My history is not the same as the average Utahn. I was born in the Midwest and have lived in sixteen cities in twelve states over my lifetime, including three different locations in Utah. My formative grade school years were in Atlanta, so in essence, I am a Son of the South. But high school and college were in the Northeast, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. I never saw the Rockies until I was in my twenties when I traveled to BYU for graduate school. In essence, I have seen a broad swath of the many subcultures that comprise our country. I have enjoyed them all, even though they are quite diverse. With that background, it is ominous to contemplate the question: is Utah the last sane place left remaining in America?
In the current political climate, this is a valid question. Keep in mind that for some not born and raised in our beautiful state that Utah is seen as an anomaly. We are viewed as homogeneous, backward, and often dogmatic and ignorant. Over the last few decades, we have set unique trends such as our responsible conservative fiscal policy, above-average birth rate, and our penchant for innovation. These have received notice nationally and internationally. But in the minds of many (and you have heard the jokes), Utah is seen as a state still living in the dim memory of the 1950s. At this point one has to wonder, would that be such a bad thing?
When I was young this country was not a place of extreme political division. Politically speaking most Americans were middle-of-the-road moderates that leaned a little right or left. Anyone who viewed Socialism as favorable or wanted to “burn the system down” was seen as a preposterous radical and would have no credibility among mainstream Americans, be they Democrats or Republicans. Groups of friends would contain people identifying with both parties and their discussions were usually friendly and varied only in the nuance of ideas or programs. Our value systems were united in the greatness of our country, family, faith, the Constitution, and the opportunities America provided for all of us.
But a few decades ago things began to change. You can lay the blame at the feet of numerous peoples, factors, and forces in play, but the result is we now live in a country that is being torn asunder along partisan lines. People are fleeing to their “echo chambers” and are no longer finding common ground with friends or colleagues that choose the opposite side of the issues. When you have mainstream media and leftists supporters wanting to “wipe out Republicans” or ostracize anyone who supported the Trump Administration through a “Trump Accountability Project”, you know that rational discourse and debate have flown off the rails.
But in many ways, we do not see things from this severely oppositional perspective in Utah. In some respects, the old jokes still apply. Our brothers and sisters, friends, and colleagues can disagree on national politics, yet still remain friends. We are, in this respect, very much like America sixty years ago. And that is indeed a plus. Such a dynamic may now be the exception in San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. And the results of such division may soon be played out on the streets of their cities, something we would prefer not to see.
I many ways, other places in America have lost the commonality that unites us, preferring an unhealthy sort of partisan tribalism. We have seen this as mobs roam the streets of some of our cities, looting and burning as they go. This is not a civilized approach to anything, despite feelings of injustice. As Americans flock to the extreme edges of their ideologies, they lose their ability to rationally approach their fellow citizens in a productive dialog. Utah still seems to be holding services on a more cooperative “we are all in this together” approach.
As elected representatives and their surrogates in media and big tech run to the fringes of our political spectrum, we have no obligation to follow them. In fact, it can be argued it is our duty as conscientious citizens not to validate those who would encourage us to such extremes. We have an obligation to expect and demand rational policy from our own local leaders (note the stark contrast between Gary Herbert and other governors such as Gretchen Whitmer, Andrew Cuomo, or Gavin Newsom). We have far more in common as Americans than we do as ideologues for any party, platform, or political philosophy. That is a dangerous thought to those in power who would benefit from our division. It is an ideal still alive and well in Utah. We need to sustain that good example.