Less than a month ago, on Sept. 17, Americans celebrated Constitution Day. Throughout September, we had the opportunity to reflect through various events and celebrations on the “Miracle of Philadelphia” and the founding of our nation — a time marked by 39 strongly opinionated men of diverse backgrounds and philosophies finding the ability to debate, discuss, and collaborate to form the greatest government created by man.

Contrast that to this week’s congressional session, where a bipartisan effort led to a last-minute agreement that narrowly avoided a government shutdown — and resulted in the ouster of the now former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican.

The charge?

“He worked with the Democrats.”

This is the first time in U.S. history that a sitting Speaker has been voted out of that position, underscoring where we are as a nation in the political arena today.

We used to define those on the other side of the aisle as the “loyal opposition.” Today, they are more often referred to and treated as the “disloyal enemy,” which ought to be destroyed if possible.

This us vs. them mentality leads to the idea, “They are all wrong and we are all right!”

And heaven forbid the traitor who finds common ground and compromises to move the country forward! Crossing the aisle is an unpardonable sin because, as we know, “the other side” has no legitimate ideas, concerns, or solutions — and they probably ought to be barred from the political process entirely!

Former Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during the Constitution Month kickoff event at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The current political culture, fraught with hypocrisy, has minimal concern for what is best for our country. Rather, it is focused on how leaders can get elected or reelected — by any means necessary.

Considering some of the major issues of the day, we must ask ourselves, “Why have we still not solved the issue, or even made any type of headway?”

Consider issues such as immigration, which has been an acknowledged issue since the Reagan Administration began more than 40 years ago; the unsustainable growing national debt, which is now more than $33 trillion and growing at a rate of about $1.9 trillion per year; and the system of federalism, where we now have the Federal Government growing too large and states have become junior partners in spite of what James Madison said: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite.”

Each of these has a common factor: Both Democrats and Republicans agree there is a problem, yet both sides would rather make the issue into a political weapon than work together toward a solution.

Immigrants and borders continue to suffer, national debt continues to rise, federal and state governments continue to be at odds — and still no solution. And the people suffer.

So, what are we to do?

Most citizens are not happy with the processes and outcomes in Washington, D.C. They know that we can and must do better — the keyword here being “We.”

The most important phrase in the Constitution is “WE THE PEOPLE.”

WE THE PEOPLE are in charge! WE THE PEOPLE can make a difference!

Yet, WE THE PEOPLE ask too much of the federal government and put our responsibilities in their hands — hands that are far removed from the people. We wrongly expect the federal government to make all of the decisions and provide all of the solutions.

WE THE PEOPLE tolerate bad behaviors unbecoming of our leaders by electing and reelecting them for office. We justify their actions and words, simply because he or she is on “our team”. We don’t hold our leaders accountable — unless they are on “their team.”

WE THE PEOPLE have a problem — and a responsibility.

WE THE PEOPLE need to recognize issues and work with our local and state governments to find solutions, rather than deferring to the distant powers in the federal government. We need to reclaim our rights as states.

WE THE PEOPLE need to demand better behavior of officials, regardless of political party — not demanding perfection, but some attitude of decency and mutual respect for those with a different perspective. If our leaders meet those two simple requirements, it becomes a lot easier for them to work together toward what is in the best interest of those they have been elected to represent.

WE THE PEOPLE are responsible for righting this country, for positively engaging in its processes — and if we don’t take that responsibility seriously, this country will continue to spiral downward, and WE THE PEOPLE will be the ones who suffer.

Gary R. Herbert served as the 17th governor of Utah from 2009 to 2021. He currently heads the Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy at Utah Valley University. The Institute will host former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to campus Thursday as a guest lecturer, 11:30 a.m. in the Vallejo Auditorium.