Why is acting in bad faith so bad?

Jim Chrisinger: When elected officials act in bad faith, they poison the well of democracy in many ways. -promoted by Laura Belin

We now know that democracy is more fragile than we thought; democracy requires more than laws and institutions.  For example, elected officials need to speak and act in good faith.  

Acting in good faith may not seem like the most important thing right now.  What makes bad faith so bad?  

Bad faith is insidious because people are by definition not honest about what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Dishonesty is corrosive, to relationships and to democracy.  For example, Iowa Republicans have just passed a voter suppression bill without admitting why they did it.  

Democracy is a marketplace of ideas and fraud is a bad thing in any marketplace.  See Texas Governor Greg Abbott blaming renewable sources of energy for the disaster that just befell that state.  

Bad faith prevents genuine debate, the heart of the democratic process.  Claiming Antifa was behind the January 6 insurrection distracts from the necessary investigation into the debacle.  Denying science makes it hard to constructively legislate about anything technical.  

Bad faith enables and normalizes hypocrisy, which undermines truth and leads too many people to believe that no one in political life has any principles or integrity.  See Senators refusing to vote for Neera Tanden’s nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget because of partisan tweets after years of condoning Donald Trump’s firehose of misogynist, race-baiting, nativist, and xenophobic tweets.  And claiming that Tanden lacks needed experience after confirming Trump’s many wildly unqualified appointees.  

Bad faith also leads to false equivalencies like comparing January 6 with the violence that accompanied some social justice protests.  False equivalencies undermine constructive argument, again leading people to throw up their hands, blame “both sides,” and disengage.  

Finally, a commitment to good faith helps protect the democratic process from corruption and manipulation.  Bad faith like Republicans retelling or tolerating the Big Lie about the 2020 election corrupts future elections and sets up a false narrative to justify voter suppression.  

Until voters and the media punish bad faith, bad faith politicians will continue to poison our democracy.  

Jim Chrisinger is a retired public servant living in Ankeny. He served in Democratic and Republican administrations in Iowa and elsewhere.

Top image: State Representative Bobby Kaufmann delivers closing remarks on February 24, 2021 in support of Senate File 413, a bill to restrict voting in many ways. Kaufmann asserted the bill was not about combating fraud, even though Republican State Senator Jim Carlin had said the previous day that the bill was designed to prevent fraudulent voting by mail, which he believes helped steal the 2020 presidential election. Kaufmann also repeated the claim that shortening the window for Iowans to vote early will shorten the length of political campaigns, even though many candidates start advertising months in advance.

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