The Real American Dream

Recently I stumbled across a post on social media that used the table above to assert two propositions:
1) “White privilege” does not exist since whites are near the bottom of this table
2) “The American Dream” is alive and well since the immigrant groups at the top have been able to succeed with the opportunities that the United States gives everyone and that racial justice should not be a concern.

The author of the post implied that hard work can overcome any perceived injustice as indicated by Indian, Chinese, and Japanese immigrants leading ethnicities in earning. Does the fact that a typical Indian American household earns $50,000 more than a typical white household mean that white privilege doesn’t exist and that racial justice should not be a cause for concern?

As an Indian American born in the US to two immigrants, this post made me pause and reflect on my parents’ journey from their motherland. Do their lives provide evidence that anyone, including those at the bottom of the chart, can rise to the top of the economic ladder simply with hard work and perseverance? I want to share my thoughts on this and related issues.

My father, like many older gentlemen, enjoys reflecting on the lean days he spent living in a cramped studio apartment with several other graduate students while completing his degree in civil engineering in Ohio.

“I came here with only one suitcase and a few dollars,” my father told my daughter before she went to her first year of college, while we filled my minivan full of amenities for her dorm room. Most adults have told a youngster how much harder they had it in their youth, but I am certain my parents started their lives in this country with few financial means. I don’t think my mother exaggerates the conditions of their run-down apartments in Chicago and even I remember the scraping and saving we did after we moved to a modest house in a blue-collar Chicago suburb.

There they both worked long hours to ensure my brother and I could go to good universities. My father worked for the city of Chicago for decades. He created strong relationships and built a professional reputation that allowed him to even do some consulting after retirement. My mother worked in an industrial cleaning company where I had the opportunity to make money for several summers in high school and college. They are now retired and live comfortably, having traveled the world and keep active doting on their grandchildren.

Are my parents truly an example of the “American Dream” that hypothesizes that anyone can start with absolutely nothing and become successful and wealthy?

No, because to claim they started with nothing is certainly false. My parents came to this country wealthier than most Americans will ever be, but not in the sense that most mistakenly believe.

They carried with them what people throughout history have treasured more than material wealth: moral capital. Moral capital has been defined in a myriad of ways, but I am using it to mean the relational and spiritual wealth that allows for personal investment in making good choices and acting with justice in life. The kind of richness that comes from strong families, communities, and religious connections (#FamilyFriendsFaith). Just like monetary or resource capital that labor can turn into something great, moral capital can be accrued, invested, and passed on from one person to another through our core relationships.

In India, my parents enjoyed extremely close large families, both immediate and extended. The cultural importance of family connections in India like much of the eastern world was paramount in their lives. Growing up, I learned quickly that there was no word for “cousin” in Gujarati, just like Hebrew or Aramaic. It didn’t matter, you were brothers and sisters, and your aunts and uncles would love you and discipline you as if you were their own.

While struggling to make their own ends meet, my parents sponsored the immigration of my grandmother, who spent the rest of her life with us, and several of my aunts and uncles. From the time I was 6 until I turned 13, there were rarely less than 5 other adults in my house and often several cousins. My older relatives worked blue-collar jobs while my cousins and their children are engineers, doctors, lawyers, business owners, and members of the armed forces.

The moral capital that our family held and shared gave my family members the confidence to buy their own homes and start new businesses, knowing full well they could always fall back on their solid family connections. When we visited our family in India, I got to witness the great love that endured between my parents and their relatives. I also got to witness the deep respect and appreciation my parents had for their hometowns and old neighbors.

Mom and dad had left India with the blessings and love of their friends and neighbors. They honored that support for years after their departure sending money for the upkeep of towns they would never again live in. The pride of an ancestral connection and its continuity was visible on my father’s face the day we spent in his hometown. “Small Town” by John Cougar Mellencamp has universal appeal because it acknowledges deep and real relationships.

Finally, my parents arrived in a new country with powerful ties to their faith and culture, strengthened not only by the specifics of their beliefs but by the universal hope that God’s blessings would get them through many lean and difficult times. Throughout my childhood, I attended weddings and garbas (dance festivals) with hundreds of other Indian families. These cultural events were highlights for the Indian community in the Chicagoland area and continue to be. They are a constant reminder that no matter how far you have moved you can still be close to home. The humility cultivated by understanding you aren’t the center of the universe and that you are a piece of a larger community brings great moral capital.

I grew up thinking hard work alone had yielded the material success that allowed me to have a peaceful family existence. I now realize the richness of valuing family, friends, and faith over selfish, short term desires were passed on to me from generations of ancestors.

Sacrifice and hard work come much easier when our primal organizations are rightly ordered. We live in a false meritocracy thinking we can accomplish anything on our own. It may have taken me more than forty years, but I now realize that I would be nothing without the greatest man and woman in my world, my parents.

The real American dream is having the freedom to do what is right and time-honored, not in procuring vast treasures that you can’t take with you. Financial security has value only in the context of a rich family life, strong ties to community, and the realization that God has a greater good we are called to strive towards. The moral capital that flows from this framework grows with interest like money. The more you have, the more you can invest and reap the gains from. The less you have, the less you can leverage in school, the workplace, or your communal relationships.

I say the “Real American Dream” is building a holistic better life for your children, giving them the freedom to increase their moral capital to allow them to not only have economic security, but also relational security. Due to the lessons and skills my parents imparted, I can safely say that I am 50 levels removed from becoming homeless. In the case of complete financial ruin, between my family, neighbors, and friends, I would have many places to go on a moment’s notice. Those people know they could always come to me as well.

When you have the moral capital to build, maintain, and cultivate new relationships, working hard to build income and wealth become drastically easier. The continual decay that two liberal corporate parties force upon those on the bottom of the economic ladder keep them from building the moral capital that was stolen from them repeatedly in the past. Americans don’t understand their history well enough. Most understand the horrors of slavery, but few can explain what Jim Crow laws were. Even fewer know what the term red-lining means. There are many other examples of how blacks were stripped of their moral capital or the ability to rebuild what was taken. I could write other articles on how indigenous peoples have suffered the loss of their moral capital or more recently Latin American immigrants.

The American Solidarity Party stands for families, friends, and faith, the cornerstones of moral capital creation. For too long, the duopoly has dangled individualism and consumerism before us to keep us voting in their favor. The results have been disastrous. It doesn’t matter which party is in control. We get the same result after four to eight years: more atomization, less moral capital, and a switch to the other party expecting something different. We need a shift in politics that considers true freedom as being afforded the opportunity to do not just what we want to do without constraint, but to do what we ought to do, for the sake of healthier families, neighborhoods, and communities, of which our United States of America are composed/constituted.

