Here’s a story I think about often around the Fourth of July.
In 1957, the Supreme Court had ruled that schools in Little Rock, Arkansas needed to be desegregated. It wasn’t a popular move with some of the locals, and when nine black children attempted to enter a school, they were turned away by protestors. President Eisenhower tried a number of tactics to defuse the situation, but in the end, he sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to enforce the decree.
One of the mothers, Mrs. Daisy Bates, told of how she answered a knock at her door and found an impeccably dressed Army officer. He saluted her, and said, “We’re here to escort the children to school. They will be returned safely to you at 3:30 p.m.”
She said that it was the first time in her life she felt like an American citizen.
It’s a great story, but there’s more to it.
It turns out that the officer in charge of the deployment was, in his heart of hearts, a fervent racist. In fact, a few years later, he was kicked out of the Army for disseminating racist pamphlets.
Here’s the deal, though. He had his own personal views - views that I find baffling and abhorrent. But despite what he thought in his heart of hearts, he obeyed his duty as an American, and an American Army officer. That’s what I like about the story.
It’s something worth thinking about. The United States is a strange place. Winston Churchill said most countries are made by geography, the United States is made by history. If we don’t value the history that binds us together - from the Founding Fathers pledging “…our lives, our fortune, and our sacred honor,” to the Gettysburg Address, to all those other moments that define who we are in ways far beyond geography or ethnicity - we are in danger of losing something very valuable indeed.
We need to earn what we’ve been given. We need to pay our dues for this fabulous gift we’ve received. Thomas Paine probably said it best, “What we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” Like that confused Army officer in Little Rock, who knew that his duty required him to do something he didn’t want to, we need to stay true to the price paid by those who came before us.
Will it be easy? Of course not. Any grown-up should know that.
The reason we have fireworks on July 4th is because in a letter to his wife John Adams said, “…the day should be solemnized with shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations.”
Many people have seen that quote, but many of them don’t realize there was more to the letter. After he wrote about the way we should celebrate, he went on to say, “You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means.”
It’s the Fourth of July. We should celebrate with bonfires and illuminations. But on July 5th, get out of bed and uphold what it means to be an American. Respect the gift we’ve been given and honor those who came before, even if it means toil and blood and treasure.
Another quote from Winston Churchill is this: “America can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.”
Everything and everyone who had made America what it is, with its glories and flaws, now calls on us to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.
Just something to think about around the Fourth of July.
Copyright 2018 Brent Olson
Against my better judgement I'm posting this publicly. On the one hand, I believe I've probably included something to offend nearly everyone, on the other hand, I've been a
Democrat my entire life and I feel my party has lost its way and these are some of my ideas for remedying that.
Here is the problem. President Trump is everything I was brought up to disrespect in a man. When I think of the men who taught me to be a man, none of them would have anything to do with him. They wouldn’t hire him, wouldn’t work for him, and if trapped at a church dinner with him, they’d skip dessert to get away from him. We can’t even go into what the women in my life think of him. The fact that he was elected president is a profound indictment on both our political parties.
It’s my opinion the Democratic Party has gone off the rails, and here’s what I believe needs to be done to fix it.
First, forget Wall Street. Stop asking them for money and never, ever give another speech to Wall Street folks (that results in a great, big check.) Money isn’t everything and the optics are just too awful. If you can figure out a way to throw a few banking executives or hedge fund traders in jail, you’re halfway to getting elected. It’s not that rich people are bad. Anyone who builds a business out of a good idea and hard work has my admiration. No, it’s that rich people who don’t contribute materially to the American economy don’t deserve ANY deference. Don’t judge how well the economy is doing by how the stock market is doing. Instead, use median incomes as the benchmark, because that’s what matters to most people.
Second, stop pretending there are no moral issues surrounding abortion. There are so many voters whose ideas and ideals align with the Democratic Party, but they draw the line at the concept of unrestricted abortions. Every abortion is a tragedy, even when it is the lesser of two evils. On the other hand, there is something fundamentally “icky” about a government telling women what to do with their bodies. Everyone should yearn for fewer abortions. If you can’t make the case that the best way to reduce abortions is by increased access to contraception and giving women more informed control, you don’t deserve to be elected.
