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Bill Britt

Opinion | I dare you

Bill Britt

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In a recent interview with the Jasper-based Daily Mountain Eagle, Republican Lt. Gov. nominee Will Ainsworth said, “I’m tired of Alabama being last in important areas such as education, and I’m tired of our politicians on both sides being embarrassments to our state.”

In one sentence, Ainsworth captures the feelings of a majority of Alabamians who want to see our state succeed.

Our state is at or near the bottom in every meaningful measure of success.

It’s not that the state’s political class wants the state to fail, but they are unwilling to do the things necessary for it to succeed.

Our people as a whole are undereducated, underemployed and unhealthy, and yet the state’s politicians are more interested in the next elections than in the next generation; they’re more concerned about appealing to the base-voter than doing what is best for every citizen.

We should do better; we can do better, but will we?

While rummaging around the local library as a young boy, I found a book entitled “I Dare You.” The book was written in 1931, by William H. Danforth, the founder of Ralston Purina whose familiar checkerboard logo was inspired by Danforth’s belief that an individual’s physical, mental, social and spiritual life should be balanced. Danforth’s concept is to be a healthy and productive person, you need the four squares to stay in balance so that no one aspect of your life is not developed at the expense of another.

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“You have a four-fold life to live: a body, a brain, a heart, and a soul…these are your living tools. To use and develop them is not a task…It is a golden opportunity,” wrote Danforth.

Two passages in particular set me on a course in life that I still pursue today. The first was: “I dare you, boys and girls, to make life obey you, not you it. It is only a shallow dare to do the foolish things. I dare you to do the uplifting, courageous things.”

The second was: “I dare you to think bigger, to act bigger, and to be bigger. I dare you to think creatively. I dare you to lead and inspire others. I dare you to build character. I dare you to share. And I promise you a richer and more exciting life if you do!”

Imagine if you will what could occur if our state’s political leadership followed Danforth’s advice.

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Public service was once considered a noble calling, but today, a career politician is often seen as a corrupt, money-grubbing fool, whose sole purpose is personal gain. While this is not true of all politicians, there are plenty that fit the description.

As Danforth understood, character, a moral center and a devotion to ideals greater than one’s self were vital to living an honest life.

There is a particular type of political atheism that says the end justifies the means. However, no unjust act can be justified merely because it produces a satisfactory outcome. This is indeed true in life and politics.

Recently, I received a mail piece in which a candidate who is running in his first election repeatedly lies about his opponent. I’ve met the candidate whose name is on the mailer, and there is no way he concocted these lies on his own. No, a paid political consultant furnished him with the deceptive lines of attack, and he took them. How is this individual now fit for office? If a man or woman is willing to lie for a job in any field, that is a disqualifier, and particularly so in public service.

Ainsworth says he’s tired of our state being behind and tired of politicians on both sides of the aisle being embarrassments. Maybe Ainsworth will use his bully pulpit to demand more of our state’s elected officials.

The problem is leadership.

Governments are run by people. If those individuals lack character, commitment and vision, then the results are the kind we see here in Alabama.

Perhaps in an age where private morality and public conduct are no longer considered one in the same, Danforth’s little book will seem quaint. In a time when preachers sermonize about morality in the pulpit but ignore it at the ballot box, Danforth will seem a bit out-of-date.

But as a teenage boy, his words inspired me as they do today.

It costs 99 cents for an online version at Amazon.

Danforth said a more abundant and more exciting life comes to those who dared to build character, think bigger, inspire others and share.

This may be true of governments, as well.

I dare you.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Should Brooks be expelled from office?

“Like the president, Brooks has shown no remorse for inciting violence and has said he stands by his message.”

Bill Britt

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Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., looks on in the House Chamber after they reconvened for arguments over the objection of certifying Arizona’s Electoral College votes in November’s election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Each member of the U.S. Congress pledges a 14-word oath before taking office. It reads: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.” Alabama Republican Congressman Mo Brooks has failed to honor his words. He is now searching for excuses as to why he shouldn’t be held accountable for abandoning his promise and betraying the Constitution.

Brooks is facing censure in the House and a resolution to have him expelled for his words and actions that led to a mob of rioters laying siege to the U.S. Capitol. Shouldn’t there be greater punishment for a man who participated in what the Joint Chiefs of Staff call “sedition and insurrection?”

In a speech before a crowd of President Donald Trump supporters, Brooks incited violence against the United States of America. His words and those of Trump and others resulted in a frenzied mob ransacking the U.S. Capitol Building in an attempt to stop the certification of the Electoral College.