My parents brought the American Dream with them when they came from India because human beings around the world yearn for the moral capital that comes from strong relationships and close family ties. The last two presidents spoke about “Hope and Change” and “Making America Great Again” but instead they continued on the path of eroding moral capital. We need to reject atomization and embrace an understanding that what makes life great is a commitment to family, friends, and faith and the empowerment they provide.

Why Education Funding Is a Terrible Reason to Legalize Sports Betting

 “It’s for the Kids!”

By: Meredith Burnett

 

With our commitment to strengthening the family and to protecting its more vulnerable members, we might wonder how members of the American Solidarity Party in Maryland ought to approach our upcoming referendum, which will determine the legal status of sports betting in our state. What might seem like a clear choice for those whose goal is to “create a more pro-family culture” becomes murkier when we consider that those proposing a change to current legislation are suggesting that tax revenues would be used for education. Given the current health crisis, and the increased reliance on technology to bridge the gap between student and instructor, additional funds certainly would be beneficial at this juncture. That said, the “it’s for the kids” argument in favor of legalizing sports betting may merely be a case of “muddying the waters to make them look deep,” as the saying goes.

 

The principle of never doing evil so that good may come of it is central to Christian ethics, finding its basis in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 3:8). This principle can and should be extended to include never encouraging evil that good may come. When we consider that gambling becomes one of those monetized vices that generates the bulk of its income (by some estimates well over fifty percent) from the small fraction (two to three percent) of those who become addicted to it, we should not be surprised to learn that advertising for gambling is often specifically designed to target and create gambling addicts. Encouraging “problem gambling” and addiction threatens families and children by encouraging problem gamblers to risk the family homes of some of the very children that this legislation is supposed to be “helping.” Most of the excess revenue that the educational system would gain by the legalization of sports gambling would be acquired by taking advantage of the vulnerable—both the problem gamblers themselves and their families. “Wagering is a tax on stupidity,” my grandfather used to say. Whether or not that is always the case, it is always true that revenue from betting directly impoverishes those who struggle to make good decisions with their money and those in their care.

 

When I was a child, my mother used to bemoan the fact that the clerk at the corner store frequently asked his middle-aged male customers if they wanted a lottery ticket. “Why doesn’t he ask them if their wives need some milk or some eggs back at home?” she would fume, watching the customers ahead of her throw their money away. Indeed, what a more wholesome way for a sales clerk to generate a little extra income! No doubt, the schools could benefit from additional funding, especially over the next few years. But the legalization of sports betting is not a child-friendly way to achieve this end!

 

Maryland voters have some important decisions to make in the next week. It is tempting to “think big” and just focus on the presidential race and our congressional candidates. However, it is arguably with attention to state policy that we have the greatest ability to shape our lives and that of those around us. And so, we must, without hesitation, vote “No” to the legalization of sports betting in our beloved state.

The Impact of COVID on Women

The Impact of COVID-19 on Women: The American Solidarity Party Responds
By Nathan Warf

Nathan Warf is a proud member of the American Solidarity Party. He serves as an Assistant Professor of Law & Politics at Freed–Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee.

COVID-19 has impacted everyone, and researchers will spend a long time studying the different effects by age, sex, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Here, I wish to examine the consequences for women specifically and how the American Solidarity Party platform speaks to those issues.

As Talha Burki explains in The Lancet, COVID-19 might not discriminate by sex in who it infects, but studies confirm disparate impacts on men and women. While men are at a disadvantage when it comes to serious health consequences (and even death) due to a variety of biological and social factors, women face other, sometimes subtler, difficulties that are worth exploring.

For one, women are overrepresented in many of the occupations deemed essential during the shutdown. They hold a majority of the jobs in social work, health care, and critical retail (e.g., grocery stores, fast food). Their service in this capacity means greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus. To make matters worse, women are more likely to be affected by shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and they often must deal with PPE not designed with their needs in mind. Unisex or one-size-fits-all PPE tends to cater to the average male, which can mean uncomfortable and less effective gear for many women. While women are more likely to hold essential jobs, ironically they are also more likely to suffer job losses than men as a result of the pandemic. This is due, in part, to the fact that more women held social-sector jobs—retail, tourism, hospitality—that were adversely impacted by mitigation efforts. The nature of such jobs requires in-person interactions; working from home simply isn’t possible.

After the initial shutdown, people throughout the country began raising questions about reopening, particularly with regard to schools. Discussion focused not only on how to reopen schools, but whether they should reopen at all. This issue disproportionately affects women, and not just because they comprise roughly seventy-five percent of all K–12 teachers. The White House has addressed many of the advantages of reopening for students. Remote learning is not possible for many students who lack reliable access to broadband internet. In-person learning is likely more effective for most students. Moreover, schools play a vital role in addressing food insecurity and identifying child abuse. Beyond the benefits for students, the White House also focuses on the economic impact of reopening schools. Even before the pandemic, women were far more likely than men to leave the workforce to take on unpaid care responsibilities for children, the elderly, and sick family members. Melinda Gates explains that “a two-hour increase in women’s unpaid care work is correlated with a ten-percentage-point decrease in women’s labor-force participation.” The pandemic has also exacerbated existing imbalances in unpaid work within the home. As schools have closed, women have disproportionately borne the effects.

What does the American Solidarity Party have to contribute to this discussion?

The American Solidarity Party platform states that the party “is founded on an unwavering commitment to defend life and to promote policies that safeguard the intrinsic dignity of the human person.” Part of safeguarding human dignity is recognizing that men and women often have differing needs and make different contributions to society. This is arguably more important during the pandemic than at any other time.

The party’s platform addresses many of the issues raised above. First of all, the ASP seeks to “guarantee universal healthcare.” The pandemic has demonstrated the frailty of our current system of employer-based health coverage. People, especially women, are losing their jobs, and therefore their insurance, during a time when access to healthcare is so desperately needed. Further, we believe healthcare should include full coverage of pregnancy, childbirth, and neonatal care. Women obviously play a unique role in childbearing, yet poor access to healthcare leads to adverse health outcomes for women and children.

Furthermore, the party acknowledges the invaluable service provided by individuals who forego paid employment in order to care for children, the elderly, and disabled family members. We seek to make such care easier by offering tax credits, subsidizing child care, providing access to affordable healthcare, and promoting workplace accommodations that support families, such as job sharing. Accommodations would include things like expanding “paid parental leave, flexible scheduling, and affordable child care.” Every other country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) offers paid leave for mothers, and the vast majority offer paid leave for fathers. Numerous studies confirm that generous paid parental leave programs provide health benefits for mothers and children in both the short and long-term. Paid time off and flexible scheduling allow for ongoing support of children and other family members in need.

