The Perpetual Move of City Hall

At a recent meeting of the governing boards of Stuart, Martin County and the School District, the majority on each board seriously discussed the building of joint facilities on a shared office campus.  There were several rationales given -- we could meet in the halls and have synergy, our current building is 50 years old and approaching the end of its life, and we could save money by combining facilities which would allow the City to free up valuable property for development. What was not expressed was a cogent reason for Stuart to move forward.

It is foolish to think that City Hall can no longer serve our needs because of its age. Could the building use updating? Sure! We need to apply the same reasoning as you would to your own home. You don’t buy a new house because the bathrooms need to be redone. Could the City more efficiently use the space contained in the annex and City Hall? Of course it could. It is manifestly cheaper to reconfigure existing space than to build new space. If you look at it rationally, there is plenty of useful life left in our present City Hall.

So if we don’t need a new building, how do we save money by building one? Where does the $3 or $4 million come from to build? If we did go ahead and commit, the money would have to be borrowed through a bond issuance or a mortgage. Which circles around to the “save money” rationale. How is it less expensive than not building anything?

As to some synergistic relationship between governments, this is wishful thinking at best. (Let’s forget the concept of “Sunshine” for a moment.) All three governments have different needs and missions that do not exactly align. As the fiscally and physically smallest of the three entities, our needs would be subservient to those of the County and School Board.  Recently, the City was tasked with finding a place to hold a fire consolidation meeting. We reached out to the School Board, and they were unable to accommodate us for a variety of reasons. What happens when we are sharing a meeting chamber? Who do you think will be last in line?

A campus with the County and District will erode Stuart’s identity as an independent government. In the future, we will appear, especially to those that do not know our history, to be nothing more than a department within the County. If the County believes consolidation is a good thing, then build a campus and move the Property Appraiser and Tax Collector to a new centralized location.

Finally, we come to the last argument for moving City Hall, which is economic development of the current site. For anyone to think that some magical mystery hotel developer will appear and build a boutique luxury hotel on this current site without subsidies and tax breaks is dreaming or naïve. Even if that appearance occurs, the proposition would still need to go to referendum of our voters where it would most certainly fail. With all that said, I am not against ever moving City Hall.

Here is what I believe needs to occur for this to happen. First we need a plan. The plan needs to not only deal with City Hall but also the entire Flagler Park, historic downtown, Ocean Blvd and Colorado Avenue area. The plan will encompass opening up new or extended streets. There will be new building lots potentially along those extensions. I believe that City Hall’s current site should become part of Flagler Park.  It should not be sold or leased for commercial reasons. The downtown waterfront needs to be maintained for the people.

Within the plan there has to be a source to allow the City funds to pay for a new building. This can be accomplished by the ground lease or sale of the new building lots created along with the increased property tax revenue that will be generated. Any financing and debt service needs to be paid by this new source of revenue. If we do build a new City Hall, then the location must be in a place that will spur economic development for all of Stuart.

We need to forget dreams and fantasies and concentrate on development that can actually occur. What really would be synergistic is our residents and businesses coming together to think about what we can actually achieve while maintaining the true nature and character of Stuart.

The Horror Of Terrorism On Our Own Doorstep 6/14/2016

We in Florida have now been touched by terrorism. Who knows why this act occurred? Was it ISIS inspired or homophobia? Was the perpetrator of this act insane or not? The reasons that he killed 50 people and wounded 53 more can only be surmised now that he is dead.

Omar Mateen was born in New York and attended high school in Martin County and college in Saint Lucie County. He lived and worked in our midst. We passed him at the mall or sat next to him at Wendy’s. Yes, he was a Muslim but only last week the nation mourned the death of another Muslim, Mohammed Ali. Mateen was employed by a security company and assigned to a gate at a home owners’ association. The same company provides guards at the nuclear power plant. Could he have been assigned to protect the power plant instead? What would have been the ramifications if he were?

We could argue about the availability of guns in our society. We could be debating whether that particular type of rifle should be sold to the general public. There was at least one domestic disturbance call that police responded to at his home. The F.B.I. interviewed him twice regarding his radical beliefs. Did the authorities, his employer and his family turn a blind eye to his behavior?

