen.

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