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Archive | Voices and Views

There’s cause for both concern and optimism when it comes to democracy


By Lee H. Hamilton, former U.S. Representative

Sometimes, you wonder if the world is doomed to descend into autocracy. Certainly, that’s what the coverage of the past few years suggests. We read about the nations that are already there, like China and Russia, of course, and Saudi Arabia and Iran. Or about countries like Hungary, Turkey, and Poland that are nominally democratic but have been trending less so.

What strikes me most about this discussion of a global decline in democratic norms and values, however, is how little coverage has gone to places where democracy remains robust. How much do you read about countries that are performing well on this front, places like Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, Finland, or Australia? Asking the question pretty much answers it.

These are strong, stable democracies. They have a healthy electoral process, their governments function admirably, political participation is robust, and civil liberties remain core to their identity. Amid concerns about democracy’s future, they’re shining examples of its staying power.

There’s no question that there’s reason for concern. Plenty of countries, including some of those above, are home to anti-democratic movements that reject the basic freedoms, civil liberties, and pluralism that we associate with democracy. Moreover, unhappiness with the way democracy is working appears to be rising: a Pew poll last year found dissatisfaction rose between 2017 and 2018, sometimes markedly, in such countries as Germany, India, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, Canada, and the US.

One key to what’s going on in this country may lie in another Pew poll from earlier this summer: Americans see declining trust in both the federal government and in one another. They cite poor government performance, fear about the corruption of the political process by monied interests, and a general rise in disrespect for others and their beliefs.

Moreover, I’m struck over and over by the extent to which people I encounter lack confidence in elected leaders today. I was in a discussion group recently in which pretty much every participant attacked the country’s political leaders, regardless of ideology and party. You can find their arguments echoed wherever you turn. They don’t think elected leaders act in the public interest, instead putting their own promotion and well-being first. And people believe that our political leaders, both in Washington and in the state capitals, are failing to confront the big problems that concern people: drugs, health care, affordability, education, good jobs, ethical conduct, and the like.

Yet here’s the thing: over the course of countless public meetings over the years, I don’t ever recall anyone rejecting the Constitution or representative democracy itself. They may be distressed at government, our institutions, and our political leaders, but people seem to support the democracy we inhabit.

What may be most interesting about the polls I cite above is that even as Americans express their dissatisfaction, they also recognize the stakes and want to see things turned around. They believe that low trust in government and in one another makes it more difficult to govern effectively, and by a hefty margin believe it’s possible to improve on both fronts. Greater transparency, more effective restrictions on the role of money in politics, and more “honesty and cooperation” among political leaders, they told pollsters, would boost confidence. Similarly, they believe more cooperation among ordinary citizens would help rebuild trust in one another. These are, of course, among the bedrock values of representative democracy.

There’s one other point from which I take great hope: younger people, on the whole, seem to be more inclusive and tolerant in their views than their elders, and they have a more positive view of the role of government. On the whole, the older people I meet tend to be more cynical and pessimistic; younger voters—on issues from immigration to social inclusiveness—tend to be more expansive. Time, in other words, is on the side of democratic values.

So while I would never urge complacency in the face of the assaults we’re seeing on democratic norms, both here and elsewhere, I’m not pessimistic. Democracies have great internal strength, and they give cause for optimism that the core democratic processes of deliberation, compromise, negotiation, and cooperation will, in the end, endure.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Democracy Won’t Die If We Don’t Let It


Lee Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton, former U.S. Congressman

Democracy’s premise is that ordinary citizens can make solid decisions on complex issues. But this basic principle and the structure of laws and practices erected over the centuries to safeguard it are being questioned as rarely before.

It’s not just that political leaders in various western democracies seem to have little regard for the norms and procedures they inherited. It’s that public discourse is filled these days with warnings about democracy’s collapse. As the writer James Traub put it not long ago, “You’d have to go back more than a century, to the 15 years before World War I, to find another moment when so many leading thinkers…questioned democracy’s future.”

Certainly, there’s reason to worry. Participating productively in our democracy has always been a serious challenge. But because of the intensely polarized environment and the enormous amount of information, both true and false, that surrounds us, making discriminating judgments has become harder. It’s not just that we face the challenge as citizens of trying to choose the best path forward in these circumstances. We now also have to discern what information is true and what’s false as we do so.

Moreover, as citizens we have to be more alert than ever to demagogues and authoritarians, to those who degrade and diminish democracy, and to those who want to exclude our fellow citizens from participating. These traits can be subtle. Plenty of officials argue, “Trust us, we know best” on national security, public finance, and other issues. Too often, the veil of special expertise is used to hide abuses of power or efforts to restrict the freedom of others.

