Caryn Sullivan: False promises of unity and transparency

Though we may be weary, we’re not stupid. We know unity is nothing more than a catchy slogan, like One Minnesota.

President Joe Biden participates in a meeting in the Oval Office in July 2022. (White House/Flickr)

As I process the events of the past week, I’m trying to picture life two, five, even 10 years from now. Every day there’s a new development that makes me wonder what lies ahead. So much of what’s happening feels unfamiliar.

We began the week with an unprecedented raid on the home of a former president and potential future candidate, Donald Trump. News of the raid was so shocking I imagined a collective gasp from coast to coast, border to border as Americans realized that what typically happens in other nations happened in ours.

The nation’s love/hate relationship with Trump being what it is, we’ve naturally had an outpouring of emotional responses, from glee to indignation — and fear.

As Monday turned to Tuesday, I wondered if we’d reached the tipping point where a fractured and brittle nation says this is enough. I worried that an incensed citizen or group would light a metaphoric match and the nation I’ve loved would go up in flames.

Caryn Sullivan

Americans needed an explanation. We needed reassurance.

We got neither.

Rather than display the transparency government officials always promise (but rarely deliver), the feds allowed details to eke out through anonymous sources.

On Wednesday, Newsweek exclusively reported a grand jury had been convened to investigate whether Trump had illegally withheld documents from the National Archives. The raid, we’re told, was designed to be conducted while Trump was in New York City, where he was questioned Tuesday by a dozen members of the New York attorney general’s staff about financial matters.

With the president on vacation, the White House has refused to weigh in, though his press secretary assured journalists he hadn’t been briefed before the raid.

Newsweek reported the FBI director who Trump appointed had also not been briefed.

Three days after the raid, Attorney General Merrick Garland took to the podium to offer brief remarks. He confirmed he authorized the search warrant. He refused to take questions.

Uncertainty continues, fueling all sorts of speculation.

It’s a sad and scary time for our country. In January 2021, Biden promised unity. And yet, I can’t recall a time when we’ve ever been so divided on so many significant issues simultaneously.

And so worried.

And so fearful.

In early May, someone leaked a draft of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case that returned the issue of abortion rights to the states. The leak represented another extraordinary departure from protocol and undermined confidence in a vitally important arm of government.

And yet, here we are in August, with questions but no answers. Americans deserve to know. Who leaked the draft that prompted protests and threats against Supreme Court justices? What consequences will he or she face?

Silence foments distrust.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, voters had their chance to weigh in on local issues and candidates by casting votes in Tuesday’s primary election.

The outcome offered a few rays of hope.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, projected to defeat primary challenger Don Samuels by double digits, barely squeaked by. Whether she heard the voters’ message of discontent remains to be seen.

In St. Paul, voters demonstrated people are paying attention and pushing back when representatives cross too many lines. Almost a year after the DFL Party ousted Rep. John Thompson for a litany of egregious behavior, nearly 90 percent of voters used their own microphones to tell Thompson that if he wouldn’t resign his seat, they would do it for him.

It’s disheartening — but not surprising — to learn a new Fox News poll shows 75 percent of Americans believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. Though we may be weary, we’re not stupid. We know unity is nothing more than a catchy slogan, like One Minnesota.

A once-stable nation is becoming increasingly chaotic. The signs are there, though it’s hard to wrap one’s brain around what they foretell. Don’t be fooled. Chaos makes it easier to facilitate the radical change that’s occurring in our schools, communities, and businesses.

If voters don’t want that kind of change, they still have some power. Become engaged. Learn about the candidates. Learn about their positions and their goals. Then show up and vote in November.


Caryn Sullivan
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A retired attorney and author of the award-winning memoir, "Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page," Caryn Sullivan has inspired readers with her thoughtful commentary for the past two decades. To learn more about Caryn’s work or to connect, visit