Not only do such policies promote healthy families, they also make it much easier for women to remain in the workforce. Many live in “child-care deserts,” or areas where the demand for care exceeds capacity, a fact only intensified by the pandemic. Care options that are available tend to be expensive. The current child-care system makes it difficult to balance the desire to form stable families with the opportunity to enjoy the dignity of work. The ASP’s platform makes plain the party’s commitment to strong families and the support of women.

Finally, the ASP is aware that “[e]ducation is vital to the formation of the human person and the good of society.” We promote an educational system where parents have the ability to choose what is best for their children, whether that be education in the home, in a public school, or in a private school. Education demands greater investment, both to support “economically disadvantaged students” and to make “teaching a well-paying occupation.” In the midst of the pandemic, the need for this commitment is undeniable. We are making extraordinary demands of teachers, at first by forcing abrupt shifts to online or hybrid teaching and now by asking many to return to school despite poorly-understood risks to their personal health.

The ASP is attractive to many, including myself, because of its adherence to the consistent life ethic. We promote human dignity—for men and women—all the way from conception until natural death. This is not mere lip-service but is deeply embedded in the policies we pursue. The pandemic is reminding us of our need for one another, and the American Solidarity Party has a distinctive vision for the path forward.

  1.  For an illuminating examination of the challenges women face in a world largely designed by and for men, see Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. (New York: Abrams, 2019).
  2. See, e.g., “Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women,” The United Nations. 9 April 2020. Accessed 22 August 2020. https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/ publications/2020/policy-brief-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-women-en.pdf?la=en&vs=1406

Lessons from Coronavirus

By Skylar Covich & Bonnie Kallis

At no time in recent history has the need for the American people to join in solidarity for the common good been as clear as it is during our current pandemic. We have, as a people, been learning to do things differently—students are distance-learning, churches are streaming services, and families are staying connected virtually. While Americans have demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability, the current crisis illustrates the brokenness of our political system. Long before pandemics and protests, the American Solidarity Party has recognized the root of this brokenness as a duopoly that is unable to address the most basic needs of its citizens because the two parties are so locked in conflict. 

At the same time, it can be difficult to integrate upholding a consistent life ethic, the principle of subsidiarity, and economic justice, each of which should factor in the decisions of government (at all levels), organizations, and individuals. Most ASP members have been supportive of at least some shutdown orders, but personal freedoms, religious liberties, and economic protections (particularly for small businesses) still matter. The writers and editors at the ASP hope to create a series of blog posts on such themes and about the important questions that result. One of the first posts in that series will discuss the work of some organizations that include ASP members and sympathizers, such as Breaking Ground and the AND Campaign. This post, however, focuses on basic ASP principles as they relate to the pandemic.

Social Justice and Consistent Life Ethic

The ASP “is founded on an unwavering commitment to defend life and to promote policies that safeguard the intrinsic dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.”

One of the most basic needs for every citizen is access to quality, affordable health care. If it wasn’t obvious before, the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that our current model of employer-based health care is not viable. Along with the rising unemployment rate (current estimates are that close to 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment between March 15th and May 15th) comes a rising number of uninsured people. The majority of the uninsured live in poverty or work in the service industry. While testing and related doctor’s office expenses for the novel coronavirus is covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, there is no such guarantee when it comes to covering treatment. Some insurers have waived copays and deductibles for hospitalizations related to COVID-19, while others haven’t. However, the cost for treatment can exceed $20,000 for those with health insurance, with charges up to twice as high for the uninsured. Of course, in some states, uninsured individuals may qualify for Medicaid, and the recently unemployed may qualify for COBRA benefits or insurance under the Affordable Care Act—if they can afford it (an unlikely prospect if you’ve been laid off due to, say, a pandemic). 

As a popular adage states, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” In the current crisis, elderly people and minorities suffer disproportionately. While it is to be expected that the elderly would be more susceptible due to underlying conditions, we need to ask why African-Americans are experiencing the coronavirus in staggering numbers. Take Illinois, for example. In Chicago, where they make up roughly thirty percent of the population, African-Americans have suffered seventy percent of COVID-19-related deaths. Seventy percent—let that sink in. And this is not limited to Illinois; similar imbalances exist in Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, to name but a few. Clearly, we are failing miserably when it comes to caring for our vulnerable populations.

Economic Justice and Subsidiarity

The ASP “advocate[s] for an economic system which focuses on creating a society of wide-spread ownership (sometimes referred to as ‘distributism’) rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.”

It has been sadly interesting to see the lack of economic justice in our country illustrated in the effects of the coronavirus, despite the brief hope provided by the bipartisan decision to send most Americans a one-time payment. There is a remarkable irony in the fact that some of the lowest-paid members of society have become the most essential. Grocery store clerks, sanitation workers, delivery people, meat packers, and warehouse workers have all been vital in allowing us to safely shelter in place while they risked their lives to provide essential goods. Many, if not most, of these workers could not get tested for the virus, while celebrities had ample access to testing. While America’s low-paid essential workers were risking their health to provide necessary goods and services and watching the value of their pensions and retirement accounts plummet, some lawmakers with inside information were busy trading stocks in anticipation of an economic downturn. While suburban schools quickly worked to provide online classes for their students, many urban districts struggled with the reality that their students lacked access to the Internet. Over and over again, we witnessed the stark reality of the difference between the haves and the have-nots. 

Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity “is the coordination of society’s activities in a way that supports the internal life of the local communities.” 

The principle of subsidiarity holds that decision-making should always be left to the lowest competent level of government. The need for a system of subsidiarity is evidenced by the divide between rural and urban communities during the pandemic. As states begin to reopen, the divisions in our country are becoming even more apparent. Rural communities, which have so far emerged from the pandemic relatively unscathed in regard to public health, are nonetheless suffering economically. Unlike urban communities, which can presumably bounce back financially, the coronavirus has dealt an economic death blow to many struggling rural communities. This can be attributed, in part, to federal policies which in many ways overemphasize urban economies at the expense of their rural counterparts. Urban communities, some of which have been devastated medically, have been understandably hesitant to open up their economies. Under subsidiarity, urban communities would be charged with making decisions that are in the best interests of their citizens, while rural communities would do the same.

