M AG A Z I N E
GOP By Peter Wehner and Matt Whitlock
HOW LGBTQ RIGHTS &
LIBERTY CAN COEXIST By Jonathan Rauch and Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers
THE EXTRAORDINARY MAY 2021
ISSUE 04 Volume 01 deseret.com
WHAT IF THE
FORESTS WON’T GROW BACK?
B A R B A R A B A R R Y for M c G U I R E B A R B A R A B A R R Y. C O M
B A R B A R A B A R R Y. C O M
H O M E O F YOUR NEW
play wash repeat littleadventures.com
TH E FORESTS T HAT WO N ’ T G ROW BAC K
BY S OFIA J ER EMIAS
TH E L AST WORD :
DAMBIS A MOYO
EYES OF THE BEHOLDER 14 How bestselling author and single mom Joanna Ho found she couldn’t have it all. by mya jaradat
ESCAPE FROM THE MOMMY BLOGGERS
As a new mom social media became toxic for me. by kelsey dallas
WHAT RACHEL PARCELL 20 WORE TO THE PANDEMIC The social media sensation who redefined online shopping. by lane anderson
THE GOP THAT COULD
Tribes in Northern California are closing the digital divide.
The battle cry for a post-Trump GOP. by peter wehner
by sofia jeremias
Trump’s GOP is strong.
Meeting in the middle. by jonathan rauch
The equality equation. by jacqueline cooke-rivers 8 DESERET MAGAZINE
TH E FA I TH A DVA N TAG E The unseen economic and social impacts of American faith. by brian grim
The life of Brent Taylor — mayor, father, husband, soldier. by chad nielsen
by matt whitlock
THE DREAMS HE CARRIED
Lindsey Stirling is the world’s most prominent violinist. She’s also its most unstoppable. by ethan bauer
Quit playing the neuropathy pain game. Countless people have been misdiagnosed with neuropathy and continue to suffer. If your current neuropathy treatments or medications aren’t working, there is a good chance our doctors can help you start living a better life today—no invasive surgery, no hospital stay, most insurance and Medicare accepted.
Do you have difficulty walking without taking a break? Do your feet feel numb, or your legs cramp in bed at night? Do you experience pain, tingling, or numbness in your feet? Is your neuropathy treatment not making symptoms go away? Does pain in your feet keep you from everyday living? If you checked “yes” to any of the questions above, our doctors can help tell you what those answers mean.
Joel Rainwater, MD | ARIZONA & UTAH Michael Switzer, MD | ARIZONA Ryan O’Hara, MD | UTAH Brian Evans, MD | NEVADA
(866) 668-8677 | ciccenters.com
and, with Michael Gerson, “City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era.” The Washington Monthly has called him one of the most influential reform-minded conservatives, and in Forbes, political consultant Mary Matalin featured him on a short list of conservatism’s leading “educators and practitioners of first principles.”
Center. He is the recent chairman of the World Economic Forum’s faith council and he works closely with the United Nations’ Business for Peace platform.
E DITOR JESSE HYDE CREATIVE DIRECTOR DAVID MEREDITH DEPUTY EDITOR CHAD NIELSEN EDITOR-AT-LARGE HAL BOYD CONTRIBUTING JAMES R. GARDNER EDITORS LAUREN STEELE CORRESPONDENT MICHAEL J. MOONEY
Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, is the author of eight books and many articles on public policy, culture and government. He is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and recipient of the National Magazine Award, the magazine industry’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. His latest book is “The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth,” a spirited and deep-diving account of how to push back against disinformation, canceling and other new threats.
MAGA Z IN E
STAFF WRITERS ETHAN BAUER ERICA EVANS LOIS M. COLLINS KELSEY DALLAS JENNIFER GRAHAM MYA JARADAT SOFIA JEREMIAS ART DIRECTOR PIERCE THIOT DESIGNERS KEVIN CANTRELL MIA MEREDITH ALEC FRANCIS
Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers, the executive director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, earned her doctorate in African American studies and sociology at Harvard University. She is a lecturer at Harvard and has spoken and written frequently on the topic of religious freedom.
Lane Anderson, a former staff writer at the Deseret News, writes about inequality and social and family issues. She is based in New York City with her husband and daughter, where she is a lecturer at New York University. She is co-writer of the Matriarchy Report newsletter, which reports on issues and solutions for raising kids in the U.S.
DESIGN INTERN S.M. KNOERNSCHILD COPY EDITORS CHRIS MILLER WHITNEY WILDE RESEARCH JEFF PARROTT FENDI WANG CONTRIBUTING ADRIANA BELLET ARTISTS CHLOE CUSHMAN HANNAH DECKER CRAIG FRAZIER RANDY GLASS COURTNEY MCOMBER PASCAL SHIRLEY ROSE WONG
DESERET NEWS PRESIDENT & JEFF SIMPSON PUBLISHER SENIOR VICE ROBIN RITCH PRESIDENT ASSOCIATE MICHAEL B. TODD PUBLISHER & CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER HEAD CONTENT DOUG WILKS OFFICER HEAD DIGITAL BURKE OLSEN OFFICER DIRECTOR OF JESSICA COLLINGS MARKETING
HEAD OF SALES SALLY STEED
Peter Wehner is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. He has served in three Republican administrations and is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is the author, with Arthur C. Brooks, of “Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism” 10 DESERET MAGAZINE
Brian Grim is the founding president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and was previously a senior researcher and director of international data at Pew Research
Adriana Bellet is an illustrator based in Stockholm, Sweden. She works for myriad projects, but all of them are bound by her love of bold colors (her current favorite is bumblebee yellow). She mostly works with her iPad Pro from her home studio, drinking way too many cups of coffee and listening to podcasts.
MANAGING EDITOR, AARON SHILL DESERET.COM DIRECTOR OF CHUCK WING PHOTOGRAPHY ART DIRECTOR, MICHELLE BUDGE DESERET.COM NATIONAL VOICES MATTHEW BROWN E DITOR DIRECTOR OF HEIDI PERRY VISUAL/EDIT DEPARTMENT COPY CHIEF TODD CURTIS
The Canyon art installation by Gordon Huether
WE’RE READY TO FLY WHEN YOU ARE. Now that the new Salt Lake City International Airport is open, there’s a lot for you to enjoy — the views, the technology, the efficiency, the variety of shops and restaurants. And one of the things we think you’ll also like is our commitment to your safety — employing the absolute best practices in sanitization throughout the airport. As the world re-opens to travel, it’s not going to be the same. But when it comes to flying in and out of The New SLC, we think it will be even better.
THE VIEW FROM HERE
BY N A ME H E R E
OUT OF MANY, ONE BY HA L B OYD
notable cartoon from the years leading up to the American Revolution depicts a bishop from the Church of England fleeing an angry mob of American colonists. They are brandishing a banner with the words “Liberty & Freedom of Conscience” while tossing books by the likes of John Calvin and John Locke. The revolution, for some, was as much about religion as it was about politics. Indeed, if the new nation adopted any official state creed, it was that each citizen should live out their own beliefs. America, in other words, would be a radical new experiment in religious pluralism. To the colonists, this made sense. After all, the founders didn’t just come from distinct regions of the country, they also represented an eclectic array of religious traditions. There were Congregationalists and Quakers; Catholics and Unitarians; deists and Lutherans; Methodists and Presbyterians; and there was at least one Huguenot (a strand of French Protestantism). The Constitution they eventually framed explicitly prevented the establishment of any official state faith while simultaneously securing religion’s “free exercise” for all. More than a century and a half earlier, the Mayflower Compact had served as a kind of precursor for this early American ecumenicism. Though hardly progressive by today’s standards, the Plymouth Colony was nonetheless guided by this shared desire between the separatist Pilgrims and their more secular sojourners to get along and to help one another survive. “In the Mayflower Compact,” conservative thinker Kay C. James observes, “We can discern the roots of the Founders’ commitment to religious freedom.” Even before the nation’s birth, America was paradoxically united in its differences, joined in its dissimilarities. And the country’s motto declared as much: E pluribus unum — out of many, one. The struggle to unite a nation defined by differences remains the central challenge of our own times. In this month’s magazine, we pres-
12 DESERET MAGAZINE
ent two sets of essays that explore the fruitful tensions that arise when competing ideologies strive for mutual cooperation. Jonathan Rauch, of the Brookings Institution, and Jacqueline CookeRivers, of Harvard and the Seymour Institute, outline the personal journeys that led them to become champions of both religious freedom and LGBTQ rights (see pages 64 and 67). In a separate essay, Brian Grim — the founding president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and a former researcher at Pew Research Center — underscores the way in which diverse religious traditions make distinct contributions to the collective good and greatly strengthen our economy (see page 72). Looking at the future of the Republican Party, Peter Wehner — a fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a veteran of three Republican presidential administrations — outlines a road map for reinventing the GOP in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency (see page 38). Matt Whitlock, a Republican strategist most recently with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, makes the case that the Republican Party remains stronger than many think and that Trump left the GOP better off electorally than when he found it (see page 44). Just as Rauch and Cooke-Rivers are hopeful that America can balance competing interests, Wehner and Whitlock show a divided and contested party still seeking to rally around core values. America contains multitudes. The question is whether these multitudes will find sufficient threads of commonality to bind together as one united nation. In August 1790, George Washington penned a letter to “the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island.” In the United States, he wrote, “all possess alike liberty of conscience” and the government “gives to bigotry no sanction.” He then paraphrased scripture, describing a shared aspirational hope that I believe still beats in every American heart: that each citizen “shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
EYES OF THE BEHOLDER HOW BESTSELLING AUTHOR AND SINGLE MOM JOANNA HO FOUND SHE COULDN’T HAVE IT ALL BY MYA JA RA DAT
rowing up Asian American, Joanna Ho felt surrounded by Disney princesses with big blue eyes and long eyelashes. In the privacy of her room, she stood before the mirror, using her fingers to lift her eyelids in hopes of transforming her body — herself — into something different. It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she began to embrace the fact that she had “eyes that kiss in the corners,” to borrow a phrase from and the title of her recently published book. Ho was in Taiwan, where her mom’s side is from, standing in line at a 7-Eleven when she noticed that the people on the cover of the magazine didn’t look like Disney princesses. They were Asian, like her. And they were beautiful. “That means I can be beautiful, too,” Ho recalls thinking. Later, when Ho became a mother, she knew she didn’t want her children to struggle with their appearance as she did. “I want them to be proud of where they’re from and who they’re from,” Ho says. So she wrote “Eyes That Kiss in the Corners,” which traces a young Asian American girl’s eyes back to those of her beloved grandmother and the heritage they contain; her first book, which was picked up by an imprint of the legendary publishing house HarperCollins, went on to become a New York Times bestseller. A companion book that follows a young Asian American boy and his family, “Eyes That Speak to the Stars,” is forthcoming. Though Ho has laid the Disney princesses to rest, amid the pandemic, she has found herself struggling with another unattainable ideal: The Woman Who Has It All — the working
14 DESERET MAGAZINE
mom who manages to devote herself equally to her career and her children, capping off a productive day at the office by setting a hot, healthy meal down on the dinner table. “I’m just barely keeping my head above water,” Ho tells Deseret. “I’m a single mom. I work full time. I’m a vice principal at a high school. The writing is a side hustle — it’s the thing I do on the weekends, in the mornings,
SHE DIDN’T WANT HER CHILDREN TO STRUGGLE WITH THEIR APPEARANCE AS SHE DID. “I WANT THEM TO BE PROUD OF WHERE THEY ’RE FROM AND WHO THEY’RE FROM.”
at night. I have two kids. I can’t do it all. This pandemic, this life, has really forced me to acknowledge that I have limits and that’s OK and that it’s necessary to lean on others to help you through.” Not only does Ho realize that it’s OK to rely on her community, she’s teaching herself not to actively resist when others offer to help. “I’m always like, ‘You don’t need to do that. I’m fine, I’m fine.’ I’m trying to learn how to
— instead of pushing back and saying, ‘I don’t need help’ — I’m learning how to say ‘thank you’ and express my gratitude,” she says. Ho adds that, too often, our culture promotes women’s self-care as a first step to taking care of others — it’s that trope that every woman has heard: You have to put on your oxygen mask first. But Ho is questioning that idea, as well. One way Ho takes care of herself is by nourishing her spirit. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she remarks, “I don’t know how people get through these times without faith or the gospel to hold on to.” She says she has “an anchor and foundation in the gospel” and takes great comfort in the knowledge that “I can get on my knees and pray and get answers and be guided and make sense of things that are happening in the world.” “I feel the hand of God in my life,” she adds. “Particularly when things are hard, I find the scripture studies — the things that I read — are direct answers to the things I need that day.” On a recent night at her home in California’s Bay Area — after her 6-year-old son and 4-yearold daughter were tucked into bed — Ho had an epiphany as she knelt, alone, in prayer. “I was just so overwhelmed by all that was happening in the world and I had this super clear vision that I needed to take care of myself,” she says. The message, she adds, was breathtakingly simple: “You need to take care of yourself because you matter. Not because you can serve other people. You’re a daughter of God and you matter. Period.” ILLUST RAT IO N BY CHLOE CUSHMAN
MAY 2021 15
ESCAPE FROM THE MOMMY BLOGGERS AS A NEW MOM SOCIAL MEDIA BECAME TOXIC FOR ME BY K ELSEY DA LLAS
n a quiet and cold January night not long after Christmas, I sat on the couch in my house just outside of Salt Lake City and surveyed my domestic kingdom. My kitchen island was piled high with unopened mail, books I’d been meaning to read and hospital baby supplies I’d never fully unpacked. Stacked on the dining table were clean diapers and wipes, which partially covered a stack of photos I’d wanted to organize for weeks. Every day, I thought about vacuuming. Every day, I got caught up doing a hundred other things. That night, I was too tired to even think about cleaning. I picked up my phone and, as I’d done dozens of times already that day, opened the Instagram app, noticing that one of the influencers I followed to try to figure out this new thing called motherhood had posted new videos. It still sort of amazed me that, just by opening my phone, I could watch someone who had figured out how to be a domestic goddess, the perfect mom. “See? I told you things aren’t always so clean around here,” she said looking into her phone’s camera, gesturing at the laptop and shopping bag sitting on the grand kitchen island, much bigger than mine. In the background, a few baby bottles sat in her otherwise spotless sink. I blinked, waiting for her to laugh and let us know she was in on the joke. But the Instagram 16 DESERET MAGAZINE
story ended and I looked up from my phone, suddenly aware that her idea of being relatable and flawed was making me feel ridiculous and defective. Yes, it was possible to feel even worse about how messy my house had become. I should have known better, but that moment, so common to today’s moms, was a turning point for me. Going into motherhood I
THERE MUST BE SOMETHING WRONG, I THOUGHT, IF I COULD BARELY HANDLE A LIFE THEY MADE LOOK SO EASY.
had vowed not to hold myself to other people’s standards. I read baby books and parenting blogs but reminded myself that my experience of motherhood was going to be unique to me. Online, though, my guard was down, and photos and videos shared by lifestyle bloggers with kids regularly brought me to my knees.
