A Bitter Harvest

Published 5:07 pm Monday, June 19, 2017

These days we seem to live in a surreal, post-truth society, one where you can’t believe anyone or anything anymore.  When James Comey, the fired FBI director, testified before a Senate committee he invoked the name of the Lord in the hope that that President Trump had taped their meetings, an implication that Trump never told the truth.

Jeff Sessions, the attorney general? Even with often friendly, soft-pitched questions from former Senate colleagues, he struggled answering except to express righteous indignation and to obfuscate, forever referring to a vague “executive privilege,” probably that of stonewalling and blocking investigations.

Yet that same cynicism, skepticism, and disbelief applies not only to politicians but also to the media, bottom-up dissenters and top-down experts, intellectual elites, and faceless technocrats who daily hack into and even destroy our lives. Remember that an unseen company that never set foot in Polk County and only crunched numbers through the Internet determined your recent property evaluations.

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Then, too, listening to policy wonks like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush probably made you shake your head or fall asleep while big-picture folks like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders inspired us with their proletarian wisdom and concern for “the small people.” 

We simply don’t trust experts anymore. The harvest from such cynicism not only is bitter but toxic to our democracy and its institutions, including those here in Polk County.

Yet whom do you trust? Your pastor or priest? Not even yourself?  Professional pundits or amateurs like most of us? In a June 6 letter to the Bulletin, Keith Holbert justifiably pointed out that I’m not an expert in politics like he obviously is, that I don’t attend commissioner’s meetings, and that I don’t have “the ear of state representatives in Raleigh” as he probably does. He’s right. In fact, for me, politics, like the NBA, NFL, and NCAA, is a spectator sport while he’s a professional participant.

In fact, Holbert likely knows the political playbook only too well, a Republican one in his case but Democrats also have theirs. Attack the critic and sidetrack the argument, engage in ad hominem assaults but avoid the issue itself, and smugly sprinkle your barrage with cynicism’s Siamese twins, sarcasm and mockery. Otherwise, readers might be reminded that, as part of the recent “Gang of Three” Commissioners, Holbert, Michael Gage, and the late Tom Pack got us into this mess in the first place. They’re the ones who fast-tracked the jail along with a burdensome tax indebtedness to fund it and wanted properties revalued before they ran for cover. 

The present BOC, Tommy Melton, Jake Johnson, Ray Gasperson, Shane Bradley, and Myron Yoder, now reap the bitter harvest from those decisions, and they have laudably tried to address it.

In truth, the present board has proved far more responsive, more open to public comments and trenchant critiques like mine, who appear not so thin-skinned but genuinely sympathetic to the plight of many whose ballooning taxes have left them in untenable situations.

They’re trying, and the results thus far have been impressive, helping set aside the scheduled Highway 108 four-lane construction between Columbus and Tryon and exploring tax relief from the state. Moreover, unlike Holbert, Pack, and Gage, they seem to tolerate, even encourage public input and open meetings.

Lastly, so deeply-rooted is public wariness, cynicism, and anger that it probably will take some time to rebuild confidence in the BOC’s actions, something that manifestly has become obvious to them. Many voters perhaps believe that, while their votes and decisions count, they do not matter. 

As the BOC goes forward, apathy and disinterest seemingly will confront significant issues like budget and rezoning meetings, but they likely will find new and enduring ways to reach out and change that perception. It’s time to plant a few mustard seeds of faith in our institutions here in Polk County, especially political ones.                    

Milton Ready, Tryon, N.C.