In the coming weeks, we hope to present posts examining some of the following questions:

  • Regarding the principle of subsidiarity, when do orders intended to save people’s lives result in unintended consequences which do more harm than good? In particular, how do we resolve tensions between people who would prefer safety and people who would prefer freedom? Should the federal government, states, or counties primarily set rules for pandemic response? To what extent is it ethical to disobey orders which an individual believes are poorly thought out, or have remained in effect too long?
  • Which policies will best protect unemployed people and small businesses (including small farmers)?
  • Is telecommuting a way to achieve better work-life balance, improve family life, and promote environmental stewardship? Can we achieve the social benefits of telecommuting without exacerbating inequality between those who can do so and those whose jobs truly need to be done in person, especially when working in packed conditions leads to a higher risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus?
  • How does the pandemic change the conversation around health care reform? 
  • Racial inequalities in economics, health care, and treatment by authorities have been exacerbated by the pandemic. One lesson we have learned is how different communities tend to focus on opposition to very different expressions of state power. How can we incorporate racial equality and racial justice into policies that address the pandemic and its effects?
  • Electoral reform seems like a tangential issue to many at the moment. But as we continue to see a possible political realignment for a variety of reasons, there is an increasing need to reform the ballot-access process, establish new systems for determining election winners (such as ranked-choice voting), prohibit gerrymandering, and make voting as easy as possible. How can we work to make this happen?
  • Abortion politics played into the battles over the shutdowns, as there were efforts in several states to keep abortion clinics open. How can the pro-life movement respond productively during a crisis to prevent abortion?

This is by no means a complete list of what we hope to cover, but we expect that these questions will move us toward a distinctive vision for the future. The underlying philosophy of the American Solidarity Party is rooted in the firm belief that we are, indeed, our brother’s keepers. As a country, we have to be better. The fact is that we are all in this together—COVID-19 or not. We have to look out for one another. We all depend on each other for our physical, spiritual, and economic health. It is time for us to move forward as a nation in solidarity. It is time for the ASP.

What Christian Democracy Means To Me

By Amar Patel

“The American Solidarity Party (ASP) is a true, organically-grown grassroots party that was formed by people looking for a third way in the polarized and interest-group-driven landscape of American politics, modeled on Christian Democratic parties throughout the world, shaped by unique aspects of American culture and law.”

These words appear on the “About Us” page of our website. Most Americans probably don’t know about Christian democratic parties around the world, so we often hear the criticism that we shouldn’t use the phrase “Christian” to describe a non-sectarian political party because it will drive away people on both sides of the issue. Non-Christians might feel unwelcome, and Christians may not want others to think that they are trying to create a theocracy. The general response from our party has been that there is a historical richness in the principles of personalism, solidarity, subsidiarity, and sphere sovereignty that have guided Christian democratic parties around the world. The United States has never enjoyed a coherent political force that embodies all of those principles together, so our association serves to provide that option and is edifying at the same time.

For those who want a more academic understanding of Christian democracy, I point you to “The Birth of An American Christian Democratic Party” by Hunter Baker and the ASP’s own statement on Christian democracy. Both offer perspective, background information, and starting points for those trying to understand the American Solidarity Party’s views. I want to offer a different perspective altogether.

The killing of George Floyd and the following nationwide unrest forced me to consider our path forward and to reconsider what Christian democracy means to me. If someone asked me publicly about Christian democracy, I would still start with the concepts of personalism, solidarity, subsidiarity, and sphere sovereignty, but now I would add a personal reflection to the mix. Christianity is necessarily linked to the cross: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We cannot have Christian democracy without the understanding that sacrifice and suffering are critical to the process.

I have to give credit to ASP member Albert Thompson for inspiring this personal revelation by sharing a video of a message he delivered to a conference of Anglican bishops on the history of racism in the United States. In this speech, he refers to a group of Anglican bishops who had not only supported the Confederacy but also attempted to defend slavery by using Scripture and religious doctrine. After the war, these bishops were simply allowed back into the fold without any repentance or repudiation of their past actions. In other words, they accepted a false reconciliation for political reasons instead of real reconciliation to God.

At this point, non-Christians, agnostics, and atheists may object to the concept of reconciliation as a religious principle, but I don’t bring it up to proselytize. I put it before you because all people understand the concept of “no pain, no gain,” and that is what we are talking about in today’s world. The sentiment that “all lives matter” rings hollow when we look at the current treatment of black communities in America. In truth, we haven’t yet earned the right to use that phrase, which assumes a false reconciliation and a level of social equality that was never truly granted. As such, Christian democracy with its insistence on solidarity calls us to carry the cross of our black neighbors. What that looks like differs greatly from person to person due to age, profession, wealth, and so on, but it certainly isn’t a quick fix and requires long-term changes in behavior.

Many in the pro-life movement succumb to false reconciliation models. Hoping the appointments of pro-life judges and platitudes in speeches will somehow overcome the horrific legacy of abortion is akin to thinking we can simply declare that the country is now color-blind because Barack Obama was elected president. An abusive husband might convince his battered wife not to call the police by being excessively tender for a moment, but his fleeting kindness doesn’t reconcile their relationship. I believe abortion is not the illness; it is a symptom of the intersection of all of the deadly sins. Reconciliation from those sins won’t come with fancy words and creative marketing. It will cost time, money, and all kinds of gifts—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—to make things right.

The American Solidarity Party’s call for a distributist economy must also be taken in this context. The current libertine notions of “free markets” curing all ills won’t be overcome with articles and memes. Deeper conversations, risk-taking in local economies, and policy support funded by appropriate taxation on wealth must take place over sustained periods. The constant attempts by those in power to regain control will always be there, and without vigilance, monied interests will win out again. We can see a clear effect of systemic racism in the aftermath of every major national crisis. The bursting of stock market bubbles, Hurricane Katrina, COVID-19, and the like all show the wealthy rebounding more quickly and then gaining disproportionately to the poor. This disparity is especially true among black Americans. Imagine the anger and resentment that would exist if people actually understood the rigged economic system.

In conclusion, I will address those who might say, “You don’t have to be Christian to understand the need for work and sacrifice regarding these issues.” Amen to that; however, not acknowledging that the word “cross” derives from “crux,” which also means “the root,” limits the progress of the principles we want to advance. Our both/and approach to solving political problems means standing for justice and committing to the sacrifice required to attain it. To me, Jesus modeled this perfectly in carrying the cross and dying on it. We must suffer to advance the ideals of Christian democracy. Other political parties make no attempt at creating a cohesive set of values. Republicans are liberal on the economy, Democrats are liberal on morality, and Libertarians sell out completely on any responsibility to the common good. G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Let us hope they don’t say this about Christian democracy in America two hundred years from now.