In the coming weeks, Mr. Mateen’s life will be investigated and dissected. His life should be examined in order for us to better understand. But, what we cannot do is succumb to the terror. Terrorists win when we discard our fundamental beliefs in order to have a perceived safety, or when we begin to hate and fear our fellow Americans, or when we presume a religion or a race or an ethnic group is somehow inferior to our own. If we, as a nation, do this, then we have lost the fight. 

America is synonymous with freedom to the entire world. We are not safer by the loss of our freedoms or beliefs. It is so very important that we do not let terrorism succeed by making us disregard those things that we cherish. America needs to rejoice in our intellectual and political heritage…not curb it. The free expression of views, whether you are at a Trump rally or a college campus, needs to be nourished and protected.

Discrimination in any form cannot be tolerated. In colonial times, Benjamin Franklin railed against German settlers for being stupid and overrunning Pennsylvania. The Irish were thought of as animals and their papist religion was scorned. Italians, Jews and Poles were not treated better. Africans were brought here in slavery. This is our history. Assimilation into the American fabric was the antidote for such intolerance.

It is no different today whether you or your parents were from Mexico or Pakistan. America means freedom. The freedoms to live, work, succeed or fail. The terrorist doesn’t win by killing us. They can’t kill 320 million Americans. Terrorists win when Americans no longer believe in America and our ideals. 

The "Free" Market 6/14/2016

If you were to ask most business people and corporate executives whether they believe in the free market, the overwhelming majority would say yes. In reality, the United States is far from a capitalistic free market economy. In Washington and state capitals, lobbyists write our legislation to favor their clients…Big Business, Big Labor and Big Agriculture. Our tax code is primarily a way to help an entrenched industry or individual companies have a market advantage. The raising of revenues is a secondary consideration when it comes to writing tax bills.

Each party blames the other, while all of them pocket every possible campaign donation. Big Business, Big Labor and Big Agriculture do everything possible to pervert the very market that they supposedly believe in. Companies are ingenious when it comes to making government complicit in preventing competition in an open market. Presidents, governors and legislators for a few campaign pennies on the subsidized dollar make it easy for established companies to hide from true competition.

Our economy benefits those with the bucks to contribute. All the while, the people pay for the privilege of supporting those very people who need it least. Trump tells us he is a great businessman, but his fortune was made through the gathering of tax incentives, credits and benefits. The Post Office building which is currently being turned into a luxury hotel in Washington is being accomplished with $180 million of the people’s money. Hillary Clinton is for the little guy as long as she and Bill can make speeches for millions and hob nob with those who made their fortunes from sliding from government job to private industry to think tanks. Trumps business acumen is that he knew how to be a supplicant for government programs.  Clinton’s fortune is based on taking money from the supplicants of government programs. This is the state of American capitalism.

To correct this problem is simple yet so very, very hard to do. Government needs to stop all subsidization of the private sector. No corporation, small business, labor union or farm receives one dollar from the government. They should either be able to thrive, survive or perish without government interference or handouts.

If the people think that universal healthcare, sick leave or paid time off to care for family are good things, then the government, using tax payer dollars, should pay for these benefits not employers. A mandated minimum wage does nothing to foster free markets. Business is not a social welfare agency. The minimum wage should become a guaranteed income that government provides to each citizen.

Regulation should serve a public purpose not prevent the formation of new companies by protecting those businesses already established. Government needs to protect the public but not stifle competition by limiting entry into the marketplace. Competition should be what decides success. There is no free lunch…only the citizens paying for it directly or indirectly…efficiently or inefficiently.       

A Lament For Our River 5/2/2016

I live on the Saint Lucie River in Stuart. I see the devastation that the release of water from Lake Okeechobee brings literally to my backyard. I hate it! As a Stuart City Commissioner, I lobby our representatives in Tallahassee and Washington to clean up the mess that is the Saint Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon.