Third, please ease up on the smug. I distinctly remember sitting at a table full of people with PhD’s, hooting with laughter at a story of a young married couple who were forced to take a vacation to North Dakota. I was just in North Dakota, in a log lodge at the tip of the Coteau des Prairies. The view was awesome, the food was great, and the company was interesting. I know plenty of sheltered, uninformed working class people. That’s a profound pity, but if you’ve had twenty years of education, including a gap year and a semester abroad in Paris, you don’t have any excuse for your ignorance.
Fourth, we need universal health care, but don’t pretend it will be easy or cheap. There is no free lunch, and since we currently spend $10,000 per capita on health care, there’s room for taxes to go up in order to pay for a realistic program. Keep in mind, there are a half million employees in health care insurance companies. They’ll need some help transitioning to different work, along with all the people who work in hospitals and clinics whose job is to deal with insurance companies.
Fifth, make government efficient. People hate the government. I’m a county commissioner so I am the government and I hate the government. There are too many government jobs that don’t seem to require competence or deliverables. If you believe in government, you should demand that it work and be ruthless with incompetence and cluelessness. I’ve often thought that requirements for elected office should include having worked for wages, meeting a payroll, and serving on a school board. A degree in political science and an internship in a representative’s office is not the same thing. Something I hear fairly regularly is, “…all government is bad.” There are two ways to counter that. Ask why with two hundred countries and 5,000 years of recorded history, there’s no record of any non-government Nirvanas out there. The second way to counter that argument is to make government work better by, among other things, not being squishy-liberal-sensitive about incompetence.
Sixth, life in America should include rights AND responsibilities. My great-grandparents attended a church where they held services in Norwegian for forty years. But from the documents they left behind, we can see they were serving on school boards and signing contracts in English ten years after they got off the boat. If you’re new to this country, hold onto your culture. The stew of different cultures is what made America great. However, the more you understand and assimilate into the larger culture the better life is for you and your children. America needs immigrants, lots of them, and they need to follow a rational set of rules. More Green Cards and more jail time for employers who hire illegals would be a start. I’m sensitive to the needs of large truck farms and packing plants for labor, but if your business plan requires you break the law, either the law or your business needs to change.
Seventh, as long as we’re talking about rights and responsibilities, for the country to prosper young people need an education. We also need everyone to come out of their bubbles. To that end, we need universal service. No deferments, no exemptions. When you turn 18, you take some aptitude tests and spend a couple years doing the tasks assigned, whether it is the military or picking up trash in a national park. For each year of service you get a year’s education paid for, with the reimbursement set at what a year at a state university would cost. Rubbing shoulders with young people from Manhattan, Kansas as well as Manhattan, New York would be a profoundly valuable experience for almost everyone.
The war on drugs has been a catastrophic failure, filling our prisons and causing ruination in countries to our south. Mexico and Columbia smuggling drugs into our country isn’t the problem. Americans yearning to use drugs are the problem. It’s easy to burn marijuana plants and have mandatory minimum jail sentences; it’s hard to figure out and deal with the root problems of drug use. We need to choose hard.
President Trump was elected in part because he told stunning, boldfaced lies loudly and repeatedly. In the long run, I don’t think the Democratic Party will win by seeking to become better liars than the opposition. I think we should tell the truth and back it up with facts. If you can’t back it up, don’t say it. Every time a Democrat makes an unsubstantiated claim, it just fuels the flames of, “See, they all lie.”
Ninety percent of what government does is not particularly partisan. Newt Gingrich’s guide to getting elected and Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals have both damaged public discourse. We’ve slid a long way downhill, and I don’t believe it’s a road we really wish to follow much further. I realize it takes two to tango, but if we keep extending our hands and shuffling our feet enticingly in front of the opposition, either they’ll join in for a couple steps or the voters will notice who’s not dancing.
That’s what I think, anyway.
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