Dismay, shock, depression, disbelief, shame. How can so many bills lacking humanitarian spirit spill forth in only one Montana legislative session? The array of dismal lawmaking includes voter suppression, an arms race to unleash ever more guns in a state that regularly makes the top five for suicide rates and gun deaths, thoughtless invasion of trans children’s lives, disallowing local health administrators from doing their jobs, punishing counties that have mask requirements, increasing political appointments of judges and government employees, making a kingship out of the governor’s office, reducing water quality standards, preparing to sell public lands, selling out taxpayers to Northwestern Energy’s fossilized addiction to coal, religious freedom to deny gay rights, giving public school taxpayer funds to private, mostly religious schools.
The state I love, a generally ruggedly individual thinking place, has succumbed to a national trend toward extreme anti-humanitarian policy. There are those in Montana’s legislative minority and even a few in the majority that struggle to bring forth bipartisan bills to help people so hurt by the pandemic, and there have been bills that will help fund public education programs and other public services. Great credit goes to those who have tried so hard to create policy supporting jobs, the poor, and ethnically ignored people, despite the forces against such policy making.
There are obvious causes for this general Montana mainstream policy derailment. A Republican governor and a general clean sweep of moderates from most all Montana leadership set the stage. But it goes much deeper. Montana has succumbed to a national malaise created by a country that is slowly, tortuously transitioning to a more progressive way of thinking. Many younger people could care less whether others are different from them; in sexual orientations, in color, in religious belief. That is the tone of the future of our country. There are many people, though, who are afraid of those “different” from them and will fight heroically to maintain old beliefs, even if it requires voter suppression and lies of voter fraud to win elections and maintain power, or if it means denial of transgender people to maintain old ideas of sexual differentiation, or if it means carrying guns everywhere there might be “bad” people.
Acceptance and tolerance of those “different” from us is a process. It is my greatest hope that the extremists currently running my state will come to recognize that power manipulation driven by fear as a foundation for policy making will never create a positive result. There is much greater strength in recognizing all that unites us and it lies deep beneath gender, ethnicity, party delineation, religion, other beliefs. It lies in a recognition of our kindred humanity. With that kind of understanding, fear is dust and public policy can be the tool of great good.