Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
August 21st is my Mom’s birthday, and this year, it marked a sad first for me. Without my Mom in my life since July 1st, I didn’t scramble to find her the perfect card and gift, nor could I sing “happy birthday mom,” tell her how much I love her, or hear how friends are feting her.
Nearly every human being has or will suffer this heartbreak. I’m grateful to the big-hearted, insightful souls – including near strangers – who’ve reached out with consolation, grace and guidance, helping me Think Again as I set about to plan a funeral, write my Mom’s eulogy and obituary, and then return to my own life.
In our hyper-judgmental, social media-charged world, opinions are ubiquitous, but wisdom isn’t. When a precious pearl hits you, you know it, like this insight from a new acquaintance who’d walked this path:
”I understand the pain you must be going through…You’ve never been alive without your Mom so never had an Aug. 9 without her. The first year I thought of every day like that… You will never get over the hole in your heart from losing your mother. However, it is what you allow to blossom in that hole that will sanctify her life…”
Now seven weeks into this realization – and having remembered Mom’s birthday without her – I am focused on cultivating a garden of blossoms, and it’s definitely consoling.
Now that I’ve walked this painful path, I have lessons to impart, including a difficult one that’s complicated my grieving and hindered my return to life. I offer my lessons hoping that future “path walkers” benefit from my experience.
First lesson: an obituary is more than a biographical list. It’s a story about how a person navigated and impacted the world, leaving indelible footprints. Distilling the essence of a person is the goal.
That’s how I approached my Mom’s obituary, linked here. Surprisingly, several publications in the cities she’d lived saw her passing as news, printing it with a photo, without charging, and in standard paragraph structure, not just a monotonous block of words.
I also named the non-profits to which people could donate in her honor and have enjoyed beholding how many are giving to the causes she championed. What a wonderful way to make her memory a blessing.
I’ve come to realize that the void created by her loss is the flip side of the love she spread in the world, for which she is beloved – the greater the void, the greater the love.
Second lesson: try to capture memories to make remembering easier, for time immemorial. This was a friend’s advice last August when I first heard about my Mom’s cancer diagnosis. So I bought a 128 GB iPod Touch to record conversations, videos, and photos – even doctors’ appointments, which proved helpful in clarifying treatment options to my Mom.
Since her passing, I’ve been heartened listening to our hours of conversing, chockfull of her lifetime reminiscences, laments about lost opportunities, thoughts about living while dying, and her gratitude and wishes for my family and me.
We lived out the Hunter Thompson quip – “Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you only have one.” We reconciled long-simmering resentments, apologized, forgave, told jokes and laughed a lot.
Though my pleading for her to eat, drink and take her medicine was an irritant, my Mom – “tough as nails” in the face of cancer – appreciated my concern, knowing that helping her persevere was my way of expressing love.
In approaching her end, she exited this world as she lived her life, daring to be different and to follow her own star. She understood the ultimate question of life is not how great you think you are, but how great you think your purpose is. Ever-present, her star lights my life’s path.
Third lesson: beware of speaking from the grave – even inadvertently – creating needless trauma for grieving loved ones. Get your affairs in order before it’s necessary and while you have the clarity and concentration to assure “i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.” If trust provisions are incomplete, the interests of grieving family members can be overridden.
Specifically, ensure your legal documents are clear about intentions and final wishes, and make certain those administering your affairs after you’re gone have emotional IQ.
Think Again – We honor those who have passed not by maintaining the void created by their loss, but by filling it with life. Hopefully sharing my lessons publically can help guide the living through similar adversity, sanctifying my Mom’s vibrant and meaningful life.
Happy birthday, Mom. I love you!
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
My son brought this telling joke home from camp: "If Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in a fatal car accident, who survives? Answer: America."
If this joke resonates, you’re like the 81 percent polled by AP/GfK who are scared by one or both of the presumptive presidential nominees, the two most polarizing, distrusted and unpopular candidates in US history.
Since Clinton and Trump emerged as frontrunners, Americans of varying political persuasions have despaired that the 2016 presidential election comes down to two famously flawed celebrities, candidates who’d wage an unrelenting, insult-filled slugfest, not a clarifying solution-focused debate. Hence the now-popular t-shirt, “I already hate our next president.”
Mid-way through this turbulent summer, with the nation reeling from terrorist attacks and fraying race relations, majorities of dispirited Americans wish the parties would Think Again about their nominees, neither of whom engender trust or confidence in a citizenry craving both.
Like last month’s Brexit vote that reasserted the “consent of the governed” principle, America’s voter revolt reflects the cleavage between elites who profit from the political system and those who feel fleeced by it. It’s also a cry for Washington to address – not exacerbate – pressing problems including immigration, Islamic radicalism, and economic stagnation.
Yet Washington is so politicized and agenda-riddled, even agencies charged with equal enforcement of laws – the IRS, Justice Department, and now the FBI – ride merry-go-rounds of evasion and unaccountability, aided by partisans who defend the law’s unequal application, and a media that’s more lapdog than watchdog.