Six members of Alabama’s congressional delegation joined Brooks in his move to steal the presidential election for Trump. Voters across the nation rejected Trump in favor of Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Still, Brooks, Robert Aderholt, Gary Palmer, Barry Moore, Jerry Carl, Mike Rogers and Sen. Tommy Tuberville voted against certifying the will of the people because they and many of their constituents didn’t like the results.

Some representatives have privately said that they were following their constituents’ will, but members of Congress do not swear an oath to those who vote for them but to the Constitution.

This is how the American Civil War began and why the Lost Cause remains romanticized in portions of the South.

Brooks is not backing down, texting AL.com‘s Paul Gattis, saying: “I make no apology for doing my absolute best to inspire patriotic Americans to not give up on our country and to fight back against anti-Christian socialists in the 2022 and 2024 elections.”

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Neither Trump nor Brooks is willing to accept losing the presidential election, which is beyond fantasy and more akin to constitutional heresy.

The United States system of government relies on members of Congress keeping their oath. Also, there is an unwritten rule that holds that the loser of an election acknowledges defeat.

In the book Losers’ Consent: Elections and Democratic Legitimacy, the authors explain that “Democratic elections are designed to create unequal outcomes—for some to win, others have to lose.” If a loser fails to acknowledge defeat, it undermines the Democratic process, making the nation eventually ungovernable because the minority forever sees the winner as illegitimate. The Constitution is clear about winners and losers and how elections are certified.

While no law says a person must concede an election, it has been a long-held tradition in the United States to ensure cohesion.

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Even now, Brooks, like Trump, refuses to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, citing baseless claims of voter fraud. This was the basis of his rallying cry on Jan. 6, when he called for an angry mob to start “Kicking ass,” which led to a storming of the Capitol.

Trump, Brooks and others gathered a group and told them that the enemy was taking over their government and then pointed them to a specific target. That’s what dictators and usurpers do.

Interestingly, the rioters who entered the Capitol Building largely spared statues and paintings. They did trash offices and steal. So, why take zip ties, poles, guns, and other weapons? Because the rioters did not intend on damaging the artifacts within the building, it was the people they were intent on harming.

The president and Brooks sent the mob to hunt the enemy who Brooks said were “Socialist Democrats,” and “Republican congressmen and senators [who] love their bourbon, love their cigars, love their prestige, love their personal power, love their special interest group money more than they love America.”

Brooks meant to inflame the Trump-rioters, which is apparent in his speech.

House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican leader, said of Trump’s role in encouraging the Capitol siege: “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution. I will vote to impeach the president.”

The House impeached Trump for a second time on Wednesday, charging him with inciting an insurrection. Ten Republicans voted to impeach Trump. It seems impossible that the same members of the House could excuse Brooks’ part in the fateful events that led to Trump’s impeachment.

How can Brooks’ actions be perceived any differently than the president’s? Under Article I, Section 5, clause 2, of the U.S. Constitution, Brooks can be expelled from the House with a concurrence of two-thirds of the members. 

Like the president, Brooks has shown no remorse for inciting violence and has said he stands by his message.

Like all false prophets  and would be demigods, Brooks believes he stands on a lofty pillar of history. Perhaps his mind is so muddled by the rarefied air he breathes on his imaginary holy mountain. Or it could be that his brain is delusional because he is suffering from a lack of oxygen because his head is buried deep where the sun doesn’t shine.

Either way, Brooks has disobeyed his oath, disgraced his country and state, and should be removed from office before he causes more damage.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Shame on those who stoke the fires of insurrection

“There is no reason to be proud of our congressional members who stoked violent insurrection.”

Bill Britt

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Supporters of President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Yesterday, supporters of President Donald Trump carried out an act of violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Trump incited the mob that brought chaos to the nation’s Capitol, but he was not alone.

Alabama’s Congressmen Mo Brooks, Robert Aderholt, Gary Palmer, Barry Moore, Jerry Carl and Mike Rogers, along with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, also fueled the lawless rioters’ seditious actions by falsely claiming that the 2020 presidential election was tainted by fraud and by pretending they had the power to overturn the results of the election.

Their actions were those of craven politicians more beholden to their conspiracy-addled leader and the far-right flank of the Republican Party than the Constitution of the United States.

Only Alabama’s Sen. Richard Shelby and Rep. Terri Sewell emerged true to their oaths of office.

Each one of those individuals spoke a simple fourteen-word oath before taking office. It reads: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.”

Only Shelby and Sewell honored their oaths. The other seven brought disgrace to themselves, their offices and the people of Alabama.

Oh, they will offer a half-baked excuse that they were defending the election’s integrity.

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The individual states certified the presidential election, the challenges adjudicated in courts overseen by judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats. Still, they question the outcome because their preferred candidate didn’t win, and their base demanded they debase themselves like cowards.

