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August 16, 2017

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where i stand:

Where I stand: We must look within, where biggest threat to democracy hides

Gard Jameson

Gard Jameson

Brian Greenspun is taking some time off and is turning over his Where I Stand column to others. Today’s guest columnist is Gard Jameson, a professor of Asian philosophy at UNLV and chairman of the Childrens’ Advocacy Alliance and Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada.

In historical moments of great fear, there has been an inclination to find a tyrant to run the show, who suggests that fear can be answered with more fear. This person usually says “believe me” and “I alone can solve your problems.” Twentieth-century Germany, Russia and North Korea are three great examples of such irrational regression toward cultures of fear. When fear dominates there is a corresponding need for more guns, more police, more militias and more military solutions, with senseless tragedy ensuing — along with still-greater fear.

After two terms in office, our first president, George Washington, turned away calls for a third that would start with his coronation. In one of the most inspired pieces of political writing ever scribed, his said in his farewell address, “The unity of government is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize.” No truer words were ever shared with the people of these United States. He went on to say our only real jeopardy lies within the borders of our great country, not some external potentate.

When leaving the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government they had devised. His response: “A republic, if you can keep it!”

In this year of political examination, it is good to ask: Is our democracy at risk?

When big money eviscerates the voice “of the people,” when partisanship leads to the death of genuine dialogue “for the people,” when fear is allowed to be the trumpet call of domestic and foreign policy, when ignorance of history is the lens of political vision, and when nationalism is the ceiling of our aspirations, then we may rightfully declare that our democracy is at risk, our government “by the people” is threatened!

My wife, Dr. Florence Jameson, is an OB/GYN who runs our community’s free and charitable clinic, Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada. It is built on the foundation of neighbors helping neighbors, the heart of democracy at work, assisting those without access to medical, dental and mental health care.

The clinic’s values statement is reflected in the acronym TRUST — teamwork, respect, unity, service and transparency. When those values are embraced, the vitality of our families, our communities, our individual states and the United States have a future. Without trust, no economic, political or religious system can survive.

Bullies on both sides of the aisle should be taken to task, just as we do in our families and our schools for those who would jeopardize the unity of the system. Democracy requires a spirit of teamwork, of parties working side by side. Such teamwork requires respect, in spite of differences in perspective, a desire to engage in genuine dialogue and shared wisdom that will help shape solutions. I have never in all my years observed such shameful disrespect for the office of the president as in the last eight years. Honorable public service demands respect, and when it becomes unduly partisan, it loses its capacity to solve problems. Anyone noticed? Lastly, at all levels there must be transparency; clear information leads to good outcomes.

As was pointed out during the recent political conventions, our democracy is a beacon of hope to many millions of people around the world. Are we so shortsighted as not to see the malady nor insist upon the cure: better behavior from all of our elected officials? Instead of laying blame, how about cooperatively finding a way forward? How about each of us take personal responsibility for amplifying a quality of trust in our own environments, within family, among friends and within community?

At the community health clinic, we observe the joy that emerges from our volunteers and partners; we celebrate the hope that comes to our patients when folks of all persuasions gather to do something good for the sake of the welfare of all the people. With such joy and hope, faith in the system re-emerges. With over 40 collaborative partners of all stripes, over 500 volunteers and thousands of patients, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, our charitable work exemplifies democracy at its finest. Can we imagine, can we demand that government, both local and federal, could so function?

Within Southern Nevada there is tremendous capacity to help heal our democracy. Will those with wealth, ideals and time please step forward with a renewed moral passion to bring trust back? It is your moment.

I conclude with a quote from Tocqueville, the 19th-century French observer of our American democracy:

“Everybody feels the evil, what is required is courage or energy enough to seek the cure … America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great … Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

Where do I stand? Ready to do everything in my power to amplify the circles of trust within my community. Will you please stand with me and Florence?

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