Independence Day

I rarely wish people a “happy Fourth of July”. It’s always “Happy Independence Day” from me. I guess because that’s what the day is about, regardless of where it lands on the calendar.

Happy Independence Day!

I’m worried about our country. I get it, everybody’s worried about our country these days. I guess I feel worried for different reasons than most people seem to feel worried.

People on all sides are busy constantly freaking out. Liberals are freaking out about “concentration camps”; conservatives are freaking out about whatever Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just said, and as everything devolves into left-versus-right, right-versus-left, red-or-blue-there-is-no-purple partisan warfare, something precious is being lost.

Just Amash just quit the Republican party, and I encourage you to read his explanation as to why. He cites the very wise farewell address of George Washington. We hear people talking about all sorts of things these days, but rarely do we hear anybody seriously cite our first president. He more-or-less prophesied of the dangers of political parties eventually dividing a nation against itself and inviting in foreign interference and tyranny.

I’m not sure we’re at tyranny yet, as much as Donald Trump seems to fancy himself some sort of eastern bloc dictator preening in front of passing tanks. But we are on a dangerous path. And it is not a foreign enemy that poses the danger—it is our own disunity, fighting over whether the left’s distorted version of reality, or the right’s distorted version of reality, should rule over our nation.

Everybody is hanging out in their pleasing information bubble where the other party is villainous scum against which the righteous/woke good guys on our team will fight the good fight. It feels so good to know, just know, you’re the last bulwark of sanity against those monsters on the opposite side of the political spectrum. MSNBC and Fox News make many millions of dollars each year selling that role to their viewers. We’re all cosplaying as the enlightened saviors of America from the barbaric hordes on the other side.

I’m glad for what Justin Amash is doing. It almost certainly means he won’t be re-elected, but I respect him for daring to break with the machine of his party. Bernie Sanders and a few others are the only other ones with the guts to pull that off lately, and even Bernie is bowing the knee to the Democrats to get his chance at the presidency.

The irony is that fewer people identify with either party than ever before. (37% of Americans and 44% of Millennials identify as independent). And yet the parties are controlling our country’s destiny like never before in their neverending warfare. Whoever “captures” the presidency virtually dictates policy for the next four to eight years, working first to undo everything their predecessors accomplished, and then to impose an entirely different and inconsistent vision upon the nation. The whiplash is brutal.

Were we not so busy lurching between one extreme and the other, we could find many effective solutions to the problems facing our nation. But our country’s policies are no longer crafted in the crucible of bipartisan debate—our laws and policies at any given moment are not the preference of the whole nation, decided in Congress by true representatives of the people’s will, but rather represent the ideas of the currently ruling party, untempered by the need to convince anybody but the party base.

We are capable of so much more. What if words like compromise and bipartisanship did not mean treason but rather progress as once they did?

And so I pose this question: Who is served by the rule of the parties?

Are the voters in single-party states whose votes are wasted because they do not belong to the ruling party? (Think Democrats voting in Utah or Republicans voting in Washington.)

Are the voters in gerrymandered districts who will never pick a representative they believe in because the ruling party of their state redistricted their vote away?

The businesses who cannot plan for tax or trade policy to remain consistent for more than a few years at a time?

The nations around the world who never know which version of America they’ll be required to negotiate or work closely with?

The neighbors who see each other as enemies rather than friends because they look like Republicans or Democrats?

The communities divided against themselves because liberals never even talk to conservatives anymore and see the world so differently they cannot agree on the most basic facts?

The churches split in two by the conflict of left and right?

Do you benefit? Do your children benefit? Does your city and your county and your state benefit?

Does America benefit?

No.

It is the party activists and the politicians accruing power to themselves.

It is the special interests who fund the interparty battles and take decisionmaking away from the people.

It is the news networks raking in the hundreds of millions.

It is the demagogues on left and right who stoke the hatred of the other for their own personal gain.

It is America’s foreign enemies who prey on our weakness.

It is those who believe it is more important for America to be red, or blue, rather than free.

These are the people who benefit from splitting the country into two and telling each side to hate the other, like a body where the eye says to the hand, “I have no need of thee“.

You do not benefit. Your children do not benefit. Your city and your county and your state do not benefit.

America does not benefit.

It is time for us to declare our independence, not from the tyranny of British oppression, but from the tyranny of the politics of hating the other.

It is time for us to declare our independence, not from a foreign adversary but from the rule of two political parties who seek only their own power and not the good of the country.

It is time for us to declare our independence from the echo chambers of cable news and Twitter and Facebook, and all the little online bubbles that follow us around and tell us how right we are in our left and right opinions.

It is time for us to listen to the other side long enough that we can understand where they are coming from and why their viewpoint makes sense to them.

It is time for us to get involved in preserving democracy and the rule of law for the next generation. Organizations like FairVote and RepresentUs are working to ensure our government works for us, not for special interests and political party machines, and they need our help. If that’s not your thing, I just beg you that whatever you do, you don’t just sit on your butt and do nothing.

Things need to change, but not in the usual way, not the every-four-years flip-flop again.

We need to wrest control of our country back from the lobbyists and the political parties who do their bidding.