Consider FBI Director James Comey’s recommendation to not prosecute Clinton despite meticulously detailing her lawlessness and lies. In conceding “individuals engaged in this activity… are often subject to security or administrative sanctions,” Comey advanced the banana republic notion that laws apply differently to the powerful – an injustice our constitution was designed to prevent.
Whether voters in November reassert their pledge of allegiance to “liberty and justice for all” depends on their presidential options, a choice I hoped to influence when I was elected to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention.
An outsider and staunch critic of the Republican Party – as readers of my column know – I wanted a nominee who’d unite the “Party of Lincoln” around its bedrock principle that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” as Abraham Lincoln declared at the height of the Civil War.
My campaign platform echoed President Gerald Ford who reassured at his swearing-in: “Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not men. Here, the people rule.” To their credit, Watergate-era Republicans put country and the rule of law before their man Nixon, heeding Thomas Jefferson’s warning: “The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution.”
Today however, many frustrated Republicans are willing to discard these American precepts, believing we're now a nation that only one man can fix, so screw the laws since they're not being enforced anyway.
As a delegate, I reject this premise and can’t ignore that Trump rarely speaks of liberty, constitutional guardrails, and the increasing concentration of governmental power, preferring instead to campaign-by-insult and bombast.
Feeling more like a “Republican in name only,” I am discouraged by Trump’s “get behind me or else, you loser” posture toward those who disagree, and the acquiescence of RNC insiders. If the presumptive nominee and his party allies won’t try to win over grassroots Republicans like me, how will they secure additional voters in November?
I respect the democratic process, the “will of the people,” and Trump’s record-setting 13.4 million votes. But I also know that 17 million Republicans voted for other candidates, creating fissures that must be addressed.
That party rules supercharged Trump’s weak 44 percent performance – the smallest share ever won by a modern era GOP nominee – into a 62 percent delegate haul, cutting off debate without majority support, should concern delegates.
Conventions aren’t coronations, and recent court rulings confirm that party delegates aren’t rubber stamps untethered from their consciences and emerging facts. That’s why I support liberating the delegates to debate and ultimately vote their conscience in an open convention, whether voluntarily for Trump or someone else. They should do so in good conscience knowing there is no such thing as coerced unity.
It's not about elevating a personality to lead the party; it's about leading the Republican Party back to the elevated ideals on which it was founded, recuperating the alienated.
Most importantly, it’s about defeating Clinton, the most corrupt and deceitful presidential candidate in modern American history, thereby dismantling the two-tiered justice system before its entrenched.
Think Again – Imagine a car accident in which Clinton, Trump and America all survive, because Americans have restored “liberty and justice for all.” Isn’t this what we owe our children?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“Our long national nightmare is over,” President Gerald Ford declared at his swearing-in, marking the end of the most dangerous constitutional crisis since the Civil War – Watergate.
After becoming the only U.S. president to ever resign, Richard Nixon revealed in an interview his mistaken belief that “When the president does it, that means it isn’t illegal.”
Thankfully, our constitutional system and watchdog media proved Nixon wrong, having investigated, judged and expelled the rogue president for abuses of power and obstruction of justice. Even Nixon’s fellow Republicans didn’t Think Again before putting country and the rule of law before party.
“Our Constitution works,” Ford reassured. “Our great Republic is a government of laws and not men. Here, the people rule.” Unfortunately, absent this consensus, 2016’s menacing clouds forecast another nightmare.
Today’s revolt against Washington signals voters’ belief that the people no longer rule. Worse, many citizens feel betrayed and villianized by a “ruling class” (elected and bureaucratic officials and their corporate and media cronies) that’s presided over the greatest scandal – an explosion of government, an avalanche of debt and the imperiling of our children’s future.
As government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, forcing those who “work hard and play by the rules” to subsidize elites who don’t. Incentivized to invest in political influence, not innovation, Big Business reaps trillions in spending, tax and regulatory favors, resulting in a heavily indebted citizenry and a warped and stagnant economy.
Consider these corporate welfare policies, sold to the public as economic saviors: bailouts, farm and energy subsidies, cash-for-clunkers, Export-Import Bank loan guarantees, Dodd-Frank’s “Wall Street reform,” and Obamacare.
Not surprisingly, five of the nation’s seven wealthiest counties surround Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average and small business failures exceeding starts, working Americans suffer stagnant wages, job uncertainty, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Yet neither party’s front-runner is proposing to dismantle the cronyist system that’s the source of this despair. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have harvested fortunes from it – she from selling influence, and he from investing in lucrative political favors.
Most worrying, majorities of Americans hold “stubbornly low opinions of the leading figures in the Democratic and Republican Parties,” reported Michael Barbaro in the New York Times.
The first words voters associate with Clinton are “dishonest” and “liar,” while a large plurality of Republicans would consider a third party if Trump is the nominee. Hence, campaign aids predict, “a Clinton-Trump contest would be an ugly and unrelenting slugfest,” Barbaro wrote.
If that isn’t nightmarish, consider the fallout if FBI Chief James Comey recommends Clinton be prosecuted for Espionage Act violations related to her private email server, which he’s reportedly close to doing.