Brooks is truly mad, and Moore and Tuberville suffer from a vacuous naivete, but Aderholt, Palmer, Rogers, and Carl know better and still acted with weakness and disregard for the laws that distinguish our Republic from a third-world dictatorship. They carried out coup-like charades to overturn a free and fair election. No one should forget their actions, which are as close as it comes to trying to defraud voters of their legitimate choice for president. 

By joining Trump’s liars’ chorus claiming a stolen election, their words were sparks on the kindling that caused yesterday’s attack.

As the scripture informs: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”

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Our Capitol was defiled by those claiming to be fighting for our country; Brooks and his followers continue to do the same by speaking lies.

Scripture also reminds us that, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Many Alabamians voted for Trump, but more Americans voted against him and for President-elect Joe Biden.

The Republican Party once stood for the conservative values of many citizens. Today, it has been subjugated by an unprincipled base that is neither patriotic nor adheres to the Constitution or the rule of law.

Love of country in the United States is built on our laws, institutions and shared values. When we have differences, they are settled by law, not by mobs.

However, these seven Alabamians abandon sacred principles at the urging of a man who lives without conscience or loyalty, prostrated themselves for political gain, and became a part of the festering cancer that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.

President Abraham Lincoln said: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”

With the exception of Brooks, Alabama’s congressional delegation is comprised of decent people. However, there is no reason to be proud of our congressional members who stoked violent insurrection in the hallowed citadel of liberty on Wednesday.

You should be ashamed. 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | The empty chair

“American’s will gather, and where a loved one once sat, there will be an empty chair.”

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

An end to the scourge of the 21st Century may be in sight, but for those sick and suffering, help will not come soon enough. And then there are the empty chairs that will mark this holiday season.

Hundreds of thousands have died due to the ravages of COVID-19, yet some have callously politicized the virus for political and personal gain.

Over 300,000 individuals in our nation will be absent when their families gather for Christmas and other year-end holiday celebrations. Here in Alabama, nearly 5,000 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents will be missing forever.

What does it say about us as a people that many of our elected leaders, family members and neighbors still refuse to acknowledge the deadly consequences of a virus that is killing thousands daily nationwide?

COVID-19 is a sightless killer that murders without conscience, and yet some won’t even accept that a life-robber is among us.

Oh, death, where is thy sting?

Death not only steals a person’s life, but it also leaves a lasting hole in the lives of those left behind, an emptiness that can never be filled.

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The very essence of life is a mystery. Yes, we know much about the body, less about the mind, but what is life’s crux?

Religion offers meaning, but few denominations can fully agree on much. Philosophy proposes answers, but it too is wanting.

Perhaps the most startling revelation about life is how short it actually is. Maybe the saying “make hay while the sun shines” is less of an admonition to get to work and more of a warning that the workday is short.

It’s said that an individual who plants a tree knowing that they will never enjoy its shade is someone who understands life. By that thinking, those who only live for momentary personal rewards are those most ignorant of life’s purpose.

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We can forgive children for their selfish indulgences, but should we do the same for adults?

Alabama is a decidedly pro-life state, where the majority says that every life is sacred, each life precious. But is life only sacred when it’s in the womb? Isn’t all life precious?

A transliteration of the Greek word soul in the biblical text is psuché, which literally means breath of life. Most scholars believe it refers to the individual’s uniqueness, a sort of DNA of the soul.

On a fundamental level, politics is a means to order society so that we can live a peaceful and hopefully prosperous life within the confines of a social contract. That certainly is the principle underpinning the U.S. Constitution.

After nearly a year of sickness, death and economic collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many in our state and nation are still divided over the reality of the coronavirus. Even though its devastating effects are present everywhere, some, it seems, have fallen under a Mephistophelian spell.

Add to coronavirus denial a refusal by some to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and the nation is being undermined in a devil’s bargain. A Republic without commonly accepted laws is not a Republic; it’s a nation in chaos where lies erode the very pillars on which our country is built.

The government, beyond throwing money at the pandemic, has offered little in the way of leadership. Through rapidly developed vaccines, scientists are providing a solution that optimistically will restore normalcy and some modicum of sanity.

More American lives have been lost to COVID-19 than all the American battle deaths in World War II. Unlike World War II, which lasted nearly four years after America entered the war, COVID has been with us for less than 12 months. And unlike World War II, there is no universal commitment to fighting for every life, no matter the personal sacrifice, and there is no sense of national mourning.

Along the way, some of our fellow citizens have abandoned decency, choosing instead to wallow in a mire of conspiracy, grievance, and hatred where bullying, falsehoods, and temper tantrums have disoriented our shared moral compass. We can recover, but perhaps a great awakening is needed.

