Lacking Historical Perspective

Tom Schueneman
May 12, 2017 · 3 min read
The story of our past must inform our future

Republican mayor Jim Brainard on Trump’s first hundred days

I first spoke with Jim Brainard last summer. The six-term mayor of Carmel, Indiana, Brainard is a vocal supporter of climate change action, clean energy development, and conservation. He is eager to spread the message.

Indeed, spreading the message was the point of our first interview. Brainard, a popular Republican mayor in a mostly Republican state, stressed the environmental heritage of his party. After all, “conserve” is the root word for both “conservation” and “conservative.”

As he told me at the time:

“I like to try to look at it from a historical context. It was Teddy Roosevelt that set aside most of the national parkland. It was Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, who set aside the Arctic Reserve. It was Dick Nixon who signed legislation for the EPA, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the [amended] Migratory Bird Act … our entire federal environmental regulatory system [was formed] under Nixon.”

Brainard studied history as a young man. He applies his historical lens to modern-day issues of municipal governance and urban design. In the process, he has transformed Carmel from a sprawling suburb of Indianapolis to a destination city in its own right. Borrowing from the European town square and roundabout, Carmel boasts a thriving, walkable downtown, less traffic congestion, and more greenspace.

The lessons of history and the moral foundation of a nation

Last week I had my third conversation with Brainard. Just past the administration’s 100-day mark, he laments Trump’s lack of, among other things, a “historical perspective” on what best exemplifies the American Dream; “whatever that is,” he says.

For Brainard, the “dream” of America is about common values of disparate people coming together with the shared hope for a better life. “We have to believe in something that’s common,” Brainard says:

From “Day one, America was a country of ideals, opportunity, and the rule of law.”

While Western Europe clung to its monarchs and serfdoms, America embraced the enlightenment. From its faltering beginnings, a common purpose forged an unlikely nation. For anyone willing to take a chance in a new land, the promise of America stood waiting:

  • The rule of law, not of men

“People from all different backgrounds for well over two hundred years have come together on those ideals,” says Brainard. “It’s no different today. We ought to be welcoming folks.”

Flawed and tragic at times, contradictory and hypocritical in its failure to live to live up to its ideals, it is still a land where people cast their dreams; a land of immigrants. The historical perspective of America is engraved on the base of the statue of liberty, not at the top of Trump Towers.

Tom Schueneman

Written by

Environmental Writer, Online Publisher, Speaker. Founder of the PlanetWatch Group. Member, Society of Environmental Journalists and Pacific Media Workers Guild

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