Police Brutality and Qualified Immunity

by Grace Garrett

In recent weeks, Americans have collectively grappled with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other victims of police violence. We have come to expect that there will be no justice for victims of police violence, and we join with the platform of the American Solidarity Party in our demands that “law enforcement officers should be . . . held to the highest standards of professionalism . . . [and] strict accountability for the use of lethal force.” While the failure of the criminal justice system to hold police officers accountable is the subject for another essay, the failure of civil courts to hold police officers accountable by providing a modicum of relief in these cases is baffling. Many are rightly asking, “Why can’t you successfully sue a police officer who attacks you or a family member?” The answer is “qualified immunity.”

Qualified immunity is a legal principle that shields government officials, including police officers, from civil liability for actions taken in the performance of their job, as long as those actions do not knowingly violate anyone’s legal rights. Of course, the Fourth Amendment (among other laws) very clearly establishes one’s right not to be brutalized by the police. So, what gives? To understand this issue, we need to look a little deeper into the history of the Supreme Court’s treatment of qualified immunity.

The current legal test for whether a government agent is entitled to the protection of qualified immunity was introduced in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). As with so many unpleasant incidents in modern American history, this one was Richard Nixon’s fault. A contractor named A. Ernest Fitzgerald sued Nixon and several of his aides for whistleblower retaliation; the Court decided that, while Nixon himself had “absolute immunity” from civil liability for his actions as president, his aides were entitled to “qualified immunity.” The Court viewed this qualified immunity as essential to the government’s ability to function without its officials being paralyzed by the fear of civil lawsuits, and provided a two-pronged test for when qualified immunity would apply, stating, “government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Hold onto the phrases “clearly established” and “reasonable person,” as they are critical to understanding why this legal concept is currently operating against the interests of justice.

The definition of a “clearly established” right for the purposes of qualified immunity has been discussed at great length over a number of cases since the test was established in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, but for this discussion, we’ll zero in on Kelsay v. Ernst, 933 F.3d 975 (8th Cir. 2019). Melanie Kelsay, her children, and her friend Patrick Caslin were at a public pool. While they were goofing around, Mr. Caslin tried to throw Ms. Kelsay into the pool. Some bystanders interpreted this as assault and called the police, who arrested Mr. Caslin. Ms. Kelsay spoke to the responding officers in an attempt to prevent her friend’s arrest and then started walking toward a stranger who was speaking with one of her children. It is noteworthy that Ms. Kelsay is described in court documents as being five feet tall and 130 pounds. Deputy Matt Ernst then performed a “takedown maneuver” on Ms. Kelsay which broke her collarbone and rendered her briefly unconscious. While the dissent in this case argued that case law has established that the use of force against a nonviolent misdemeanant simply for disrespect is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the majority opinion held that there was no precise law or a precedent which handled a fact set close enough to Ms. Kelsay’s case to “clearly establish” for a reasonable officer that it was illegal to body slam Ms. Kelsay under these circumstances.

The second part of the test for establishing qualified immunity has to do with the “reasonable person,” or, in the case of police brutality, “the reasonable police officer,” thanks to the infuriating case of Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). Dethorne Graham was a diabetic and needed some orange juice to stabilize his blood sugar. He ran into a corner store, but when he saw the length of the line he rushed out of the store. A police officer, M. S. Connor, witnessed Mr. Graham running out of the store and assumed that he had robbed the store. Officer Connor proceeded to try to apprehend Mr. Graham. Mr. Graham’s blood sugar crisis had intensified at this point, and he began running around the officer’s vehicle and then briefly lost consciousness. Officer Connor and other officers who had arrived for backup interpreted this behavior as intoxication and resistance, and slammed Mr. Graham against the police car, handling him in such a way that Mr. Graham left the encounter with an injured shoulder, a broken foot, cuts and bruises all over his body, and persistent tinnitus. In their determination of whether the officers who attacked Mr. Graham were entitled to qualified immunity, the Supreme Court decided that police officers should not be held to the same standard as general members of the community; instead, they held that “the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.” So, police officers are given leeway in light of the chaos of a given situation. This standard has been applied in many police shootings where the officers have interpreted cell phones, candy bars, and hair combs as lethal weapons and harmed those they encounter on the job.

The path of the doctrine of qualified immunity from a practical necessity for government work to a tool of oppression is a long one, and we could discuss dozens of other seminal cases in a comprehensive treatment of the subject. Hopefully, this article provides a jumping-off point to understand the concept. We have yet to see lawsuits from the families of the most recent victims of police violence, but qualified immunity is likely to play a part in any civil suits they file against the officers responsible. As we watch for updates, let us continue to echo the words of the prophet Amos in our prayers, and ask that God will lead our country to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”

The False Meritocracy

By Amar Patel

My parents emigrated from India to the United States in the late 1960s, and I grew up on a street with only white neighbors. I remember avoiding certain blocks because kids would throw rocks at me as I rode by. I would take a trip to the convenience store and turn around because other roughnecks would be outside. I was routinely taunted in the playground and assaulted a few times. I can still remember my sorrow and seething hatred for my persecutors. While I had the good fortune of having a supportive, close-knit, multi-generational family, my parents didn’t know about my plight; I felt too ashamed to share my experiences. The feeling of being an outsider and not belonging did not sit well with me. The principle of solidarity that I now cherish as a member of the American Solidarity Party was as foreign to me as my parents were to the soil they had moved to.

Years later, as an adult, I learned that my father had faced similar racism from his college classmates during graduate school shortly after arriving in the United States. I asked him how he overcame it. His answer was that he knew he had to work harder than everyone else to show that he belonged. This was the one value that my parents instilled in me more than any other: no one can take your work ethic away from you. So, years later, having worked hard, gone to college, gotten a good job, married a supportive wife, and had two healthy children, I had a strong sense that I had earned my place in the world. It was only when my children were older that I had to reassess my world view. One of my teenage son’s teammates bullied him about being a terrorist as their school bus drove by a mosque (we are Roman Catholic). When he told us about this, a latent, decades-old rage emerged and I wanted justice for my child’s abuse. Thankfully, the coach and the bully’s mother intervened and settled the issue, but my heart ached for my son.

In today’s public discourse, we often hear the terms “institutional racism” and “white privilege.” While I am sure society has improved overall in the course of debating these concepts, I know that the arguments over them can fall on deaf ears. My contribution may also suffer the same fate, but as an alternative take on racial harmony, I hope it may spark a new conversation and add to our nation’s ongoing healing.

