John Zaccheo and Kael Weston: What a difference an election makes

With a new president in office, we have a chance to make many things right.

President Biden’s recent meetings in Europe with other world leaders represent a welcome return of American leadership. U.S.-led cooperation is back within the G7 and among historic NATO and European Union allies on critical issues, such as human rights, China and Russia foreign policy challenges, a global COVID vaccination effort, cybersecurity, climate change and tax policies that are fair and prioritize the interests of the people.

No longer do we hear a mantra of “America First” — translation: America Alone — but rather an America that is rallying other nations in common cause and genuine partnership. The U.S. and democracies worldwide are strongest when we work together, not least on an urgent pandemic in which no wall, however high, can keep out a deadly virus.

The most recent presidential election is one that too many in our country consider illegitimate following a deliberate campaign to discredit ballot counting in numerous states. This is a dangerous and un-democratic dilemma that must be confronted. In Utah, a usually conscientious state that President Biden did not win, 2021 and 2022 could be the start of a healthy and overdue political reckoning. This important shift will depend on whether we decide to hold our representatives in government accountable — as well as ourselves.

These last few years have shown how corrosive and damaging politics at its worst can be. And how distrust among too many neighbors across our country is an ominous indication of the repair work that remains to be done by all of us who care enough to reach out to each other.

It has been just five months since Joe Biden assumed the presidency. Not long, but long enough to see positive results and share a palpable sense of relief among most Americans that our country has moved back from the edge, for now. Only two weeks before Biden’s inauguration, after all, we witnessed a direct assault on our democracy by a pro-Trump mob intent on preventing the constitutional certification of the 2020 presidential election.

That dark day, Jan. 6, stands as a violent reminder of how fragile our almost 250-year-old democracy remains. For the first time in our history, the United States of America failed to conduct a peaceful transfer of power. An angry outgoing president instigated violence against our elected representatives in Congress, with some seditionists chanting, chillingly, “Hang Mike Pence” and “Where’s Nancy?” Their hate was directed at both Democrats and Republicans.

Soon after this failed insurrection, one of us unexpectedly received an email from an Iraqi friend in Fallujah, Iraq. Living half a world away in a city that had seen the worst fighting of the Iraq War, this Iraqi physics teacher and former policeman and close observer of America, wrote: “I am saddened by what happened at the Congress building. This contradicts the American spirit of democracy, which is considered a global example.”

Here at home, the battle of facts and truth against demagoguery and deceit is far from over even as Biden has reintroduced to Americans what a competent and caring government means — accomplishing big things for the common good. Some of these Democratic Party top priorities include: widespread COVID vaccinations, pandemic economic relief, infrastructure improvements, tax fairness and making health care more accessible and affordable.

Because of Biden and Democrats in Congress, Utah families will also soon begin receiving much-needed resources to improve the lives of Utah kids under the American Rescue Plan. These investments in the American people and a more hopeful future are an example of conscience-driven policymaking.

The two of us write as Rotarians, one of us a relatively new member, the other for six decades. This remarkable service organization, founded in 1905, is guided by a straightforward set of principles: First, “Is it the truth?” Second, “Is it fair to all concerned?” Third, “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” And fourth, “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

Rotary’s Four-Way Test should be applied in our own lives but also to Utah politicians.

“Is it the truth?” An essential question and the right place to start conversations with family and friends and neighbors – and to help detoxify social media silos. It is also the standard by which each of us should measure those who seek to represent us.

We need more wisdom in government. We should replace those who put party interests above the national interest.

Let’s support the critical work this year of Utah’s Independent Redistricting Commission. Let’s then make sure our Legislature agrees on more balanced electoral maps that serve the public interest. And on Election Days, let’s vote against partisan loyalists and for better leaders.

Otherwise, Jan. 6, 2021, very likely will be a preview of worse days ahead for our country.

John Zaccheo

John Zaccheo, a 94-year old Rotarian, is a former pizza and Italian restaurant owner and business executive who has called Utah home for almost five decades.

Kael Weston

Kael Weston, author, teacher, former State Department official and Rotarian, was the Democratic Party nominee in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.