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The missing piece of the puzzle

Published 11:20pm Wednesday, May 29, 2013

By Congressman Randy Forbes

I remember listening as Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

I was 17 years old, and I clenched my hands nervously on the steering wheel as I listened to the announcer on the radio. I held my breath waiting to hear the voice of Neil Armstrong from a place no human had stepped before. Cheers went up around the nation as he spoke his now-famous words, confirming what we had only moments before dreamed to be true: The United States of America put the first man on the moon.

There are moments throughout American history that make us stand a little taller. Perhaps it is the pride in knowing we lived through a defining moment in history. Perhaps it is the gratitude we feel towards the men and women who have overcome barriers and obstacles to achieve remarkable feats.

I think we stand a little taller in those moments, because a challenge has been completed. Like a thousand-piece puzzle that has taken days to complete, the last piece fits squarely in with resolving finality, much as the last word in a good book.

Today, Americans are craving one of those moments. We stand in the midst of major national challenges, some of which we have been facing for many years. The puzzle pieces before us are scattered. Many of us can see what we want the landscape to look like, but Americans are skeptical that Washington will be able to lead us there.

This skepticism is birthed not out of the number of steps we have left to take to meet these challenges. This skepticism exists because Americans know we are missing a major piece of the puzzle — trust.

Americans will put up with a lot. On many levels, we expect politics to be messy. In fact, it is discourse — and sometimes even discord — that leads us to become a better nation. However, discourse cannot work in the absence of trust.

An onslaught of scandals has started to erode an already weakened trust in our government and its leaders. The IRS has publicly admitted to singling out groups, based on ideology, for extra scrutiny. The Justice Department issued subpoenas, broad in scope, to comb through Associated Press records. Questions regarding Benghazi seem to multiply with each month.

These scandals and others demonstrate, at best, incompetence at the highest levels of government and at worst, deception.

The fact that our nation is faced with scandal is not new. We have lived through these times as a nation before. We can remember former vice-president Spiro Agnew’s tax fraud as a result of bribery charges, and his subsequent resignation. We remember Watergate.

What makes today’s scandals so frustrating is that they are happening across multiple federal agencies, and a pattern has emerged where senior officials accept responsibility, but fail to suffer any personal repercussions for their actions. There is an absence of trust that leaders at the highest levels of government will lead with integrity. Likewise, there is an absence of trust that party leaders will not exploit the scandals for political gain or partisan talking points.

Perhaps even more frustrating, however, is that these scandals are clouding the conversations we must have in order to propel our nation forward, to bring us to that moment that makes us stand a little taller. What actions will be most effective in reducing government spending? How can we reduce health care costs, while also protecting the doctor-patient relationship? What policies are best to strengthen small businesses and spur economic growth? How can we ensure that we are providing for the common defense? How can we enhance border security and enforce existing laws combating illegal immigration? How can we work creatively to rebuild our nation’s aging roads and infrastructure?

When absence of trust exists among the administration and Congress, among Republicans and Democrats, among government leaders and citizens, there is no room for meaningful discourse.

We find ourselves in front of a thousand-piece puzzle — major challenges we need to address. Yet no matter how many pieces we fit together, the puzzle will never be complete in the great absence of trust. For what by itself may seem like a small piece, taken in context of the larger picture is a huge void: There is no resolution without it.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.

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