As I reflected on the George Floyd situation, the subsequent nationwide violence, and the social-media reaction to all of it, my thoughts went back to my father’s journey. How did he overcome racism and othering? Was it really just hard work? What I realized was that he had something that black children often don’t get: an intact family. For many African-American children, there is no father at home (rather than in jail on some petty charge). My grandfather sacrificed all that he had saved and all that he would earn so my father could follow his dream and start a new life. In addition, for twenty years, my parents had the love and support of a safe community—a community that not only believed they could succeed but also rallied together to make sure that they would. They came from small, secluded farming villages in India, and they took the hopes and dreams of extended families and supportive neighbors with them.

This year, I went through a seminar on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). In summary, trauma and abuse when inflicted on a child can have long-term physiological and psychological effects similar to what is seen among soldiers who have been in war. Children raised in high-conflict situations can literally exhibit the signs of PTSD. But there’s a difference: a soldier’s tour of duty will end, while a poor child has no obvious means of escape from the squalor and stress of her daily life. Black children disproportionately grow up in a “fight or flight” environment. Too often they have poorly funded schools, inferior health care, inadequate diets, and dangerous living conditions. On top of these—and perhaps worst of all—they have the outrageous expectation placed upon them that they should catch up on their own to people who started miles ahead in the race.

For the very, very few readers who started with nothing, survived years of trauma and abuse, achieved an education or started a business, and are now thriving adults, I say, “God bless you; well done.” This article addresses the millions who casually lambaste the looters, pointing out the fault in their plan of action, and asking, “How does looting bring George Floyd justice?” It doesn’t, but I can tell you I would have at least verbally assaulted the young man who bullied my son over the singular instance of racism he faced. I can’t begin to comprehend how years of anger and resentment may have affected the psyche of the recent looters and vandals. This does not exonerate them from culpability, but lack of sympathy for their raw emotion implies a corresponding lack of consideration of their daily plight, which is a plight I am fortunate to have avoided.

While I faced racism and hatred as a child, I had loving parents and an extended family living with me. I had good schools with great teachers who never expected anything but the best from me. I had amazing friends whose parents treated me like a son despite my different ethnicity. In college, I found great support in a faith community that modeled respect for all members, regardless of background. The education my parents paid for opened the door to a great job where others had prepared a work environment that has allowed me to thrive and achieve more than I could have done on my own.

“In God We Trust” has been the motto of this country only since 1956. What if our motto was, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”? I am forty-six years old—the same age as George Floyd. What if George had been born into my life and I into his? Individualism feeds a false sense of meritocracy, but no one can make it on her own; everyone needs support from others. We can’t answer questions about how much support is right, when it should end, who should pay for it, and so forth until we accept that we are not isolated atoms moving solely of our own accord. We can’t heal as a society until we are truly thankful for our circumstances and reciprocally generous with our surpluses.

The only time I ever got pulled over for speeding was by one of my former neighbors who had grown up to become a police officer. He recognized me when reading my name off of my driver’s license. We laughed and shared stories about our families and our lives since high school. I don’t expect to have such a pleasant encounter the next time I get pulled over, but I can’t fathom the crushing weight of fear a young black man must feel the first time—or every time—he is pulled over. How can our experiences be so different in the same country? This is the kind of question I have come to ask through my time in the American Solidarity Party. If we are not all in this together, then we will perpetually remain apart.

TELL ‘EM WHAT YOU THINK: How to Write a Letter to the Editor for the ASP

By Leslie Shaw Klinger

Recently, Skylar Covich, a member of the American Solidarity Party’s National Committee, complimented me on getting yet another letter printed in my hometown newspaper, the Modesto Bee. “You are,” he said, “one of the most successful members in the area of getting the word out about the party through letters to the editor.”

Why do I do it? More importantly, how do I do it?

I use the medium of the local paper as a way to drum up publicity for the party. A full-page ad in the Bee might be flashier than a letter, but it would cost a lot of money, and we just don’t have the financial clout of other political parties. What we do have, however, are intelligent members who have a finger on the pulse of their community. Our local paper is a way to let other voters who may be discouraged by the state of national politics look us over.

I am sure that there are many disenfranchised voters adrift in the sea of partisan politics. They are looking for a place to dock their boat and feel secure. They want to finally be able to both vote and look at themselves in the mirror. The number of people who “held their nose” and voted for Trump is higher than Republicans want to admit. Democrats still fighting for a pro-life presence in that party are spending their time on Twitter, desperate for other pro-lifers to join them. The American Solidarity Party can be a home for many who have been either effectively pushed out of the Democratic Party by their anti-life platform, or alienated by the GOP’s myopic view of the pro-life movement. We know there are more like-minded people out there. How are we going to reach them when we do not have the money to flood the airwaves or newspapers with advertisements?

Being a regular contributor to the opinion page of your local newspaper is one way to make our party known and to drum up interest.

So . . . how do we get our letters published?

Know the Rules

Every opinion page has rules. The Modesto Bee accepts one letter a month from each individual, and the letters must not be more than two hundred words in length. The editorial staff reserves the right to edit the letters they receive, so in order to limit the need for them to change my letter, I must be focused, succinct, and coherent. While every page will publish the occasional letter from a local kook, most pride themselves on showcasing the intelligent and well-written opinions of their readers. You must be willing to write, rewrite, and rewrite some more before you submit your letter.

Tie the ASP into a Local Issue

Don’t just write about how wonderful we are; let people know why you chose the American Solidarity Party and why the party’s platform and beliefs are relevant to your community. Does your area have high unemployment? Write about how our approach to economics could alleviate that problem. Are your local politicians in an unseemly fight on social media? Write about how the American Solidarity Party does not need to resort to the types of tactics used by the Republicans and the Democrats, or share that you left your former party because you did not want to engage in that type of behavior. Are your businesses or schools at odds with state regulations? Take the time to educate people on the concept of subsidiarity and how the American Solidarity Party supports the right of communities to determine their own destiny whenever possible. Whatever issue is at hand, write a letter that shares our philosophy with them.

Emphasize Our Consistent Life Ethic

There are a whole bunch of people who do not realize they are pro-life because they see it as only a religious issue. It is important for people to understand that we defend the sanctity of human life at all stages of development. We believe it is important to promote a society that makes the decision to end the life of a child the least popular option. We need people to know that we support expanded educational and financial opportunities, quality affordable housing, a family-friendly tax structure, and health care for all who need it. Being pro-life means more than only being anti-abortion.

Here’s an example. The Central Valley of California has been hit hard with sex trafficking and drugs. Nearly every parish and congregation in Modesto has a story to share of children being lost to either addiction or sexual exploitation. These problems have affected families regardless of their race, religion, or economic status. How does this connect with the issue of abortion?