Of Clinton’s Nixon-like lapses, Watergate sleuth Bob Woodward said recently, “It shows that she…feels immune, that she lives in a bubble and no one’s ever going to find this out.”
Is Ford still right, that we’re a nation of laws, not men? If not, is another constitutional crisis looming?
That the presidential frontrunners are famously flawed confirms the advantage of brand ID, and the adage, “any publicity is good publicity.” Do supporters of campaign finance limitations realize they’re helping transform our political system into a reality show in which self-funding honchos and celebrities are the survivors?
Though Trump has “one of the smallest campaign budgets,” the New York Times reported he’s “earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history.” Wall-to-wall Trump coverage “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” confessed CEO Les Moonves.
Despite Trump’s free media bonanza and “believe me” appeals, he’s yet to persuade Republican majorities who share his supporters’ political, cultural and economic anxieties, but not their confidence in Trump.
“Not-Trump” voters – the one’s he’ll ultimately need to win the nomination and unite the party – find Trump incoherent and inconsistent, worry that his “cures” will intensify the disease, and reject his campaign-by-insult tactics.
Yet just as the field winnowed to finally allow substantive discussion between candidates, Trump refuses to debate, suggesting he’s entitled to the nomination, even if he doesn’t attain the delegate majority threshold met by all Republican nominees since 1856.
Consider that, except for this nomination rule, there’d be no President Abraham Lincoln. He won the Republican nomination on the third ballot, despite entering the 1860 convention behind front-runner William Seward.
Foreshadowing a nightmare from a similarly contested convention that enforces the rules, Trump warned, “’cause we’re way ahead of everybody, I don’t think you can say we don’t get it automatically. I think you’d have riots.”
Think Again – to avoid political nightmares and riots, shouldn’t we insist on remaining a nation of laws not men by upholding the principles that brought Nixon to justice and Lincoln to the presidency?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Among this election season’s oddities was the dust-up between Pope Francis and Donald Trump. After departing Mexico, the Pontiff appeared to criticize Trump in an interview, suggesting that building walls – not bridges – “is not Christian.”
Calling the comment “disgraceful,” the presidential front-runner and insulter-in-chief compelled the Vatican to Think Again before retreating. Meanwhile, comedians joked that the perceived papal putdown would cause church attendance to fall and Trump’s poll numbers to surge.
Indeed, by crossing swords with the Pontiff, Trump burnished his image as a fearless fighter, a trait his voters prize. Unfazed by his incoherence, lack of policy specifics or controversies, Trump supporters, like columnist Jim Nolte, are tired of losing and want “someone who will do whatever it takes to win.”
Buoying Trump is Americans’ sense of powerlessness and insecurity. Consider these controversial policies, imposed on disapproving majorities using extra-constitutional means: the Iran deal; the irresponsible and never-debated Omnibus budget; Obamacare; trade promotion; and executive actions and sanctuary-city policies that nullify immigration laws.
But for Trumpkins, “Making America Great Again” isn’t about restoring government of, by and for the people. It’s about elevating their own Julius Caesar to make deals with a ruling class that runs government like a spoil system – of special interests, by unelected bureaucrats and for political elites.
Apparently, Trumpkins want a warrior who’ll “bork” political opponents. The angry verb “to bork” means to discredit by whatever methods necessary. It was coined after the character assassination of eminent jurist Robert Bork, killing his 1987 Supreme Court nomination the year after recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia won a 98-0 Senate confirmation.
Anti-Bork activist Ann Lewis later explained the unprecedented smear campaign: there’d be a “deep and thoughtful discussion about the Constitution, and then we would lose.” Hence, Kennedy’s fabrication that in Bork’s America, “women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”
Writing 24 years later, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera lamented the nomination battle’s “essential unfairness,” noting “the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.” Whatever one thinks about Bork’s views, Nocera argued, “they cannot be fairly characterized as extreme…. Rarely has a failed nominee had the pedigree – and intellectual firepower – of Bork.”
That Bork was Scalia’s ideological and intellectual equal, but was rejected shortly after Scalia’s unanimous approval, speaks to how politicized the theoretically independent judiciary has become. Consider that it was President Franklin Roosevelt’s fellow Democrats who foiled his plan to pack the Supreme Court.
Thomas Jefferson warned that giving “judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not… would make the Judiciary a despotic branch." Now, having morphed from “the least dangerous branch” into an unelected super-legislature of nine philosopher kings with lifetime appointments, it’s not surprising Supreme Court nominations are hotly contested – and fraught with hypocrisy.
Though waxing indignant over Republican refusals to consider a lame-duck president’s Supreme Court nomination during this election year, Sens. Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden favored obstructing Republican judicial nominees.
In 1992, Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proclaimed, “action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over,” insisting the president not nominate anyone. And in 2006, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted to block an up-or-down vote on Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination.
Ironically, an activist and politicized judiciary is what Scalia wanted to roll back, favoring the founders’ original intent: separation of powers, checks, and an independent judiciary with limited authority to resolve legal disputes by applying – not writing – the law. Other issues should be decided democratically – at the ballot box or by representatives accountable to the people.