There must be something wrong, I thought, if I could barely handle a life they made look so easy.
I spent hours on Instagram each week even before I got pregnant, but motherhood gave my scrolling new purpose. I hunted for baby product reviews and tips on sleep, perking up when influencers modeled outfits that “would work for nursing mamas, too.” Being pregnant during a pandemic is lonely, so I felt lucky that a few of the relatively famous women I follow happened to be expecting at the same time. My mom and husband got used to me talking about these famous super moms like old friends. “Lauren is a week past her due date and has to be induced,” I said. “And did I tell you Ashley is pregnant? I knew something had to be up when she stopped talking about wine.” When my son arrived in late August, healthy and chubby and the spitting image of his dad, Instagram continued to be my favorite social media site. I’d scroll through photos and videos during late-night feedings, careful to turn my phone’s volume down so the baby could sleep through perky speeches about workout routines or hair ties. The content I consumed, the countless hours of clothing try-ons and cooking tips, was a welcome distraction during a chaotic ILLUST RAT IO N BY HANNAH DECKER
E C D A
MAY 2021 17
time. Like many first-time parents, I rarely slept more than three hours in a row and spent my waking hours worrying about whether I was a good mom. I felt like I was drowning in dirty diapers and burp rags. Instagram reminded me of the world beyond my increasingly messy house. The influencers I followed were dedicated moms who still had time to work on their own projects, go shopping and try new skin care products. Someday, I hoped I would, too.
One day when my son was about 6 weeks old, I called my mom, a lifelong Midwesterner with a low tolerance for hysteria, and started crying. “He’s not supposed to be awake this long,” I said. “He’s not doing what the book says.” The book I was referring to was “What to Expect the First Year,” a collection of advice on raising a baby from birth to age 1. I had come to think of it as a kind of sacred text, since, in the absence of many friends with kids, I had nowhere else to turn. “What to Expect the First Year,” like the more famous “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” includes a series of chapters on individual months. Each one outlines how much your baby will likely eat, play and sleep at a given age. Each one also warns you about what can go wrong. As my mom noted during the call, the book describes an average baby, not the reallife newborn sleeping next to me on a leopardprinted pillow. “You have to leave room for him to do his own thing,” she said. And so I tried to divorce my expectations from what the parenting bible described. 18 DESERET MAGAZINE
It didn’t happen overnight, but my mom’s advice gradually transformed my relationship with my son. I started to trust my instincts and view with suspicion anyone who tried to tell me exactly how newborn parenting should go. Over time, I became a sort of evangelist for a more laid-back approach to motherhood, using Instagram to encourage other new moms to do their own thing. I started openly talking about my son’s worst nap days and
THE INFLUENCERS I FOLLOWED WERE DEDICATED MOMS WHO STILL HAD TIME TO WORK ON THEIR OWN PROJECTS, GO SHOPPING AND TRY NEW SKIN CARE PRODUCTS. SOMEDAY, I HOPED I WOULD, TOO.
awkward interactions with our dogs. I teased myself for failing to lose my baby weight. Now, instead of telling my husband about Instagram influencers’ family milestones, I collected stories of them ignoring expert advice. I loved their posts about giving up on sleep training and struggling with doctor’s visits, taking the images they shared of smiling infants as proof my son would turn out OK.
The most successful Instagram influencers, the ones with hundreds of thousands of followers and dozens of marketing deals, know how to strike a balance between being approachable and enviable. They don’t want their lives to seem perfect, but they also don’t want you to know about the weak spots in their marriage or the time their baby cried through a work call. Even knowing this, I struggled to keep social media posts featuring beautiful, happy babies and fashionable, young parents in perspective. I had learned to question the baby book’s description of life as a new mom, but not the idealized image of motherhood that Instagram presented to me. Things came to a head around the time I watched that video of a mostly clean countertop. I began to see that a lot of the shame and anger I carried over my dusty bookshelves, my husband’s long work days and my son’s bad naps stemmed from what I was seeing — and not seeing — online. And so, just as I set “What to Expect” aside after talking to my mom, I decided to drastically reduce my Instagram use. I now log on only one day a week, and I’ve unfollowed some of the moms causing me the most grief. The Instagram influencers don’t feel like friends anymore. They’re just sources of gift ideas and styling tips. To be honest, I’m embarrassed I had to take such drastic steps, but also thankful I figured out what was causing me pain. Now, when my son or husband is driving me crazy, there’s no image in my head of how perfect things could be. Instead, my mind calls up my own flawed but precious moments, and I feel grateful for the real life I get to lead.
From conflict zones, to places affected by natural disasters, to communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, our teams go where the needs are greatest. Help us provide emergency medical care for millions of people around the world.
DONATE NOW AT DOCTORSWITHOUTBORDERS.ORG
WHAT RACHEL PARCELL WORE TO THE PANDEMIC THE SOCIAL MEDIA SENSATION HAD AN EARLY VISION FOR ONLINE SHOPPING. HERE’S HOW SHE SHIFTED FROM BLOGGER TO BUSINESSWOMAN BY LA N E A N DER SON
was a struggle,” she says. “Industry experts had never seen anything like hen i dialed in to interview Rachel Parcell — fashion this. A lot of people in the fashion world freaked out.” blogger, entrepreneur and apparel designer — I was dying to know: What does a fashion influencer with her own clothing line at Nordstrom wear on a Thursday morning in the pandemic? So I was disappointed when her assistant switched the call from video to audio at the last minute. Later, Parcell confessed that she was still wearing pajamas, at one point her then-6-month-old baby, who had been sleepWhile apparel has been hit hard across the board, Parcell’s clothes — ing next to her, could be heard fussing in the background. “I changed which are known for feminine looks fashioned with lace and ruffles — the call from video because my kids were so hard to get out the door,” were in a particularly poor position for a new life of home schooling from she said as she soothed the child. “I haven’t even the kitchen table and working from the couch. The brushed my hair yet.” traditional feminine aesthetic that launched Parcell And yet, Parcell was also fresh off a plane from onto the fashion scene in a blaze of glory a decade a Maui vacation. She was working from home ago was suddenly a liability. in the mountains of Alpine, Utah, in her new Fashion influencers are a dime a dozen now, but 14,000-square-foot mansion, which has too many Parcell came up before Instagram, when they were SHE’S RELATABLE, chandeliers to count, where she’s now in the process still called “fashion bloggers.” When she started her BUT ALSO NOT RELATABLE AT ALL. of installing a full-size indoor basketball court. All “Pink Peonies” blog, she had a vision for how women WHAT SHE SELLS of this is documented every day on her social media would shop on the internet that would prove proIS A LIFESTYLE accounts, which boast over 1 million followers. And phetic, and very profitable. She provided links to BRAND THAT SAYS, that’s part of the appeal of Rachel Parcell — she’s everything she wore. Women clicked through. And “I’M A MOM, JUST relatable, but also not relatable at all. What she sells clicked through. They shared the links with each LIKE YOU!” is a lifestyle brand that says, “I’m a mom, just like other. Parcell’s following grew. By 2014, when she you!” but it’s also aspirational, and inspires a cerwas just 23 years old, she sent a shockwave through tain amount of envy — as many influencers do. But the fashion industry. For the first time, bloggers enParcell’s success now allows her, or requires her, to tered fashion’s “Million Dollar Club,” an industry do it on a larger scale than most. list that had traditionally been made up of celebrity Parcell brands her retail lines — which include an RP Rachel Parcell designers and models who make over a million dollars a year in appearancwomen and children’s clothing line as well as a home goods line — as es and endorsements. But in 2014, at the top of this list was a blogger from “elevated” living. She describes her customer as someone who “wants Salt Lake City, of all places, named Rachel Parcell. to make her life look and feel beautiful in multiple ways, whether it’s Industry publication Racked ran the headline, “Random Fashion Bloga dress to wear to a wedding, lipstick or a tablescape for the holidays.” ger from Utah makes $1 Million a Year.” Backlash rolled in swiftly: In ObBut life hasn’t been glamorous lately, and there hasn’t been much need server, a former Vogue staffer, in a piece titled “Million-dollar bloggers for any of these things for a while now. Hosting, getting dressed for anygive fashion a bad name,” described Parcell and bloggers like her as a mere thing outside your house — even lipstick — became somewhat obsolete “self-promoter” who was “more a marketing shill than arbiter of taste and over the last year. That left Parcell in a rough place last spring. She had style.” She was accused then — and sometimes still is now — of being the bad luck of dropping her spring line just as the world was shutting materialistic, vain and self-promoting. Clearly, she had cracked something down. “We had the worst timing in the world,” she says. If the collection that industry bigwigs had not. had launched even a week earlier it would have been better, she says. Parcell started blogging in 2010 when she was a newlywed attending On the evening of the launch, as the country went into lockdown, the Utah Valley University as a graphic design major. Parcell was only 19 when decision was made to discount the dress collection — Parcell’s signature she married her husband, Drew, also a UVU student. “Drew said, ‘You item — before it even hit stores. The industry was falling into chaos. “It need to get a job until we have kids,’” she says. Ironically, she got passed
20 DESERET MAGAZINE
P HOTO GRA P HY BY COURTNEY M c OMBER
over for a job at Nordstrom, so she worked as a receptionist for her grandfather. There, she pulled up her computer and wrote blog posts, designed her site, made a logo and learned how to code on the back end. These were back in the Wordpress days, and Parcell, like a lot of young women in the mid-aughts, posted a lot of personal journaling and lifestyle stuff, but people kept asking what she was wearing and where she got it. So she told them. Pretty soon the blog was about clothes. Parcell’s husband poked fun at her, and, yes, complained about taking photos of her for the blog. “‘I don’t understand what you’re doing,’ he would say. ‘Who are these women on the internet; is anyone even looking at this?’” This was in a distant — now seemingly quaint — time when the only place for women to find outfits already put together and planned for
them were in fashion magazines, like InStyle. And here was Parcell, posting photos of herself in her suburban Utah neighborhood wearing J.Crew and Sam Edelman shoes and those big, bubbly statement necklaces (and she often had a Louis Vuitton bag thrown over her arm, or donned a pair of Dior sunglasses). It didn’t hurt that she was conventionally attractive and apparently had the means to procure a designer bag, or swipe one from her mother. Parcell owes much of her success to a woman named Amber Venz Box who, from her apartment in Texas, saw the same trend that Parcell was seeing at her grandfather’s receptionist desk. Women wanted to know what to wear, and they wanted to get it with a click. There was a need, and women like Parcell were filling it. Now the trick was to monetize it. MAY 2021 21
22 DESERET MAGAZINE
and started helping her build her business. He even took over child care Venz Box was engineering her own startup, which eventually became for a short time when their daughter, Isla Rose, was born. “We were a RewardStyle. It provided “affiliate links,” where content providers like good team,” she says. “He was like, ‘I thought you were crazy, but you’ve Parcell would get a cut from every sale that came through from their site. caught on to something. Go for it.’” Parcell still remembers the first time she saw money hit her PayPal In fact, one of the things that Parcell seems most proud of is being account from her blog. “When RewardStyle reached out to me I didn’t able to help her husband pursue his career dreams and take a risk by know if it was real, or if it would sell anything.” Two months in, Parcell leaving his insurance business to pursue his passion for real estate and saw an extra $500 in her account. “I was in school full time, we lived in a construction. “I told him, ‘My business is in a great place, it’s steady. teeny basement, and I was like, ‘Oh my heck I have $500!’” Parcell kept it You’re so talented, so do what you love,’” she says. “We both do our to herself, and splurged on a pair of Tory Burch flats she’d been coveting. thing and meet in the middle.” The next month there was $1,500 in her account. It’s a middle space that Parcell has learned to be comfortable with, Now, Parcell has transformed her blog success into a multimillioneven though there wasn’t much of a model for it when she was growing dollar enterprise that she runs out of offices in Utah and New York. In up. “Growing up it was to be a mom or have a career, there wasn’t a lot 2019, she fulfilled a lifelong dream when she launched her own brand at of in-between in Utah. If there is another woman Nordstrom. She has a 10,000-square-foot warehouse reading this, you can do both. Especially a girl in in Bluffdale, Utah, that serves as the company’s college deciding on a career path, you don’t have headquarters, including a design center, conference PARCELL HAS to make that tough choice.” She’s endured a certain rooms, photo studio, and shipping and fulfillment HER FINGER ON “FLYOVER STATE amount of mom shaming, too, from commenters center. By all rights, Parcell is a successful businessSTYLE,” AND IN THE noting when she’s traveling away from her kids, to woman, and she just turned 30 in January. EARLY YEARS criticizing her choice to hire a nanny. But Parcell But the fashion industry didn’t learn to embrace OF HER BLOG, THE sees her career as a plus for her children, too. her, even as she became a designer. Industry publiNUMBER OF “I love that my daughter sees that you can have a cations have described her collections as “unorigFOLLOWERS THAT CLICKED THROUGH career and she doesn’t know any different,” Parcell inal,” finding her array of pastel dresses traditional TO BUY CLOTHES says. “My daughter will say, ‘When I grow up I want and predictable. But the fact remains that Parcell FROM HER to work at RP!’ I tell her, ‘You can have your own has had her finger on “flyover state style,” and in the SITE OFTEN PUT company!’ In the morning mommy goes to work, early years of her blog, the number of followers that BIG-NAME COASTAL and daddy goes to work, and the kids go to school clicked through to buy clothes from her site (“conINFLUENCERS TO SHAME. and we all work hard and tell each other about our version rates”) often put big-name coastal influencdays. I like that my son and daughter see that.” ers to shame. As hard as the pandemic has been on moms, She sells what might be called “church chic” — Parcell is also hopeful that it’s going to help businesses become more refined looks for baby blessings, weddings and pulled-together looks for family-friendly. “I’m grateful because I can nurse my baby while I’m on Sundays that don’t show a lot of skin and can transition to a date night. an executive conference call with investors and don’t have to fly to meetThere’s a huge market for that in the U.S. that has gone largely untapped ings.” When she had her second child, her son Jackson, her schedule was by high fashion. intense and she traveled a lot and hated leaving her kids. Since having her baby, Ford, nine months ago, she’s been with him the entire time. Her sister has been her nanny and lived with them in quarantine. “This will pass, our kids will go back to school, the way we do business will be different. It’s much more time effective and easier on moms to juggle it all.” Parcell’s success is remarkable, but it’s been harder for her to own, than, This year has also marked a big change for Parcell’s career. Followsay, for the startup tech guys next to her in Lehi, Utah. A 24-year-old ing her intuition again for what will come next, she took a big risk and multimillion-dollar female entrepreneur is hard to come by, much less in broke her exclusive agreement with Nordstrom. She will now focus on Utah Valley. People weren’t sure what to make of her. direct-to-consumer sales and sell directly to her customers. It seems like “Older men, businessmen, would come up to me at parties and they a natural fit for an influencer who maintains constant contact with the would say, ‘How much money do you make?’” she recalls. “It was always women who buy from her. “I feel that’s where the future of fashion is,” so awkward. They were asking because they didn’t think mine was a real she says. “I can make the design choices that I want and tailor to what career, they thought it was a side hobby or a game. People didn’t ask my the customer wants, not what the Nordstrom buyers want.” husband that question.” She takes a breath. “This might be the worst decision in a pandemic, Parcell’s husband, Drew, who worked in insurance, stopped being but I gotta keep moving forward.” mildly embarrassed about her taking photos of herself for the internet,
MAY 2021 23
THE FORESTS THAT WON’T GROW BACK FORESTS IN THE WEST ARE ADAPTED TO FIRE, BUT HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF ACRES THAT BURNED IN MASSIVE WILDFIRES MAY NEVER RETURN BY SO FIA JEREMIAS
hen jonathan coop was 4 years old, he watched ash rain down from the sky. The year was 1977, and a fire was burning on the Pajarito Plateau, canyon country in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. From his backyard in Los Alamos, Coop saw a plume of smoke rise from the mesa just outside of town. The paradigm of forest ecology had yet to shift when he explored these charred forests in his youth. Fire was destructive, but eventually the trees grew back. The ponderosa pines that dominate the dry landscape of the Southwest, trees that were adapted to flame, would drop their seeds, and ash would make way for saplings. But after decades of fire suppression and warming temperatures, growth after destruction is no longer a guarantee. The fire that burned through the Pajarito Plateau during Coop’s childhood wasn’t the last. The Dome Fire came in 1996, then the Oso Complex in ’98, the Cerro Grande in 2000 and the Las Conchas in 2011, which consumed over 150,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire the state had seen at the time. Spring signals warmer weather, and the beginning of fire season. Much of the West is contending with widespread “extreme” to “exceptional” drought conditions, and the National Interagency Fire Center is predicting “above normal significant fire potential” across the region. It is not a question of if forests will burn this year, but which ones, and how badly. Coop is now an ecologist living in western Colorado, and he researches what the impacts of repeated and intense wildfires like the ones that ignited in the Jemez Mountains could mean for the future of forests in the West.
24 DESERET MAGAZINE
He’s finding the forests of his childhood won’t grow back in his lifetime, maybe not ever. “It would take hundreds of years for old trees to grow back in those areas. But increasingly, we think there’s really not much hope those forests will ever come back,” he says. The scars in the Jemez Mountains are just some of many that have burned deep and wide in the forests of the West in the last decade. From the Sierra Nevadas of California to the boreal forest of Alaska, fires have been
SPRING SIGNALS WARMER WEATHER, AND THE BEGINNING OF FIRE SEASON. IT’S NOT A QUESTION OF IF FORESTS WILL BURN THIS YEAR, BUT WHICH ONES, AND HOW BADLY.
consuming ever larger chunks of land and trees. While fire is an important part of life in many forests, the combination of hotter, drier temperatures and bigger, more frequent and severe blazes has scientists concerned that trees burned down may never grow back, giving way to invasive grasslands and shrubs that thrive in the new conditions. This shift in ecology could have a wide range of impacts, from the economic to the psychological.
Scientists like Coop are increasingly asking a once impossible question: What if the forests don’t grow back?
In many forests across the West, fire plays an important role in the ecosystem. When high-severity wildfires rip through patches of slender lodgepole pines, their pine cones open and release seeds when temperatures reach between 113 to 122 degrees. Ponderosa pines, giant sequoias and even Douglas firs are also adapted to lower severity fires. But scientists are now seeing that decades of fire suppression leaving an abundance of fuel on the forest floor have resulted in massive, high-severity fires that take out tens of thousands of acres of vegetation are becoming more frequent. In the Southwest, ponderosa pines and dry mix conifer forests historically experienced a lot of fire, Coop explained. The blazes were mainly low in severity and effectively removed brush and dead debris that, when allowed to build up for decades, would otherwise result in the massive fires the West is now contending with. A warming climate is also amplifying the long-term devastation. When large, highseverity fires burn in warmer and drier forests, more trees are killed and the seeds that would spawn new life wiped out. While ponderosa pines are adapted to fire, their seeds are also heavy and don’t travel great distances — maybe a 100-meter radius at most. Those conditions make regeneration improbable when tens of thousands of acres of forest are decimated.“Even if seed sources are present, P HOTO GRA P HY BY PASCAL SHI R LEY
th e l a k e ta h o e f o r e st, c a l i f o r n i a . 2 0 2 0
MAY 2021 25
26 DESERET MAGAZINE
MAY 2021 27
the post-fire climate conditions are becoming increasingly dry and warm, and there’s a reduced probability that seeds can turn into seedlings and young trees,” says Sean Parks, a Forest Service ecologist who has worked with Coop. Once fire occurs, surviving seeds become saplings, but if another fire burns through the same area a year or two later, nothing but white ash streaks the forest floor. New life and future seed sources are obliterated. Parks and Coop point to the Jemez Mountains as a prime example of the shifts that occur with constant reburns. “We are seeing a lot of fires burning in California, and in Arizona, and New Mexico and even up here in Montana, where I am,” Parks says. “In some cases, we’re seeing recovery back to the pre-fire forest conditions. But in some cases, we’re not.” Instead, a process known as forest conversion kicks in, where shrubs and grasslands take over land that was once dominated by trees. On one research trip to northern New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains, Parks couldn’t believe trees had once grown in the area now overrun with New Mexico locusts, a fire-loving shrub with small pink flowers and thorns that can draw blood. “I’d be like, are you sure there was a forest here before? Because there was no evidence of it,” Parks recalls. Coop said there are now tens of thousands of acres in the eastern Jemez Mountain range that don’t have a single tree on them. In a paper published in BioScience, researchers estimated that the combination of fire and climate change could reduce forests in the Sierra Nevadas by 5.8% and between 1.6%-15.1% in the Intermountain West. The Southwest is particularly at risk — where already hotter and drier conditions are getting more extreme, and the authors estimated that up to 30% of forests could be at risk of wildfireinduced conversion. The loss of forest not only has a profound cultural impact on the people who love and call these landscapes home, but it also has the potential to impact watersheds, industries reliant on timber and tourism-reliant economies.
The impacts of forest conversion on the communities that rely on and love the disappearing trees remains an open question. “What does it mean in terms of loss, not to just have a small amount of area burned, but half your state?” asks Amanda Cravens, 28 DESERET MAGAZINE
a research social scientist at the Fort Collins Science Center in Colorado. “We’re starting to ask that. We don’t have answers yet because it’s in the process of happening.” There are four groups that will be impacted by forest conversion, Cravens says: resource users (everyone from cattle ranchers to ski touring companies), the communities surrounding a burned forest, land managers and the wider public that has an emotional attachment to the land. “You might see fewer tourists visiting an area, or ranchers who have grazing permits in a forest might not be able to rely on that area for feeding livestock,” Cravens says. While the economic impact is the most obvious, she’s also interested in emotional and psychological impacts: What happens to our sense of place when a ponderosa pine forest turns to grassland? “If something burns overnight, and then it’s very slowly regenerating, it’s created this new ecological reality very quickly,” Cravens says. “And that’s challenging for someone to adapt to because their expectations don’t have time to adapt.” Anne Bradley, forest program director for The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico, also thinks about the emotional impact that comes with losing forests. “If you had a favorite forest, people mourn the changes,” she says. She also grew up in Los Alamos and explored the Jemez Mountains. Many of the meaningful forests she used to hike as a kid are no longer there. “A lot of places in the West have now had their seminal fire, the one that really opened their eyes to how bad the situation is,” Bradley says. For New Mexico, that was the Las Conchas fire in 2011. Before Las Conchas, Bradley’s work mainly focused on reintroducing prescribed burns to restore lower-intensity fires as part of the ecosystem and reducing fuel loads built up by intentional fire suppression. Now she works on replanting burned areas where natural reforestation is unlikely to occur. Forest conversion can impact the watershed, resulting in destructive mudslides, and change the shape of stream channels, Bradley says. These are just a few of the reasons reforestation efforts are important. However, the acres burned in the Jemez Mountains were vast, and the continued threat of wildfire means years of progress could be wiped out in a matter of days. “We’re just behind the curve,” Bradley said. “We have to work faster to replant, and we have
to reduce fire risk everywhere, as fast we can.” The Nature Conservancy has been strategically replanting trees. Rather than planting rows that would quickly spread fire, it’s been planting islands, or pods, of trees that would confine the destruction to one patch of trees. It’s considering what rising temperatures could mean for certain species, and choosing seeds that will thrive in a harsher environment. Seedlings come from an experimental nursery in Mora, New Mexico, about a twohour drive east of Los Alamos. “We know what we need to do,” said Owen Burney, who runs the nursery in Mora and is a professor at New Mexico State University. “We just do not have the funding or resources to do what we need to do in terms of preemptively preventing or managing these fires.” Burney is the second-largest seedling producer in the Four Corners area and is currently producing about 100,000 seedlings per year, but has the capacity to produce up to 300,000. “Which is nothing,” Burney scoffed. “That’ll hardly cover 2,000 acres.” He estimates up to a billion seedlings would be needed to reforest about 4 million acres in New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado alone. “The way I look at it is humans have already put their finger in the pond and created the ripple, the force that we see now is our fault. We suppressed fire. We mismanaged these forests. The density is our fault,” Burney said. “So as a result, it is our responsibility to put it back on the right trajectory.” But the target is moving as more land goes up in flames each year. The seedling capacity and resources needed to reforest is nowhere near what it would need to be to truly offset the forests disappearing each year. Back in Colorado, Coop tries to accept the change. “I think I’ve almost come to terms with it,” he says. Some of the forests he grew up wandering are now grassland. Different species are thriving where ponderosa pines once grew. He reminisces about the tassel-eared squirrel, “the most charismatic squirrel,” that thrives in old-growth ponderosa pines. He talks about the amount of time it took for these forests to grow, and how a fire like the Las Conchas quickly altered the landscape seemingly overnight. He’s not completely jaded. The ponderosa pines are an amazing species. “It’s not the end of the world, but it can feel like the end of the world,” Coop said. It’s just the end of the world as we knew it.
