After our inaugural letters to the editor, we received this email from Lisa Michele Church, former head of the Utah Department of Human Services, who describes why Trump’s America “is like a PTSD episode” for her.
I love the art of politics. When I was a teenager, America was exiting Vietnam, impeaching the president and expanding the Great Society. I drank it all in, learning about the role of government, good and bad motives in politicians, social justice and tax policy. I especially loved that, in America democracy, individuals could make a difference and we debated big ideas.
I was a Republican for three reasons: limited role of government, conservative fiscal policy and strong national defense. Democrats had some good points too, and I debated all these ideas with everyone that would listen. As if it were up to me! But, in a way, it was. I was one of those young, idealistic people who could make a difference. I saw value in any politician who dug into the issues, tried their very best and cared about government functioning for the people.
I began to get uncomfortable with Republicans in the 1990s, when I realized that some would prefer to tear down institutions rather than improve them, just for the destruction itself. I abhor that idea.
In 2005, I took on the role that defined me politically. I left my lawyer job in the private sector and joined Gov. Jon Huntsman’s (R-UT) Cabinet as the head of the Utah Department of Human Services. I was still deeply Republican and I loved how Gov. Huntsman truly thought Republican principles of fiscal conservatism and smart, lean government operations would improve the department. Human Services, of all things, had the most to lose and the most to win. I dug in with all I had.
I discovered to my dismay that some legislators, with tremendous power to help make government better, would prefer the dumb solution rather than the smart solution, so long as it fed their particular world view. This was a total shock to me. I was in my 40s, but it was the first time I really considered that someone would choose a dumb idea (cutting a social program that saved money) over a smart idea (reforming that social program to save even more money). The Republicans I met treated me with contempt for even working with social programs. That was disappointing as well. I was one of them. But maybe I wasn’t.
I managed the department’s $700 million budget with stern emphasis on efficiency, cost-cutting and required outcomes, but the legislature cut my budget anyway, over and over again, randomly and illogically and yes, sometimes even cruelly (to teach me a lesson). The Republicans in power in Utah told me that social programs should not exist, they were “not the proper role of government,” that we should go back to a simpler time when “people just died if they didn’t have health care,” and “it is not your problem if a father incinerates his toddlers in his car, so long as parental rights are left intact.”
You think I am being dramatic. They don’t say it this way in public. But they do say it, in private. They vote that way. And it changed me forever.
So Trump’s America is like a PTSD episode for me. It is people striking out, angry, wanting to destroy big parts of our government without taking the time to understand it. I get it, government has failed them and they are frustrated, especially with social policies. But instead of jumping in like I thought we all did in a democracy, some people are saying, “Blow it the Hell up and let’s see what happens.”
That hurts me. I feel like I have sincerely tried to work from the inside in both paid jobs and volunteer jobs to make things better, and this is the opposite of that. I have worked in the US Senate and for three governors and volunteered on campaigns for 30 years, and we work out our government imperfectly through a thousand voices.
Trump is too ill-informed, ill-tempered, unwilling to learn and cruel. He cannot lead our country. The presidency is not a game, a reality show nor a popularity contest. Serious, permanent harm can be done to things about which I care deeply. I am not writing this to change anyone’s mind. I simply need to be on record. I would only add one terrifying idea to the list of Trump issues for me: He lacks natural curiosity about the issues of the day. His first and only thought about my key issues was this year, when he could get applause, and even then, in his fleeting second of consideration and panic and bravado, he came to the wrong conclusion. That quality right there sinks us.
— Lisa Michele Church, Salt Lake City, Utah
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