Tell those who support Planned Parenthood that if a young teenage girl shows up in their lobby with a twenty-something “boyfriend,” no law requires Planned Parenthood to report what could be a crime of sexual exploitation. What ensures that a pimp cannot drive his “property” to the clinic for an abortion with impunity? We must protect both the children we have and unborn children in the womb from this type of exploitation; the American Solidarity Party believes we can and we should.

Does your audience believe that women have a right to choose whether or not to have an abortion? Suggest, in that spirit, that there should be equal funding for “health centers” that provide abortions and local crisis pregnancy centers. Let them know that the ASP supports laws that encourage emotional and financial support for women who choose to carry their child to term. Appeal to their American sense of justice and fair play.

Many people are much more like-minded than we think; however, they don’t know that if we don’t tell them, which we can do by using issues that impact our community via the local opinion page. If we do that, we will gain both recognition and membership.

Know Your Stuff

Be prepared to answer regular objections to voting for a third party. Be prepared to honestly share why you walked away from your previous party to join the ASP. Read our platform, have links ready to share, and do not be afraid to admit that we are in this for the long haul. We do not expect our candidate to become President of the United States this year, but tell people to be prepared for future candidates for mayor or city council to pop up on the radar who will declare themselves members of the ASP. Ask them to do the same.

Develop Relationships with the Local Newspaper Staff

Get to know both the head editor and the editor of the opinion page. In the words of my Texan father, “blow smoke up their bloomers.” Send the occasional note to tell them they are doing a good job. Ask their opinion about a local rumor being promoted on social media. Say hello when you see them in the market. Our city, Modesto, has grown in recent years, but we are still very much a “small town” with a decidedly Midwestern flair for neighborliness. Saying, “Hey, Brian!” to the editor when I see him at the SaveMart puts a face to my name. He knows I am a nice little old lady, usually wearing a Niners T-shirt. I am not scary—I’m just a neighbor.

Every one of us has the chance to be a voice for our party. What we must remember is that in order to appeal to our local populace, the American Solidarity Party must be made real to them. We can do that by making sure all local interests are viewed through our lens. Let them know that our vision promotes common sense for the common good.

Until we have enough money and clout to produce radio spots, to print yard and fence signs, and to get our candidate an interview on the local news, using the opinion page of our local newspaper can still be an effective tool for growing the party. Every voice is important; make sure yours is heard.

My Kind Mechanic, Distributism, and the ASP

An American Solidarity Party Member Perspective, by Valerie Niemeyer

When was the last time your heart was profoundly blessed by your auto mechanic? For me, it was just two hours ago, and the encounter reminded me of why I’m a member of the American Solidarity Party. As a party that is committed to a consistent reverence for human life, we embrace a distributist approach to the economy that fosters the well-being of persons, families, and communities through widespread ownership and a more truly free market.

I am not well-educated about economies and markets, but common sense and my heart tell me that I want to live in a country that makes family businesses (including family farms) a viable option for as many people as possible, which was reinforced by my experience with my kind mechanic earlier today.

I was on my way home from picking up a grocery delivery from my parents’ driveway (my house wasn’t in the delivery zone), when my decrepit 2001 Toyota Sienna lost momentum and began emitting a low rumbling, then a rasping sound. Clenching both my jaw and the steering wheel, I worried about how soon I could find a safe place to pull over and explained to my kiddos (who sensed adventure) that I thought I may have a punctured tire. Once tucked safely off the road, with tires intact and palms pressed to the rough, cool road, I beheld the fallen exhaust pipe extending forward from the muffler—the source of the rasping sound. Bummer.

“Call Excellence and see if they do exhaust stuff like this; if so, we’ll have it towed there,” advised my husband. Thank God for cell phones. I dialed the number and Tom answered. I told him about the dragging pipe and asked if it was something they could help with.

“Sure. Which way is it hanging—towards the back of the car, or towards the front?”

“Towards the front,” I replied.

“Ah—that’s too bad. Where are you at?” I wasn’t too far from his shop—less than ten minutes.

He said, “Why don’t I just come see if I can tie it up so you can drive it here and not have to wait for a tow truck. Can you leave it with me?”

I responded, “Let me call Gramps and see if he can meet us there and take us home. I’ll call you right back.”

Gramps, my husband’s dad, was happy to help. When I called the shop back, it was Tom’s wife who answered. She passed the phone to him for my update: “Yep, I can leave it with you. But I can call a tow truck—it’s not a problem, insurance will cover it.”

“No, don’t do that. It’s no problem. Where exactly are you?”

I knew he wouldn’t charge me for his trouble. He’d gone above and beyond for us before, and his invoices were always a pleasant surprise. We have total trust in his integrity and humbling admiration for his generosity.

Within half an hour, I was greeting his wife, Renee (whom I always look forward to encountering), at the reception desk. She has an air of motherly wisdom and a warm, hard-working humility that always comes through in our conversations.

I remembered noticing the encouraging quote from Scripture hanging above her desk the first time I entered the shop. I also remembered the time her husband kindly worked us in before we left town so we could be sure our old family van was road-trip safe. As I had expressed my gratitude, she had smiled and laughed a bit, and proceeded to compare her husband to the Statue of Liberty, always welcoming anyone, any time, with a desire to improve their automotive lot in life. His automotive lot frequently reflects that posture, with cars in every nook and cranny awaiting his devoted care.

One notes that this kind of care for his customers does not make for an easy, 9-to-5, workaday life.  Renee seems grateful and fulfilled—and tired. They’ve been at this for twenty-seven years, and last I heard, they were hoping a son would take over the business at some point. We hope so, too. Their family has managed to beautify our life and enrich our humanity because they have truly cared about our family as they have worked to help us maintain (or lay to rest) the vehicles that have carried us to and fro in this blessed adventure of life.

We had a similar experience with our previous mechanic, Steve, whose shop was just down the street from Tom’s, and whose retirement after years of faithful service to his community was both a well-earned reward for him and a heartbreaker for those whose lives he had long blessed with quality, friendly automotive service. When businesses are rooted more in human relationships and service to the community than in efficiency and profits, humanity all around is blessed and enriched.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “We must strive to secure a broader economic opportunity for all men, so that each shall have a better chance to show the stuff of which he is made.”

My dad and both of his parents worked hard for large American manufacturing corporations, and I perceived (rightly, I hope) that they had a sense of ownership and pride in their work and in their companies’ business enterprises. They also enjoyed good benefits and comfortable retirement. I’m thankful that Tom and Renee enjoy an even greater sense of ownership and pride in their family business, and I want them, and others like them, to also have access to good benefits and a comfortable retirement as a result of their hard work for our community.