In the Stuart News, a guest column appeared by Mac Stuckey, a Martin County resident. He demands that the City of Stuart hire an environmental attorney and staff to file complaints, make noise and I presume to commence lawsuits against Florida and Washington. He mentions that we would do so because of Stuart’s police powers to pass ordinances for the welfare of our citizens. Under that authority, the city has passed ordinances to limit the use of septic systems and fertilizer. Mr. Stuckey states that this will not even make a dent. He is largely correct. I agree with him because the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie River comprises hundreds of miles of shore line, and Stuart only has approximately 2 miles.

On the Treasure Coast alone, there are 13 municipalities and 4 counties which border the Lagoon, River and Lake. The Lagoon itself is a much larger area including, but not limited to, Volusia and Brevard counties, and I don’t know how many cities and towns. What I don’t understand is why it Mr. Stuckey believes that Stuart, with 16,000 residents, should spend $500,000 of our taxpayers’ dollars to hire staff to commence law suits, etc., when the problem is much bigger than just our one small community.

Stuart is proud of its environmental record such as completing our 15 year BMAP in the first year. Just last week, the commission passed a resolution supporting a compact formed by the League of Treasure Coast Cities, The League of Sun Coast Cities and League of Space Coast Cities to lobby for these very things mentioned by Mr. Stuckey in Tallahassee and Washington. We also support Martin County’s (Stuart is part of the county and our residents pay county taxes) participation and leadership in the Indian River Lagoon Council.

The tactics that the article promotes will not accomplish anything except be a burden to Stuart’s taxpayers. It is much more practical to work with organizations like the River Coalition, which meets in Stuart’s chamber, to achieve progress. Not being an attorney, my first reaction is not to begin expensive and fruitless litigation. I prefer working with other governmental entities to further a solution.

The people can vote against the current state and federal representatives in the upcoming elections if they are not satisfied with their performance in this matter. This problem did not occur overnight and will not be solved in a day. A constant amount of political pressure must be applied at all levels of government to achieve those goals outlined in Mr. Stuckey’s guest editorial. While Lake Okeechobee releases are a significant problem for Stuart, litigating with the United States and Florida governments would only lead to tax hikes for our residents and businesses.

Since 1956, Stuart has not grown much in population or land mass as compared to other cities on the Treasure Coast. The City of Port Saint Lucie, which today is the 9th largest city in Florida with over 170,000 in population, did not exist. Fort Pierce is on the Indian River Lagoon and has three times our population. The City of Stuart’s median income is $24,000. What Mr. Stuckey proposes would be close to spending 5% of our entire budget.

This problem needs to be tackled as a region…a state…and a nation. I believe the political process would be more successful than litigation. We need to express ourselves through the ballot box not the courthouse. The voters give the elected representatives the power not the special interests. Let us stop thinking in terms of party affiliation instead of governing philosophies. More of us need to become involved in government and civic organizations. Participation and lobbying of our governments in Tallahassee and Washington would be much more productive.

County Commission Races 4/21/2016

Martin County is in the midst of elections for three county commission seats. All three of the current commissioners, John Haddox, Doug Smith and Anne Scott, are running for re-election.  Each incumbent has two other candidates vying for their respective seats. Who one should vote for depends on what you want to see in a county commissioner.

As a city commissioner and resident of Stuart, it is very important to me what each candidate’s views on city/county issues are. For example, will the candidate, if elected, work with Stuart to move the city and county forward for the benefit of all residents. The recent vote on the Willoughby extension is illustrative. The city and county had a binding agreement for the county to complete the road. The city, as part of our agreement, paid the county over a half million dollars toward the project. Stuart, further as agreed, obtained rights of way and did wet lands mitigation work. Chair Scott, along with Commissioners Fielding and Heard, voted not to go forward. Why then would I vote and support Anne Scott for re-election when she voted not to proceed on this project and reneged on this agreement?

