Why I (Still) Love the United States of America

I’ve been poking at these thoughts on why I love America for a while now. Once you see what they are, you’ll see why Constitution Day seems appropriate for posting them.

More broadly, this is either an especially good time or an unusually bad time for these reflections. We’re several weeks from a midterm election; those are never pretty. We’re two weeks into the Kneel for the National Anthem regular season. We’re in the throes of another nasty Supreme Court nomination battle. We’ve been watching — has it been forever yet? — the ongoing attempt to overthrow a duly elected President I heartily dislike by a  bureaucratic coup I dislike even more. We’re seeing (still? again?) just how ugly our politics can get, when we’re more committed to obtaining political power over each other than we are to truth, justice, freedom, and the rule of law.

And yet I love my country. Here are some of my reasons. (They don’t have to be yours.)

I Declare Amnesty (No, Not That Amnesty)

We’ve entered the post-Labor Day season, during which, by tradition, many voters will begin taking our presidential race seriously.

Meanwhile, many of us have already been paying attention, and we like what we see far less than usual. We’re doing things like leaving our political parties and wondering if our deluded country isn’t worth our political exertions any more.

It’s time for me to make an announcement.

My friends, I am neither God nor the government, so I don’t expect you to think this is earthshaking, but . . .

I hereby grant you amnesty.

Perhaps I should explain.

To Whom and for What?

Yes, amnesty.

To all of you.

No, not for everything you may have done lately. For example, some of you primary voters got us a choice between Trump and Clinton. I’m not presently offering amnesty for that.

Today’s amnesty is mostly preemptive. It’s for your vote or lack thereof in the presidential race this November — and for any reasons, opinions, or gut feelings you may have or offer in support of that vote (or nonvote).

Four Candidate Views of What Should Be Free

Why These Speeches?

National convention acceptance speeches are not perfect windows into candidates’ minds. But they pull in larger audiences than most other political speeches, so they’re crafted with unusual care. They’re a combination of what the candidate wants to say, what key advisors and benefactors want to hear, and what they all — candidate, advisors, donors, party officials, and pollsters alike — think the American people want to hear.

Precisely because they are a careful blend of so many things, they are interesting summaries of a party’s politics in a presidential election year. So this year’s speeches are not just old, pre-Olympic news. They’re useful portraits of our time.

trump and clinton speeched

Snowbird, American Fork Canyon, and Property Rights

It’s now common knowledge in northern Utah County: Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort wants to develop property it owns in American Fork Canyon, over the ridge from the existing resort. Setting aside the controversy over who wasn’t involved or informed as this plan was developed, it comes down to a question of property rights – as so many local issues do.

Mineral-Basin-American-Fork-Canyon

According to this recent Fox13 News story, Bob Bonar, President of Snowbird, asserts that Snowbird’s plan is within the rights of the property owner.

This is still the United States of America, after all, where we acknowledge and protect fundamental rights. Property rights are among these; we speak of them in the same breath with life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and freedoms of speech and religion.

On its face, it might seem simple. Snowbird owns the land, and property rights belong to the owner. That should settle the question, right? Can’t we just dismiss any opposition as grouchy politics, or as acronymic, nuisance sentimentality in a league with NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), NOTE (Not Over There Either), BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), or NOPE (Not On Planet Earth)?

Actually, it’s not that simple. (You saw this coming, right?) Land ownership doesn’t settle the question legally or philosophically. Let’s talk about why.

The Post I Never Finished Last Year (Updated)

For me 2015 was, among other things, a year in which I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to, and didn’t finish some of the writing I started.

I’m trying to avoid that this year, in part by scaling back my expectations, but also by doing a little better outside of election season. There are things other than politics and government about which I want to write — am writing — elsewhere, but these things matter too.

I have fragments of an unpublished post from last year in which I predicted some things for the coming year. I thought it might be interesting to look back, forward, and around on the same topics one year later.

Constitution Day: A Big Deal

US ConstitutionHappy Constitution Day!

228 years ago today, the 1787 Constitutional Convention finished its work and formally sent its proposed Constitution of the United States of America to the states for ratification. It was a pivotal day (and then some) for the United States, but also for the world.

Granted, the Founders each brought large, vigorous bundles of competing interests to the convention. Granted, they were imperfect on many levels, as mortals tend to be. Granted, some of them owned slaves, and the rest of them were (just barely) willing to defer that problem as the price of having a functioning government at all. Granted — and inevitably — their work was imperfect, incomplete. That’s why they established a mechanism for amending it. But their compromise of compromises was the best they could do under the circumstances. It was the best we have ever done. They gave us a flawed, tempestuous republic which survives to this day.

Guest Post: Bruce Call – Let’s Start Acting Like Employers

Bruce Call

[Bruce Call is a former mayor of Pleasant Grove, Utah. I saw this on Facebook just before Election Day and thought it insightful and well written — and applicable to a lot more cities than just Pleasant Grove. He kindly gave permission to reprint it here. As you will see, he moves past the immediate issue very quickly, and on to a crucial lesson for all citizens.]

To my friends who haven’t yet decided on the public safety bond issue:

It won’t come as any surprise that I am 100% in favor of the bond. It was the right thing to do last year, and it’s still the right thing to do. But with all the information, misinformation, and disinformation out there, let me give you a perspective that most of us fail to consider.