By short-circuiting the democratic process for resolving emotionally charged issues, Scalia believed the Court was violating “a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.”
Feeling voiceless and powerless in an America that’s migrated away from it’s founding purpose – the democratic self-governance of a free people – many Trumpkins want a strong-arm “borker” to wield power on their behalf. But do they really want a vengeful president using the IRS, NSA, FBI and CIA to target and punish critics?
As Scalia argued while pointing to unfree nations that have charters of rights, “It isn’t the Bill of Rights that produces freedom; it’s the structure of government that prevents anybody from seizing all the power.”
Essentially, the founders used constitutional walls to separate and check power so that diverse people with differing beliefs would be free to build bridges of mutual respect and tolerance, forging an open and decent society. The Supreme Court’s unlikely “best buddies” – rivals Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – built a remarkable bridge, a lesson for Pope Francis, Trump and Trumpkins.
Think Again – Isn’t the best way to Make America Great Again to elect a president who’ll adhere to America’s great constitution?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
In this topsy-turvy election year, wonders never cease, as Americans Think Again about how to throw the bums out, even unelected bureaucrats.
The willingness to break with long-standing political norms isn’t surprising, considering voter anger, pessimism and spiking anxieties. Recent surveys of Americans show overwhelming majorities believe the country is on the wrong track, the American Dream is unachievable, and our powerful, unaccountable government is America’s biggest threat.
Consequently, political dynasties have been rendered passé, as mega-donor darlings Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton discovered en route to their coronations. Not even their powerful Super PACs (funded by unlimited individual, corporate and union support) can assure their victories.
The standard trump cards aren’t working either, including the gender card, played recently by former Secretary of State and Hillary-backer Madeleine Albright who admonished, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
For Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, the normally formidable race card trumps nothing. But a blustering and incoherent Donald Trump trumps everything, thanks to the limitless free airtime the ratings-hungry media grant him. ”I’m winning by a lot,” the self-funder boasts, but “I spent almost nothing.”
Meanwhile, the media leaves unexamined Trump’s assertion that his wealth is a scorecard of his abilities. Some analysts calculate the present value of Trump’s inheritance would approximate his current net worth, if he’d simply invested it in the S&P 500.
Undermining Trump’s inevitability, the self-described winner’s first electoral outing was a loss to Cruz and near-upset by Rubio, as 76 percent of Iowa caucus-goers voted not-Trump. His New Hampshire victory was impressive, capturing all demographic groups, but two-thirds still voted not-Trump.
As under-performing contenders like Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina exit the crowded field, the eventual consolidation – and Trump’s record-breaking unfavorability in the general population – bode poorly for his candidacy.
Nevertheless, the ratings-magnet is well positioned to parlay popularity into a Trump network, like the media platform that made Michael Bloomberg – who’s contemplating his own self-funded presidential campaign – one of the world’s richest.
Another surprising result was Cruz’s defeat of King Corn in Iowa. The anti-Washington agitator won record numbers of votes in a historic GOP turnout while arguing that farmers are hurt by government ethanol mandates – not helped, as powerful agribusiness lobbyists allege.
Most extraordinary is Bernie Sander’s durability. Polls show the septuagenarian-socialist tied with Clinton nationally, after narrowly losing Iowa but routing her in New Hampshire where 93 percent of Democrats prioritizing honesty preferred Sanders.
Are voters drawn to Sanders’ socialism, or is he the beneficiary of a “no more Clintons” mindset, especially after reports the Clintons “earned” $153 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House?
It’s probably both, since Sanders’ support skews young. Thirsty for trustworthy leadership, “Sandernistas” have witnessed government bailouts and rampant cronyism, while suffering through the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
According to Pew Research, this generation is “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty, and unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income.”
No wonder they find political revolution tempting. But they should study the American Revolution before accepting Sanders’ plan to concentrate ever-growing government power in the name of “social justice.”
As founder James Madison explained, “The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Concerned that a government would eventually encroach on rights and liberties, Thomas Jefferson forecast “debt, corruption and rottenness,” absent constitutional guardrails.
That’s why, after overthrowing King George’s arbitrary and unfair rule, America’s founders established a government with limited powers to protect the equal rights of the people, believing the boundless potential of individuals operating in a free society would “make America great” – and they were right.
Yet as government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting our founders’ liberty-preserving system with cronyism that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Using massive powers to legislate, tax, spend and regulate, policymakers have rigged the economy and undermined the principles on which freedom, fairness and opportunity rely – equality under the law, property rights and sound money.
Given America’s heritage and Big Government’s dismal track record, it’s stunning that Sanders and Trump -- both advocates of using unprecedented government power to centrally plan and control economic life – could win New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” state. Have its freedom-loving voters forgotten the national purpose their state helped found – the democratic self-rule of a free people?
Hopefully, America is in revolt and casting about for outsiders not because they want more government, but because of the failures of our hyper-politicized, unaccountable government: contaminated water, terrorist attacks, dying vets, IRS harassment, illegal immigration, health care chaos, and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards.
