This nation has certainly lost its way when it comes to citizenship. The old citizenship was too much like “blind allegiance.” That may have worked in an earlier era, but not anymore. Passive acceptance led to corruption, producing the opposite of accountability. When those in power believe they can do whatever they like, they tend to do what we don’t like. If public servants don’t have a servant’s mentality, citizens need to remind them with a mid-course correction.

Questioning authority was an important step toward the new citizenship, but questioning alone led to an unhealthy extreme where government was stripped of all credibility. In that fertile swamp, conspiracy theories and misinformation flourish.

The new citizenship asks something far more demanding, an apparent paradox: combining allegiance with questioning.

Call it “vigilant allegiance.”

The new citizenship recognizes that power corrupts, but it’s not inevitable. It’s just a tendency. Our job is to reduce that tendency in our elected officials by holding them to account.

As I said in last week’s column, a good citizen defends democracy while “still criticizing it, acutely aware of its flaws, always working to make it better, but recognizing that government is necessary and works much better than the nihilists give it credit for — at least when people who believe in government are in charge.” The only way to defend democracy is to strengthen and improve it so it works the way it was intended.

A good citizen is skeptical but never loses faith in government’s potential. Cynicism is bad citizenship. Without a vision of what is possible, we are lost.

And right now in this country, we have definitely lost our way.

The right has lost all faith in government. Cynically, they elect only those who obstruct governance — or attempt to undermine it altogether.

The right is drowning in bad citizenship.

But many in the center and on the left of the political spectrum also have little faith in government. They may have legitimate reasons for their skepticism, but good citizenship demands more — it demands the belief that government is capable of governing well.

More than capable — in many ways, it is already governing well.

Each year, “Service to America” medals (known as the Sammies) are awarded by the Partnership for Public Service to those whom many of us too easily dismiss as “bureaucrats.”

But those “bureaucrats” are the ones who make government work — and make it work better. The website ( says Partnership for Public Service is “a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is building a better government and a stronger democracy. The story of all that the federal government does every day to keep us safe, healthy and prosperous often goes untold or unheard. But in fact, our government is powered by dedicated public servants working in cities and towns across the country to support and improve our daily lives. …

The annual awards, they say, “shine the spotlight on remarkable accomplishments that benefit the nation, seeks to build trust in our government and inspires more people to consider careers in public service.”

Turns out the words, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” are not so scary after all.

Two examples: The media couldn’t get enough of blaming the Biden administration for our withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, but they completely overlooked Hilary Ingraham and two other State Department employees who, in the aftermath, settled more than 72,000 Afghan refugees in 331 cities in 49 states.


Or Gregory Robinson, named federal employee of the year. According to an article in The Economist, “The son of sharecroppers, Mr. Robinson took over management of the James Webb Space Telescope program in 2018, when it was 11 years behind schedule and $9B over budget. NASA credits him with turning things around and achieving the telescope’s flawless development. ‘I know the political rhetoric makes a lot of people not appreciate government,’ Robinson said. ‘But I tell you, I think we’re in really, really great hands.’”

A bad citizen complains that government “never does anything right.” A good citizen finds out how much good the government is doing.

You can find out by watching this year’s Service to America Medals ceremony, which will be televised on Bloomberg TV on Nov. 23 at 7 p.m., CST.

There is one more thing good citizens do: They vote — because they know voting is the best way to hold bad politicians accountable and give promising candidates a chance to prove what they can do. They vote because indifference, neutrality and cynicism are the greatest enemies of democracy. And because if we don’t vote, the crackpots will prevail.

Good citizens vote for the party that encourages voting. Why would you vote for a party that wants fewer citizens voting?

And voting for candidates who believe good government is impossible is a self-defeating downward spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy. Good citizens vote for candidates who believe it’s possible to have effective government that will work to improve the quality of all our lives.

Check out Partnership for Public Service at and then vote for better government.

And on Nov. 23, tune in to the Service to America awards at 7 p.m., CST on Bloomberg TV.

You just might begin to believe again.

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