There's a bigger danger than Trump or Clinton
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There's a bigger danger in the 2016 elections than electing a dishonest Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Clinton tweets impeachment website, encourages voters to 'see the evidence for themselves' MORE, an egotistical, inexperienced and unpredictable Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE, or a Senate and House of too many selfish politicians. The danger in many of this year's elections is perpetuating the public's confidence that America's leaders are in politics only for themselves, not the public good. If voters lose confidence in the American system, America's government of, by and for the people will be destroyed.

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The Founding Fathers, in establishing the American government, relied on an engaged public to choose virtuous leaders, leaders who would act in the nation's best interest, adopting policies not for the privileged few, but for the masses. In recent days, as the two major political parties have chosen their standard-bearers, public opinion as to the trustworthiness and honesty of the presidential candidates has plummeted.

Confidence in Congress has reached all-time lows. Though roughly 90 percent of all incumbents are reelected, Congress's overall approval rating is near single digits. America's national indebtedness is as big a problem as ever. Neither has its budget. President Obama, who offered a new level of "transparency" and a hope for racial healing, has disappointed many with his divisive commentaries amid attempts to reform the American government. Though he denounces the Republican Presidential nominee, he's likely responsible for him as Americans turn to slogans (Trump's "Make America Great Again") as frustrations mount among many citizens whose faith in self-government has been shaken. When citizens believe elected leaders are not virtuous or have only self-interest in mind, that public corruption is the rule, not the exception, uprisings occur.

That's what we're seeing in today's campaigns.

Some are saying the two political parties are so similar that a new third-party should be formed; that elected officials care more for fundraising than for doing the people's business; that their main concerns are being reelected, not serving as representatives for all.

The ReFormers, a group supporting legislation to limit campaign spending, boasts of former Republican and Democratic representatives determined to rid politics of so much "special interest" money. Some current congressional incumbents spend more than half their time fundraising for reelection rather than problem-solving for their constituents. Some wealthy contributors are so disgusted with representatives in Congress asking them for money so they can give it to other candidates and thereby be elected to leadership positions that the contributors are considering closing the money spigot. Too many contributors are being asked only for campaign money, not advice, separating citizens from leaders.

Such actions by elected officials undermine the democratic process and do a disservice to public service generally. When federal bureaucrats regulate without regard for effects on citizens or their businesses, when federal officials favor some and disfavor others, when federal agency workers spend taxpayer dollars on useless conferences or social gatherings, the public is let down and self-government suffers.

Public service demands our best servants. When former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) was in office, he pledged that the state's motor vehicle office wait-times for citizens would be 10 minutes or less, arguing that citizens shouldn't have to waste their precious lunch hours waiting for state bureaucrats to be responsive. Daniels fulfilled his own pledge. When Daniels left office to become Purdue University's president, he put his salary at risk on the promise that he'd make higher education responsive to students. He's the kind of public servant who's willing to benefit the public, not himself — other than by compiling a selfless record to do the public's business.

The Founders envisioned a self-governing system that would instill public confidence, so that elected representatives would be revered and others would strive to be like them — honest and trustworthy. Not all leaders have met high standards, but that doesn't mean the public shouldn't strive for that perfection. This year, the public's boiling point may have been reached.

There's anger in our land; anger at self-serving politicians; anger at a government that seems disassociated from the public good; anger at leaders who are dishonest and corrupt, who favor special interests.

Republican nominee Donald Trump has figured out how to stir public anger and frustration. Though he won't likely be elected president, and voters will opt for the lesser of two evils in Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, voter frustration will continue until leaders realize that virtue is a necessary quality for leadership and self-government.

Only by electing virtuous leaders with high moral standards dedicated to the public good can confidence in self-government fulfill the promise of 1776.

Nethercutt is a former U.S. representative from Washington state, serving from 1995 to 2005.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.