Think Again – in this anti-conventional wisdom year, may our founders’ wisdom about the dangers of Big Government ultimately prevail.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
With the civilized world reeling from the Islamic State’s “no-lives-matter” terrorism, it’s worth recalling how General George Patton inspired college-age G.I.’s to vacate their safe spaces for D-Day’s virtual suicide mission. Rallying them to Think Again about their lives’ purpose, Patton’s micro-aggression-laced appeal established, “Americans play to win.”
Could college students cocooned on today’s morally confused campuses appreciate such stridency in defense of liberty, or would they banish Patton as they have other unfashionable voices, including former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice?
“We’ll win this war,” Patton proclaimed, “by fighting and showing the Germans that we’ve got more guts than they have…. We’re not going to just shoot the bastards,” he clarified, “we’re going to rip out their living goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks.”
Responding more fearlessly than today’s campus “crybullies” could fathom, Patton’s troops helped crush Nazism while others extinguished Imperial Japan, ending tyrannical threats to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Seven decades after winning World War II, the greatest threat to individual rights is not Islamic radicalism, but a fading commitment to bedrock democratic values – free expression, equality under the law, and pluralism.
As Abraham Lincoln understood, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms,” he predicted, “it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
To appreciate the freedoms we’re in jeopardy of losing – and the medievalism to which jihadists want to return – recall humanity’s condition before our rights-assuring ideals civilized the world. As 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes described, life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Oscar Wilde once observed how America’s youth, “are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.” Proving Wilde’s point, 40 percent of millenials support government restrictions on offensive speech, according to a recent Pew poll, compared to 12 percent of seniors.
That America’s youth disproportionately favor speech suppression explains headline-grabbing campus meltdowns – and refusals by Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld to perform for students too sensitive to take a joke.
Most distressing is how adults charged with teaching the young to thrive in a world of potential offenses are ceding control to children who are ill-equipped to govern themselves never mind society, creating what essayist Joseph Epstein calls “Kindergarchy.”
Instead of learning how to cope with divergent ideas, values, and speech, many young adults in our Kindergarchy invert the Golden Rule, doing unto others what they wouldn’t want done to them. Increasingly, they’re disrespectful – even hostile – to those with different viewpoints.
Consider these campus absurdities: Mount Holyoke canceled “The Vagina Monologues” for lack of “transgender inclusivity”; Wesleyan’s student government cut funding for a newspaper that published an “offensive” op-ed; Columbia students claimed Greek mythology “marginalizes student identities,” requiring trigger warnings; Brown created a secret group for discussing controversial topics freely; Amherst activists demanded banning free speech posters.
Under pressure to promote the toxic concept of “microaggression” (subconscious bigotry), University of California campuses discourage phrases deemed offensive, including “America is the land of opportunity,” and “There’s only one race, the human race.”
Missouri’s recent protests over alleged racism devolved into demands for the now former university president to write a handwritten resignation letter apologizing for “white, male privilege.”
Yale’s debate over potentially insensitive Halloween costumes morphed into outrage after a faculty member suggested, “free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.” Is there room, she wondered, to be “obnoxious,” “inappropriate,” or offensive” on campuses that are increasingly “places of censure and prohibition?” In response, a student whined, “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.”
In their widely-discussed Atlantic essay, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” co-authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff argue “teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons…may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.”
Herein lies the problem with the “victimhood culture” that permeates our Kindergarchy – it disempowers and hurts people. Wouldn’t young adults “be better prepared to flourish,” Haidt and Lukianoff ask, “if we taught them to question their own emotional reactions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt?”
Ultimately, coerced silence kills democracy for as Edmund Burke noted, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Americans have always been a people willing to do something about evil, but as Patton understood, defeating evil is a choice, not a destiny.
To secure the open and vibrant society from which America’s creativity, prosperity and decency spring, we must continuously defend our democratic values, at home and abroad.
Think Again – without America as a bulwark of liberty, how will the Islamic world ever embrace freedom and modernity?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“I often long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood,” joked Sen. Fred Thompson, the “Law & Order” star who died recently. A real-life prosecutor and Watergate counsel, Thompson formulated the famous question that hastened Richard Nixon’s downfall: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
If you believe this question still delivers political accountability, Think Again. Alas, the Watergate era’s bipartisan commitment to equal and impartial justice has been rendered obsolete by lawmakers who often operate lawlessly. Capturing the hypocrisy, comedian Bill Murray tweeted “So, if we lie to the government, it’s a felony. But if they lie to us its politics…”
Bernie Sanders is right. A few rich people shouldn’t run the country. But neither should entitled politicians, as America’s founders understood. That’s because “even good people do bad things,” Thompson lamented, observing, “Some of our folks went to Washington to drain the swamp and made partnership with the alligators instead.”
Designed to limit and restrain power-hungry alligators, our liberty-preserving system reflected our founders’ insight that “men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious,” as Alexander Hamilton put it. “Let no more be heard of confidence in man,” Thomas Jefferson argued, “but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
Yet so politicized is Washington, even institutions charged with equal enforcement of laws (the Justice Department and the IRS) ride a merry-go-round of evasion and unaccountability, abetted by politicians who defend the indefensible, and a political media whose untrustworthiness rivals that of Congress.
