Our national park system has been referred to as "America's Best Idea." I would not argue with that. And to think, it was all started by a Republican.
The national park system and the rangers who are its caretakers have some of the highest approval ratings of any institution in the country. Everybody loves parks; what's not to love? And everybody appreciates those guys (and gals) in the funny hats who are always around to offer directions, explain the features of the land under their care, tell us about the history of our country, and tell us that, no, we should not try to pet the bears or the bison.
Park rangers are civil servants and, as such, they are nonpartisan. They serve an ideal not the political party that happens to be on top at any given time. I, myself, was a civil servant for my entire working life. During more than 30 years in various jobs, most of my service was done during times when I strongly disagreed with the governing philosophy of the elected officials at the head of the government. But I was not there to serve an elected politician; I was there to serve the people and I always tried to do that to be best of my ability. Most civil servants do.
Perhaps because of my personal history, when I see someone showing contempt for these caretakers of our land and our system of government and trying to bully them into either being quiet or lying to support the party line, it frankly makes my blood boil!
I found it very interesting and heartening this week to see the response of many civil servants, including those who work in the national park system, to efforts by the new administration in Washington to get them to be quiet or to support the lies that the new president was telling about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, as well as being silent about public health issues, dangers to the environment, the progress of climate change and anything else that doesn't fit with the "alternative facts" promulgated by this president and his spokespersons. Instead of sitting down and shutting up, they stood up and they spoke out.
It started with Badlands National Park and a tweet about the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere being more than at any time in the last 650,000 years, but soon other parks joined in, tweeting out inconvenient truths to the nation. Soon other civil servants were speaking out, sometimes anonymously and as whistleblowers, and some forthrightly, even to the extent of resigning their positions rather than serving a lie. They make me proud to be one of them.
But what of the future? The pressure on civil servants to toe the political line will continue and is likely to become intense. So far the lies they are asked to support are relatively inconsequential, always, it seems, something to do with the size and enthusiasm of a crowd. But what is going to happen when those same civil servants are asked to support a lie about a foreign threat or about job numbers or the national deficit? Let us hope that their truth-telling will continue. At this time in our history, we badly need heroes to step up. Who cares if they wear funny hats?