MAY 2021 29
LETTERS FROM THE FIELD
WI-FI, INTERRUPTED HOW TRIBES IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ARE CLOSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE BY SO FIA JEREMIAS
determines whether or not children can attend school, parents can work n a remote corner of Northern California, class at Jack Norton and and local governments can function. Orleans elementary schools has been taking place on paper. Virtual Tired of waiting for companies to build the fiber-optic cables or towschool is not an option for many of the Humboldt County families livers necessary to make broadband accessible to their community, the three ing along the Klamath River, which is a main means of transportation tribes have been taking matters into their own hands, becoming their own for some. internet service providers, and using grants and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Teachers assemble two weeks worth of work into packets, and stuand Economic Security Act funding to doggedly exdents come and pick them up. pand infrastructure. If families don’t show up, teachers drive down “The tribes are having to do this out of necessiHighway 169, a two-lane road that snakes along ty, because the providers have been getting fundthe Klamath River, taking detours up winding dirt ing to do these build-outs and never have,” said roads to deliver their two-dimensional classroom. Jessica Engle, the information technology director Kids who have internet access can attend one hour for the Yurok Tribe. of instruction on Zoom (even in the town of Or“HAVING INTERNET leans, where broadband exists, it’s not fast enough ACCESS IS A LUXURY, AND WHEN to support an entire household’s internet needs). YOU GET MORE Class is staggered, with each grade receiving one RURAL THAT LUXURY hour of instruction. GOES AWAY.” Karen Cole, the principal of the two schools, The digital divide has been a problem for years in the mentions that her sister, a teacher in Eugene, OreUnited States, especially on tribal lands, where the gon, has been able to provide four hours of instrucfederal government has a history of failing to deliver tion each day via Zoom. on its promises. In the contiguous U.S., only 56.9% “She says, ‘My kids are learning.’ But we don’t of tribal lands had access to high-speed internet as of have that luxury. So we’re kind of piecing togeth2018, according to a recent report from the Institute er a program that can be kind of virtual, kind of for Local Self-Reliance. on your own,” says Cole, who also has friends along the coast, in other The tribal governments in Northern California face a unique set of towns, other states, where remote schooling has been viable, thanks to challenges in providing that service. internet access. Many areas still do not have access to electricity, although the Yurok The region where Cole works is home to three Native American have been working to build infrastructure for that as well. “A good sectribes: the Karuk, Yurok and Hoopa. And while the topography of the tion of the reservation just got power,” Engle said. “And there are still region is beautiful, it also poses a problem to the viability of a crucial homes without power. Our HR director is just outside of where the utility in the modern age: internet access. power lines went to. So their home is completely on generator power, Like many rural areas in the United States, communities along the which is not unusual for tribal homes.” Klamath River have struggled to get internet. Providing broadband Engle said providers of internet service have to consider everything to sparsely populated regions, where there are rolling landscapes and from lack of widespread power sources to geography to wildfires, which patchworks of protected lands, is costly. have become all too frequent in California. But as the pandemic hit California and life moved online, the necesFor example, the Yurok Tribe is currently relying on towers to prosity of a digital connection became more apparent. Internet access now vide broadband to some areas. But when redwood trees grow taller,
30 DESERET MAGAZINE
P HOTO GRA P HY BY PASCAL SHI R LEY
WALTER HOFFMAN WAS BORN AND RAISED IN KLAMATH, CALIFORNIA. HE NOW IS THE BROADBAND COORDINATOR FOR YUROK CONNECT AND BRINGS THE INTERNET TO MANY LOCALS WHO HAVE NEVER HAD IT BEFORE.
MAY 2021 31
TSUNAMI TOWER BRINGS INTERNET TO KLAMATH GLEN, A NEIGHBORHOOD ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE KLAMATH RIVER.
32 DESERET MAGAZINE
TOP: LOCAL ART IN KLAMATH. BOTTOM: YUROK TRIBE KLAMATH OFFICE AND TOWN CENTER.
MAY 2021 33
THE KLAMATH RIVER AS SEEN FROM REQUA, CALIFORNIA. THE MOUTH OF THE KLAMATH AND OTHER SECTIONS OF THE RIVER ARE SUSCEPTIBLE TO TSUNAMI SURGES, WHICH INTERFERE WITH THE INTERNET CONNECTION.
34 DESERET MAGAZINE
MAY 2021 35
36 DESERET MAGAZINE
TOP LEFT: CHILDREN PLAY AT A PUBLIC PARK IN HUNTER CREEK, JUST NORTH OF THE TOWN OF KLAMATH, CALIFORNIA. YUROK CONNECT SERVICES THIS AREA. BOTTOM LEFT: THE KLAMATH BRIDGE GOLDEN BEAR IS SHOWN WITH A PASSING LOGGING TRUCK. THIS BRIDGE WAS BUILT AFTER THE ORIGINAL BRIDGE WAS SWEPT AWAY BY FLOODING IN 1964.
they can block the point-to-point signal. Most of the towers are off the grid, powered by solar energy and equipped with a backup generator. The source of their broadband connection also can present problems: It comes from Crescent City, a city farther north on the coast, and is transmitted 18 miles through the air over the sea to a tower on the reservation. A particularly heavy rain and high waves can interfere with the connection on the reservation. “There’s a lot about broadband and how it relates to power and the reasons why providers haven’t been doing build-outs,” Engle said in a phone interview. She understands why companies have been reticent to undertake a costly and difficult infrastructure process. At the same time, Engle said those companies have received a good share of incentives and offsets from state and federal funds to do just that, “but they invested into the areas that are most populated, which is not the rural areas.” A few private companies own and operate the majority of broadband infrastructure, according to a Brookings Institute 2020 report on the importance of digital prosperity. The authors of the report note that a lack of financial incentive is the primary obstacle to providing Wi-Fi access to sparsely populated areas. “If private business calculations and risk assessments suggest their investments will not lead to a return for their public or private shareholders, then it’s the business’ fiduciary duty to not invest in those places.” There are federal incentives for companies to build in less profitable, more rural areas, but these programs can be difficult to enforce. A spokesperson for Frontier Communications, one of the companies that received funding through the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund and missed some of its deadlines, wrote via email that “Under FCC rules, Frontier has until Dec. 31, 2021, to finish construction,” and that the process had “been significantly affected by previous permitting delays on tribal lands and the numerous logistical challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including local government lockdowns, curfews and state and tribal office closures.” States also have grants and special funds designated for broadband expansion, as well as tax deductions. But like so many massive infrastructure projects, it takes a lot of money to truly fix the problem. Some broadband expansion funds were included in the recently signed American Rescue Plan, which provides $94 billion toward expanding internet access, according to The Washington Post. And while new sources of funding may help Americans in the future, for now, many in rural areas have had to endure the pandemic without access.
Rather than be entirely subject to the conflicting constraints and uncertainties of private businesses, tribal governments in the Humboldt County area have been working for the past decade on solving the problem of internet access themselves. The Karuk Tribe launched its own internet service provider called Áan Chúuphan (which translates to “talking line”) in 2015. The tribe built a tower to serve Orleans, an unincorporated community on the Klamath River, using funds granted through the U.S. Depart-
ment of Agriculture Rural Development Community Connect Program. “That’s providing very, very basic internet service to the community. It’s still not considered high speed by the modern standards, but it’s better than what they had,” said Eric Cutright, the chief information officer for the Karuk Tribe. “We want to increase the speeds to get it closer to what you can get in the cities, and we want to build in some redundancy to the system. Because out in the national forest, we have forest fires, we have floods, we have rock slides” that can take down traditional lines easily. While they’ve been able to provide service in some areas, many homes and buildings are still without Wi-Fi. Engle and Cutright are also frank about the shortcomings of the current system. “The speeds that you get in Orleans are what people used to get in the ’90s,” Cutright said. That’s why the Karuk and Yurok tribes have partnered to work on a more ambitious project: the Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative, which would run 104 miles of fiber-optic cable through northern Humboldt County. They hope it will provide broadband service to over 600 households and 170 businesses, government offices and health care facilities. “We’re trying to serve people that have just been left behind,” Cutright said. “The problems that these rural communities face are almost always the same. We’re always lacking the infrastructure.” The initiative would also build more towers and potentially merge the services offered by the two tribes into one entity. They’re currently in the environmental assessment stage of the project and hope that by 2023 service will be up and running. Meantime, the need for the service is immediate. The Karuk Tribe has been working on upgrades that allow more people to get service, such as installing repeaters (devices that amplify signals), and building up the towers whose signals have been obscured by maturing redwood trees — efforts that have improved service in the town of Orleans, but still leave those outside of the current range out of luck. Meeting those immediate needs will have far-reaching consequences. “We’re doing the best we can with distance learning, but how much are they really getting from their packets? And their one hour with their teacher?” Cole, the principal for Orleans and Jack Norton, asked. The lack of internet has also meant a lack of connection between teachers and the kids they teach. Cole worries about kids falling behind on reading and math skills. She wonders what standardized testing results will reveal, and if they’ll be penalized for them. “It’s hard for teachers to do their classes, because everyone’s internet is lagging at the same time. Kids get frustrated because they can’t hear their teacher; parents get frustrated because they don’t know what to do,” Alma Bickford, the education director for the Karuk Tribe, explained. With the help of CARES Act money, Bickford’s department set up a bookmobile that also provides Wi-Fi access. They drove the vehicle up and down the river, handing out free books and giving locals a chance to connect to Wi-Fi. But a staffer got COVID-19, and they had to pause. “We’re still behind. It’s still hard, you still have people who are doing packet work, not coming to town, or they don’t have enough money to afford the service of Wi-Fi, because that is a luxury when you really think about it,” Bickford said. “Having internet access is a luxury, and when you get more rural that luxury goes away.” MAY 2021 37
ILLUSTRATIONS BY CRAIG FRAZIER
MAY 2021 39
BATTLE CRY FOR A POST-TRUMP GOP THE
THE PARTY’S OWN HISTORY OFFERS A PATH FORWARD
BY PETER WEHNER
The most intriguing and perplexing political issue confronting the
United States right now is the current state and future of the Republican Party. It has changed as dramatically and as quickly as perhaps any previous major party in American history. It is fundamentally different in political philosophy, tone and temperament than it was only a short time ago. There are many ways to measure how much things have changed, but here is just one: Mitt Romney. A man of obvious personal integrity, he went from being the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, widely respected and fairly popular with the base, to today being something of a persona non grata among many within his own party, even being accosted by people who likely once voted for him. Romney hasn’t changed; the Republican Party has. It would be easy to point to former President Donald Trump as the only reason why, but the forces that drove these changes were in motion long before Trump rode down the escalator in 2015 to announce his presidential campaign. Trump’s bid coincided with populist elements that were once on the edge of the GOP but were suddenly moving to its center. Trump seized the moment. Once he won the nomination — and especially after he won the presidency — a transformation of the GOP was inevitable. Yet even as Trump embodies today’s iteration of the Republican Party, the party’s own history suggests he need not be the party’s future. Time and circumstance can yet move Republicans in new directions. But rejuvenating the party will depend on examples of leadership, vision and a base ready to reembrace conservatism’s highest ideals.
The Republican Party has an impressive, admirable and even inspiring story. It was founded by former members of the Whig Party in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854, in order to stop the spread of slavery into the Western territories. Six years later it nominated Abraham Lincoln, the greatest president America has produced. The Republican Party has estimable achievements it can claim, 40 DESERET MAGAZINE
including the Emancipation Proclamation, school desegregation, conservation, the interstate highway system, a broad revision of the federal income tax and defeating the Soviet empire. In recent decades, Republicans have stood up for the rights of the unborn, religious freedom and a textualist judicial philosophy. GOP leaders confronted dictators abroad and defended core institutions at home. Republicans spoke about America as an open, dynamic society. They were unembarrassed to talk about the blessings of liberty and limited government; about virtue, the importance of character (including in our political leaders) and cultural renewal. And as the 1980 GOP party platform put it, Republicans “treasure the ethnic, cultural, and regional diversity of our people. This diversity fosters a dynamism in American society that is the envy of the world.” As a young man interested in politics, I was drawn to this Republican Party. The first vote I cast was in 1980 for Ronald Reagan, inspired as I was by his vision for America and his political and philosophical commitments. I went on to serve in his administration, in the George H.W. Bush administration and as a senior adviser in the George W. Bush White House. For most of my adult life, then, I’ve been a loyal Republican, having spent more than a decade working on behalf of Republican causes and Republican presidents. During that period, the GOP was hardly perfect. There were always rogue politicians and fringe elements. But party leaders — including presidential nominees — worked to tame and integrate those elements without succumbing to them. That has changed, and over a couple of decades some troubling mental habits have come to dominate a party to which I have devoted much of my professional life. The politics of theatrics and entertainment — what the Roman poet Juvenal referred to as “bread and circuses” for the masses — has replaced a commitment to serious governing and policy ideas aimed at problem-solving. “(Republicans) are drenched in distaste for the actual practice of politics,” a leading conservative thinker told me a few years
ago. He noted “an unspoken sense among conservative activists in particular that the activity of governing is somehow illegitimate.” This corresponds with a widespread and corrosive — albeit occasionally justified — distrust of core institutions from academia and the media to government and the scientific community. The late Rush Limbaugh dubbed these the “Four Corners of Deceit.” As institutional mistrust has grown, several other trends gained strength. In the 1980s and 1990s, Newt Gingrich modeled a certain approach to politics that was belligerent, Manichean and helped partisanship become synonymous with blood sport. Over time, the Republican Party became increasingly characterized by cultural grievance, a sense of victimhood and a siege mentality. This was precipitated, in part, by massive economic and technological transformations as well as significant demographic and cultural shifts. In addition, a lot of conservatives have understandably felt patronized and dismissed by progressive elite culture. Former President Barack Obama said the working class “cling to guns or religion” and Hillary Clinton casually tossed “half ” of Trump supporters into the infamous “basket of deplorables.” In 2016, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild, whose book “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” documented her journey deep into conservative country, Louisiana, told me that a key to understanding tea party and later Trump voters was that many felt “dishonored” and “disrespected” by those in power. They saw in Trump a warrior to battle on their behalf, someone who would bring a gun to a cultural knife fight. If you listened to talk radio during the late 2000s and into the 2010s, you would have detected a shift from the traditional conservative vs. liberal binary to an establishment vs. anti-establishment one. You were almost as likely to hear talk radio hosts vent about then-Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as Democrat Obama. There was also desperation, even existential fear, among many Republican voters that their country was beginning to be taken from them. Michael Anton’s much-discussed essay “The Flight 93 Election,” drew an analogy between passengers storming the cockpit of the hijacked 9/11 plane (Flight 93) and the 2016 election. “There are no guarantees,” Anton writes in the essay. “Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.” A poll earlier this year asked voters if they think the goal of politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the country’s survival as we know it.” Only a quarter of Republicans said politics is about policy; nearly half said it’s about survival.
