IN THIS tragic year marked by death, disease, cowardice and dishonesty, we can still give thanks — perhaps even more heartfelt than in better times — for those who have worked so hard and given so much to safeguard our health and preserve a sense of common purpose.

Rescue workers, nurses, doctors and hospital orderlies, dealing with the pandemic that has swept over much of the world, risk their lives every day; too many have lost their lives. Others risk their health and safety each day to provide the goods and services that keep things going — producing our food, going into strangers’ homes to fix the plumbing or the furnace or to clean the house, bringing sustenance to those in need. Their sacrifice has not been requited by the national leadership they deserve, but they continue to serve nonetheless.

Meanwhile, another group of Americans rose to another unexpected challenge. For many years, people who work at the polls have come together to serve their communities and the country. They meet like old friends, Republicans, Democrats and independents who share a devotion to the process — to maintaining the sanctity of elections. This year, their work was maligned and their motives impugned by their own president and many of his supporters. After an election whose outcome was hardly questionable, he denied the reality of his defeat and sought to undermine confidence in procedures that have long stood unchallenged as our means of settling national differences. The unsung, hard-working implementers of our democracy — the poll-watchers, yes, and also the vote-counters, county judges, legislators, local party officials and more — stayed true to their mission.

The people who do right by this country have one thing in common: They are guided by real-life experience, not by loony conspiracy theories tapped out on a keyboard somewhere. Their service is based on an idea expressed in the title of a long-enduring declaration of purpose from the American Revolution: Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” which is still a bestseller. It is common sense that has got us through dangerous times in the past and that likely played a role in convincing the president to end the hindrance to his successor’s transition to office. It is common sense that we must now hope will prevail in days and years to come.

Nearly 250 years ago, in the midst of our founding crisis, Paine wrote words of reassurance for those engaged in the cause of liberty. He said this: that “however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and reason will say, ’tis right.”

And so ’tis, to this day.

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