Magenta Nation – Fakchex


Accountability is a cornerstone of democratic government: it ensures that citizens have faith that everyone is responsible for their behavior and the consequences of their actions, no matter how rich or powerful they may be. Without it, trust in authority is eroded, and creeping cynicism opens the door for authoritarian impulses.

Between recent high-profile scandals among powerful Americans and polls showing that public trust in the government is near an all-time low, it seems that America is suffering an accountability crisis. How do we achieve accountability in the first place? And if we’re losing it, how can we get it back?

Structures to Ensure Accountability

Democratic governments, including the United States, strive for accountability by establishing structure to support it. Different branches of government counterbalance each other with the Checks and Balances system. Watchdogs such as whistleblowers and inspectors guard against fraud and abuse in the many departments of government. Transparency makes citizens aware of their government’s activities, boosting faith in the process and encouraging more effective civic participation. And a free press holds power of accountability outside the system, investigating and publishing the truth for the benefit of the public.

Are These Structures Breaking Down?

Despite the number of tools in place to create accountability for power, recent scandals have revealed that American accountability is weakening. For example, when official transcripts showed that then-president Donald Trump attempted to blackmail the Ukrainian president to investigate political rivals in return for approved allocations for continued support against Russian aggression, the only ones who faced any consequences were the whistleblowers themselves who exposed it. When Robert Mueller’s independent special prosecutorial investigation identified ten separate times that then-president Donald Trump may have obstructed justice, Mueller ultimately decided that he could not make an indictment because of an ongoing policy in the Department of Justice that sitting presidents cannot be prosecuted, thus undermining the pillar of equal application of the law.

American accountability is weakening because the many pillars established to support it have been eroded over the years. The system of Checks and Balances has been crippled by partisanship—members of the same party care more about supporting each other than rising above to hold each other accountable. Congress has been virtually gridlocked by this partisanship. Meanwhile, presidential power has increased over time. The free press has been weakened by consolidation that has seen many local publications close and major outlets struggle, while recent attacks on legitimate journalists as “fake news” have damaged their credibility. And the powers of whistleblowers and watchdogs are too easily stymied. For example, Donald Trump weakened governmental oversight by firing inspectors general and making it harder for whistleblowers to come forward with retaliatory tactics.

In order to bring accountability back and put power in check, these important pillars must be restored and protected. There is already evidence that strong accountability measures can prevent and remedy abuse for the public’s benefit. Whistleblower reports about the Veterans’ Affairs department led to congressional hearings and reforms that created significant improvement in services as reported by veterans. When Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, the Obama administration empowered a strong inspector general to pursue aggressive transparency measures that resulted in virtually no fraudulent activity on the $800 billion that spurred the economic recovery. In contrast, for the CARES Act in 2020, Trump replaced the legislation’s initially appointed inspector general. The replacement neglected to pursue an aggressive oversight and transparency strategy, resulting in significant fraud and abuse in the $2 trillion fund.

Failure to hold power accountable is both dangerous and inefficient. Accountability is not only an antidote for dangerous authoritarian impulses; it can create more effective governance with real positive outcomes for citizens. When these pillars of accountability are empowered and maintained, power is wielded for the governed and tangible benefits are created for the public. Government is not its own entity that is corruptible by those in charge; it is a tool used by people to benefit people. Government is only as effective as we make it, and accountability is essential to that effectiveness.

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