Yet if we ask, with Lincoln, whether this nation “so conceived and so dedicated can long endure,” we don’t see a democracy in its death throes. Yes, it is under stress. It needs fixing. It cannot be taken for granted. It struggles with corruption, complacency, ineffectiveness, and slowness. But its strengths lie where they always have: in a population that embraces democratic values.

As voters we have to look for candidates and leaders who are committed to making the political institutions of democracy stronger: a Congress that works, a judiciary that is independent of political pressure, an executive branch that’s transparent and accountable, a noisy and robust free press, the rule of law, a sturdy civil society. And we need to practice democracy as individuals: getting involved, making ourselves heard, voting, improving our corner of the world. It’s no exaggeration to say the future of our country depends on citizens stepping forward.

But we also have to go beyond our actions by committing ourselves to democracy’s fundamental values. As others have noted, democracy is not just a political system and a set of rules. It’s also a culture—it’s the way we live: respect for the rule of law, fairness to all, tolerance of differences, equal political rights, and equal opportunity. These are the fundamental values that undergird our country. It is a culture that encourages each of us to become the best we can, and to build a better neighborhood, community, state, nation, or world.

Democracy’s gift is that we strengthen it by practicing it—by getting involved, making ourselves heard, and engaging with our communities. This means that we also strengthen democracy by pushing to expand the vote, not depress it, and by taking to heart the simple notion that we have a government of, by, and for the people—not just certain kinds of people.

In the end, we’re all bound together in the same society, attached to these shared values and practices. It’s why I don’t think the authoritarian models of China or Russia or one-man rule hold any attraction for Americans. We’re not going to go down those paths. 

Democracy may not solve all problems, and it often frustrates us, but it provides us with the best way humankind has found to search for remedies and solutions that benefit the many. Its future is an educated guess. None of us really knows what will happen. What we do know, however, is that the important question has nothing to do with whether we’re optimistic or pessimistic. It’s what do we have to do to strengthen it?

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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New burial policy needed


This is regarding Wood TV 8’s recent coverage about the poorly handled burial of my cousin, Gracia Blanchard, by the City of Cedar Springs Manager Mike Womack. Both of my parents’ families are from Cedar Springs, so we have a long history in the community, including caring for the gravestones of family members buried in Elmwood Cemetery. 

The lack of compassion showed by the City Manager was disappointing but worse yet was how he dealt with this situation. After receiving a document proving that Gracia was indeed Wells and Virginia Blanchard’s daughter, Mike told me that he needed some proof that her parents wanted her buried next to them before he could approve the burial. This is totally ridiculous, as it’s assumed that parents want their children buried next to them unless there is documentation to prove otherwise. Our family has contacted several other municipalities about this situation and none stated that this is their policy. Mr. Womack then sent several emails and had multiple phone conversations with family members to see if he could find any proof of the parents’ wishes. He asked a 90-year-old cousin to come to City Hall to sign an affidavit stating her knowledge of the parents’ wishes. 

He also told me over the phone that the Wood TV 8 coverage of the story was “garbage” but from my family’s perspective, he didn’t like the news story because it told the truth and it did not shed him in a positive light. His version of the story does not match what we know and what he was told about this situation. How this situation was handled by Mr. Womack was not only shocking, hurtful and infuriating to my family but it should be an embarrassment to the City of Cedar Springs. If this is truly how you handle burials at the City of Cedar Springs, you clearly need a new policy so this situation does not repeat itself in the future.

David Hudson, Vancouver, WA

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Solon township residents


I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people who poured countless hours into the victory at the polls on August 6, 2019, some on foot and some on the phone.

In addition to that, I would like to thank the people who cared enough to be informed of the truth and took the time to vote in an off-year election. It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between the truth and misinformation printed in advertising, but the truth prevailed.

Again, a special thank you to all the folks for their time, talents and money that were poured into the truth.

Thank you, R.L. Ellick, Solon Township Supervisor

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How should Americans engage globally?


By Lee H. Hamilton, former U.S. Congressman

I’ve been struck recently by news coverage of climate change and humans’ degradation of the planet. Two opposing themes keep appearing. One is the sense that, as individuals, there’s little we can do; the forces are too large. The other—and I think many Americans would agree with this–is that as citizens of the planet we have a responsibility to protect it and to pass it on in good shape to those who follow us.

So how do we reconcile those warring impulses–not just on the environment, but on many global and international issues? How, in other words, do we engage with the world?

Because make no mistake: as Americans, we are global citizens. It’s not just that the world has deep-seated, unavoidable problems that, if ignored, will bite us where we live. It’s that we inhabit a preeminent world power that bears a responsibility to lead.