These, then, were some of the tributaries that created a roiling political river. It is often said that Trump orchestrated a “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party. The better way to understand it is that Trump was the manifestation rather than the cause; that the party was changing before Trump declared his candidacy, and, seeing an opening that few perceived, he was able to take advantage of it.
Over time, as his power grew, he shaped the Republican Party more and more into his image. If it is to change, however, it will demand a new vision rooted in ideas that can unite right-leaning Americans and channel the passions of the base toward just ends. It’s worth recalling that in the 2016 GOP primary, Trump faced an accomplished field of 16 competitors — a libertarian, social conservatives, sitting and former governors, sitting and former senators, a neurosurgeon and a business leader. But within a month of entering the contest he was leading in the polls. He won 10 of the first 15 contests, and he never looked back. His nomination was never really in doubt. What Trump was selling, Republican primary voters were eagerly buying. No one could say that they didn’t know what they were getting with Trump. For all his flaws — and there are many — he never sought to conceal them. Trump repeatedly stated that he wouldn’t change his approach. In this one area at least, Trump fully kept his word. On policy, the GOP under Trump looked different than it has in the past in its attitude toward trade, deficits and the debt, limited government and reforming entitlement programs, and in America’s posture toward adversaries like North Korea and Russia and its NATO allies. During the Trump presidency, the Republican Party became more protectionist, more isolationist, more hostile to immigrants. But Trump’s most profound imprint on the Republican Party is in affect, in disposition, in temperament. Republicans, time and again, accommodated themselves to Trump’s corruptions; as a result, they became complicit in them. By the end of the Trump administration much of the Republican Party was animated by cultural and class resentments, gripped by fear and implicated in Trump’s brand of politics. In some cases Republicans have been led down strange and dark paths. For example, nearly 30% of Republicans believe the fantastical claims by QAnon that “Donald Trump has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.” It’s no surprise that with the help of powerful Republicans like Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right conspiracy theorist, was elected to the House of Representatives. “They just legitimized a person that used tactics I would say 10 years ago, even five years ago, would have been abhorrent to the Republican Party,” Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration, observed. “But … they know they can’t condemn that behavior because they know the base loves it.”
Despite his loss on Nov. 3, the Republican Party is Trump’s party. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans in mid-February was more than 80%. In the same poll, 53% of Republicans said they would vote for the former president if the primary were held today. All the other Republican hopefuls are polling in the low single digits, besides Mike Pence, who received 12%. In a recent interview, Sen. Romney said Trump has “by far the largest voice and a big impact in my party.” “I expect he will continue playing a role. I don’t know if he’ll run in MAY 2021 41
42 DESERET MAGAZINE
THOSE WHO WANT THE REPUBLICAN PARTY TO GO IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION THAN THE ONE TRUMP HAS TAKEN IT ARE BETTING ON A GOP COMMITTED TO AN ASPIRATIONAL AMERICAN CONSERVATIVISM — A NEW NARRATIVE THAT CAPTURES PEOPLE’S HEARTS AND IMAGINATIONS. BUT CAN A POSITIVE, PLURALISTIC VISION OF CONSERVATISM REALLY CATCH ON?
2024 or not,” Romney said. “But if he does, I’m pretty sure he will win the nomination.” For his part, Trump has already said he’s eyeing another bid. Polls show that anywhere from 68% to 75% of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen from him. (Trump’s own administration found that “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.”) And despite Trump’s role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, three-quarters of Republicans say that they would like to see Trump play a prominent role in the Republican Party. Nearly 90% say Trump was not responsible for violence against the government, despite the Republican leader of the Senate, McConnell, stating, “There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” When it comes to demonstrating Trump’s hold on the GOP, as important as polling data is, this may be more telling: Several prominent Republicans who were critical of Trump in the immediate aftermath of the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6 have walked back their criticisms. Republicans who voted to impeach and convict Trump have not only been targeted by the Republican base and booed at conservative gatherings, in several cases they have been censured by their own state parties, and in the case of Rep. Adam Kinzinger, attacked by members of his own family for having joined “the devil’s army.”
The devotion of the GOP base to Trump right now is so strong, so complete, that even the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 hasn’t materially impacted his influence on the party. While Trump may no longer be president, what defines the GOP today is Trump. But this could change with the passage of time. Trump is permanently banned from Twitter, he’s under criminal investigation and the 74-year-old is no longer commanding the attention of the nation like he did when he was president. It’s possible that by the time Trump decides on whether to announce a second run, a critical swath of the Republican Party will want to move on. Some level of Trump fatigue is likely to set in even among some supporters. Many will defend Trump to their last breath and will express gratitude for what they believe Trump did for them. He championed their causes; he targeted their political adversaries. The ferocity of his politics was exactly what they were looking for. It not only energized them, but it also created a quasi-religious connection to him. But even loyalists may not see another run as prudent. The former president did what he needed to do, they might say, and he did it with gusto; but now it’s time for him to allow others to step forward. The danger for the GOP is that those who hope to succeed Trump could lead the party into even more appalling places, since there are indications from focus groups that post-2020 election, a sizable group
of Trump voters are more inclined to embrace conspiracy theories and they are becoming more, not less, extreme. Importantly, there are several influential figures within the Republican Party who are determined to see the GOP move beyond Trump, and they have this argument on their side: The Republican Party at the national level has been shut out of power after a single Trump term. Today Democrats enjoy a rare double-digit lead over Republicans in party favorable ratings, and a recent Gallup poll found the largest Democratic lead in party affiliation over Republicans in nearly a decade (49% compared to 40%). Those who want the Republican Party to go in a different direction than the one Trump has taken it are betting on a GOP committed to an aspirational American conservativism — a new narrative that captures people’s hearts and imaginations. But can a positive, pluralistic vision of conservatism really catch on? Can Republican voters be won over by a party that promotes economic growth and inclusive prosperity, social mobility and social inclusion, and that reforms broken and badly outdated public institutions? Life is a theater of vicissitudes, as John Adams said, and that’s particularly true of political life. Moments change, people change, and so, too, do parties. The British Labour Party under Tony Blair was transformed from a radical party that was consistently defeated from the late 1970s-early 1990s to a centrist, modernized one that dominated British politics in the middle of the 1990s to the early 2000s. Bill Clinton took a Democratic Party that had been crushed in presidential elections in 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988 and won in 1992 as a “New Democrat.” But what happened to the Labour and Democratic parties three decades ago wasn’t inevitable; it required individuals to rise up and blaze new paths — and it required the parties themselves to be open to change, to welcome it. Right now it’s not at all clear that the base of the Republican Party wants to be de-Trumpified; the question is if and when that moment will arrive, and whether Republicans of stature can accelerate the timeline. Among the most encouraging places to look are Republican governors like Utah’s Spencer Cox and Maryland’s Larry Hogan, who are reform-minded, serious about governing and agreeable. They don’t view politics as a cage match. They’re also quite popular in their home states. A friend once told me it’s fine to be a theoretical pessimist but we should be operational optimists. Men and women who want a better post-Trump Republican Party need to act on the assumption that their efforts will make a difference, and that each individual needs to ask what they can do. The road forward for the GOP starts with leaders and voters who show integrity, act courageously and speak words of truth in the face of political mendacity. It starts with us. Peter Wehner worked in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and was a senior adviser in the George W. Bush White House. MAY 2021 43
NOT DEAD YET THE GOP IS AS STRONG AS EVER — THANKS IN PART TO DONALD TRUMP BY MATT WHITLOCK
In the last few months we’ve seen countless obituaries for the
Grand Old Party. In January, the founder and CEO of the influential website Axios wrote, “Republicans will emerge from the Trump era gutted financially, institutionally, and structurally.” He continued “the losses are stark and substantial,” and “the GOP brand is radioactive for a huge chunk of America.” Republicans did suffer losses, there’s no denying it. While working for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, I was one of many Republican staffers who put a lot of effort into the Georgia runoffs, and the results were heartbreaking. But to quote “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “We’re not dead yet.” In one of the most politically volatile environments in decades, in which top political handicappers projected Republicans would lose between seven and 12 Senate seats, Republicans held the line at 50. Leaders like Susan Collins, Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis defied projections and held on. In the House, Republicans were projected to have a catastrophic election cycle, with Cook Political Report predicting that Democrats would expand their majority by 10 to 15 seats. Instead, Republicans made critical gains, making the Republican House minority so narrow it could very well become a majority in 2022. Republicans currently control a majority of governors’ mansions (27 to 23), and state legislative chambers (61 to 37). And, in the last four years, the GOP made major gains confirming Republican-appointed judges to circuit and district courts around the country, including, most importantly, a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Those who predicted that former President Donald Trump and his brand would be the death of the Republican Party were proven wrong, and the diverse class of new Republican elected officials — many of whom were elected alongside him on the ballot — are one key proof point. The reality is that Trump received over 74 million votes in November — more than any past president in history, and more than any other Republican has ever received. Some were voting for conservative policy, some were voting against Democrats, and many showed up specifically
44 DESERET MAGAZINE
because they supported Trump. Some in the party have suggested Republicans can simply forge ahead without Trump’s voters or supporters. From a purely mathematical and political perspective, that makes little sense. The president has left a strong blueprint for a winning coalition. If a leader were able to garner the base support Trump commanded, particularly with rural and working class voters, while adopting a more measured approach to governing and a consistent leadership posture to win back the support of suburban voters, they could be a dominant political force in the modern Republican Party. One factor political analysts have consistently underestimated in discussing the Republican Party’s demise is the uniting power of Democrat overreach. In 2008, former President Barack Obama swept into office with overwhelming majorities — at one point a 20 seat majority in the Senate and a 60 seat majority in the House. The unified Democratic government claimed a mandate to pass major stimulus and the Affordable Care Act on Democratic party lines. As a result, in 2010 Republicans took back the House, and Democrats suffered the highest losses by a party in a House midterm since 1938. Republicans also gained six seats in the Senate, well on their way to retaking the majority four years later. In 2020, President Joe Biden arrived in office with the narrowest majorities in decades in both the House and Senate, but is attempting to claim a mandate even larger than Obama. While he ran on a platform of unity, he very quickly ceded leadership and governing responsibilities to the most liberal voices in his administration and in Congress to fundamentally transform our democracy in one-sided, partisan ways that will benefit donors and supporters, but leave so many Americans in the cold. One of Biden’s first moves in office was canceling the Keystone XL Pipeline. With one swipe of the pen he ended thousands of jobs and hurt the nation’s struggling economy. And consider the Biden “infrastructure” bill. continues on page 82
APRIL MAY 2021 45
46 DESERET MAGAZINE
DR E A M S HE
CAR R I E D B R E N T TA Y L O R WA S C E L E B R AT E D A S A S M A L L -T O W N M AY O R W H O K E P T R E T U R N I N G T O WA R Z O N E S . N E A R LY T H R E E Y E A R S A F T E R H I S D E AT H — A N D A S T H E U. S . C O M M I T S T O W I T H D R AW I N G A L L T R O O P S F R O M A F G H A N I S TA N — H E S TA N D S O U T A S S O M E T H I N G A LT O G E T H E R D I F F E R E N T BY CHAD NIELSEN
MAY 2021 47
HE FAST-WALKS through rolling, dun-colored
foothills below a solitary ridgeline east of Kabul. Body armor hugs his chest. A heavy ruck jostles against his back, straps chafing his shoulders. At 39, he’s in the best shape of his life, 200 pounds and a sinewy 6-foot-4 — counting his wavy, salt-and-pepper hair. The air is sour with burnt refuse and sweat, but Maj. Brent Taylor keeps flashing a toothsome politician’s grin. Behind him, about 40 Afghan commandos kick up dust. Like every Saturday, they’ve volunteered for this ruck march, a 2.5-mile trot in full kit, with M4s in hand. Brent leads, as usual. He veers off the road, winding over a hill, past some water tanks. His Guardian Angel — a 19-year-old bodyguard fresh out of basic — and his interpreter stay close, but Brent is among friends. Guys tell stories, lean in for selfies and play American music for each other on their phones. Down the hill, a few Afghans take tea at a tiny table beside the path. Brent steps down into a ditch, then back up onto the asphalt road to Camp Scorpion, the warren-like military compound outside Kabul. Far ahead, his blue eyes catch the Hindu Kush mountains, a wall of stone that reminds him of home. A highway rolls into a canyon carved by the Kabul River. Terraced homes climb one hillside as excavators dismantle the other. He doesn’t hear the crack of the bullet.
