The New “Pursuit of Happiness”

Since mid-January, the first three minutes of news I hear when my alarm goes off leave me with more questions than answers. Why is this happening? What are they thinking? Why are they doing this? I needed to identify factual reporting of what did happen, and set aside speculation about what might happen.

After absorbing the last four or five months a gamut of other people’s news and blogs and opinions and comedy and hand-wringing, I’ve been delayed by the quaint need to research facts before throwing unsubstantiated opinions out on my own blog.

I’m back. I’ve had time to do some research. I just needed to curb my penchant to footnote it all.

I’m dismayed to realize that no right or freedom in America is protected in perpetuity. The last few months have left me better informed about all the ways something once passed into law, implemented in regulation, and even decided by the Supreme Court, can be undone. One of the responsibilities of citizenship, apparently, is constant vigilance in defense of the freedoms one holds dear.

Has “…the pursuit of happiness…” become synonymous with “fight for rights”?  Until this moment, I hadn’t considered that.  A friend of mine told me that she sincerely hoped that protest marches in America never become as common as the ones in South Korea. There, she said, “nobody pays attention anymore.” I’d have to agree with her hope.

I like it when people speak plainly, tell each other what they want and need, and sensibly work it out. I have never been able to understand the gamesmanship of political bargaining or even marketplace haggling for that matter.

I also want to be able to take a President of the United States as his word. Experience shows me that I can expect this President to consistently disappoint me in that regard. It seems just rude to routinely set aside everything someone says and wait a few days or months for updates to see what he really meant to say.

RELATED: The New York Times “…logged at least one false or misleading claim per day on 91 of his first 99 days.” >>MORE

Hats off to members of the media right across the political spectrum who have nailed down a process to rapidly fact check, interpret, and understand the words and actions of the new Administration. I noticed when the White House press office started saying, “…the President believes…” is though his belief alone sufficed to substantiate a fact.

Looking back, I disagreed with many of the decisions and policies during George W. Bush’s administration. I remember feeling a pall of darkness around the deepening of military involvement post 9/11, and unease about deficit and the foundering economy. But at that point I wasn’t a citizen. Resident alien, full-time legal guest. It was someone else’s country, someone else’s problem.

Now that I am a citizen, under this Administration, I struggle. This is my first experience voting in a presidential election when my team didn’t win.  I feel somehow personally responsible for what I fear will be negative consequences of the new Administration’s policies for me, for people I care about, for the country, and for the rest of the world.

I’m more curious about reporting outside my “bubble” than I was before the election. I took less comfort in, and applied more critical thought to, left-leaning media sources after the election.  Which cherished freedoms are actually threatened?

Will I look back and regret that I didn’t drop everything else and become a full time civic activist? My ancient inner voice is always scolding me, saying, “Uncomfortable? Not good enough. What are you doing to make a difference?”

I don’t have a lot of patience for speculation about all the things that MIGHT happen. I’m no pundit, and a bad guesser. Until this year, if a law were passed about something I care about, and the critical details of how it will work were to be in the implementing regulations, I’ve submitted comments on draft regulations.

On occasion, I’ve stepped up to advocate for a law (to expand opportunities for women-owned businesses in federal contracting) or against (proposed budget cuts in funding research on ovarian cancer).

Right now, the White House and the Administration are constantly taking actions, and Congress is considering bills, on many positions I disagree with.

So I’ve changed my approach. I don’t have my members of Congress on speed dial. I have called them and written them more since January than at any time since I took my oath of citizenship in 2010.

I pay far more attention to the minutiae of how the legislative process works, because I’m much more concerned that the Republican majority and White House will make policy and pass laws that I don’t think are in America’s best interest.

Even though Republicans hold power in two of three branches of government, they have do not have unanimous views or vision. Being in opposition is easier than governing. The President is surprised to find that he does not get his way. The Democrats and Republicans in Congress are listening to their constituents before they vote, not simply voting along party lines.  The greatest fears of those out of power have not come to pass (at least not yet).

I’ve taken a step back from liberal blogosphere weekly listings of all the worrisome bills that have been introduced. Most bills proposed don’t become law. The 114th Congress was more productive than the 113th and 112th Congresses. The House beat its historical average, passing 11.2% of bills it introduced. The Senate passed 4.8% of its bills, fewer than its 7.1% average.

I have realized that the stream of news from the embattled left requires just as much critical reading as the ebullient right. I’ve trimmed my media feed to a handful of sources from the mainstream swim lane, below, and sample a bit of the governing majority viewpoint from contrary-minded friends and the right side of the infographic.


news infographic

I’ve waited a couple of months to see how things are unfolding before even trying to write. Every day, I’m spending more time sorting through the latest events and announcements. Every day, I hear the new thing. I’m grateful for reporters who dig in to clarify or confirm or correct whatever the President said. I wait and see what happens next. Then I research to figure out what I know, what I don’t know. I try to get to a point where I know enough to have an intelligent conversation or ask intelligent questions with someone else on either side of the aisle.

