Making America Great Again— war, prisons, open space and opportunity

According to the local Chamber of Commerce, it appears less people came to celebrate America’s birthday in Crested Butte this year compared to last. Fewer people passed through the Visitor Center and Chamber director Eliza Cress said the lower count is a positive thing. “It wasn’t bursting at the seams but everyone appeared really busy and full,” she said. “Maybe people didn’t have a great experience last year when it was so overcrowded and gave us a pass this year. So giving people a good experience is better for everyone in the long run.”

Mountain Express is reporting ridership was noticeably less than last year. The town shuttle carried 6,352 people in 2015 and just 4,074 this year on the Fourth.

“I guess when you keep setting ridership records, eventually you’re not going to keep breaking them,” summarized transit manager Chris Larsen.

It appeared that once the moisture went away people enjoyed themselves. The call for a worker’s strike, as expected, went nowhere except Facebook because most people living here are pretty smart. Local businesses were consistently busy (even those targeted for a boycott by the strike organizer), and the fireworks drew an hour’s worth of traffic congestion down the mountain after the finale.

Bottom line is that despite a weekend of rain leading to the Monday festivities, it was busy, fun and manageable.

Anyway, nursing the country’s birthday day-after blues had me thinking: Do we need to “Make America Great Again?”

Maybe the pessimism pitchman is right. Now, I don’t think a wall along the border, having a government surveillance program of mosques or compiling a government database of Muslims living in the U.S. will make us great, but welcoming immigrants to embrace the country and America’s values would.

I don’t think accusing a respected federal judge from Indiana of not being able to be impartial because he has a Latino heritage makes America great, but allowing the court system to run its course with fair men and women on the bench does.

Encouraging an us-versus-them attitude isn’t that American, since all of our roots pretty much come from somewhere else and we “win” when we patriotically come together for a cause. Flouting bigoted innuendo, anti-Semitic tweets, threats to execute Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pig’s blood or promising to torture people doesn’t make us great. It just doesn’t.

Resetting our financial priorities with the U.S. budget might help.

The government’s obsession with military spending is over the top since our military budget is more than the combined spending of Russia, China, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, India, Germany, Italy, Brazil…you get the idea. It’s hard being the world’s cop and it seems to me some of that “defense” money might be better spent on our roads, bridges, electric grid—or get this—internet redundancy in Gunnison County and Colorado’s Western Slope. That would cost about as much as one missile on one fighter jet. Just sayin’.

When it comes to the military, I’m afraid of Hillary’s hawkishness and Trump’s bluster. Both might stumble into another unneeded and unwanted war that bleeds treasure and blood from this country.

Like Obama, the two apparent choices for president might lazily fall into the trap of waging a war with drones that feel so much like a clean and easy video game. While we think America is the “good guy” when it sends drones over to other countries to kill “bad people,” the families and young men related to those killed think they are actually the “good guys” and battling the evil empire that destroyed their family. Whether it was a successful targeted strike that took their father or an accidental bombing of a wedding or hospital that killed their sister, those living in fear beneath quiet but deadly drones understandably do not like the country that dropped the bomb. Too often, that is America. Actions have consequences and America’s reliance on drones to kill people, I believe, perpetuates anger in those trying to harm us. We need to perhaps rethink our thinking.

We might make America great again by not putting so many people in prison. In October 2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world, at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. That makes no sense and isn’t that great.

Add to that prison template our country’s middle-ages habit of killing prisoners. According to Amnesty International, more than two-thirds of the countries in the world—141—have abolished the death penalty. Not the United States. The majority of executions take place in five countries: China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the United States. Who you associate with and hang out with matters. North Korea? China? Are you really comfortable at that cocktail party?

Now, on the other side, there are few things greater than America’s National Parks system or its Wilderness Act. Preserving the natural world in this country through those two avenues is one of the best examples a country can give to the world. And we here in Crested Butte benefit from that attitude. The wilderness is literally out our doorstep. National parks are a half-day’s drive away.

This valley is surrounded by federal lands that draw people here for the beauty and recreation and provide us with sanity. Thanks to the Crested Butte Land Trust and a program called LightHawk, I was fortunate enough to take a small plane ride over some of that wilderness last week. It is truly impressive how much undeveloped land there is all around. The snow, the green, the waterfalls, the mountain passes are breathtaking. We are even luckier to have a lot of good people working to keep these treasures open and available to us all.

Flying up from Gunnison and over to Aspen and back, I was struck by the expanse of mountain wilderness. We are so extremely fortunate and a large part of that is because this country, the United States, controls the land. But as usual with so many good things, there are those who would like to take it away in the name of “local control” or economic development. There is a movement to take federal lands away from the feds. Few honestly believe that would benefit the general population but it would certainly benefit corporations. That would change everything and not be good for us here or the citizenry of the country.

When former U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was speaking in Crested Butte a couple of weeks ago, he touched on preservation. He said having a vision for our children and grandchildren and what we want Colorado to look like in 20, 50, 100 years is important. It is and we’re doing a pretty good job right now.

And, in the even bigger picture, this is still the land of great opportunity. The possibilities people have here are almost endless. The world is envious of our form of representative democracy. As an essay on the Western Journalism website stated recently, through discipline and hard work, an individual in America can prosper and enjoy freedom unknown to 99.9 percent of humans who’ve ever lived. America is great because we are a nation of dreamers, inventors, artists, builders and doers. We exalt in achievement, rebound from failure and encourage one another every step of the way.

That is the real strength of this country and what makes it great—not racism, building walls and making fun of our disabled neighbors.

—Mark Reaman

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