Over and over, Commissioner Smith has voted against the city’s interest in his tenure as a county commissioner. He has shown a total disregard for our city even though he represents a portion of Stuart. Similar to some other county commissioners’ views, he forgets that we are not a ward of the county. Stuart is an independent municipal corporation. His misunderstanding of a city’s role would lead me to support Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch. She is a City of Sewell’s Point councilperson and former mayor. She understands what municipalities stand for and how both governments can work together for the common good.

In respect to the District 5 race, Commissioner John Haddox understands what cities are about. He has reached out to me as a city commissioner. John has the ability to look at issues individually and base his decision on the facts before him. What more can you ask of a commissioner? I don’t always agree with John, but I know he has no hidden agenda. He understands that governing should be without prejudice and pre-conceived notions.

Every elected official should base their votes on what they perceive is best for the entire community. You will never have a commissioner agree with you 100% of the time. There needs to be commonality of interest. Ultimately, they should represent your interests more often than not. If you believe a candidate does, then you should elect or re-elect that individual.

All Aboard Florida 4/4/2016

If you are an American, you can’t help but be nostalgic when you hear a train whistle. It is in our DNA to wonder where that train is bound when we hear that plaintiff hollow tune.  How many old men become young boys when they remember Christmas and their Lionel Train sets?

For over a hundred years beginning in the mid nineteenth century, trains meant freedom. It was the way America travelled. Our everyday mundane life was swept away.  White coated waiters were synonymous with dinner in the diner car and nothing could be finer. Trains not only took you from hearth and home but brought you back to your loved one. Some of us can still remember taking a trip on a train, dressed in our Sunday best. Some spent the night sitting up because we couldn’t afford a berth never mind a private compartment.

The railroad was what gave life to Stuart and all the towns up and down the line.  It enabled growth and economic prosperity. The train connected the town to the outside world when there were no phones and no highways. The tracks coming down the center of town meant progress and served as a statement of arrival. Civilization, convenience and conviviality all met at the depot. Anyone coming or leaving had to pass through. News was gathered and sometimes made. Children dreamt of an outside world that perhaps someday they would see by hopping aboard the 11:33.

But we no longer live in 1850 or 1900 or even 1968 when the last passenger train went quietly away. The Stuart depot is long gone, and I can’t even imagine our city ever having one again (even though the promise is sometimes hinted at by railroad officials). Passenger trains have always been money losers. Even in the Wild West days, the railroad made their money by freight and by selling the land that they received free from the government to new settlers and immigrants along their right-a-way.

Perhaps BrightLine or All Aboard Florida or FEC or the Fortress Group have found a secret way to make people moving pay. I suspect not. I suspect like so many things that modern Stuart faces…it is really all about greed. They claim that they own the land. They are private. They are a capitalistic, free market enterprise. But in truth, they are just one more pig at the taxpayer trough. It is easier to buy political acquiescence and influence than to have a truly great new idea. Like all crony capitalists, they are looking for one more handout…one more welfare check.

The railroad whistle no longer has the romantic sound that it once had for me. The train will not take me to faraway places or introduce me to new and exciting adventures. I have grown up. What is also true is that Stuart and the rest of the Treasure Coast have grown up as well. This venture will only cause us harm. It brings nothing but expense, inconvenience and will act as a noose around our necks. We need to make sure that those in Tallahassee and Washington pay a price, regardless of party affiliation, for their actions. This is not a done deal.

Stuart's Transit System 3/22/2016

Since we choose to live within the geographical boundaries of Stuart, our property taxes are a bit higher than if we lived in unincorporated Martin County. For that small additional amount, we receive enhanced municipal services such as shorter police response times. It is far easier to obtain permits or open a business within city limits than in the county. Stuart is the county seat and in actuality the only full service municipality within Martin County.

Martin County provides what they term “public transit.” The system operates Monday to Friday from about 7am to 7pm. It does not run on the weekends or holidays. There are three routes within the county and an express route which goes four times a day to the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach County.  For the most part, the current system part runs either empty or with one or two people. There are definitely reasons for the lack of ridership.

Stuart’s downtown trams move more people per year than the county wide system. For any public transit system to be successful in moving large numbers of people, there needs to be a few essential elements. First, it must take the riders where they want to go. Depending on the demographic served, transit provides a way to bring people to where they are employed, shop, have appointments or are entertained.