I don’t expect to agree with the current Administration on much. But I watch and listed and ask questions to try and understand. Here are just a few issues that are top of mind for me right now.

  • The Executive Order banning travelers and suspending entry of refugees from six predominantly Muslim countries:  does not increase national security by preventing attacks by Islamist militants. There is already so little chance of terrorist attack in the United States by someone from those countries that the ban changes virtually nothing.  The ban helps the President and his Administration gain support from  Americans who have been made to believe they are not safe. By pointing to people from predominantly Muslim countries as a potential danger, the travel ban makes people feel the President has made them “safer” by banning those people.
  • Health care: Is the Affordable Care Act perfect? No. Are there major issues that need to be addressed so that insurers will continue to offer coverage? Yes. But why would Republicans and the White House propose changes that experts estimate may result in between six million and twenty million people losing health care coverage ? The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that proposed changes in health care would cut taxes by at least $600 billion. I just paid my 2016 taxes. Would I have preferred to keep that money? Not if it’s the price I need to pay to live in a country where people who are sick can get care without going bankrupt. Not if my taxes give people better access to everyday care that keeps them healthier and out of emergency rooms and expensive procedures that could have been avoided.

    Oh, about the absence of female legislators among the thirteen members to work on health care in the Senate? Diverse groups make better decisions. We need that more than ever. MORE>>

  • Tax policy: My inexpert understanding is that a big goal of changing health care policy is not simply to undo a previous Administration’s work, but to cut taxes and stimulate growth. Yet not one of 42 economists surveyed by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business (which regularly polls economists) believes “…the cuts would stimulate the economy enough to cancel out the effect on total tax revenue.” 
  • Environmental protection: clean air, water, energy and soil enable good health and the quality of life. I want laws and regulations to support that. Why would we stop protecting those things?  Why dismantle regulations that do? I am not an environmental economist. I don’t have the data to support my belief that money spent to protect and improve the environment is money well spent. If you have data showing that protecting the environment is a waste of money, show me. I am baffled by the idea that money in someone’s pocket is more important than the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. Animals that destroy their habitats die. When a community finds its environment has been poisoned, people can get sick or die while waiting for governments to fund and take remedial action. Poor communities may face even greater environmental risks under the new Administration, if EPA cuts funds to the environmental justice program that provides seed money, funds and advocacy they need to fix or prevent those problems.
  • Immigration has so many facets. I immigrated legally. I filled out forms and paid fees and followed the rules. Do I believe that people should immigrate legally? Yes. Do I believe that the United States should allow more of its citizens to sponsor and help resettle refugees who are screened for security risks? Yes.

    I also want this country and its leaders to find compassionate ways to tackle tougher issues.

    Should all people who have entered illegally be deported?  If not, then what should happen? Undocumented entry itself breaks the law. What if people commit another crime? “Criminal alien” is not defined in U.S. immigration law or regulations. The law is similarly ambiguous about what crimes are sufficient cause to deport an alien. If someone has entered illegally, and they’ve committed a crime, well, how serious a crime is a good enough reason to deport them? On one hand, a law is a law. On the other hand, how can we guarantee enforcement that is free of racial bias or xenophobia?

  • Russian influence on the U.S. elections? I hope it’s possible to get clarity on the past, and have justice prevail. Regardless of the results of any investigation, the election results can’t be undone. So what can we do, moving forward, to be aware of, and ward off, such a thing in the future?
  • The entire casting and recasting of White House and Administration officials? I didn’t care for many of the Cabinet appointees. Firing FBI Director James Comey? That story’s still coming out. I’ve found that the most perplexing situation yet. He and his fellow appointees swore or affirm an oath under 5 U.S.C. 3331 to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

    I absolutely want officials who are doing their level best to support and defend the Constitution, and whose job is loyalty to the citizens they serve.

I’ve learned to paying attention to bills and proposals on the things I care about most. I’ve marched for some things and raised funds for others. I’ll keep doing that, because the majority of those in power might not want the same outcome as I do.


One thought on “The New “Pursuit of Happiness”

  1. Judy,
    You are a more public-spirited citizen than most.
    I’m not sure you really need to change your daily habits in order to be a good citizen of the republic.
    The neat diagram you posted smears the “Daily Caller”, which is reliable in its own way and does not propagate nutso theories
    My advice to people on the left is to concentrate on 2018 congressional elections. (I am perhaps
    encouraged in that my belief that demonstrations are mostly a waste of time, basically an excuse for people to show off and virtue signal.) . People with the ability to do so would be better off spending the hours spent on demonstration to do part-time work and donate the money to their cause.

    IMO ordinary ground Leftists need to identify the most winnable Democrat in the 2018 House elections and contribute to his or her campaign. More ambitious ones might best take it upon themselves to identify the most suitable candidates and get them to run. And there are no doubt some people in your sphere who should run themselves.

    Alan Stewart


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