Utah. North Ogden. February 2021. She gazes at the painting, looking into the eyes of her late husband with his arm around an Afghan comrade’s shoulders. Then she lets the frame fall back in with the other mementos: A khaki baseball cap labeled “COMBAT ADVISOR.” A threadbare volleyball signed by fellow officers. A hand-painted plate from Maceio, Brazil, where Brent served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a young man. More paintings and photographs. They all languish in a storeroom on the second floor of a barn-shaped shed. Brent Taylor, a major in the Utah National Guard, was shot and killed by an Afghan special forces trainee on Nov. 3, 2018. Insider attacks have become commonplace in a conflict now largely defined by training missions, but it is rare for an American officer to be killed at war, much less a father of seven and a small-town mayor with a choirboy persona. The New York Times and Washington Post eulogized him. ABC and Fox tracked his flag-covered casket to Dover Air Force Base. Time, People and Russia Today covered the news. Congressmen mourned him on Twitter and senators honored him in their chamber. An honorary doctorate and a documentary came later. The Salt Lake Tribune named him Utahn of the Year, “an enthusiastic evangelist for democracy.” The war Brent Taylor gave his life for — “America’s Forever War” — is coming to an end: In April, President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of all combat troops from the country by Sept. 11. The Pentagon and Biden’s own military advisers have warned that the Taliban will likely retake the country, despite a peace deal with the previous U.S. administration. That will bring up the inevitable question of what the U.S. accomplished during the longest war in its history, one that has persisted for nearly 20 years, cost over $2 trillion and killed 2,218 American soldiers, with more than 20,000 wounded. Among them, Brent Taylor cuts a poignant figure, not for what he did, but for who he was: an old-fashioned dad, a fatherly mayor, a man of unbending ideals. He believed in this war, as a way to make life better for the Afghan people. Through all his tours — four volunteer deployments in 11 years and two wars — he never veered from the earnest, former missionary he’d always been. Given his zeal for mingling with the locals, playing emissary where it wasn’t required, you could argue that he never really 48 DESERET MAGAZINE
left his church mission at all. Ironically, those good intentions, mixed with a need to prove his worth in war zones, may be what got him killed. But before all that, Brent was a unique individual, a true believer driven by ambition and what he called “enlightened self-interest,” and everywhere he went, a pain in somebody’s keister.
Arizona. Chandler High School. May 1997. A 17-year-old boy steps to the podium, lanky and blond in blue cap and gown. The heat is just bearable after dark, and the graduating class sits in a checkerboard across the football field — boys in blue, girls in white. Brent speaks from the end zone. “I’m inviting you all to a reunion at the White House in the year 2020,” he says, with practiced confidence, “if you’ll give me your vote on the Republican ticket at that time.” A few chuckle; those who know him cheer. Even growing up, Brent’s siblings called him “the president.” Born in Ogden in 1979, he was the second of seven sons, with one younger sister, and the only one who wore a three-piece suit to church and carried a briefcase. He wasn’t into sports, or good at them — his brothers still joke that he was better as a referee — but he loved to read novels and history books. His father worked long hours as a civilian contractor to the military; his mother had her hands full at home. In 1991, the family moved to Chandler, a quiet suburb southeast of Phoenix, where the precocious child grew into an awkward, lovesick teen. He was always in love but never made a move. “I think he was afraid to,” says Justin Owens, a high school friend. Girls liked Brent. He was the funny guy who emceed the school talent show in a late-night talk format. They didn’t like him romantically. “He spoke like a grandfather,” says Audra, now Justin’s wife. In yearbook photos, he stands behind the group or off to the side, looking uncomfortable. But his confidence blossomed when he was in charge. At Chandler High he recruited friends to run for student council on a joint ticket, as “the Dream Team.” It worked, three years in a row. As a senior, Brent became student body president. Obsessed with politics, he did a mean Bill Clinton impression and loved arguing on talk radio, sometimes calling from a bowling alley pay phone between frames. But his ambitions already extended to Washington. “By that point, he’d calculated it out,” Justin says. “He’d mention it twice a day.”
Utah. Brigham Young University. September 2001. On a crisp Tuesday morning, he rushes down a concrete stairwell to the bottom of a leafy hillside. Political Science 201 is canceled; Western political history can wait. Red and gold speckle the trees south of campus, but he hardly notices. His long legs stretch with each hurried step back to his dingy six-man apartment. Inside, black smoke curls from a skyscraper on a grainy television screen. A Boeing 767 smashes into that building’s twin. Brent watches. Over and over — 9/11 has given him something new to obsess about. At 22, a year removed from his church mission, he loves America more than ever. He loved the people of Alagoas, one of Brazil’s poorest states, but not the country. It was always hot, always wet. He walked long miles in rough streets and villages, speaking for his faith, promising hope and salvation. He saw more of the region as the mission president’s roving assistant — helping missionaries to get in line, get to work or be more productive — and came to resent a government he saw as neglecting its own. Still, coming home was hard. Losing that righteous daily cause, that urgency, can leave you hollow. Many returned missionaries gravitate to BYU, to study and live among like-minded folks.
ON FOOT PATROL IN A WADI, OR DRY RIVERBED, DURING HIS 2012 TOUR IN AFGHANISTAN, MAJ. BRENT TAYLOR HOLDS AN M4 RIFLE. A BULLET SHOT FROM THE SAME MODEL WOULD KILL HIM SIX YEARS LATER.
MAY 2021 49
50 DESERET MAGAZINE
MAY 2021 51
ARMORED VEHICLES TRAVEL IN A CONVOY THROUGH KUNDUZ, AFGHANISTAN, IN 2012. STATIONED NEARBY, MAJ. BRENT TAYLOR WOULD FREQUENTLY TRAVERSE THE VIBRANT CITY OF ABOUT 270,000 EN ROUTE TO THE NORTHERN BORDER REGION.
52 DESERET MAGAZINE
SITTING WITH A COLLEAGUE, MAJ. BRENT TAYLOR TIES FLIES FOR FLY-FISHING DURING HIS 2012 DEPLOYMENT TO NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN.
MAY 2021 53
They come for an education and often leave married, with a child or two. Brent transferred in that summer from Mesa Community College. He’s still plotting his future: majoring in political science, prepping for law school, founding the BYU Constitution Club and refusing to drive over the speed limit, because how will that ticket look in the campaign? He lives in a world with no room for mistakes. When his roommate makes the Young Ambassadors, a musical theater troupe, Brent takes a blind date to see him perform. She seems like a perfect match — tall, willowy, smart and patriotic, just back from a mission in Chile — but the night is a disaster. On another night, after a church fireside with friends, Brent and Jennie finally bond over ice cream and how much they both love America. Later, after their first real date, he can’t contain himself. Jumping off the apartment wall, pumping his fist. “I kissed her,” he cries. Finally, his first kiss. “And I’m gonna do it again!” With Jennie’s backing, Brent meets with an Army recruiter. The new couple spend months poring over charts and diagrams, potential career paths that lead to the Oval Office. But after the U.S. invades Iraq in March 2003, it’s decided. Brent proposes that June. Days later, the pair walk hand in hand into the National Guard headquarters.
Iraq. FOB Q-West. August 2007. Nothing ever moves fast enough. The convoy crawls south, 90 semis and 10 gun trucks, inching through the night at 20 mph. In a Humvee near the lead, 2nd Lt. Taylor, 28, scans the broad highway for fresh potholes or Christmas lights — signs of IEDs — and watches the minutes tick by on a GPS screen. It’s his job to get his platoon safely through Mosul, a growing insurgent stronghold, under cover of darkness, and they’re lagging. The sun rises as they roll into the city. Shops open and people gawk from the sidewalks. Brent snaps photos of the Walls of Nineveh, a biblical landmark he hasn’t seen on previous drives. Then the radio crackles: “Uh, sir, we’re definitely on the wrong route.” Four years in, the war looks as wild as ever on the ground. Utah’s 116th Engineer Company is running convoy security north of Baghdad, one of many National Guard specialist units taking up conventional infantry missions. The military is stretched thin, with two wars and now “the surge.” As the eponymous strategy to pacify Iraq through overwhelming numbers pushes insurgents north, they’re regrouping in Mosul. Brent joined the 116th fresh out of officer school in 2007. He lobbied to lead his platoon in the field, rather than from a desk. Each mission is a slog: dusk to dawn, 250 miles round-trip from Forward Operating Base Qayyarah Airfield West to Turkey’s Habur Gate. Only rarely does a roadside bomber blow himself up, or the platoon stumbles onto a friendly-fire incident. Today is a grand exception. An IED explodes somewhere behind him along the 3-mile convoy. A major who’s driving Brent’s Humvee offers to take charge. “Like hell you will,” Brent thinks, though it’s just his third mission in command. Another bomb goes off. Gunshots echo off the walls. His men wonder if this is how they die. On the radio, Brent assures them that he knows where they are and how to get out. It’s a necessary lie, but he prays he can make it right, as he pores over the GPS screen. Snaking through the old city, past a bombed-out bridge he’d hoped to cross, somehow he gets them back onto the highway, where they hit another IED before limping home. It’s a disaster. As convoy commander, he knows it could derail his career. But despite Brent’s use of an off-limits “black route” through the city — and 20 vehicles damaged and six soldiers wounded — a lieutenant colonel praises his poise in getting his unit out of a bad situation. Later, Brent calls the trip “my finest hour as a leader.” If nothing else, he never gets lost again. 54 DESERET MAGAZINE
On base, he sticks to wholesome pastimes, playing Halo and indoor soccer. He runs church services on Sundays and calls Jennie from a bank of phones. He makes his CHU — containerized housing unit — a home. He plants a miniature flag in a jug filled with dirt he carried from Camp Shelby, labeled “U.S. Soil,” and he recites the Pledge of Allegiance in front of it each morning. He hangs family photos — Megan is 2, Lincoln 6 months old — along with inspirational quotes and cutouts from religious magazines. Just like he did on his church mission. “My choice of decorations was very different from my men,” he writes later, as “a straight-leg Mormon and not ashamed of it.” His main focus seems to be bucking for an early promotion. In the National Guard, officers must serve 24 months to be eligible. Brent started asking back in Utah about nine months in. He tried again in August, asking Jennie to forward all the “Brent is great memos” from his computer at home. Even with support from his chain of command, his third attempt, in March 2008, still falls short. An incident that January becomes an opportunity. A few rebellious soldiers strip and run circles around their Humvee at a checkpoint, to protest the command climate. Brent gives their platoon leader an ultimatum: Report this or I will. She refuses. The ensuing shakeup leaves him as company XO, or executive officer. His duties are administrative, but he steps in when the commanding officer goes on leave, leading a humanitarian mission to local villages and sending photos home. “You look so handsome when you’re in charge of something :),” Jennie writes. “Honestly, it’s too bad you haven’t been in command all along.”
Utah. Salt Lake City International Airport. April 2008. The plane door opens and a crowd erupts, moms and wives, sons and daughters waving flags and holding up posters Jennie helped them make. She forces a smile under a shock of red hair. As the soldiers of the 116th file onto the tarmac and shake the general’s hand, she hands them gift bags, and another woman gives each a yellow rose. There’s no rose for Brent today. She tries to laugh off the “curveball” he threw her by extending his deployment, but she’s reeling. Still, as a partner in Brent’s career, she remains encouraging. A chance encounter in a Green Zone lunchroom netted him a job offer as an adviser to a new Iraqi intelligence agency. Jennie sees a light, a higher reason to live without him. “You would be CRAZY not to pursue this,” she writes, “as only Brent Taylor knows how to pursue things!” She’s not bad at that herself. Raised in North Ogden, she grew up, like Brent, serious beyond her years, committed to doing something important with her life — or at least pitching in wherever she happened to be. She took a break from college to serve a mission in Chile, where she became one of the first female missionaries ever sent to Easter Island, 2,340 miles offshore. She graduated from BYU in 2003, while she and Brent were dating, and started graduate school at Utah State while he was at basic training, earning a master’s in education. He was at ROTC camp when she told him she was pregnant with Lincoln. She’s raised the children mostly on her own at this point. And since he went to Iraq, she’s led the family support group, organizing events to help other military spouses tolerate the loneliness. She ships donated toys for Brent to hand out to street kids and care packages for the soldiers. Jennie is an efficacious whirlwind. But the separation is wearing thin. Brent emails about weathering sandstorms, taking Arabic lessons, impressing an Iraqi general just by acting like a missionary and finally getting that promotion. She writes him about sick children, drama in the family and “developing our marriage.” When he finally comes home later that fall, he’s been gone for three of five years since their wedding.
IN 2007, MAJ. BRENT TAYLOR DECORATED THE WALL OF HIS QUARTERS ON A BASE IN NORTHERN IRAQ WITH FAMILY PHOTOS, INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES AND RELIGIOUS IMAGES.
MAY 2021 55
BEFORE HIS FINAL DEPLOYMENT IN 2018, MAJ. BRENT TAYLOR POSES WITH HIS WIFE, JENNIE, AND THEIR SEVEN CHILDREN: MEGAN, LINCOLN, ALEXANDER, JACOB, ELEANOR, JONATHAN AND CAROLINE.
56 DESERET MAGAZINE
Utah. Utah. North North Ogden. Ogden. 2011. 2011.
Afghanistan. Afghanistan. Kunduz. Kunduz. March March 2012. 2012.
