Utah Policy Genius Panel: Optimism Prevails

blue 01This week’s question: There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about America’s future: Washington dysfunction, Clinton or Trump in the White House, scary levels of federal debt, entitlement programs out of control, an electorate in revolt . . . and so on.

Are there reasons we should be optimistic about the future? Is American going to get through this difficult time?

Deneece G. Huftalin, President, Salt Lake Community College. Are there any reasons we should be optimistic about the future?  I’ll give you 4,125 reasons.  At SLCC’s Commencement ceremony, we graduated 4,125 students with either a certificate or a degree or both.  

Many of these students are the first in their family to have graduated from college and will go on to change their own life trajectory and their families through the power of education.  My optimism is borne from the tenacity that these students demonstrate, many of whom worked full-time while they earned their degree; their deep understanding that civic engagement is part of their responsibility; and the critical thinking skills they had to master which they can now put to use to solve our nation’s, and our world’s wicked problems.  

My optimism is strengthened by the fact that they are graduating in fields as diverse as automotive technology, business, visual art and design, engineering and English.  Disciplines which demand problem solving, creativity, technical training and communication skills…all of which they will take into our world and into our communities.  These graduates will start businesses, parent future children, vote, support non-profits, contribute to our tax base and lead our state, quietly or publicly.  I’ve met many of them and they care deeply about their lives and our future….we’ll be in good hands. 

Dan Liljenquist, former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate. The legendary politician Otto Von Bismark once said, “Politics is the art of the possible,” suggesting that politicians should carry the banner of the hopes and dreams of their people.  While optimism is an important trait for any political leader to develop, sanity and objectivity are often under-developed.  Nobody wants to deliver bad news; nobody wants to say no.   But eventually, reality catches up, and reality is not negotiable.

That said, I am optimistic about the future because of the hard choices before us, not in spite of them.  I believe economist John Kenneth Galbraith was right when he observed, “Politics is not the art of the possible.  It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”  We will make it through the seemingly intractable issues of today because, as Winston Churchill once observed, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they have tried everything else.”

Natalie Gochnour, associate dean, David Eccles School of Business, and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, U. of U. My greatest reason for optimism lies at the state level where innovative public policies continue to emerge. We need look no further than Utah’s own contributions on intergenerational poverty, immigration reform, quality growth planning (Envision Utah), and social impact bonds. While the federal government is in turmoil, state governments like Utah are solving problems and governing with care. America will get through her challenges largely because of the great works of the 50 states.  

Boyd C. Matheson, president, Sutherland Institute. It is true that we are in the midst of some difficult days and trying times as a nation. Yet I remain convinced that our best days as a country are still ahead of us. Why the optimism? It has little to do with glasses being half full or even rose-colored. It has everything to do with the American people and the uniquely American principles that have fueled and fostered the greatest civilization the world has ever known.

I have traveled the country, and the core principles, values and ideas of freedom, free enterprise, education, empowered citizens, civil society and opportunity still ring true to Americans from every walk of life. These are not liberal or conservative ideas – they are simply American.

There are some political elites, media outlets and well-connected interests who want the American people to believe that we are just too fractured and divided as a nation to deal with any of the big issues of our time. Health care, immigration, religious liberty, LGBT rights and more are all just too contentious to deal with – they say. Unfortunately this ensures that nothing changes, the status quo prevails, and they continue to control the power, money and influence.

I reject the idea that we are on the verge of a civil war. I believe we are actually on the verge of a civil debate. And oddly, this year’s raucous presidential cycle may just be the catalyst for such a national conversation to take place. America is always at its best when we are a nation of big ideas and honest, open, respectful debate. The kinds of conversations that were central to the emergence of a new nation will be the cornerstone of a new American century.

Why do I believe this is possible? Because I live in Utah – where, despite our problems and differences – we prove it can be done.

Mark H. Bouchard, education reform leader and senior managing director, Southwest Region, CBRE. America is still by every measure the most creative and innovative society from a Banking and Financial Services perspective. Wall Street for better or worse is still the mecca of financial dealing for the global economy. We haven’t figured out how to leverage this as a real U.S. advantage, however, it does provide American’s with a great opportunity. The question becomes a great opportunity for what?

Immigration from an economic and society point of view is another great strength and something we should be optimistic about. The population of many countries is declining, economies in ruins, education systems non-existent and governments unstable. We offer opportunity for those who wish a better way of life to prosper in safety and with optimism for the future of their families.

Medical Infrastructure in America is still viewed as superior, comparedto many nations of the world today. This is an area however, where optimism really depends on whether we can admit that not all programs should be federally regulated. If we continue to socialize the medical profession as a federally mandated process we will experience declines; if, however, we were to make healthcare a states governed issue than again I submit we have many reasons to be optimistic about our future.

