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OPED: Our call to duty on Election Day

John P. Currier, Michael R. Lehnert and Richard L. Kelly
Tribune News Service
FILE - In this March 18, 2014 file photo, voters cast their ballots in Hinsdale, Ill. A new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV finds that most Americans ages 15 to 34 think voting in the midterm elections gives their generation some say about how the government runs, and 79 percent of this group say leaders from their generation would do a better job running the country. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

On Nov. 6, Americans will have the privilege to participate in our system of democracy in an event traditionally known as Election Day, when we will vote for candidates aspiring to federal, state and local public office. Moreover, we will have the opportunity to present to our nation and our world a new generation of American leadership. There is no greater power in our democracy than the voice of “we the people” and no greater duty or obligation for each citizen than to be an informed voter.

Our nation faces a range of security and economic threats — some real, some imagined —as we go to the polls. But as a nation we are blessed with much strength that, when coupled with courageous leadership and temperance, can prevail in any situation.

While some of these threats are international, our view is that the greatest threat lies within our own United States. It’s an existential threat to our democracy, civil society, national solvency, and international standing. We may well be living in the most dangerous period of our lifetime, on par with the Cold War.

Constitutionally, our system of government — and the manner in which it executes the nation’s business — is equally divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial each with a distinct function but with the authority to check the others’ exercise of power. Today, we find ourselves without effective congressional oversight of the executive branch. Left unchanged, we can expect the chief executive to further push an authoritarian agenda while remaining untempered in his actions both domestically and internationally. The constitutional checks and balances that we learned in grammar school will be rendered ineffectual. This is a frightening prospect.

The authors of this article — all lifelong independent voters — do not come to this assessment lightly. Backed by more than a century of active duty service in our nation’s armed forces, through years of post-active duty civic service, and because of our profound love for our country and constitution, we can no longer remain silent or stand idly by as this frightening scenario continues to divide our nation and erode the principals established by our Founding Fathers.

Other than exercising our right to vote, defended by the very men and women who fought and continue to fight courageously to preserve our democracy, our engagement in the political process has been minimal. Through a collective gut check, we arrived at a crossroads: How would we explain our inaction to those who matter most — our families, our friends, and our colleagues — if we remain conspicuously silent in this time of extreme polarity in our nation. Those who see us as people who spent their lives defending our Constitution will ask why, as senior military leaders, we failed to act.

If we are truthful to ourselves, as voters, we should question the failures of our current state of governance. All Americans must honestly ask themselves if they are comfortable with a political process that encourages polarization over progress, the use and influence of “dark money” without accountability, and a leader who routinely presents untruths as facts, and facts as “fake news” while dismissing the free press as an enemy of the people.

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We must ask ourselves if we are content with an administration, abetted by Congress, that preaches hatred and distrust, prefers the company of dictators over democratically elected leaders, dismisses the intelligence assessments of seasoned professionals and that seems to move aimlessly from one self-inflicted crisis to another.

Ours is a call to duty, just as it should be for any American who is justifiably concerned at the way in which the pathway to responsible governance has gone dangerously astray. We must demand a new generation of congressional leadership, regardless of party affiliation, that exemplifies the virtues we as members of the military demanded of one another — integrity above all, courage to stand up against wrong, service over self, dignity in all interactions, and extending a helping hand to a shipmate who has stumbled.

We need members of Congress to set an example of respect and bipartisanship that, for decades, served our country well. We must demand the reestablishment of an environment of bipartisan cooperation in which compromise reflects the will of the people and results in progress toward the greater good. We must demand accountability from our elected representatives and seek the truth no matter how uncomfortable the facts.

We are shamed by a government that no longer honors the basic precepts of our democracy: justice, truth, courage, caring and integrity; a government that fails to accept and respect the very values that we collectively spent over 100 years of active duty service to defend. We deserve better; you deserve better; America deserves better.

— Vice Adm. (ret) John Currier served 38 years in the Coast Guard retiring as the Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard. He is an independent business consultant and lives in Traverse City, Mich. Maj. Gen. (ret) Mike Lehnert served 30 years in the Marine Corps, retiring as the Commander of Marine Corps Installations West. He lives in Williamsburg, Mich., and serves on several boards. Lt. Gen (ret) Rick Kelly served 35 years in the Marine Corps, retiring as the Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics. He lives in Arlington, Va., and serves on several boards.