If you pay attention to international meetings, you can’t help but notice that other countries have for many years turned to us to take the lead. That’s diminishing under our current administration, but not because other countries (with the exception of China and Russia) are eager to take our place. Shaping the global order has been a central feature of our identity and our history. Lincoln spoke of American freedom as “the last best hope of earth.” JFK promised to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Ronald Reagan spoke of this country as a “shining city upon a hill.”

I don’t actually agree with the boundless sense of American power and responsibility suggested by Kennedy’s promise. The truth is, we couldn’t “pay any price” or “bear any burden” back then, and we can’t now. Our obligation in its broadest terms is to try to make our nation and the world safer, freer, and more prosperous when and where we can. But we can’t do it all.

What does this mean for us as citizens? It means we have an obligation to inform ourselves about the world we live in. It means we should learn about international affairs, visit other countries if we’re able, learn a foreign language, read what foreign leaders have to say. We should engage with people from other countries, both here and abroad, and work hard to understand the challenges that other countries and their citizens confront. In short, we should try to see problems not just from an American perspective, but more broadly.

Beyond that, I think that as Americans, we ought to be first in line to respond to humanitarian disasters and to raise our voices in support of innocent people who have been mistreated. Where we can, we should try to lessen tensions between nations and groups, reduce conflict, and improve the quality of life for all. We should be perceived to be a benign power.

Yet we have to do all this with keen awareness of our limitations. We can’t solve all the world’s problems. We can’t pour our resources into every challenging place and problem. We need the help of others and should welcome it. We have to be smart about how we use our power. We have to reserve the right to use force as a last resort, but diplomacy and development should be our preferred tools of engagement.

I’m uneasy talking about “American exceptionalism,” even though I really do believe we have a responsibility to the world. I’m far more comfortable when we show we’re exceptional. If we really are exceptional, others will notice. We don’t need to flaunt it.

In the end, we have to look at our responsibilities as global citizens quietly and confidently, with humility, and try to contribute to a safer, more prosperous world. That’s something we can all do, and a goal we should push our leaders to pursue.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Vote YES on Solon ordinance

Cedar Springs Michigan has one of the fastest growing school systems in the area. The teachers are warm, caring and sincere. However, the growth of new housing is not in the city limits but in the rural areas of Solon Township. Solon is a wonderful community to grow in—there is an abundance of wildlife, lakes and trout streams. The highest point in Kent County is in Solon with its rolling hills and forests. There are many caring citizens that have helped set aside areas for parks, stream preservation and nature centers, there are also people that care little for the future with little or no concern for the environment. 

A full set of planning minutes and concerns can be found at, http://solontwp.org/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Planning-Commission-Minutes_2019-06-26.pdf

Yes, growth can be good! Yes, growth provides a place for people to live! Yes, high-density site-condos do have a place but only when they protect the environment around them. These are the reasons I will vote “Yes” August 6! I encourage you to join me in voting August 6.

With love for country and community,

Keith Caldwell, Solon Township

Post Script Notice:

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

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Ordinance in line with other townships


It’s very concerning that a few individuals and interest groups are trying to affect a Solon Township adopted ordinance. The Solon Township ordinance no. 19-2-Z was designed and adopted after extensive public input and review. It does not restrict Solon Township residents unfairly, as it is completely in line with similar ordinances in our surrounding townships, including Algoma, Courtland, Nelson, Tyrone, Allendale, and others. Such information is easily available from township offices or their websites. Also, Solon Township residents are not liable for costs of installing community water and sewer systems in new developments. But they may be liable for costs if individual water and sewer systems fail in high-density developments, which ordinance no. 19-2-Z is designed to prevent by utilizing environmentally safe management.

Please take a few minutes to check with your township officials about the facts of ordinance 19-2-Z. Don’t rely on biased, misleading information. A “YES” vote on August 6 will insure Solon Township is on track with other townships, and will help retain the country atmosphere we all appreciate.

A concerned Solon Township resident and taxpayer,

Steve Skelonc, Solon Township

Post Script Notice:

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

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Handicapped parking at City Hall


It appears that the city council and the city manager are worried about second-hand smoke in Morley Park. But they don’t seem at all concerned about handicapped people getting out of their vehicle into oncoming traffic. 

Maybe instead of “Pocket Parks” we should have “Pocket Parking” for handicapped residents!

Allen King, City of Cedar Springs

Post Script Notice:

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.


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Vote YES on Ordinance 19-2-Z


On August 6, Solon residents will be called on to vote on an important issue regarding the character of our township. As our stewards, our board has worked diligently to bring this ordinance into effect.  A brief explanation of Ordinance-19-2-Z and its potential effects:

As part of our Master Plan, Solon Township conducted a survey to gauge the wants of our residents. Results indicated an overwhelming desire to keep the rural character of our township intact.  Minimum lot size is one way townships have of controlling widespread development.  Yet, the State has granted developers a “pass”—a loophole which allows cluster housing utilizing “open” areas to make up the difference.  This puts an undue strain on our environment.  A 2-acre minimum lot size was earlier voted down by Township residents leaving the Township vulnerable to rampant development.  Ordinance-19-2-Z addresses this problem without increasing minimum lot sizes, requiring developers to build responsibly with respect to the environment.  It limits developments to one house per acre unless supported by public water and sewer or a similar community system.

Ask yourself, “Who wins?” if this ordinance fails. Developers would like to see you vote down the ordinance as it will give them license to bypass one-acre minimums without consideration for the environmental impact. This ordinance affects only developers; we—Solon residents—must abide by the one-acre minimum in the first place. Despite negative, inflammatory and misleading ads, existing non-conforming lots will not be affected. There will be no negative effects on the average citizen as a result of this ordinance.

Ask yourself why the developers are so concerned with the township’s zoning ordinance in the first place. Is it out of concern for the township citizens? Or is it to make a fortune at the expense of local residents? Then ask the Township how much these developers have cost us (as taxpayers) in legal fees to protect the nature of our Township?

A yes vote would help preserve the rural character of the Township, stop unchecked and rampant development, and put the people of our Township in charge of their own futures. 

Vicky Babcock, Solon Township

POST SCRIPT NOTICE: The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

* We only print positive letters about candidates one week prior to the election. 


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Let’s not just focus on elections, but on how we elect


By Lee H. Hamilton, former U.S. Congressman

 A few years ago, I was at a polling place here in Indiana where a long line of people stood waiting to vote. A woman recognized me and called me over. “Why is it,” she asked, “that you politicians make it so hard and inconvenient to vote?”

I thought of this the other day when I read the news reports about presidents Trump and Putin meeting and jestingly accusing one another of election meddling. The background, of course, is the pressing issue of Russian interference in US elections. American voters take elections seriously enough to stand in line – for hours, sometimes – to cast a ballot. And here were the two presidents making light of attempts to subvert the voices of ordinary people. I’d expect nothing less from Putin, but from an American president?

The sad truth is, Russian meddling isn’t our only election problem. We’ve got an archaic registration process, restrictive voting practices, voting systems bedeviled by outdated technology, inadequate budgets for the voting infrastructure, and an entire nation’s worth of overloaded local elections staff. There are robust efforts afoot, by many people and groups, to suppress — not encourage – votes; much effort in this country goes into keeping some groups of people from having a say in the conduct of their government.

It’s also distressingly common to find officials who are uninterested in promoting a fair and convenient vote, but instead are looking for ways to manipulate the system so that their preferences emerge from the voting. Too few of them believe in Abraham Lincoln’s formulation at Gettysburg: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” They define “people” so as to exclude voters they don’t like.

So let’s remember: the ballot is the foundation of our democracy. It’s our best way to gauge the public’s will. If we fail to get the ballot box right, then our democracy fails.

Elections are not the sum total of “democracy.” An independent judiciary, an informed public, institutions such as schools, labor unions, business groups, and the news media… all are necessary as well. Democracy is a hugely complex phenomenon. But at its heart is one thing: the vote.

We’ve come a long way on this front. The Founders thought that rule by the people was tantamount to anarchy. So they restricted the vote early on to white males who owned property. In a sense, our history as a nation has been written in terms of extending the franchise to more and more people.

But that’s not the only requirement. Over time, I’ve come to look at a good election not so much in terms of who wins or loses – liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat – but in terms of the process, and whether it was fair and democratic. Sure, I’m disappointed sometimes in the results of voters’ decisions at the ballot box. But I’m always reminded that our system is designed with the capacity to correct errors. In a lot of ways, we’ll be strongest as a country not by means of a strong military or a strong economy, but when our battle cry is, “Let the people vote!”

 If you look across the state and local landscape, you’ll find efforts to make voting more accessible and more verifiable that offer hope in the midst of voter suppression and election meddling. But these need to be a national aspiration that’s pursued at every level: to protect voting infrastructure, provide a paper trail for every vote, ensure adequate resources for the conduct of elections, and vow to ensure that state and local elections systems are run fairly, on behalf of everyone who’s entitled to vote. Our governments have to work constantly at what that woman in line wanted to see: making voting accessible and convenient. Yes, we need to protect the integrity of the vote. But we also need to make it a positive civic experience, not a burden.

Elections have consequences. The winners get political power that enables them to change the course of history. Our chief way to have a say in this is to vote in every election, every time, for every office. Let’s make sure we can, and that when we do, our vote matters.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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