America’s future: Restore good to achieve great


America the beautiful offers us free will, which means those of us living in America, from sea to shining sea, have been granted a choice: repeat our mistakes or evolve into something great for the benefit of all.

Will this be the year for America to finally get things right?

The biggest mistake Americans can make this year is to wait for The President, Congress or The Supreme Court to secure America’s future.

Monica Avila Beal
Monica Avila Beal

History has shown us that they can’t fix America. Together, we can.

Arrows of History and Truth

Time and time again, great civilizations collapse when morality is at its lowest — the result of a civilized society that chooses to act like gluttonous self-serving savages. Remember why Rome fell?

In Charles Krauthammer’s powerful posthumous book, “The Point of It All,” brilliantly edited by his son, Daniel Krauthammer, Mr. Krauthammer asks a question aimed for reflection:

“Are we condemned to do the same damn thing over and over, generation after generation —or is there hope for some enduring progress in the world order?”

I’m not proud of the current state of America. Are you?

In just a few short weeks, the holiday spirit in the air has evaporated to reveal the ever-present heavy cloud of rhetorical soot that hangs low, like rotten fruit, intended to keep our society distracted, divided, angry and confused. We’ve allowed them to pollute our minds and hearts.

How on earth can America be great again if, collectively speaking, our society just isn’t being good!

I’m ashamed by the actions of our politicians and their cronies on both sides. Are you?

I’m no expert on public policy, but I’d say that the worst of them is merely a reflection of the worst of us. Self-serving savages willing to exploit and leverage others for the sake of power and profit.

America’s Future — Divided or United?

If we, the people of the current Divided States of America, want to make America Great Again, we must become united once again.

Let’s put a stop to wasting our time listening to the senseless blaming and hypocritical finger pointing coming from the left and right.

Let’s invest our time to work together in our local communities in order to make our country strong and good again.

Let’s stop using corrupt power as the benchmark to rebuild our nation and use morality instead.

Let’s combine the best of blue and red political ideologies and create a more valuable purple society based on fiscally conservative and socially liberal values. And let’s not forget how the United States of America became a great nation: Through the tireless work and sacrifice of immigrants looking to build a better life not only for themselves but for their community at large. Yes, we’re all descendants of immigrants in search of religious freedom and greater economic opportunity.

Remember, it took generations upon generations of hard work, bravery, determination and grit from those willing to work together for the greater good of society. In this way, America belongs to them, not self-serving thought leaders and politicians. Most importantly, let’s not forget why America was able to become a great nation in the first place — there were a lot more people holding out their hands asking how they could help others instead of asking who could help them. And God shed his grace on thee.  #makeamericagoodagain. . .

Monica Avila Beal is a composer and musician and graduate student of the University of Colorado in Denver who lives in Cave Creek.

Are we a nation under God or under Trump? It’s up to us to choose


American civil religion is the moral backbone of our body politic. From John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” sermon to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream,” this heritage of shared beliefs, stories, ideas, symbols and events explains the American experience of self-government with reference to a moral order that transcends it.

Every president, no matter the party, taps into this civil religion when taking the oath and delivering his inaugural, a ceremony sociologist Robert Bellah called the “religious legitimation of the highest political authority.”

John D. Carlson
John D. Carlson

Donald Trump’s inaugural and presidency have taken aim at Americans’ shared civic faith by ignoring moral standards and bedrock principles that ground the nation. He presumes the people, having elected him, must be right. There is no higher appeal.

Appeals to “freedom” or “liberty” appear 21 times in Barack Obama’s inaugurals, 32 times in Reagan’s, and 57 times in George W. Bush’s. Obama invoked “dignity” three times, George W. Bush five times and Reagan seven times. Jimmy Carter thrice extolled “human rights,” and every president since has extolled “democracy.”

In contrast, Trump made but one meager mention of Americans’ “freedoms.”

In pledging “to make America great again,” Trump has not said what makes America worthy of greatness. His inaugural demands for “total allegiance” and patriotism anticipated demands for personal loyalty from justice officials and for athletes to stand for the national anthem.

Many presidents use inaugurals to channel humility or contemplate their weighty duties. Theodore Roosevelt renounced boastfulness and warned that, if America fails, “the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations.”

Adopting a “spirit of equity, caution and compromise,” Andrew Jackson meditated at length on the duties and limits of his office in the U.S. Constitution. Where Trump overconfidently proclaimed “we will be protected by God,” Jackson (and other presidents) offered up “ardent supplications” that God may bless America.