Second, the system must be reliable. The public has to know they can safely return home and not worry about missing the last bus because it leaves at 5:00 pm. Therefore, frequency and the duration of the hours of operation are important. This is especially true if you are counting on public transportation to take you to and from work.

There also needs to be enough people or density within the geographic framework of the transit district to allow for the system to operate efficiently and be sustainable. Unfortunately, unincorporated Martin County lacks every element to having a full functioning public transit system. However, the City of Stuart has all the elements in place.

We are geographically contained. Our routes can be relatively short in duration allowing for the frequency needed to move a mass number of people. A public transportation system can allow seniors to remain in their homes longer and be self-sufficient. Whether it is to visit a doctor or to the grocery store, seniors will be able to do that. A system can allow a person to leave his/her car home and go to work …no parking space needed. Teenagers can have the ability to visit a friend, go shopping or get to an after-school job without parental involvement. Someone can use the tram or bus to eat downtown and safely return home without the worry of parking or a DWI.

Our entire city becomes more desirable and livable. It can be an example for other cities to follow.  Imagine attracting young and middle aged families and singles because it would be necessary to own only one car. Teens and seniors would have the ability to get from Point A to Point B allowing for independence for these two diverse groups. Stuart could be known as the most livable city within Florida.

A commitment would be necessary by all residents that a true public transportation system is achievable and doable. It will not be accomplished tomorrow but will take a decade to be fully implemented. The city would also need to come up with funding sources. New routes would have to be thought out and be integrated with existing ones. 

Stuart currently has a system that serves the needs of downtown.  The vast majority of our residents have not used that system. I believe it is time to have every resident be able to use a true micro-transit system within Stuart. We can have a future that serves our existing population and one that will be able to attract new residents. Then we would truly be a full service city. 

Our Democracy 3/18/2016

In Federalist #9 titled The Union as A Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, Hamilton begins by writing that “A Firm Union will be the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection.” The Federalist Papers were authored by 3 Founders: Hamilton, Jay and Madison, known collectively as Publius. The Papers were published in several New York newspapers. The Federalist Papers are a collection of 85 articles putting forth a reasoned political argument in support of ratifying the constitution.

in the late 18th century, the word “democracy” was not synonymous with liberty but with possible tyranny. Opinion makers of the time were familiar with the republics of ancient Rome and Greece.  To many of them, a democracy meant despotism, anarchy, perpetual disunity and factionalism. The possibility of petty tyrants being elevated by the naivety of the masses alarmed the upper classes. They knew what had occurred in Ancient Greece and Rome. That is why George Washington was called the American Cincinnatus and not the American Caesar.

Madison and the other Federalist authors advocated for a republican form of government not a pure democratic one. They understood that to have a nation that endured and was a purveyor of liberty, the power must rest with a divided and inefficient government. The states would check the national government, and the legislative, executive and judicial would act as impediments to any one branch becoming too powerful. Popular sentiment was to be restrained so as to lessen partisanship and the passions of the mob.

 

The Founders were from the upper classes of American society. They were well read in history, philosophy and religion. They understood that mob rule was to be constrained at all costs in order for political, religious and economic liberty to be protected. They were not afraid to compromise in the name of governance. They knew the difference between politics and ethics…comity and rhetoric…fact and fiction.

Today, our politics and politicians no longer understand what the Founders knew by education and training. We have entered the era of America’s equivalent of “Bread and Circuses” which is manifested by the campaign of Donald Trump. We have devolved into a reality television show with our nation as the prize. The Founders feared that our liberties would be in jeopardy by tyrants masquerading as saviors, leaders without vision and authoritarians that had no restraints.

The United States always had partisan politics. Petty hatreds and feuds have been around for as long as the nation. But, now politicians and leaders no longer have an understanding or knowledge of history, nations and civics. They have not read nor are they familiar with philosophy, literature or science. Their policies are not based on anything more than what they can sell to a small percentage of Americans in fear of change and difference.

