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Opinion: As we celebrate our nation’s founding, how’s America doing?

SHARE Opinion: As we celebrate our nation’s founding, how’s America doing?
Freedom Festival parade.

An American eagle balloon passes by the crowd at the America’s Freedom Festival Grand Parade in Provo on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. When such balloons passed by, the crowd would scream “spin” and the parade volunteers would run in a circle.

Kelsey Brunner, Deseret News

Happy Independence Day weekend. Sunday is the 245th anniversary of the founding of our beloved republic. But these are not easy times for the good ol’ USA. Your curmudgeonly columnists, who are almost as old as the nation, offer a perspective based on experience, practical insight and our usual blather.

Political leaders, special interest groups, and the media on both sides of the political spectrum are claiming, in high pitched tones, that our democratic republic is in jeopardy. Is this true? Why so much gloom?

Pignanelli: “America was a massive improvement over what came before it. The Founders eliminated inherited nobility and enshrined freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. The Founding was the most radical political—and epistemological—leap forward in history.”— Jonah Goldberg .

Teenagers excel in emotional tirades predicting impending doom when denied their outrageous demands. Usually disconnected from reality, they refuse to acknowledge parents’ prior experience. Like entitled adolescents, left- and right-wing extremists claiming a dystopian future for our country disregard reason or precedence.

Millions are engaged in feverish debates on TV, the internet, periodicals and in their homes. Most discourses are hostile to officials wielding power. The typical response from Americans is either a yawn or an even louder rejoinder. Yet, in many countries such vigor of argument is rewarded with jail time, or worse.

Since 1776, Americans have been at each other’s throats (sometimes literally) disputing the direction of the country. Granted, cable television and internet activities ramped up the current rhetoric, but a quarter-millennium of continuous contention is undeniable. Argument is our sinew. The unpleasantness, and beauty, of democracy is having to listen to someone else’s opinion.

Americans are enduring great changes to their lifestyles, employment, health, and security. We are redefining how we communicate about race, sexuality, faith, environment, priorities of life. No wonder many are a little cranky.

The best advice to raising teenagers is acceptance and appreciation for their enthusiasm. Similarly, sound minds value the passions raging as evidence our country is not in jeopardy — but rather strong and dynamic.

Webb: I know it’s not chic, among many elitists, to be patriotic these days. But I’m an old, white, male, religious Republican – about as un-chic and old-fashioned as anyone can be. So just write me off as an eccentric and obsolete relic of the past.

That status gives me plenty of cover to be patriotic, to love America, to believe that the United States is exceptional — the greatest country in the world — with a destiny and purpose in the sweep of history.

I believe that in many ways we’ve made remarkable progress as a country, especially with regard to civil rights, opportunity for all, and the environment. The fact that these words — diversity, equity, inclusion and sustainability — are now part of nearly every corporate annual report and every discussion among leaders in government, education and business, shows how far we’ve come. We are wealthy and mature enough to focus on higher level goals like justice and equality, not just where our next meal is coming from.

But I don’t believe America is a systemically racist country or that some people (like me) are inherently racist because of the color of their skin.

And I believe that the greatest threats to America’s future come from an abiding belief among many in academia, government and even big corporations that regulation and government programs requiring mind-boggling deficit spending are the best ways to achieve a better life for all citizens.

This faith in big government, while ignoring the “root causes” (to use VP Kamala Harris’ phrase about reducing illegal immigration) of societal and family dysfunction, is our country’s gravest danger.

But, overall, considering that we just came through a devastating pandemic, things are pretty good in America this July 4 weekend.

Most Americans are moderate in tone and centrist in thought. Yet, they are feeling the brunt of all the acrimony and bitterness. Will it ever end?

Pignanelli: Left- and right-wing fringes are fabricating outrageous nonsensical claims. Yet, few in the respective parties are attempting to apply adult supervision.

History is replete with instances of extremes swinging back and forth when civilization is immersed in great upheavals. (i.e. The Enlightenment, French revolution, McCarthyism, the 1960s, etc.) In 2021, societal and political norms are undergoing radical readjustment, with similar oscillations. A simple reading of history reveals a more tranquil atmosphere is the eventual result.

Webb: It’s discouraging for average citizens to be overwhelmed by wall-to-wall news and social media coverage featuring accusations from the left that Americans are systemically racist and are destroying the planet via climate change, while far-right voices decry America as a decadent society moving rapidly toward destructive socialism.

The reality is in between. Enjoy this patriotic weekend by turning off social media, cable news and radio talk shows.

Is the State of Utah spared from the consternation happening on a national level or is it just under the radar?

Pignanelli: Percolating emotions do exist. They are usually mediated pursuant to the “Utah Way” — subdued, respectful and with a practical solution efficiently applied.

Webb: Go to a small-town parade and patriotic celebration in Utah and enjoy a family picnic. That’s the real Utah and real America. 

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist.

Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser.