As a government whistleblower, I admire people who speak up. I don’t always love what they have to say, but I do love it when people, especially from the state where I was born and raised, engage constructively in political and social issues. Whether it’s understanding the climate crisis, addressing a pandemic, advocating for the Maine economy, or owning up to inequity and racism in our society, those who speak out, honestly and in good faith, are taking responsibility and participating in our social system.
Maine has a long proud tradition of doing so, a tendency that was not always welcomed by the powers-that-be — see Colin Woodard’s excellent series in the Sunday Telegram from earlier this year on Maine’s path to statehood for evidence of this.
But what does “in good faith” mean? It means to engage honestly and fairly, without malice, and without mal-intent. Good Maine values from way back. Speak truth to power, be honest, be sincere. Don’t be a dink.
Sadly, there is a dark, underground river of bad faith that has come to the surface in public discourse, and it has made its way to Maine, where neighbors and friends are getting played.
Those of us who work on climate change issues have seen it for years — decades of disinformation campaigns intended to sow doubt about climate change, funded by the oil and gas industry for obvious reasons. These are not honest efforts to engage, but are intentionally misleading, bad faith efforts to muddy the waters. The same techniques (and often the same voices) were used to keep the tobacco companies going despite all the scientific evidence that tobacco causes cancer.
But now, at a time when most Americans understand we need to take responsibility for the health and well-being of our neighbors, the bad faith talking points are less about science and more about personal freedoms. Most Mainers get it, each of us should take responsibility for the spread of the coronavirus. Wearing a mask protects you and others. Not perfectly, an umbrella doesn’t keep you perfectly dry either, but wearing a mask in public reduces exposure and slows the spread.
As out-of-state money pours into states like Maine to politicize mask-wearing and organize protests, it’s Mainers who are getting played. Despite the bad faith rhetoric, this is not really about personal freedoms (American soldiers didn’t hesitate to risk their lives to storm Normandy and liberate Europe, so wearing a cloth mask to protect your neighbors is not really a lot to ask), it is about creating divisions that political factions can exploit during an election year.
Today, as the nation’s cities burn with anger over a long, dark history of systemic racism in American society, and the president stokes the fires with divisive language, we should expect a new flood of out-of-state money and organizers to try to create and amplify divisions here in Maine. Why? Because President Donald Trump is coming for a visit and is eager to stir up the 2nd Congressional District. Already we have heard of white supremacist actors provoking violence during otherwise peaceful protests around the country. We should expect more of the same here. It will bring some of Maine’s racists out of the shadows, but they do not represent us.
Mainers, these people are not your neighbors, and they are not looking out for your best interests. Do not be played any longer, stand tall like the old-time, no-nonsense Mainers who knew their rights but also took their responsibilities seriously. Be angry. There are great injustices to address, and use this moment to start down the path of healing.
If you are white, support your neighbors who are black, because their pain is our nation’s pain and our shared future depends upon healing it, even if white people cannot conceive just how bad that pain is. Support Maine’s Native American tribes whenever you can. They honored the rivers and mountains of this land long before it was the State of Maine. And finally, speak truth to power at every turn, and always in good faith.
This national turmoil need not be about party politics, nor even about a failed presidency. This could go down in history as the tumble that polished the tourmaline of an inclusive and equitable society — one that serves all Mainers better. Rise above, be angry, be safe, and don’t get played.
Joel Clement of Wayne, the first whistleblower of the Trump Administration, is a senior fellow with the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.