Not surprisingly, Americans are searching for “anti-politicians” and rejecting the herd-like media’s monopoly. Witness Ben Carson’s recent $4-million fundraising haul from small donors. Viewing the media as more interested in discrediting than investigating, the concern isn’t media scrutiny but its unequal application.
Comparing the IRS and Benghazi scandals to Watergate, journalistic sleuths Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have criticized the media for abandoning its role to safeguard the people from the government, appearing instead to protect government officials from Americans.
Unlike Watergate, both controversies were dismissed as political witch-hunts. Virtually unnoticed was last month’s Justice Department decision to drop charges against IRS officials – notably Lois Lerner – for abuses of power. Will the FBI criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s classified information violations also be whitewashed, unlike the cases of two former CIA directors who were held accountable for similar violations?
Also headed for history’s dustbin is the Benghazi tragedy that resulted in four American deaths. After Clinton testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi last month, reporters marveled at her lawyerly obfuscations, calling her testimony a “political victory.”
Though the hearings established what Clinton knew and when she knew it, reporters noted instead her calm demeanor under questioning. Imagine Woodward and Bernstein covering Nixon’s burglars as if they were Broadway performers.
Her never-before-seen emails confirmed that she intentionally lied when she publicly blamed an anti-Muslim video for what she simultaneously told her family was a premeditated al-Qaeda-like attack on our consulate.
But as Clinton once asked, “What difference at this point does it make?” Do the incompetence, avoidable deaths, lied-to victims’ families, stonewalling, covert server, and unaccountability really not matter?
National Journal pundit Ron Fournier, a longtime Clinton-fan, thinks “it makes all the difference” to an electorate that’s lost trust in government and politics. About Clinton – whose honesty rating in the Quinnipiac poll is the lowest among presidential candidates – Fournier wrote, “Only the most blindly loyal and partisan voters will accept her word and ignore the serial deception.”
Voters also feel deceived by Congress, especially after former House Speaker John Boehner’s last official act – the secretly negotiated, accounting gimmick-laden budget bill that passed in the dead of night, without review or debate.
Suspending the debt ceiling and painstakingly negotiated spending caps, this deal means that by 2017, Congress will have authorized an additional $15 trillion in debt since George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration. That’s three times more debt in 16 years than was accumulated the prior 200 years.
Touted as bipartisan, the irresponsible budget deal confirms retired Sen. Tom Coburn’s insight: the problem isn’t that politicians can’t agree, it’s that they’ve agreed for decades “to borrow and spend far beyond our means” and the Constitution’s boundaries. It’s “the very problem our founders sought to avoid – a deeply indebted government that’s threatening the survival of our republic.”
Absent Constitutional guardrails, a shared belief that no one is above the law, and a watchdog media that enforces accountability, Nixon-like alligators now rule Washington. Thompson was onto the solution when he joked that should scientists ever learn to resurrect extinct species, we “might want to start with the Founding Fathers.”
Think Again – while we can’t bring back our Founders, we can restrain Washington’s alligators by being informed and engaged citizens, and by heeding Jefferson’s warning: “The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
As a giant marketplace of ideas, Facebook is an astonishing opinion barometer, for better or worse. Its force multiplying “likes” and “shares” can direct masses toward aspirational “Arab Spring”-type movements, or incite mobs with false grievances, like the “Hands up, don’t shoot” mythology that plagued Ferguson.
Whether people of goodwill are swept toward virtue or delusion and chaos depends on their willingness to Think Again about unexamined facts and “likes” – “to follow truth wherever it may lead,” as Thomas Jefferson urged.
Martin Luther King inspired a national self-examination that touched Americans’ conscience. Motivated by the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, Americans flocked to King’s moral crusade – a movement Facebook would have turbocharged. Conversely, social media-fueled lies about Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have incited cascading barbarism against Jews and ancient holy sites.
Last fall, I noticed a New York friend’s wildly liked Facebook post about massive student demonstrations in the Denver suburbs of Jefferson County. What injustice – real or perceived, I wondered – had sparked such passion and national attention?
Turns out, the school board was considering a proposal to review the College Board’s recently revised Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum. They’d also passed a merit-pay plan opposed by the education establishment.
Hell broke lose as teacher sickouts roused aggrieved teens to protest, citing “censorship” of their education. “JeffCo wants to remove slavery from the history curriculum,” they cried, bemoaning the elimination of the civilly disobedient King.
“We don’t believe our education should be filtered by those who might not have the same values we do,” one agitator clarified. Another candidly linked the protests to disgruntled teachers, “I think it’s because they’re all mainly upset because they’re not getting enough raises…that’s what I was told by my history teacher.”
Using the hashtag #standup4kids, social media supporters likened the protestors to MLK, and compared their school board “oppressors” to Nazi book-burners and communists.
For perspective, fast-forward to this summer when dozens of distinguished academics published a scathing letter about the College Board, criticizing its power over local policymakers and its “notable biases” and “misleading account of American history” – as if rebutting the #standup4kids narrative. Acknowledging errors, the College Board issued a “clearer and more balanced” curriculum, satisfying most critics.
