Editor's Note

Editor's Note by William McKenzie, Editor of The Catalyst

A strong democracy starts at home

Thornton Wilder’s famous play, Our Town, debuted in 1938, highlighting ordinary people living together in community. Eighty years later, living in community remains a powerful force in American life, which is why the summer Catalyst focuses on the theme of Your Town. Strong local communities are essential to the health of our democracy.

Of course, that point often gets lost amidst the clamor over national politics and round the-clock coverage of Washington. The American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, whom you will read in this edition, rightly says that we have “federalized our attention to public life.” 

When you stop to think about it, what happens locally, including in our statehouses, has a large impact on our lives. Your children’s schools. The roads you drive on. And perplexing troubles such as opioid abuse. They each have a significant, yet often overlooked local component.

We have asked elected leaders and leading writers to join our Bush Institute experts to address the challenges communities face and the ways in which they are tackling them. In this edition, you will hear from:

  • GOP Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska commenting on the impact of economic dislocation on communities, and why they need to build modern institutions to renew themselves;
  • Bush Institute Executive Director Holly Kuzmich reporting on emerging local leaders in both parties and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado emphasizing the importance of strong local media and civic engagement;
  • The Atlantic’s James Fallows, co-author of Our Towns, detailing what he and his wife, Deborah Fallows, discovered during their four years of visiting communities across America;
  • The Philanthropy Roundtable’s Anne Snyder exploring the longing of millennials for community;
  • AEI’s Brooks reminding us why our focus on Washington should not crowd out our attention to local politics and Catalyst Editorial Assistant Amanda Huber detailing how Americans actually put more faith in local and state governments;
  • Veteran Washington journalist Ron Fournier, who served with the Associated Press, National Journal, and The Atlantic, reporting on how his hometown of Detroit is emerging after a long decline  and what stands in the way of further progress;
  • SMU Adjunct Journalism Professor Bruce Tomaso, a former Dallas Morning News reporter, revealing how suburbs are forging a new identity that distinguishes them from their big-city neighbors;
  • Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative Director Cullum Clark using data to explain where you live impacts your economic mobility;
  • Economist Abby McCloskey, founder of McCloskey Policy, explaining how some of America’s biggest problems find their roots in the breakdown of family, work, and community  and how individuals as well as policies might best respond to that reality;
  • Bush Institute Senior Advisor for External Affairs Kevin Sullivan describing technology’s potential  and limits  in bringing neighbors together;
  • National Affairs Editor Yuval Levin making the case for why local political and civic action may be the best way to draw Americans out of their “narrow cocoons” and into relationships with those nearest to them;
  • Presidential Leadership Scholar and Memphis educator Tim Ware describing the challenge that trauma presents schools every day  and what can be done about that reality;
  • Migration Policy Institute President Andrew Selee, author of Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together, recalling how Hazleton, Pennsylvania, forged a new identity after grappling with a modern wave of immigration; and
  • Tom Melia, Director of the Washington office of PEN America and a former Bush Institute Human Freedom Initiative fellow, observing how the concept of community plays out abroad.

 As the letters below indicate, we appreciate hearing from you. Please share your thoughts about Your Town, as well as other Catalyst editions.

Letters to the Editor: Your Response to the Spring 2018 Are We Ready? Catalyst

 Re: Matthew Rooney’s American Leadership Facing the Realties of a Changing World Essay
Thanks for the description of the Engels’ Pause. I’m more pessimistic than the author about our ability to innovate and develop a more productive economy, principally because the two main paths  entrepreneurship and education  are being closed down. As the U.S. ossifies, we in the U.S. can only hope that competing economies freeze faster. More likely, the turbulent southern hemisphere will be the future.

John Sweeney, Everett, Washington

 Re: Colonel Miguel Howe’s Disruptive Power of Veterans Essay
Spot on! Veterans have the ability to transform our fractured nation to become unified again. They also have the ability to change the economic environment in the country if given a chance. That’s what we are trying to do here in New Jersey! Thanks for a great article!

Colonel Jeff Cantor, Marlboro, New Jersey

 Re: Klaus Desmet’s Cities of Tomorrow Will Need Sustainability and Conservation Interview
Good conversation on an important topic. Most leading urban planners are 50 years behind in their thinking. We have known for at least eight years that autonomous vehicles are a certainty but there is very little preparation for them or adjustment in zoning or codes or planning for them. Green space is a luxury that urban dwellers have demanded and gravitated to for hundreds of years as our cities have become less dense and become more prosperous. 

Douglas Newby, Dallas, Texas

Re: Lindsay Lloyd’s Great Powers Can’t Get Tired Essay 
The U.S. has no moral authority to tell others how to live. We are a bankrupt nation with a corrupt establishment and national government. Our only national interest is to eliminate any threat to our own borders and sovereignty. Every other nation should act accordingly.

John Gardner, Geneva, New York

Re: Eric Olson’s Modifying the Code of Life Interview
The article poses the question, “What does ‘proceed with caution’ mean?” It should mean that anything that can be changed for good can be changed for more nefarious reasons. The unintended effects and nefarious effects won’t be easy to control or even predict.

Jimmy Kerrick, Georgetown, Texas

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