OUR OPINION: A better path to restore trust

If your house is on fire, your first thoughts should be on how to extinguish the flames.

But in a politicized society where the house is on fire, the first thoughts are who to blame and how to spin things for advantage.

There's no thought of grabbing a fire extinguisher.

Politicizing an issue or problem focuses on blaming a person or group by demonizing or belittling them, as well as how to play the situation to gain power and prestige.

What results from this approach is an erosion of trust, which has become a defining feature of our era.

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Wilson touched on how destructive that approach can be during his State of the Judiciary address to the General Assembly.

"If the public loses its trust in the judicial branch and the rule of law, if we return to the time when might makes right, when the mob rules whether you're in it or being chased by it, it will be because we -- all of us in this room -- failed in our duty to safeguard one of the essential institutions created by our Constitution," Wilson said.

He's right. Americans' trust in the U.S. judicial system is at an all-time low with less than half the country expressing confidence in it, according to a recent Gallup poll from September. Politicization of the nation's highest court in recent years is a factor, according to the polling group.

Locally, we've seen it play out all too often in recent years as state lawmakers have expressed dissatisfaction with a number of rulings to come from Missouri courts.

During his speech last year, Wilson cited a number of violent acts and threats made against judges in Missouri and elsewhere as a reason to increase security court measures. He reiterated those concerns Wednesday. And several bills working through the Legislature this session would help curb violence aimed at judges.

"We owe it to those who serve in Missouri's judiciary not to wait until we learn in the worst possible way that we waited too long, and did too little," Wilson said.

But let's be honest, the politicization problem extends far beyond the state's court system.

And the insidious nature of this approach truly threatens our community, our state and our nation.

The problem with politicizing things is that it puts the focus on everything except actually solving the problem.

Wilson offered a path forward that we all could emulate; he urged lawmakers to use their role as the most direct line of contact with citizens to further public understanding and confidence in the judicial system.

Legislators don't have to agree with every decision judges make, Wilson said. If they want to tell constituents the courts got it wrong, that's their right.

"But when you do, take a minute to explain that -- even when you think we got it wrong -- you know judges are just public servants like you," he told members of the General Assembly. "(They're) doing their best to decide cases based on the facts and their best understanding of the law because I promise you that's true."

One could say the same for all public servants -- legislators, school board members, law enforcement, health care workers, etc.

Let's put the focus on solving problems with these public servants, not politicizing or demonizing their efforts.

-- News Tribune

Upcoming Events