The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire in northern New Mexico is near full containment with efforts moving into recovery phases. Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham criticized the United States Forest Service in a press release, pushing for accountability from the federal agency.
It’s a word that is used often by reporters and pundits on a righteous mission for the truth but is also overlooked by the public. How does one hold a government accountable? What does it even mean?
The word is so often used in the context of journalism that the example given in Merriam-Webster references public officials.
“An obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”
It’s a concept that is somewhat contrary to human nature on account of the fact that most humans hate to admit when we are wrong. However; it is absolutely necessary in a supposed age of reason, an era of human history that is supposedly defined by our capacity for rational, empiricist, and deductive reasoning.
With this unfortunate fact of human nature in mind, to hold someone accountable means to call out the person when they do something wrong – wrong meaning an error in judgement that leads to an unpleasant event, saying something that is not true, holding one’s self to a different standard than that of peers, etc. Calling out inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and plain lies is the duty of reporters, journalists, and pundits in a supposedly free country that respects a free press.
How doe we hold a government accountable for its words and actions?
We keep open records (available to the public) and constantly remind our leaders (be they elected or appointed) that they have a duty to fulfill to the body politic.
Governor Lujan-Grisham calling out the U.S. Forest Service alleging out-dated prescribed burn plans is a good thing. In response to Governor Lujan-Grisham, the U.S. government not only approved federal aid to assist in fighting the wildfires on federal land in New Mexico but paused all prescribed burns pending a 90-day review. This is exactly the purpose of a free press, the bully pulpit, using influence in public spaces of discourse to apply rhetorical pressure on greater organizations.
It is important that the public (meaning all of us) maintain pressure on governments (municipal, state, and national) in order to keep them honest, performing tasks that benefit our society overall and not just individuals looking to make a profit. I think the bully pulpit and the willingness to apply force (including not acting when expected to act) is the only way to keep a government accountable to its people. All forms of politics rely on fear and leverage to force a stronger organization to act. This is the unfortunate reality of human relations.