Today, despite this vindication, the 3-member JeffCo board majority is the target of a November 3rd recall election, after decisively winning in 2013 on a platform to reform Colorado’s second-largest and underachieving school district (serving 85,000 students), and to better govern its billion dollar annual budget and 5,000 professionals.
JeffCo’s math and science scores lag national norms, flat since the 1970s despite an inflation-adjusted tripling of K-12 education spending. For years, fewer than one-in-two JeffCo students have rated “college and career ready” on the all-important ACT test; one-in-five don’t graduate in four years; and of graduates, one-in-four require educational remediation.
Yet since the new board assumed office, the education establishment and #standup4kids allies have fiercely opposed the reformers’ ideas to bolster student achievement, especially pay-for-performance and per-pupil funding equalization for charter schools.
At the start of the board’s tenure, Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman labeled it “hostile,” promising to “make the educator voice strong and loud.” Consequently, board meetings – streamed live – are like the Hatfields and McCoys, filled with conflict, acrimony, and audience catcalls.
Nevertheless, the board has passed reforms to encourage innovation and school choice; devolve decision-making authority and accountability to principals and teachers; and boost compensation 7.5 percent. Recognizing that while change is difficult, not changing can be fatal, board reformers are buoyed by already-improved student achievement and graduation rates.
The Denver Post editorial board has repeatedly lauded these accomplishments, noting the critics’ “ongoing beef with the board often was over policies that actually made sense and most parents might well support.” Blasting “falsehoods” in the “alleged indictment,” the Post argues recallers are “out of line” for “misusing a process that should be reserved mainly for malfeasance and corruption, or when the official can’t do the job.”
Garnering national attention again, JeffCo’s recall election is “ground zero” in the battle to improve K-12 education. Whether every student has a shot at realizing their unique talents, and competing in our hyper-competitive globalized economy, depends on modernizing the entrenched system stymying them.
Most importantly, it requires leaders who accept the insight of Martin Luther King, one of America’s most consequential change agents. “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable,” he said, for “every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle.”
The truth is, it’s a struggle to reason someone out of a position they’ve unreasonably taken, whether white supremacists, knife-wielding terrorists, “hands up, don’t shoot” myth-promoters, or #standup4kids campaigners.
Think Again – before joining social media crusades to express solidarity or outrage, recall social critic Aldous Huxley’s truism: “facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
If only Pope Francis were in my Buenos Aires taxi last Christmas.
I could have used his moral authority (and Argentine-accented Spanish) in negotiating with a driver who’d forgotten the “Golden Rule.” And in witnessing my struggle, the self-described “very allergic to economics” pontiff might have gleaned a moral lesson, helping him Think Again about the free enterprise system he’s criticized.
Perhaps he’d grasp why the life-enhancing innovations that America continuously exports – cars, vaccinations, refrigerators, iPhones, 3-D printers, and the cheap and reliable taxi-alternative Uber, for which I longed – don’t happen in Argentina.
Nor do they spring from other Latin American countries, like Venezuela where a protest sign encapsulated people’s contempt for the social-justice espousing frauds who run many Latin nations: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer.”
Would His Holiness recognize how Argentina’s corporatism – the unholy alliance between government and conglomerates – corrodes social trust, rendering his countrymen voiceless and crucifying their wellbeing and dignity?
After successive governments eroded the rule of law, property rights, and sound money, replacing free enterprise with central planning and a debt-financed welfare state, Argentina slid toward the bottom of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Index.
Once the world’s breadbasket and fourth-richest nation per-capita – hence the saying “rich as an Argentine” – the Pope’s native land is now a basket case with economic wellbeing (GDP per-capita) only one-third America’s.
If the Holy Father had heard our cabdriver despair over widespread deprivation, corruption and distrust of everyone except the pontiff, might he agree with fellow rock-star Bono about how to lift up the masses? “In dealing with poverty,” Bono stresses, “welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure.”
The patient is mending, the World Bank reported: For the first time in history, extreme poverty afflicts less than 10 percent of world population. Meanwhile, people in economically freer countries enjoy higher living standards, cleaner environments, longer lives, and better-protected civil rights. They also have less corruption, child labor and unemployment.
In his new book, “The Conservative Heart,” American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks calls the free enterprise system “America’s gift to the world,” enabling more people to pursue their happiness through earned success derived from work.
“It was the free enterprise system that not only attracted millions of the world’s poor to our shores and gave them lives of dignity, but also empowered billions more worldwide to pull themselves out of poverty,” Brooks asserts.
At home, however, America’s asymmetric recovery “has cleaved the country into winners and losers like never before,” he writes. Consequently, Americans fear our free society’s trademarks – opportunity and social mobility – are disappearing, imperiling our children’s security and prosperity.
We may be better off than Argentines, but with median income down 6.5 percent since 2007, record numbers out of the workforce, poverty and government dependency rates at all-time highs, and deaths of small businesses (job creation’s primary engine) exceeding starts for the first time on record, it feels like we’re slouching toward Argentina.