I often hear citizens say, “The police and fire employees need to remember that they work for us.” I agree — and I know they do remember that every single day.

But I would like all of us to turn that concept around and understand what it means. The citizens need to remember that they employ the public safety personnel. You are their employer. And having employees comes with obligations.

One of the major obligations of any employer is providing a safe workplace. We do not do that. It is our obligation to provide a safe workplace, and we simply do not do that. If a private company delivered the working conditions that you do for your public safety employees, the world would hold that employer’s feet to the fire in a loud and public way until changes were made.

Imagine an employer who not only won’t fix deplorable conditions, but scoffs at his employees and calls them selfish.

Imagine an employer who doesn’t even know the extent of the miserable conditions of the work environment he supplies, because he’s never even visited.

Imagine an employer who can’t be bothered to talk to his employees or get to know them on any level before deciding that they’re just fine with what they already have.

We want the police and fire to remember who they work for. Okay. So if we want to be thought of as employers, let’s start acting like employers. Responsible employers.

It’s time to step it up and do what’s right by the people who work for us.

Please Welcome Two Guest Columnists (And Soon a Third)

I rolled FreedomHabit.com live five weeks ago, with the thought that, somewhere down the road, I might want to think about guest columnists. Then, in space of about four days, three of them fell into my lap. That is, I saw three pieces of writing which were related to the (now-recent) election, yes, but with broader, more lasting value, and I asked permission to publish or republish them. I’m three for three, permission-wise.

I posted two of the pieces on Election Day, since they had some bearing on the election and permission came that quickly, but I didn’t promote them. I didn’t want to distract from what I was promoting that day, and I didn’t want the writing lost in the whirlwind or dismissed as relevant only to that day’s election.

Heidi Rodeback of American Fork (formerly MFCC, My Favorite City Councilor, now MFGC, My Favorite Guest Columnist — apologies to other present and future guest columnists, but I trust you understand) writes in favor of local government funding for arts programs. She makes the argument better and more clearly than we usually do.

Joylin Lincoln of Saratoga Springs writes of education, and why she entered the state school board race. It’s less about politics than you’d think. After you’ve read and reread her column, I suspect you’ll begin to understand why I called her “utterly charming” as a candidate.

I hope both will favor us with their thoughts here again. And I’ll publish a gem from my third guest columnist very soon.

Thanks for reading.

Guest Post: Heidi Rodeback – A Case for Public Arts Funding

 

Heidi Rodeback

[Editor’s Note: This post holds some interest for today’s vote in American Fork on a proposed 0.10% sales tax increment to support parks, arts, recreation, and culture, but its lasting value is a cogent explanation of why and how government funding of the arts makes sense. Heidi Rodeback is a local musician and served on the American Fork City Council for eight years.]

At American Fork’s October 28, 2014, city council meeting, I was present for Carlton Bowen’s statement in opposition to the PARC tax, which has been reported by Barbara Christiansen at the Provo Daily Herald. I agree more than disagree with Mr. Bowen on the following, but the disagreement is significant.

“Funding of the arts isn’t a proper or primary role of government and is better done without government funding,” he said. “At the federal level, government funding of the arts has led to obscene and disturbing art that taxpayers would never voluntarily fund. Citizens shouldn’t be forced to fund art that they find offensive, through taxation. At the local level, funding of the arts can lead to the same problems as at the federal level, where art offensive to the community is funded with tax dollars because the rules allow it and the city gets threatened with a lawsuit if they play favorites.”

Yes, the road to public arts funding is fraught with peril. Still, good government must navigate this road successfully, as arts are essential to civil society. As a professional musician, I have given this subject a lot of study, and I believe that arts funding, while not a primary role of government, is nevertheless a proper role. A community can navigate successfully by remembering the following:

Marilynne Robinson: Capitalism or Freedom?

From Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York: Picador –Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)

Having just quoted Walt Whitman, she writes:

We now live in a political environment characterized by wolfishness and filled with blather. We have the passive pious, who feel they have proved their moral refinement in declaring the whole enterprise bankrupt, and we have the active pious, who agree with them, with the difference that they see some hope in a hastily arranged liquidation of cultural assets. (x)

The key words at the end are “the secondary consequences of the progress of freedom” (my italics) . . .

I know that there are numberless acts of generosity, moral as well as material, carried out among [America’s] people every hour of the day. But the language of public life has lost the character of generosity, and the largeness of spirit that has created and supported the best of our institutions and brought reform to the worst of them has been erased out of historical memory. On both sides the sole motive force in our past is now said to have been capitalism. On both sides capitalism is understood as grasping materialism that has somehow or other yielded the comforts and liberties of modern life. . . .

What if good institutions were in fact the product of good intentions? What if the cynicism that is supposed to be rigor and the acquisitiveness that is supposed to be realism are making us forget the origins of the greatness we lay claim to — power and wealth as secondary consequences of the progress of freedom? (xiv-xv, italics added)

(The link above is to the book at my Amazon store, where purchases support this site. However, libraries and fine local bookstores are also wonderful things. The chief thing is to read.)