USA and China trade war. US of America and chinese flags crashed containers on sky at sunset background. 3d illustration
Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

I’m a bit of a history buff, and I enjoy reading about the lives and ideas of those who have come before. I’ve spent the last 25 years or so pretending to be Alexander Hamilton for audiences around the country, and one of the reasons I’ve been successful, I believe, is that when people and events, known only in history books, are “brought alive,” modern folks can get a sense of the times long ago, and can appreciate that the people back then were real people, with loves and hates, ups and downs, and, frankly, were very much like us, often arguing the same issues about the role of government and the balancing of liberty and order.

The Colorado Springs Gazette carries a regular “Back Pages” feature, wherein the editors post a story from 50 years ago, 75 years ago, and a full century ago. The stories are often touching and always interesting. Yesterday’s edition had a couple of stories that got my attention. One hundred years ago Dr. Boswell (what a great first name) P. Anderson, who had practiced medicine in Colorado Springs for 39 years, died. He started his practice in 1880, a mere 7 years after the town’s founding. Today, Dr. Anderson is a brief memory on the back of the local history page, but during his life, he certainly touched the lives of thousands, I suspect, and delivered quite a few babies. And so, I think it’s worth remembering Dr. Anderson today.

The other story that caught my eye was the 1944 announcement by Colorado Springs Mayor Ralph Gilmore, in the form of a proclamation, that when V-Day comes (the defeat of Germany in World War II) Mayor Gilmore was ordering all establishments where liquor is dispensed to close their doors for 48 hours. The mayor was worried, it appears, by the threat of rowdy celebrants getting out of hand. There is no information as to whether that 2-day dry spell actually happened or if it was successful.

This second story, of course, made me again think of Donald Trump.

The 1944 story can be seen as a very practical way to approach governance, but it can also be seen as a governmental step into regulating morality. Such slopes are always slippery, and we should allow our government, be it national, state, or local, very little wiggle room when it comes to policies designed to keep people from being offended. I’m guessing today, should our longest war in Afghanistan suddenly come to a decisive end, I suspect Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers would not be inclined order the bars shut. 

Yet Mr. Trump feels he can “order” all U.S. businesses to leave China, or at least explore the way forward on disinvesting in the world’s second biggest economy (for the scrupulous out there, the EU might be number two, depending on how one counts, but let’s just go with me on this one, eh?). There is a law passed in 1977 that might, possibly, support the president’s claim to power, but that is not at all clear. Mr. Trump has a remarkably wide view of presidential power. It is true that the Congress has been, bit by bit, ceding various powers to the White House occupant. If Trump ends up trying to enforce his “order,” I suspect the courts will have the final say, and I’m guessing it would come out in the president’s favor. 

In addition, the notion of Trump trying to ascend the moral high ground seems iffy at best. The thrice-married, failed CEO (cough…Trump Steaks…Trump Vodka…Trump U…cough) whose view of honesty is, well, challenged by the over 11,000 times he has told documented lies, is hardly a person of virtue. My partisanship does make me want to get snippy here and ask those who continue to support Trump what they would have said if all the above characteristics were about Obama, but that must await a future column. 

Colorado is directly impacted by the Trump trade war with China, even though Trump seems to still be clinging to the false notion that somehow a tariff on China is paid by the Chinese. Farmers will lose markets; workers will lose jobs. Colorado will feel the effects less than many states, but that is small comfort if you are the person who loses a family farm or a job or, sadly, a future. 

When I look for a moral compass, I don’t think of Trump. I also don’t think of Obama for that matter. I think of my late parents, including a father who lived by the motto I have now adopted as my own – when you can think two things about a person, choose to think the kinder. I’ve tried to apply that wisdom to the president, and I confess I’ve failed. Sorry Dad.

I can’t help wondering what Dr. Anderson or Mayor Gilmore might think of our morals today. I suspect they would not be impressed. 

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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