Truth and justice never change; each is eternal. What does evolve is how truth and justice are recognized and meted out among our people. Making our nation great again is not achieved by returning to some distant, undefined point in the past but by charting a course toward a more inclusive and equitable future. We can get there together because no one can make the journey alone.

During this season of thanks and giving, tens of thousands of Americans will gather, and where a loved one once sat, there will be an empty chair — sometimes a few.

We could have done better.

Every year, in Jewish tradition, those who join around the Passover Seder table retell the story of Jewish enslavement and redemption.

What stories will we tell this year? The empty chair?

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Public safety or political pandering?

“Perilous situations require sacrifice, and true leaders do what’s right, not what’s poll-tested.”

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

When the Legislature returns for the 2021 session, one priority for the Republican caucus is to limit the authority of the governor and the public health officer to make critical, unilateral decisions during a public health crisis.

The reason certain Republican lawmakers are pushing this dubious power grab is that they and their constituents think that restrictions on personal behavior and business activities during a public health emergency are government overreach and an unconstitutional restraint on individual liberty.

The state’s constitution places this tremendous burden to act during a public health crisis on the governor and the public health officer because times of crisis demand singular leadership informed by wise counsel.

In past national emergencies, political parties have come together to fight a common enemy. Was there always consensus? No. But generally, sober-minded leaders set aside their differences for a moment to form a united front against a universal threat.

Today, there is not even an agreement that a threat exists.

Instead, in many quarters, magical thinking, conspiracy-mongering, and lies have spread faster than the coronavirus, and as a result, hundreds of thousands have died, and more are suffering.

The monster is not under the bed or on a computer server in Wuhan, China. It’s in your neighbor’s nose.

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Alabama’s most prominent doctors, scientists and healthcare professionals know that wearing face coverings, social distancing and staying home is the best hope of curtailing the spread of COVID-19. But far too many of our state and nation’s leaders have shunned science, scoffed at healthcare professionals, all while misleading the public through their careless words and actions.

Republicans, once a party of calm resolve, now counts among its number a paranoia-base that relies on chaos and bullying to cower level-headed conservatives into submission for fear of a primary challenge or a rogue tweet.

Statehouse Republicans have actually surveyed its voters on how they view mask ordinances and business restrictions and have found a majority has an unfavorable opinion. That’s not a surprising revelation; no one likes these measures.

Perilous situations require sacrifice, and true leaders do what’s right, not what’s poll-tested.

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Most of our state’s leaders confess to having deeply held religious beliefs, so let me offer some scriptural wisdom for consideration: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8, KJV).

In times of crisis, assertive, decisive and, importantly, coherent leadership is paramount to success. While there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors, when faced with imminent danger, there must be one voice that calls the people to action.

Gov. Kay Ivey has made the tough calls and has endured the wrath of some in her own party. Ivey has gone about as far as a red-state governor dare and in many ways beyond her peers.

We can argue that more is needed, but winning is often a matter of acknowledging the ground on which the battle is being fought.

Some lawmakers have lamented the fact that an unelected bureaucrat is telling them what to do.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris has put his life at risk to keep Alabamians safe and the economy open. Appointed by the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners, Harris is charged with protecting the state’s citizens.

Bureaucrats are the ones who keep the government functioning despite lawmakers’ attempts to make it entirely dysfunctional. In other words, a bureaucrat’s primary purpose is to keep irascible elected numpties from driving the clown car into the ditch.

Ivey and Harris are doing a mostly thankless job that I dare say few would want.

What has been missing most during the COVID-19 pandemic is a leveling with the American people.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, said: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

Lincoln’s “real facts” have been replaced by “alternative facts.”

There are not two types of facts; there are truths and lies.

Our nation, however imperfect, was founded on the idea of self-evident truth. So important was the concept of honesty that legend held that George Washington could not tell a lie.

Washington lied. Everyone does; just ask a wife or a doctor. What most decent people don’t do is lie routinely.

In the present political landscape, however, decency, honor, and truth are sacrificed to the desire for power.

There is nothing in the American pantheon of patriotism to indicate that lying is a virtue. But the other day, I was sent a recording in which a mega-church preacher intimated that lying was a personality trait. Moral relativism, it appears, has finally found its way into the inner sanctum. Whenever moral values are traded for power, public virtue becomes the victim.

The idea that the state Legislature should have final say during a public health emergency is as disingenuous as it is dangerous.

As Paul “Bear” Bryant said: “In a crisis, don’t hide behind anything or anybody. They’re going to find you anyway.”

Character is not only tested in a crisis, it is revealed. We must put public safety above political pandering.

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