The American Solidarity Party holds that economic enterprises and policies should be ordered to the true well-being of people, families, and communities, and that “models of economic behavior that undermine human dignity with greed and naked self-interest” are to be rejected. We will support folks like my kind, industrious mechanic by advocating, as our platform states, for “an economic system which focuses on creating a society of widespread ownership (sometimes referred to as ‘distributism’) rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.”

There are many who will say that such high ideals are not realistic and that pursuing them comes at too great a cost. There are also many mechanics who would never bother to do what Tom did for me today. But I say that caring is worth the sacrifices it inevitably entails, both personally and politically.

Valerie Niemeyer is married to Joe, the father of her six kiddos (ages two to fourteen), who are homeschooled so that “out of the box” educational opportunities could be pursued with and for them. It’s hard, messy, and humbling, but also beautiful and glorious, because of God’s love, mercy, and faithfulness. Large manufacturing companies, as well as family farms and family-owned businesses, have sustained and blessed her family for generations through the hard work of her grandparents, parents, and now her husband. Her greatest teachers and mentors (other than God and her parents) have been the poor of Latin America, whom she has been honored to share life with through various transformative experiences beginning in high school, thanks to the generosity and courage of her parents. After graduating from Creighton University with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish with certification in Secondary Education, she chose to serve the local immigrant and refugee population in nonprofit and community health settings (while pursuing a master’s degree in Theology) prior to staying at home full-time with her children. As an orthodox Roman Catholic who appreciates the good and laments the bad in both major American political parties, she is grateful to have found a political “home” where a consistent, robust reverence for human life and the common good is promoted.

Book Review of Wendell Berry and Higher Education by Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro

Review by Lloyd Conway

What can teachers and practitioners of public administration learn from a book coming from an English department on the works of an agrarian novelist?

Public administrators may not seem like the ideal audience for a work examining what the writer Wendell Berry has to say about higher education, but his call for the academy to abandon the “unknown tongue” of academic jargon and to re-engage place—community, locality, the concrete realities immediately outside the ivory tower—ought to find willing hearers among those who labor in the care of the public squares of our communities.

His acknowledged debts to Buddhism aside, Berry’s worldview is (like that of the authors, and of this reviewer) decidedly Christian. One need not share it, however, to appreciate a commitment to an order that is holistic and ecological in the fullest sense, one not beholden to the dictates of market-driven capital.

Berry’s concern for place in the face of a cultural gravitational field pulling ambition, talent, and achievement into the orbits of wealth and power around our political and economic capitals echoes other “third way” public intellectuals, like Lewis Mumford, Ivan Illich, Jane Jacobs, James Howard Kunstler, E. F. Schumacher, and even Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. The writers in this tradition criticized a centralizing capital-driven system answerable to nothing but the relentless, limited logic of the market. That tradition can inform us, as teachers and practitioners of public administration, and it can help us maintain a dialogue with our colleagues about what our schools’ missions should be and how we can better integrate our disciplines to imbue our students and our research with a purpose that has meaning for the places we inhabit. Baker and Bilbro (85–86) offer examples of colleges that practice disciplines that tie classroom education to work and service. At Berea College and the College of the Ozarks, students literally work their way through school, earning their tuition through campus employment. They become part of the life and health of their places.

The term “academic placemaking” best describes how Baker and Bilbro portray Wendell Berry’s vision of a reformed academy, and it is aligned with the service ethos of public administration. Aside from programs whose focus is national or international, our programs train generations of students whose careers will focus on service to place, often just one place, for their working lives. This book speaks to that service ethos. It also ought to be of use in shaping conversations with practitioners of other academic disciplines about what mission focus our common homes ought to embrace. As Baker and Bilbro put it, by learning “how to serve our places rather than our careers—and by articulating the kinds of imagination, language, and practices that might lead to an education in service of place—we also hope to educate our students to be virtuous members of their communities rather than technically proficient migratory servants of the industrial economy.”(198)

Berry’s writing centers, according to Baker and Bilbro, on the four responsibilities—fidelity, gratitude, memory, love—that all of us owe to our places. These express themselves in rootedness, service, responsibility, and plain speaking, as opposed to euphemistic jargon that obscures what it ought to depict. This writer can empathize with the last point, as it brings to mind an example from work: a “Quarterly Layoff Activity Report” re-christened the “New Labor Market Entrants Report” to sanitize the reality of lost employment for the report’s audience.

In his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned against the corrupting influence of federal funding on higher education’s academic freedom. Berry writes in a similar vein when cautioning against the seduction of research for research’s sake, whatever the funding source, without regard for the consequences stemming from the use of what may be discovered along the way. Berry echoes Eisenhower’s concern that “a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity,” and “public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological élite.” The result is the same: research without limits, without regard for consequences, and without concern for the side-effects of the process itself. In this, Berry’s writings sound a theme similar to that of former Vice-President Al Gore in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, seeing the defect of our current intellectual state as a deficiency in what T. S. Eliot called the “ecology of cultures,” stemming from the centuries-old Western mind-body split in consciousness and action.

Taking the analysis further, one could say that Berry echoes Oswald Spengler’s observations about Western (“Faustian”) civilization when he refers to the spirit of our age as “curious” to have knowledge for its own sake, as opposed to the classical sense of knowledge as wisdom, an attitude described as “studious”. A “curious” attitude cares not for consequences, neither stemming from its discoveries nor from how they come about, directly or indirectly; side-effects like environmental degradation are peripheral concerns, at best. Faustian civilization has been intellectually “curious” since Bacon. Knowledge for its own sake and the power it brings, rather than for faith or service, is a sickness of purpose in Berry’s eyes. (Baker & Bilbro, 177, quoting from “The Unsettling of America”):

“Who so hath his mind on taking hath it no more on what he hath taken.”

Montaigne

This book may well prompt its readers to ask themselves and their communities: “Do we participate in or do we exploit our places”? The question, and the answers it conjures, ought to be the stuff of meaningful dialogue on the place service has in our work and how our work serves the places we inhabit.


Lloyd A. Conway, originally from Detroit, Michigan, is a retired veteran of the Army & National Guard, was a civil servant for twenty years, and has been an adjunct teacher at Spring Arbor University for the past twenty years. Mr. Conway previously served on the city council of Charlotte, Michigan, and chaired the Planning Commission. He holds degrees from Excelsior College, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University, and Eastern Michigan University. He is married to a fellow teacher and has five adult children. They reside in Lansing, Michigan.

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