Let’s reclaim our independence. Things can be better. Please just do something you think will bring greater understanding and wisdom to this great nation of ours, rather than stoking the flames of partisan conflict.

Happy Independence Day, everybody!

A few thoughts on occupancy limits in Provo

The law needs to change. People are literally being driven from their homes—being threatened with lawsuits by the city of Provo, essentially evicted from homes with more than enough space for them. Were they a husband and wife and brother and sister-in-law, plus children, they would be permitted to remain and have as many cars as they wanted. But because these are four unrelated individuals living together, the city threatens a criminal lawsuit against their landlord and forces them to move, disrupting relationships, wasting time, and making them feel distinctly unwelcome.

This just happened to my friends, two doors down from me. It fits better in a dystopian novel for young adults than in a free society like Provo.

Many reasons have been given for the occupancy limit in Provo. People say they need to preserve single-family homes for nuclear families with children. People say parking is out of control. People complain there won’t be children for their children to play with or to attract funding to their schools. I literally heard a man complain on Sunday that Polynesians and Latinos would immigrate here in greater numbers without such an occupancy limit.

Some of these reasons are noble, some of them are despicable. The noble ones can all be addressed more directly and justly than by kicking single people out of their homes. School boundaries and ward boundaries can be redrawn. Parking can be regulated directly on a per-neighborhood basis. But government should not be enlisted to make sure all your neighbors look and act and live like you. Government should not be asked to socially engineer society in one group’s favor, to the exclusion and expulsion of other groups.

Regarding parking, Provo City already has a parking permit program that could be used to address that problem directly: https://www.provo.org/about-us/current-issues/parking-permit-programs

If there are specific neighborhoods where parking is a problem (and we all know there are) then parking in that neighborhood should be regulated. Kicking single people out of their houses may indirectly help with parking, but so would kicking out teenagers or married people or black people or gay people.

If parking is the issue, then let’s fix parking. If school boundaries are the issue, then let’s fix school boundaries. But let’s stop using Provo city government as a weapon against its own citizens. This injustice is happening now, and it needs to stop.

Provo: Welcome Home (Unless Single)

The city of Provo, Utah, has undertaken a campaign to reduce the number of single people living in its boundaries, to limit the number of singles living in existing housing, and to prevent additional housing for singles from being built.

It’s not too far off from singles-cide.

Imagine if this were done to any other group—Catholics, Asians, lesbians, etc. How would it look for a city to have an explicit policy of limiting and reducing the numbers of Catholics, Asians, or lesbians in its borders? It would be an outrage.

But somehow when it comes to unmarried individuals, it’s accepted, enshrined in city ordinances and state and federal law. Somehow discrimination against single people is seen as okay.

Well, it isn’t okay. It’s wrong. We’re people, too. Adults. Productive employees. Contributing members of congregations and communities.

In fact, over half of American adults are single.

Most of us get that marriage has a stabilizing effect on society. In fact, most of us would love to be married. But the reality is that people are getting married later—staying single for longer. And yet we’re treated like our equal right to housing and employment isn’t valid, simply because we aren’t married.

This needs to change.

Provo, for example, defines zoning restrictions that limit households consisting of singles to no more than three adults. Married people face no such restrictions—as long as people are related by blood or marriage or adoption there can be as many adults as they can cram in the house—plus up to two completely unrelated individuals. But when the household consists only of single adults (plus dependent children if any) the limit is a firm three individuals. The justifications given for this difference are thus:

  1. Singles in the neighborhood make for fewer friends for the married folks’ kids.
  2. Singles in the neighborhood all have cars and lead to an overflow of available on-street parking, potentially preventing emergency services and garbage services from doing their job.
  3. The ability of landlords to charge rent to numerous singles drives up rents for married families.

Somehow parking and the desire for playmates for children and the hope for cheaper rent are used as a justification for discrimination. But 1) is using legal measures to drive single people out of the neighborhood really going to help your kids? It’s unlikely to lead to more households with kids—just fewer singles living in the households that they already live in. 2) Couldn’t parking be addressed directly such as granting limited on-street parking permits to homeowners? And 3) rents are so high because the city isn’t approving new housing for the people demanding it—singles! Were the housing market allowed to operate without these marital status considerations, that problem would have already solved itself by now.

I spent a while looking into whether Provo City is violating the Utah Fair Housing Act by defining zoning restrictions in terms of marital status. It turns out that the Utah Fair Housing Act never mentions marital status, but prohibits discrimination on the basis of whether one is caring for children. Provo’s code is careful not to discriminate on the basis of whether children are present, but willfully discriminates on the basis of marital status.

And so it would be unlikely for a legal case to go anywhere, given the current law.

This is the real problem: that in an era when age at first marriage has increased substantially and there are more singles as a proportion of the population than ever, it’s completely legal in Utah and in most states for individuals and governments to discriminate on the basis of marital status.

It’s wrong.

It needs to change.

Let’s change it. Now.

#SinglesAreHumanToo

Links:

  • https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2015/0614/Singles-nation-Why-so-many-Americans-are-unmarried
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_person