Civil religion narrates a story of the nation, including the violation of its ideals. Jackson’s forced removal of Native Americans on the “Trail of Tears” contravened the Supreme Court and his own inaugural pledge to establish a “just and liberal policy” for the “rights and wants” of American Indians.

But Trump’s failure to affirm higher principles erodes trust even in noble efforts. For example, is Trump’s opposition to human trafficking in support of human dignity or his restrictive immigration policy?

Was Trump really motivated to strike Syria because “beautiful babies were cruelly murdered” by chemical weapons? He never expressed such outrage for the thousands killed in hospitals and bread lines by Assad’s barrel bombs and Russian warplanes.

Trump’s inaugural and presidency have deepened fissures over what it means to be, as our national motto affirms, one nation made up of many diverse peoples.

Do we embrace “American Exceptionalism” or “America First”? Should we lead the international order, or compete with Russia to be a craven superpower? Will we open our doors to the world’s “tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to be free,” or send them back to the “s***hole countries” they come from? Put starkly, are we a nation “under God” or under Trump? We must choose.

Civil religion, grounded in “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” provides strength for resisting Trump’s noxious cult of personality. As high priests of civil religion, presidents usually use the authority of their bully pulpit to summon the nation to noble purposes. But without the sermon, a president no longer commands a pulpit. And all that is left is the bully.

We now must look to other leaders and citizens to restore the civil religion that Trump has renounced.

— John D. Carlson is an associate professor of religious studies at Arizona State University, where he also directs the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

House approves bill permitting ‘God enriches’ motto to be posted at schools

state-sealHouse Democrats failed Tuesday in their bid to keep the name of the Almighty out of the classrooms – at least the English version.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said there is legal precedent to allowing schools to post the state motto. And that motto, as on the state seal, is “Ditat Deus.”

SB 1289, however, would permit not just those words to hang on classroom walls.

The measure, which now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey following the 33-23 party-line vote, also would allow the English translation which is “God enriches.” And that, Salman told colleagues, is an illegal religious reference.

But the debate about the change in law went far beyond the words and what they mean. It turned into an often spirited discussion of who believes in God and whether some people were trying to eliminate religion in public life.

Existing state law has a list of things that teachers can read or post in buildings.

It includes the national motto, national anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, preamble to the Arizona Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower Compact. Also permitted are writing, speeches, documents and proclamations of Founding Fathers and presidents, published decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and acts of Congress.

SB 1289 would actually add the words “In God we trust” in explaining what the national motto is.

But the bigger concern was adding the state motto — and, specifically, the English translation.

Salman said court rulings have accepted the use of the national motto as not so much a statement of religious belief but instead as “ceremonial deism.” That’s how the motto even shows up on U.S. currency.

And Salman even appeared willing to accept allowing the posting of the words “Ditat Deus” since those are, in fact, the words on the seal.

“This bill goes a step further and translates the Latin meaning into ‘God enriches,’ which loses its protection under the ceremonial deism,” Salman said.

“This bill walks down a dangerous pathway of then having a religious interpretation,” she continued. “And that puts our schools at risk for lawsuits.”

Salman’s efforts to curb the measure drew derision from several Republicans.

“I find it interesting that we have people who want to protect us from God at almost any cost,” said House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale.

“The idea that you interpret something from Latin to English all of a sudden makes something objectionable is really kind of silly,” he said. “The idea that somehow children … are not going to live up to our expectations that they become good people because somebody mentioned God to them I think is really one of the crassest political things I’ve ever heard.”

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said the opposition left him confused.

“I would truly like to know how many members do not trust in God,” he said. “And I wonder how many members think that God does not enrichen our lives.”

And then he got more personal, saying he knows his “Democrat friends” believe in God and trust God.

“Why you would vote to take that out of the state motto is beyond belief,” Campbell said.

But Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said those comments ignore the fact that out of her 200,000 constituents “there certainly may be those who do not believe in God.”

“I think we want to be very careful when we use that term in schools,” she said.

There also are atheists in the Legislature itself including Salman.

And Rep. Eric Descheenie, D-Chinle, spoke about the forced conversion of indigenous people. He also told colleagues that he, too, used to be a Christian “until I came to the realization of how oppressive the mindset can be.”

“It has substantiated and justified slavery,” Descheenie said. “It has substantiated and justified acts of genocide.”

For that matter, he is not exactly pleased with existing law about the posting of the Declaration of Independence, pointing out it refers to the native tribes as “merciless Indian savages.”

Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, told Salman he does not understand all the fuss about posting “God enriches” in classrooms.

“It’s an accurate translation of the Latin,” he said.

“It’s a good translation,” Boyer continued. “And so I guess I don’t see the problem that you do.”