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Status Quo Suffering



"It's almost an embarrassment being an American traveling around the world and listening to the stupid shit Americans have to deal with in this country." —Jamie Dimon

Jamie Dimon makes $28 million a year as CEO of JPMorgan Chase. He is the highest-paid bank president in the country. It stands to reason that his "stupid shit" is not the same stupid shit that rankles me—or vexes you—but I think most of us would agree that America is in deep shit and floundering like an overloaded boat.

So as not to offend the gentle reader, let's substitute the Latin phrase "status quo" for Dimon's "dealing with stupid shit" from here on. People might gripe about the way things are—the status quo—but its hold is as powerful as that of gravity. Moreover, change is off-putting: Most people shrink from it. Thus, the autopilot is humming like a beehive. Incumbents win elections, other people's kids fight the long wars, Utah's air quality deteriorates, poor people don't get medical treatment and the polar ice melts.

I have bucked the status quo a few times in my life with mixed results, but I am drawn to the status quo ante—the good old days—before the culture wars, Islamist terror and Twitter. A time when carbon dioxide emissions were 5 billion tons a year, not 35. Before income inequality. Before Donald Trump and his toadies won the election by tantalizing disaffected voters with the status quo ante. A time when America was great.

Despite the retro rhetoric, the status quo ante was not all sweetness and light with a Sinatra soundtrack. Besides the misbegotten war in Vietnam, there were Jim Crow and miscegenation laws and A-bomb drills in elementary schools. As an Army officer, I studied the Soviet tactics that would maneuver tank regiments in Germany's Fulda Gap if the Cold War went hot. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, I remember thinking that peace in our time was at hand. I was wrong.

Back then, truth was as lustrous as a silver dollar. The status quo ante disapproved of lying. Kids were schooled in the myth of George Washington, the downed cherry tree and the moral: "I cannot tell a lie." Forty-four presidents later, the truth has become either elastic or irrelevant. During his first 100 days in office, Trump made "492 false or misleading claims," according to The Washington Post. His loyalists shrug it off. So do people who ought to know better. If you take Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Paul Ryan at their word, we must cut Trump some slack. He's new to Washington and needs time to learn its ways, they say. Can you imagine Hatch's howls had Barack Obama tweeted even one falsehood let alone 492?

As Trump panders to the right wing with bluster and deceit, you have to wonder about the effect on the status quo post—the way things will become. Is politics forever changed? Is the new normal post-truth politics whereby objective fact is trumped by personal belief and appeals to emotions? Will we find ourselves in an Orwellian "time of deceit, when telling the truth is a revolutionary act"?

Getting rid of Trump will not take a revolutionary act. Term limits suffice. Hatch, by contrast, has been a senator for 40 years and has raised almost $4 million to fuel a campaign for another six-year term. Polls show more than 75 percent of Utahns want the 83-year-old politician to follow Jason Chaffetz off the stage. Would they retire him in the 2018 election? Would the Republicans give him the Bob Bennett treatment? No one knows for sure, but with the status quo fraying at the edges, the electorate is growing more assertive. Witness the proliferation of citizen initiative petitions born of frustration with self-serving, unresponsive state legislators. One such petition is poised to tap Utah's widespread acceptance of marijuana as medicine and place legalization on the 2018 ballot. Another petition, helmed by Our Schools Now, intends a referendum on a miniscule tax increase to raise $700 million for Utah's underfunded schools. Meanwhile, the Better Boundaries campaign has filed a citizens' ballot initiative to put an end to gerrymandering by creating a bipartisan redistricting commission.

Another grassroots initiative gaining traction is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Its proponents are determined to change the state's winner-take-all rule as applied in the Electoral College. That would preclude a candidate winning the popular vote while losing at the hands of the Electoral College (as has happened five times). Ten states are already on board, and Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Kraig Powell took a supportive position in their 2012 filings. Proponents hope to make the change by 2020.

Each of these initiatives chips away the status quo. Each bodes well for the status quo post. But my favorite by far is the Article V Convention proposal. It would create term limits for representatives and senators thereby ending the insidious influence of money in politics. The national organization U.S. Term Limits recently opened an office in Salt Lake City as it works to get 34 states to pass enabling legislation.

What all these have in common is their rejection of the status quo. They reflect ideas supported by a large percentage of the electorate but given short shrift by elected officials here and in Washington. Change comes as slowly as draining a swamp. In the meantime, raise a toast to Jamie Dimon, quoting a line from a 1926 poem by E.E. Cummings: "There is some shit I will not eat."

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