Steve Handy, state representative and communications/public relations professional. When this week’s question was posed I thought of Mad Magazine’s iconic and goofy mascot Alfred E. Neuman and his signature question, “What? Me worry?”

Well, unlike Neuman, I am worried. I’m worried about the nation’s $20 trillion national debt. I’m worried about a “Do Nothing Congress” and the polarization between Congress and the Administration. I’m worried about the erosion of liberties and morals and the lack of statesmanship. I’m worried about the overreach of the federal government, constitutional protections and adherence to the rule of law.

But then I think of my parents. They were children of the Great Depression and staved off near poverty, pulling themselves up to both obtain college degrees, unlike their parents. They lived through the horrors and uncertainties of WWII and then raised us with the threat of nuclear holocaust. When I consider all that my worry is more manageable.

So if that generation can overcome all it dealt with then my generation can, too. The future is bright, there is reason for hope and optimism because I see many good people wanting to do the right thing.

I think finally of the words attributed to Winston Churchill: “Americans will always do the right thing…after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

Let’s do the right thing, it’s time.

Larry V. Lunt, businessman, former State Representative, state Republican chair, and brigadier general, retired. This country has seen more difficult times in the past than we are experiencing today, such as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the World War II.  I believe what President Harold B. Lee said about the future of our country:  “Men may fail in this country, earthquakes may come, seas may heave beyond their bounds, there may be great drought, disaster, and hardship, but this nation founded on principles laid down by men who God raised up, will never fail.  …This is the favored land in all the world.  Yes, I repeat, men may fail, but this nation won’t fail!  I have faith in America; you and I must have faith in America, if we understand the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are living in a day when we must pay heed to these challenges.  I plead with you not to preach pessimism!  Preach that this is the greatest country in all the world.  This is the favored land.  This is the land of our forefathers.  It is the nation that will stand despite whatever trials or crises it may yet have to pass through” (Ye Are the Light of the World, pp. 350-51).

W. Val Oveson, CPA and former state auditor, lieutenant governor and National Taxpayer Advocate. Americans are very resilient. We have been through some terrible times, some of our own making and others imposed upon us from without. We have endured the Revolutionary War, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, the financial cycles in the late 1880s, Teddy Roosevelt, World War I, Warren Harding, the depression, World War II, Viet Nam, Richard Nixon, the 911 attacks and who knows what else. We have a self-healing mechanism in our DNA. We will get through the current convolutions and come out stronger in the end.

Frank Pignanelli, attorney, lobbyist and former House minority leader. Pessimism about America’s future, or a belief our nation is in crisis, is not supported by fact or reason. All economic, lifestyle and technology metrics strongly indicate that life in America is better today than it was 50, 100, or 200 years ago. As someone who interacts with his teenage children, students and others through my professional, academic and social careers — I am optimistic about my generation’s descendants. Sure, there’s many problems but our nation overcame much worse. 

I view the world through historical and political perspectives. The concerns with Donald Trump, use of bathrooms, global warming, hyper partisanship, etc. are minimal compared to the challenges we overcame in the past (i.e. slavery, massive economic depressions, two world wars, Civil War, etc.). Americans are much more accepting of other cultures, races, creeds. Our great melting pot continues to foster creativity and innovation. The Internet has opened entrepreneurial and cultural doors for so many while enhancing government transparency. It’s almost impossible to fathom all the potential opportunities through the Web.

It’s easy to be pessimistic. But it’s also dangerous to doom future generations without understanding what is actually happening in our nation. America will prevail because that’s what we do. 

LaVarr Webb, UtahPolicy.com publisher. My father, who has long-since passed on, was a wonderful man, father to 10 children, including teens and young adults (I was one of them) during the tumultuous ‘60s. He was also a terrific writer and insightful thinker. An avid follower of current events and world affairs, in his older years he became quite pessimistic as he saw the tragedies, injustices and atrocities in the world. He seemed to take them personally and felt bad he couldn’t do more to help. He was pretty certain the world was going to hell in a handbasket. I’m almost glad he’s not here to see the plight of 60 million refugees, the near-genocide occurring in a number of countries, and the political turmoil in America and across the world.

In his younger years, he was more optimistic. He was a child and young teen during the Great Depression, was drafted into WWII, and left a young wife and three small children to serve as a combat engineer in Italy. He was then placed on a troop ship and steamed across the ocean, fully expecting to be part of the invasion of Japan before a couple of atomic bombs ended the war in the Pacific. Interestingly, his writings at that time reflect optimism.

So, if my father, stuck on a crowded troop ship with hundreds of other soldiers, greatly missing his young family, facing horrific battles ahead in the invasion of Japan, could be optimistic in those dark times, I believe we have a responsibility, in these prosperous, relatively blessed times, to be optimistic as well — and work to solve the challenges we face.