by Doug Anstaett
Kansas Press Association
In recent years, the buzzword in politics has been “transparency.” Just about everyone has jumped on the transparency bandwagon.
Our legislators certainly have been talking about it. Only a month ago, our new governor signed a number of executive orders demanding more transparency from the state agencies that report to him. Candidates for office are promising, if elected of course, more of it as well.
March 11-17 is Sunshine Week in the United States, a time set aside each year to remind citizens how important transparency and open government are to our participatory democracy.
With all this talk about transparency, you would think we Americans would have the kind of information we need to make rational decisions. However, at times it seems we are all drowning in a sea of misinformation, alternative facts and fake news.
None of us is quite sure what, or who, to believe any more. Our response to this overabundance of information, unfortunately, has been to narrow our sources to just those cable news outlets, websites, newspapers and networks that reinforce our previously held beliefs.
Almost all of us do that. We retweet only those comments that conform to our agenda. We share memes on Facebook that demonize those who think differently. Sometimes, it seems like there is just too much to absorb, so we do what we can to silence all the chatter. We simply tune out.
In his mid-19th century book “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at how Americans relied on each other, rather than royalty, to chart our nation’s course.
Our system of self-government is rather unique in the world, but it places a premium on an informed citizenry to make it work properly.
This is becoming more difficult all the time. Frankly, we can’t even agree on a common set of facts about many subjects, which makes it difficult to sit down, discuss issues and come to decisions that reflect the common good.
Why is “sunshine” important? Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman.”
If we are to remain a free nation and able to compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century, citizens must be well-informed. One way to help is for government to be open and transparent.
But we as citizens must play our part as well. We must be willing to widen the horizons of what we read, listen to those who have different opinions and make sure all voices become part of the discussion.
That is true transparency.
Doug Anstaett is executive director of the Kansas Press Association.