Ever since Donald Trump descended into the political scene in 2015, his name and his politics have put a wedge between neighbors, family and friends here in Utah. Whether you blame him or the news coverage of him for that fact, it is nevertheless the unavoidable reality that we are all a little bit more raw, testy and distrustful of each other over political and cultural issues as we have begun making our way into a post-Trump world.
But raw or not, things are slowly moving on. We are moving toward the halfway mark of another president’s term. New events and issues are taking over our former passions and anxieties as the pages of history turn. COVID is nearly, finally, behind us. We face pressing economic issues such as inflation, energy prices, housing costs and job participation levels. Americans are struggling to understand and reckon with our place in a changing world after the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, followed by Russia’s naked aggression and depravity in Ukraine.
Local politics has resurged in importance regarding many of today’s pressing issues, such as health and education policy, thanks to unique perspectives and observations gained during the pandemic. In so many ways, the political conversation has moved on from a president who’s increasingly in the rear-view mirror.
And Utah politics, through all of this, has demonstrated tremendous resilience and functionality compared to so many other states that remain mired in decay and dysfunction. We have our moments, to be sure. Still, on the whole, we have one of the best political environments in the nation. We are demonstrating a positive and forward-thinking culture that the rest of the country should be modeling.
And most encouragingly, I have witnessed both on the hill during our recent legislative session and in many conversations with friends and family a thawing of the discontent that bubbled up over the Trump years. We’re talking to each other more. We’re developing and maintaining friendships across the boundaries of political ideology. And we’re engaging in conversations and discussions of substance regarding the issues even when we have profound disagreements. Since 2020, many Utahns have been demonstrating a desire and ability to no longer allow the specter of Trump to drive a wedge between us.
But I am greatly concerned that the developments in our current senatorial race are laying the foundation for erasing these positive developments and could thrust the state into reliving the worst moments of Trump-era anger, disunion and dysfunction. Further, I fear that if Utah’s Senate election is allowed to become a stand-in for the lingering resentments of the national anti-Trump vs. pro-Trump slugfest, the issues that are important to Utahns and the unique solutions we could put forward will be completely lost in the midst of an ugly and negative campaign season.
I hope Utahns can join me in asking all of the candidates in this Senate race to join us in moving on and moving forward, in making our political efforts about seeking positive solutions to pressing issues rather than seeking to settle old scores and wallowing in our resentments, and in remembering that we have far too many grave political concerns that matter to us here in Utah to waste time and effort hashing out our disagreements over someone who isn’t on the ballot and is no longer in the White House.
Justin Stapley is a student at Utah Valley University studying political theory and constitutionalism. He works part time as a research assistant at UVU’s Center for Constitutional Studies.
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