While Wall Street and Silicon Valley have boomed, the richest and most generous nation on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration – like Baltimore – where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Brooks’ snapshot of the last seven years is “deja-vu all over again,” Argentine-style: “People see corporate cronies getting rich because of their cozy relationship with the government. They see bailouts for huge banks but small businesses going bust. They see government loan guarantees for big companies with friends in high places, but hear ‘No loans for you’ from their local bank.”
Ranked among the world’s most economically free nations for decades, America has fallen to 16 in Fraser’s Index, due to these unfair government policies. Consequently, US annual growth is projected to be half its 3 percent historic average.
That His Holiness is unaware of the relationship between economic freedom and human flourishing is a sin, though not original. After all, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sins similarly, arguing for greater government control of our lives, even at the expense of economic growth.
“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants,” Sanders declared, “when children are hungry in this country” – as if narrowing deodorant choice could decrease hunger.
The truth is, poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the most merciful economic system yet designed for moving people toward productive and dignified lives. No central planner exists who’s capable of improving on the endless autonomous decisions made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively in the free market, as if divinely guided.
Think Again – as long as we enjoy the blessings of economic freedom, we have the choice not to attend the Pope Francis & Bernie Sanders School of Economics where the tuition is free, but extraordinarily costly, as my Argentine cabbie would confirm.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Thank God for dirty jokes, especially the two my mom insisted I tell anyone willing to listen as I motored her through a storm of diagnosis and decision-making last month.
Distracting us from the stress of uncertainty and fear, my jokes were just what doctors would order. More important, the memories and reappraisals of moments past -- both bitter and sweet -- that ran like movie reels through our minds were just what the rabbi would have ordered to prepare us for the spiritual Think Again of the Jewish High Holidays.
“Everyone has two lives,” Hunter Thompson famously said. “The second one begins when you realize you only have one.” That’s why mortality is life’s greatest gift, for facing death reawakens the vitality, urgency and aspiration that slumber under blankets of complacency.
The tolling of mortality is the essence of this holy season of reflection, repentance, forgiveness and renewal. The piercing sound of the shofar – the ram’s horn blown on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) -- is the alarm clock for every soul praying to be inscribed for another year in the book of life, as I will do soon at my mom’s side.
It’s no joke, but a realization forged from life experience, that the only perfectly happy families are ones you don’t know well. The truth is, there are no perfect families because there are no perfect lives. But there are imperfect people who, despite their difficulties navigating life’s tumultuous waters, strive to perfect the world by living lives of goodness – like my mom.
Known for her outgoing and commanding personality, a delightful sense of humor, and her beauty, my mom has spent her life sprinkling kindness and love on a world thirsty for both, enriching the lives of people who’ve encountered her, and the causes lucky enough to claim her devotion. Fashion-forward and magnetic, she’s been a leading light, challenging people’s better angels to follow her generous example.
Though my mom and I are profiles in contrasts, I realize how much I am her daughter. The arc of my life has been shaped and guided by her repeated encouragement – “You can do anything you want and overcome any obstacle” – a confidence that’s sustained me through life’s trials.
Like the boy in the children’s book “The Giving Tree,” I know I’ve been nourished by maternal love and sacrifice. Through the prism of my child’s mind’s eye, I recall my mom’s unwavering support as she encouraged me to surmount my youth’s biggest hurdle, the ugly back-brace I wore for scoliosis. And when diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, as my mom had been 30 years earlier, I followed her resolute example.
After bringing into focus so many unexpected memories, it’s clear how our mothers are our first and often best teachers. In learning from those who preceded, and then passing on that legacy to those who follow, parents bestow their greatest gift, an inheritance that keeps on giving, from generation to generation.
“It warms the hearts of parents to see their children’s connection to family and to know that the values and traditions you have tried to impart to the next generation have actually been caught,” writes spiritual author Ron Wolfson in his new memoir, “The Best Boy in the United States of America -- Of Blessings and Kisses.”
The great challenge of life is to sustain and even grow one’s legacy. As the rabbinic sage Maimonides taught, we should think of our deeds as perfectly balanced so that our next act will tip the scales toward the good. Every day in seemingly insignificant ways, we can promote grace, beauty and goodness, helping improve the world. Even amid backsliding, we can wear our souls brightly, returning them a little better when the time comes.
As I strive in this holy season to recommit to being the person my mom believes I can be, I’m reminded of the moving theme song from the musical “Rent.” It asks this question: In the “525,600 minutes of a year, how do you measure the life of a woman or a man?”
“Measure your life in love,” it answers, “seasons of love.”
Being reawakened to life’s fragility is a blessing, for it inspires us to live our minutes with greater intensity and goodness, to continuously love, dream and create. It motivates us to take a minute when appropriate to say, “I love you,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry,” or to ask “ is there anything I can do to help?” It may even mean telling a joke when you’re not really up to it.
While we still have time, “Remember the love, share love, spread love,” as “Rent” exhorts, knowing we’re neither the first nor last to love, just the lucky ones to do so now.
Think Again – May the memories of cherished others, which guide our actions, inspire us to lead lives worthy of remembrance.