“I always wanted to be a soldier.” Brent leans over a keyboard as he types, probably at the glass desk in his home office, long fingers sprawling. He’s 33, or close to it, with a daughter, three sons and a lot on his mind. His life has run clear off the flowchart. Maybe this memoir is a way to recapture a feeling. Or to reinvent himself. He writes about playing army as a child, reading military sagas and biographies of important leaders and meeting with a recruiter in high school. “I wanted to show courage when other men would show fear, and I wanted to be a leader of men and to earn their trust and respect.” After Baghdad, Brent got hired as an intelligence analyst at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., a block from the Smithsonian, less than a mile from the White House. He’d get a law degree at night school and work his way up, in a city where a hard-charger can meet important people and make his own fortune. In January 2009, he traveled ahead to find a place. Jennie was, if anything, even more excited about the move than he was. She lived for his success. Then he called her. Honey, I’m coming home. Just like that. She doesn’t quite understand what changed his mind, and it won’t be the last time. But she believes in her husband and chooses to support him, even when he seems “either visionary or crazy.” They buy a modest six-bedroom house in North Ogden, where farms are turning into subdivisions, and settle into suburban life: two floors, tan brick siding, vinyl fences and a fourth child, Alexander, born in July 2009. She’s pretty good at regrouping. Jennie adores Brent. When he’s away, he flirts cautiously in emails, and Skypes with her and the kids as often as he can. At home, he’s a dad who cuddles his daughter, sits a son on his lap to feed him, or lets them all climb him like a jungle gym. She respects that he’s a deep thinker who feels kinship with men he reads about—like Robert McNamara or Captain Moroni, a military leader from the Book of Mormon. He’s determined to live by their standards, citing “enlightened self-interest” as a good-faith motivation for getting ahead to do good in the world. For now, he just needs traction. He partners with her brother in a venture to sell grease to the military. He runs for City Council on a whim in 2009 and wins a seat that November. In January, he slips away from the business, taking an active-duty assignment assessing security at major facilities like power plants, hospitals and sports venues. He starts grad school, pursuing a master’s in public administration at the University of Utah, and gets certified for the military police. His and Jennie’s fifth child, Jacob, is born in February 2011. Writing in his memoir, he recalls basic training, which he recounts in excruciating detail, from the cattle car to sadistic drill sergeants to the freezing ruck march that almost broke his spirit. He was the old soul who never got in trouble, who read “Lord of the Rings” and couldn’t sleep after his cohorts exchanged bawdy tales. “My ears were burning,” he writes. “Profanities and dirty language are as routine in the military as food and water.” He remembers working hard to connect with his soldiers at Q-West, who whined about the silly competitions he set up for the unit to pass time between convoys but laughed at the Chuck Norris jokes he told after each mission, inspired by graffiti in the latrine. A handful joined his company choir, but more showed up for the turkey bowl, where Brent caught a touchdown pass. He calls his 10 months with them “some of the best of my life.” Not because of some stilted bonding exercise, either. Quietly, he admits something key — something that might explain what happens next. “When I think of that time in Iraq, I look back with longing to return to it.” Brent misses war.
Joining a guard unit out of Washington state, Brent leads a mobile adviser team with three blue-collar sergeants, enlisted men who’ve seen years of combat. Grizzled, barrel-chested and deadly. At first, they don’t know what to make of him. How do you trust a man who won’t swear? “Sometimes you’ve got to drop a few f-bombs,” Staff Sgt. Sonny Bliss tells him. Brent passes up the advice, but he’s not aloof like most officers. He eats with the team, talks about home and apes their workouts. He wins them over by leading a foot patrol with the Afghan Border Police. “We went there to fight and kill the bad guys,” Bliss says. Brent was there “to build relationships and try to make it a better place,” loving the culture like he did in Brazil. Brent sets out to build rapport with the ABP commander who runs the region “like a mafia don.” After many hours of conversation and cups of chai tea, Brent’s unsavory ally invites him to go hunting. He’s in. The two plan joint operations to raid poppy fields, catch arms smugglers and interdict drugs. Bliss and his fellow sergeants are stoked. Brent’s security detail, an Ohio unit that follows the advisers everywhere they go, is not. His plans go up in flames in February 2012, along with a Quran tossed on a trash heap by a U.S. soldier at Bagram Air Field. The country erupts in deadly riots and insider attacks. A grenade tossed into COP Fortitude, a nearby combat outpost, wounds seven and kills one. After an American massacres 16 civilians in Kandahar, locals pelt soldiers with rocks and vegetables, and a sniper pegs the bulletproof glass of a major’s vehicle. Brent can’t seem to get missions approved. He struggles to keep the faith. “I just don’t know if we are to win this war in any long-term sense,” he writes. Still, Brent and his men manage to take a trip to a distant outpost, a rare adventure. The buildings look centuries old, and the location is so remote no American has ever gone there. Riding back, Staff Sgt. Jacob Torrez radios ahead, but the Ohio security detail doesn’t answer. He’s worried. As the road drops into the village, he expects to find the soldiers in the detail in a secure formation. Instead, they’re lazing on cots, shirtless staring at the sun. Brent worries they’ll offend the locals, but Torrez is simply livid. They could have gotten us all killed, he argues, pushing Brent to take the “sunbathing incident” up the chain. He doesn’t need much convincing. Brent’s superior officers tell him to forget it, but he won’t let it go. So they give him an investigation he didn’t ask for, focused on him instead. He sends the colonel a long, breathless email, accusing him of poor leadership and a toxic command, then takes the matter to an inspector general. Yet he’s surprised by the blowback. His team is disbanded, Brent assigned to a desk. He eventually gets a three-hour lecture and a “counseling statement,” a black mark for riding in unsanctioned ABP pickup trucks and wearing an ADVISOR baseball cap instead of a helmet. And he’s sent home months early. “In disgrace,” he writes in his journal.
Utah. North Ogden. December 2014. “Good morning! It’s Mayor Brent Taylor.” It’s 4 a.m. on Christmas Day. The first small storm of the season came through overnight. Like a modern-day Andy Griffith, he heads off the usual complaints with information and a smile, shooting his own video for Facebook. A truck waits over his shoulder, dusted with powder. “Just wanted to take you along and see how snow plowing works in our city.” He rides shotgun and interviews the driver, talking like a TV news anchor. At 35, this is his life now. Even before he left Afghanistan, he sent Jennie a revamped PowerPoint rescheming their future. As for war, he wrote: “Know it is done.” This last tour was an ordeal for her, too, alone with a baby and three kids under 7 years old, with her parents and his parents all asking if their marriage MAY 2021 57
58 DESERET MAGAZINE
MAY 2021 59
was OK. “I just can’t do this ever again,” she thinks. His troubles follow him home, with a pending investigation and a career-ending officer evaluation report hanging over his head. Snapshots arrive in an email from Kunduz: the Ohio security detail, one with shirts off, another with middle fingers raised for his benefit. He’s never lived under a shadow like this before. How do you run for president with a stain on your record? He’s already turned his eyes homeward. He started campaigning for mayor as soon as he landed and won the part-time position in 2013. A year later, after completing his MPA, he convinced the City Council to make it a full-time job, at just $70,000 with no benefits. After his brother-in-law buys him out of the grease company, he joins another venture making smartphone apps, and starts a short-lived consulting firm, while diving back into school for a Ph.D. in international relations. The family moves to a 30-year-old home in the foothills, with plenty of room for the kids. The house needs work, but what does Brent have now if not time? But time ripples under his feet. On television, ISIS takes Mosul, then overruns Q-West. The Taliban take Kunduz. Jonathan, the couple’s sixth child, is born in December 2015. Finally, the inspector general’s investigation exonerates Brent, and the black marks vanish from his record. As mayor to almost 20,000 people, he dons a yellow vest and livestreams with a crew sealing cracks in the road. He brings in a new grocery store, upgrades an outdoor amphitheater and even fights to reform the Utah Transit Authority, a flex toward state politics. And he starts to dream again. Maybe a Ph.D. can get him to the Pentagon — maybe even as secretary of defense, where he can fix what’s wrong with the military. But something else is percolating. One day, Jennie finds a hole in the closet door of the home office. Another, she finds his statuette of Captain Moroni and a painting of Afghan mujahedeen staring at an empty square of carpet where the glass desk used to be. He’s broken a desk before, years ago, in basic training, when he and a buddy found themselves in a barracks basement with axes and a wooden bureau. “We took out our rage,” Brent wrote of that incident, deadpan. And something else. He’s still jockeying to climb the Army ranks. A new commanding officer suggests another deployment. Brent texts Jennie: “We need to talk.” Her response: “Where are you going?” She knows it’s not worth arguing. Later, people who love Brent will try to make sense of his decision to go back. Maybe it’s about money. With a seventh child on the way, his expenses aren’t going anywhere. And he’ll certainly earn more in Afghanistan. Or maybe Brent’s life is, like any life, a string of events and decisions that lead from one step to the next in spite of his highest hopes that things will turn out differently. Maybe he’s chosen this path in increments, never knowing this was where it led. Ambition, hubris and a constant drive to try something new form a volatile cocktail, no matter how noble a person’s intentions. Or maybe he just wants to clear his name and prove what kind of man he is. “Sometimes when you have a bad taste you need to go back and right the wrong,” Bliss says, “get that taste out of your mouth.” In November 2017, he wins reelection and welcomes his daughter, Caroline, into the world. Six weeks later, four patrol cars lead him past City Hall and every school in town, cherries rolling, sirens whooping for the Utah mayor, now a minor local celebrity, returning to war. Hundreds of children cheer and wave flags. A TV chopper films overhead. At the airport, TSA agents let the family pass to wait with him at the gate. He’s last to board. “I was crying pretty hard and could not even say anything to the stewardesses,” he writes. The pilot calls him to the cockpit so he can wave goodbye.
60 DESERET MAGAZINE
Afghanistan. Kabul Military Training Center. October 2018. Civilian casualties are spiking as the Taliban increase complex suicide attacks and the U.S. ramps up airstrikes and pushes for peace talks. To a student of war, it echoes Vietnam. But to everyday Afghans, life is just tenuous; it’s said that some families send one son to train with the Americans, another to serve the Taliban, because nobody knows who’s going to be in charge next year. Quietly, the two sometimes collaborate, the U.S. providing air support when the Talibs fight ISIS. Most of the direct action comes on night raids, led here by the 75th Ranger Regiment. Brent is thrilled to be attached to the Rangers — rock stars in this world — but let down by his assignment as an adviser to Afghan administrative officers. He’ll never venture beyond the training center, Camp Scorpion’s fenced residential compound or the ranges where the cadets practice. He’ll never get to show his mettle under fire or prove his salt. Maybe that’s why he takes up CrossFit, climbs nearby Gharib Ghar mountain every Friday and works out with the Khat Khas, the Afghan commando unit. And, he writes, he tries to expand his sphere of influence. Like the small-town politician he has become, he makes himself both visible and essential beyond his duties. No adviser works longer hours. Most of the Guardian Angels — fresh-faced privates who provide a show of security when advisers leave Camp Scorpion — avoid him, but the new kid, Jessie Brown, often volunteers. Brent puts him in tough spots — like impromptu meetings in rooms with no outlet — but treats him with kindness. Brent gives driving lessons to his interpreter, Abdul Momin, who translates as he plans training sessions with his direct counterparts, greets other Afghan officers with hugs, schmoozes over lunch, sledgehammers a tractor tire in their gym, organizes barbecues and makes bets at the shooting range. He even reactivates an old program, taking several Afghan officers on a cultural exchange trip to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Everybody loves Maj. Taylor. But events unfolding 300 miles away will soon bring the war to Camp Scorpion. On Oct. 18, an Afghan bodyguard fires on several high-ranking Afghan and U.S. officials — including Gen. Scott Miller, head of all U.S. forces — after a meeting to plan election security. The attacker kills Gen. Abdul Raziq, the “Lion of Kandahar,” who ran that city like a crime boss; he was a powerful ally. But to Afghans, he was more: a beloved warlord, a legend who could not be killed without subterfuge. Many believe that the U.S. had him assassinated. Fearing reprisals, U.S. forces go on lockdown for two weeks. While Brent chafes at the restrictions, a trainee named Afsar Khan noodles on conspiracy theories in the barracks across the road. From Bagh-Bala, an eclectic, upper-middle class neighborhood on a hillside above Kabul, Khan is angry. Days before Raziq’s killing, he triggers a red flag in a vetting interview, but the screeners are too overwhelmed to act on it. He starts a group called Lashkar-e Huzaifa with a single coconspirator to drive out the infidels. Americans, he says, treat Afghans as slaves. They want justice for Raziq and the pain caused by night raids. For their first target, one name rises above the others. “He is the commander of Scorpion Camp,” Khan says in a video on his phone, recorded on a Saturday morning. “He is the main American commander for all the Afghanistan Special Forces,” orchestrating the slaughter of Muslims in all 34 provinces — preposterously exaggerating his target’s rank and responsibility. “I promise you guys that I will kill Maj. Taylor.”
Afghanistan. Camp Scorpion. November 3, 2018. In the darkness before dawn, he slides from his bed to his knees like every morning. The wooden floor of his CHU pushes back on his bad knee and his injured back groans, but Brent, at 39, has plenty to pray for continues on page 82
OFFICERS LOOK ON AS MAJ. BRENT TAYLOR’S BODY ARRIVES AT DOVER AIR FORCE BASE IN DELAWARE ON NOV. 6, 2018.