 

Our liberties cannot be preserved by mob rule. The very essence of our continued existence as a nation is an adherence to the rule of law and not emotion. Hatred and division has resulted in factionalism and gridlock. Trump spouting lies and venom will not make America great. America can only be great if we remember our principles and ideals. There is no “them” there is only “us.” We are a nation bound to the truth of laws, ethics and morals where the rights of a minority are as important as those of the majority.

The Founders were quite adamant in their writings and in drafting the constitution that the president was not similar to a monarch. Our president is not a strongman. The executive is not above the law. Presidential ambitions are to be constrained by the judiciary and the legislature. At the same time, the constitution clearly defines the role of the president and his/her duties into which congress and the judiciary cannot infringe.

In ancient Athens, a leader named Cleon urged his people to massacre not only prisoners of war but their families as well. He denigrated the Athenian generals and was disgusted by some of his soldiers being taken prisoner. Cleon stated he could win the war in 20 days though he had never led men in battle. He did succeed in winning but only after one of those generals, Demosthenes, stepped in and advised Cleon. Aristophanes referred to him as a demagogue. Cleon sounds like our Donald.

The historian, Polybius, believed that every democracy becomes despotic and is undone by strongmen masquerading as leaders of the people. Lincoln said that “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” I am not yet ready to lose my freedom, my liberty or my country. I can just hope that there are enough others who feel and will act the same as I will.

Fire Consolidation 3/8/2016

I am eagerly awaiting the report on fire consolidation from the consultant.  At the same time, I am becoming more and more concerned at current conditions with the current conditions at Martin County’s fire department.  The county commission and the county department have been at contract impasse since last December. Both sides seem to be at odds with each other over a variety of issues critical to maintaining a functioning department. I am uneasy about Stuart becoming involved in what appears to be an economic and, perhaps, operational nightmare.

At present, the city has completed contract negotiations with our department. I believe the final contract represents a fair and equitable deal for both the employees and the city. I attended some of those bargaining sessions, which are open to the public, as a silent observer.  I can report that, though at times tense, both sides conducted themselves professionally throughout. The outcome is while employees received increases, our operating costs are less than Martin County’s. 

According to the Martin County Firefighters and Paramedics’ Union president, the county has already expended 107% of the overtime budget. The city and Stuart firefighters/EMS employees, by working together, have decreased our own overtime substantially. According to the county’s union, the county is on track to lose 20% of their employees by May of 2016. This fact has been disputed by the county administration. On the other hand, the city has not had employee attrition anywhere close to the county’s level, and our rate has remained fairly constant from year to year.

From what I have been told, Stuart’s two fire-rescue facilities are the most active within Martin County.  The vast majority of the calls are accident and medical related. We had only a smattering of house fires last year (less than 20) with a few brush fires. The City of Stuart has a paid agreement with Sewall’s Point to answer their emergencies, and those responses are counted in our statistics.

As a city commissioner, my only concern is how any consolidation or merger will affect our residents and constituents. As of today, each commissioner and the management staffs have had briefings on the consultant’s progress but nothing has been given in writing. When a report is finally issued, I will need to study the data to make sure the recommendations are based on similar criteria. Currently, the budgeting and management criteria are accounted for differently between the city and the county.

 

There are differences in the funding of pension obligations (Stuart’s are currently fully funded while the Martin County’s are not), equipment replacement (Stuart has a sinking fund for full replacement without borrowing), administration, finance, and legal expenses are accounted for differently (Stuart allocates proportions of those expenses directly in the Fire/ Rescue budget while the county does not). In making a financial determination, not only do these costs have to be equalized for a merger or consolidation today, but we will need to know what will be the costs to Stuart’s residents, businesses and taxpayers going forward.

Another question to be answered is how Stuart does best operationally. As I said above, we have very good service. If you call with a medical emergency (the overwhelming majority of calls are just that), response times are excellent and the care received is outstanding. We currently have a station on either side of the tracks and, with the BrightLine looming, that is important. If Stuart were to give up operational control, we may not have a station responding on both sides of the tracks in the future.

Any decision made will be critical to how Stuart evolves and develops. If we disband our department, we won’t be able to return to having a department. If Stuart does decide to consolidate or merge, it will be important that the new department be formed in a way that gives Stuart’s 16,000 residents some meaningful political representation into both operations and financing aspects of the combined departments.  Looking at the current county fire department situation, it gives me pause going forward.

Currently, as a Stuart commissioner and a resident, I know what our department costs and how it responds. To change that, I would have to be convinced the outcome for the city would be better for response times, financially and operationally. This will probably be the most difficult decision that I will make as a commissioner since elected. It is not one that I will make without much thought and deliberation.

Political Discourse 3/3/2016

The United States is a nation comprised of over 318 million people. So why do we have so few competent political leaders who can express ideas and thoughts coherently? I am genuinely ashamed at what passes for political discourse. The rambling and ranting of the presidential candidates just makes me sad. When did invective and middle school taunts become substitutes for policy and ideas? When did outlandish statements without a scintilla of evidence become facts? Where did honor and decency go in our political process?

We, as citizens, have accepted this corruption of our politics. Most have opinions but few even exercise their obligation to vote (31 out of 34 OECD nations). My party, the Republicans, is on the precipice of anointing a demagogue as our presidential candidate. The Democrats are recycling someone that has been a hair away from indictment for thirty years. One preaches an ideology of hate and divisiveness in the guise of American greatness while the other speaks in the hackneyed clichés of the 20th century. Is this the best the United States can now do?

A mere 240 years ago, we declared our independence and modern democracy was born. Are we now approaching a time when America is assigned to the “dustbin of history?”  Because of geography, timing and ingenuity, the United States rose to be an economic and military dynamo unsurpassed in history. But other empires, nations and states have risen and fallen through self-inflicted and self-indulgent damage.

In his seminal work “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” (coincidentally Volume I was published in 1776), Edward Gibbon’s outlines five traits signifying Rome’s decay:

1)   Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth;

2)   Obsession with sex and perversions of sex;

3)   Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original;

4)   Widening disparity between very rich and very poor;

5)   Increased demand to live off the state.

Seventy years ago at the end of World War II, the U.S. was at its zenith. The rest of the world lay in ruin. The economic and military might of Britain, France, Germany and Russia were hollow fictions after two devastating wars in less than 30 years. It was America’s time to be a colossus. While we were at our powerful peak, an inevitable corruption had begun to invade our political body.

 

The sacrifices that we as individuals, families and as a people endured to make the next generations more prosperous ended. An American type of “bread and circuses” evolved as government and individuals spent tomorrow’s resources to satisfy today’s wants but not needs. People were encouraged to save for nothing and buy everything mostly on credit. Our entertainment devolved into self-absorption as evidenced by “selfies” and “reality television.”

Fame is considered more important than true accomplishment. Facts are no longer needed and are routinely denigrated if they contradict one’s own puerile beliefs. Competency and experience are viewed with disdain and as a limiting factor in advancement. A person displays bravery by bravado with no true action needed. Every fire fighter is a hero, all government employees are public servants and no one in today’s America should be held accountable for their errors. America is now where the leading Republican candidate for the presidency can state with a straight face that he is a military expert because he attended a military prep school over fifty years ago. 

Americans need to stop longing for a glorious past. We need to work for an unlimited future. The nation has fundamental truths as espoused by our founders that we should embrace. Our American principles are not altered by our changing demographics. Trying to turn the clock back to recapture an ideal that in reality was a phantasmagorical scene is fruitless. The richness of the future can be and is superior to longing for a supposed storied past. Demonizing people and looking for scape goats will not bring prosperity.

America’s greatest strengths have always been to adopt new ideas, absorb new immigrants and adapt to changing circumstances. We are still the nation that others look to for leadership. We need to elect a president who wants to govern by our ideals not by prejudices and through dissension. America is still great because of our truths. We need to stop the pity party, roll up our sleeves and get back to the hard work needed for our nation to flourish.