MAY 2021 61
62 DESERET MAGAZINE
E Q U I L
B R I PO
MAY 2021 63
MEETING IN THE MIDDLE IS THERE A WAY TO PROTECT RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS AND LGBTQ RIGHTS? BY J O N AT H A N R A U C H
It’s not every day that an atheist witnesses a miracle, but I saw one more than five years ago in Salt Lake City. On March 4, 2015, at a downtown press conference, a group including LGBTQ leaders, representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and mostly conservative legislators announced they had forged a groundbreaking agreement. A new state law, which would become a model around the nation, extended an array of nondiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns. The Utah Compromise, as it was called, struck a careful balance. It ensured that certain religious prerogatives, such as allowing religious colleges to limit married-student housing to opposite-sex couples, would be accommodated. With bipartisan support, the proposal became law. In disbelief, I nearly rubbed my eyes when I read the news. After all, just a few years before, the LGBTQ and Latter-day Saint communities had been at odds in 2008 over California’s ballot proposition banning same-sex marriage. The disagreements felt more like enmity at times as the debate over defining marriage was channeled into a zero-sum political contest. Within the gay community, including for me personally, the passage of Proposition 8 felt crushing. Yet by March 2015, just seven years later, everything looked much different. Local LGBTQ advocates and the church realized there had to be a better way forward. Quietly and cautiously, they began meeting to find common ground. It wasn’t easy, but as time went on the two sides found it: Whatever their conflicting view of marriage, no one should lose a home or a job just for being a member of a sexual minority. In 2009, the church had raised eyebrows in secular circles by throwing its support behind Salt Lake City’s ban on anti-gay discrimination in housing and employment. That provided a foothold, and the two sides decided to deepen it and begin the climb toward cooperation. Building trust and learning to communicate took years, but the efforts came to fruition with the dramatic announcement of SB296, the 2015 Utah Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments. The bargain made national headlines. Immediately, people wondered if the success could be replicated in other states, or even in Congress. 64 DESERET MAGAZINE
No one thought it would be easy. For years, LGBTQ civil rights and religious liberty had been on a collision course. Sexual minorities want the same assurances of access to jobs, housing, schools and commercial establishments that other historically marginalized minorities routinely receive. People of faith already enjoy many of those same protections and sometimes take them for granted. But even today, in most states, sexual minorities lack important anti-discrimination guarantees, except when it comes to employment (which the Supreme Court covered in its historic 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County decision, extending workplace anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people). But religious organizations and faith-based nonprofits have their own worries. They fear being forced by law to provide services to same-sex weddings, open religious schools’ married-student housing to same-sex couples, place adoptive children with same-sex parents and take other steps that violate their religious teachings. They worry that religious nonprofits will lose access to the tax code’s important deduction for charitable giving. They worry that law and secular culture will gradually squeeze them out of civic life by treating their beliefs and religious practices as illegal, immoral or both. Until now, that disagreement has caused deadlock at the national level. Recently, however, something has stirred. There might — just might — be a shot at negotiating an end to the hostilities. Utah has something to teach the country after all.
••• I am not the most obvious candidate to make the case for a truce in the gay-religious culture war. When it comes to being an outsider in American life, I won the trifecta: I am an atheistic homosexual Jew. Or a Jewish homosexual atheist. Whichever way you stack the labels, I never felt I had a choice about any of them. I was Jewish, that I knew. But from a young age I also knew I couldn’t believe in God, even if I tried (and I did try in my early teens). I also knew I was attracted to my own sex, and my increasingly desperate efforts to suppress that reality were unavailing. It was clear I would be a misfit, despised from many
j o n at h a n r au c h
directions, and so I compensated by rejecting the faith traditions that seemed to reject me. “Of course,” the young version of me would say, “no one should be able to discriminate because of silly superstitions! Of course, no fair and enlightened society tolerates bigotry, with or without biblical proof-texts.” In those days, I saw little reason to show empathy toward faith traditions that in many cases denounced me as abhorrent. Born in 1960, a very different time, I grew up in a world where homosexuals were regarded as mentally ill. They could not work for the federal government, could not serve in the military, could not even get a security clearance to work as a government contractor. Entrapped by police departments’ morals squads, gay people whose arrests were written up in the newspaper would lose their jobs and become pariahs the next day. Religious leaders, even those who disapproved of homosexuality, could have preached compassion and toleration, but they very often did the opposite. All I had to do was turn on the radio to hear some preacher dispatching people like me to eternal damnation. During the AIDS epidemic, religious people commonly turned their backs, saying we had only ourselves to blame. Was that, I wondered, what Jesus would have done? I was angry at America’s religious community, and I had reason to be. So why am I one of the gay world’s more outspoken proponents of a bargain that would allow the faithful to discriminate against LGBTQ people in certain ways and in certain circumstances? Partly because I’m a First Amendment nut. I am a true believer in free speech, the cornerstone of any society that is free and fact-based. And the First Amendment coequally enshrines religious freedom. They belong together, as the Founding Fathers realized: Expressive freedom and religious freedom are the twin pillars of freedom of conscience, America’s raison d’être since English Protestants arrived in North America to escape persecution back home. Having spent my first 25 years as a closeted homosexual, trying to be someone I wasn’t, I understand the agony of living inauthentically and denying who you are — and I believe that in the LGBTQ rights
struggle we are fighting for all Americans to live as their truest selves. Obviously, conflicts will arise over competing moral standards, but if we can accommodate others’ consciences and lifestyles at a reasonable cost to ourselves, we should. Morally as well as politically, it is in everyone’s interest to share the country. Political theorists call that arrangement pluralism, and there is simply no other way a diverse democracy can function. Of course, when we talk about making reasonable accommodations, that nice four-syllable word, “reasonable,” covers a multitude of complex and contentious policy choices. Progressive, secular gays may simply never agree with conservative, religious straights on what is reasonable in many aspects of law and policy. Striking a balance we can all live with is hard work. But there is another reason, besides pluralism, why both sides should do that work. It goes to the very foundation of our democracy — and to the heart of our most important, yet also most understood, constitutional concept.
••• While reporting this article, I asked a number of Utahns about SB296, the 2015 compromise legislation, and several said something that surprised me. In effect, they commented, “Please don’t call it a compromise.” Stuart Adams, a Republican state senator who was instrumental in forging the agreement (and who today is the president of the Utah Senate), said he didn’t like the term. “My deep-seated religious beliefs are not compromisable,” he said. “We didn’t compromise. We found a way forward where each entity was given additional rights and protections, but no one’s core values were compromised.” Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, the state’s main LGBTQ organization, told me he avoids the C-word, too: “I’ve always used the phrase ‘collaboration.’ We get around the table and we work together on something. There’s an idea that if you’re compromising on something you’re giving up on your values or you’re not standing with integrity in your beliefs. I don’t think we did any of that.” MAY 2021 65
In recent years, Americans have adopted the notion that to compromise is to settle for less than is really fair, or to sacrifice integrity for some transactional gain. The most famous tale about compromise in our culture is the biblical story of King Solomon’s suggestion of splitting a baby in two. The point of the story is that the baby’s real mother proved her integrity by refusing to compromise. Americans still support compromise in the abstract, but less so on actual issues. Their unwillingness to vote for politicians who choose negotiating over moral combat has been a long-term cost of the culture wars. Sometimes it is wrong to compromise on who you are or what you believe. Having lived in the closet, I certainly know what an inauthentic life can feel like. Even so, making compromise into a four-letter word dangerously misconstrues what compromise really is — and why James Madison and his colleagues placed compromise at the very heart of our remarkable system. The Constitution does many things, but at bottom it is a mechanism to force negotiation. No actor in politics can do very much unilaterally. Congress, the president and the courts can all check and balance each other, as can the federal government, the states and even local authorities like school boards. On its surface, this all seems perversely cumbersome. Why all the veto points, when a monarchy seems so much simpler and more efficient? Partly to guard against tyranny, of course. But Madison had a bigger idea in mind, too. In our politics, compromise is the balance wheel providing both stability and dynamism, both caution and innovation, both contestation and cooperation. The reason is that, as any experienced negotiator knows, sitting across the table gives people information and understanding about the other side. Often it builds relationships, and sometimes even friendships. In healthier times, when Congress was less burdened with extreme partisanship, committee chairs and ranking members commonly developed close working relationships even while pursuing their very different agendas. They didn’t necessarily agree, but they understood each other and knew how to disagree. Simply by being required to interact and do business, the parties to a negotiation develop the civic habits of peaceful coexistence — and they unlearn the habits of domination and distrust. That was what happened in Utah. “To me the process here may be even more important than the legislation,” Williams told me. “When I sit down with folks, I’ll never see them as an enemy or opponent. I’ll see them as a future ally, even if we’re not there yet.”
••• In successful negotiations, a compromise rarely looks like merely splitting the difference. Finding a resolution requires not just arithmetic but creativity. When negotiators hit a snag, they look for workarounds and innovations. They might expand the scope of the deal or reshuffle its elements, throw in some sweeteners, recruit new allies or seek mediators. Sometimes they wind up inventing an approach no one had even thought of before. The U.S. Constitution was born that way. When it was clear revising the Articles of Confederation would fail, the framers tossed them out and started from scratch. If two children cannot agree on whether to play checkers or cards, they might agree to ride bikes instead, or even invent their own hybrid game using checkers and cards. They get creative. We saw such creativity in Utah. To sweeten the deal, the negotiators developed innovative provisions barring workers from being fired or punished for speaking their mind outside the workplace on political or religious topics. That gave both sides — LGBTQ and religious — a valuable new conscience protection. Far from being an unfortunate necessity, then, compromise is our 66 DESERET MAGAZINE
political order’s method of constantly learning, adapting and innovating. It is also the way our system accommodates differences while getting enough buy-in to form a governing consensus. If compromise fails, our Constitution and country fail. So here is a plea from one atheistic Jewish homosexual. Stop apologizing for doing what the Constitution demands. Compromise is the nation’s most powerful force for progress and social conciliation. It is not only creative but often transformative. When I asked Equality Utah’s Williams to name the downsides of SB296 from the point of view of Utah’s LGBTQ community, he couldn’t think of a single one. “The culture has changed here in Utah,” he said. “In every possible way, Utah is now a safer and more welcoming state for the LGBTQ community.” When I asked if the same change would have happened without SB296, he replied with a firm no. “It changed the dynamic forever in the Legislature. I’ve watched so many legislators open up their hearts in this process.” And that openness was a two-way street. With apologies to King Solomon, that is not splitting a baby.
••• After the Utah compromise, hopes that it would be widely replicated were quickly dashed. Some observers concluded that unusual conditions in Utah — the powerful role of the church, the structure of the state’s preexisting discrimination laws and maybe some special Utah magic — made such a deal difficult to pull off beyond Utah’s borders. Still, a few years ago, a center-right LGBTQ advocacy group called the American Unity Fund joined with a coalition of conservative faith groups — including such heavy hitters as the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Seventh-day Adventists, the National Association of Evangelicals, and, yes, once again, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — to quietly hammer out a model federal civil rights bill combining the same two essential ingredients from Utah’s success: antidiscrimination protections coupled with specific religious exemptions. Introduced in the last Congress and again in February by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, the Fairness for All Act, as it is called, attracted more brickbats than bouquets. Many progressive LGBTQ and civil liberties groups wanted the anti-discrimination protections without any exceptions; many conservative religious groups opposed anti-discrimination measures altogether. But the climate seemed to improve this spring. It began to look as if the Senate might be able to negotiate a deal. Maybe, just maybe, elements of the Fairness for All Act and the Equality Act — an uncompromising civil rights bill passed by the House — could be creatively combined to get the job done. Any such deal would be a long shot, but it seems like a shot worth taking. Making a pact on non-discrimination and religious exemptions would strengthen and clarify the rights of both sides. But equally important, a successful negotiation could reverse the spiral of mistrust and hostility that has characterized relations between LGBTQ Americans and conservative religious denominations for so many bitter and polarized years. That goodwill would do more to prevent real-world discrimination than any mere statute could accomplish. The biggest gains of all, though, would accrue to the whole country. An agreement could show America what SB296 showed Utah: Even when we disagree on our core beliefs about faith and identity and justice, we can still share the country. We can still reverse spirals of polarization. We might even replenish respect for America’s longest four-letter word: compromise. Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth.”
WHY THE FIGHT FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MUST INCLUDE DEFENDING THE RIGHTS OF ALL PEOPLE BY J A C Q U E L I N E C O O K E - R I V E R S
When i first arrived from Jamaica to the United States in 1979, I did not fully understand the ramifications of religious freedom. Even though I was a practicing Christian, I remember denying a staff member’s request for a day off on Good Friday as a new manager at a Boston hospital. It never occurred to me that I might be impinging on this person’s expression of faith. In retrospect, it’s a decision I deeply regret. At the time, religious freedom simply wasn’t on my radar, even though I was deeply involved with issues of racial and economic justice. However, in 2010, I began to see things differently. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty awarded a dear friend and noted Princeton professor, Robert P. George, the Canterbury Medal for his work in defense of religious freedom. In conversation after the event, he made an obvious point that struck me with new power: It is essential for all people of faith to defend the right of others to disagree with them if they would ensure the genuineness of their own faith commitments. This led to a growing conviction about the importance of advancing the freedom of conscience both for people of faith and for those of no faith. I became increasingly attuned to the importance of religious freedom protections for the Black church as the director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies. As a committed Christian, I was convinced of the moral rightness of the biblical mandate for marriage between one man and one woman. I was also aware of the growing acceptance of homosexual unions in the United States and the developing opprobrium against those who maintained the right to dissent, including those in the Black church. Since the establishment of Black denominations, they have played a critical role in protecting Black people from the effects of white supremacy. Black churches have served as sites for worship, intellectual exchange, social interaction, mutual support, leadership development and organizing against racial and economic injustice. Today small urban churches, often located among populations with the greatest needs, continue this tradition. One study found that Black congregations in Philadelphia, though smaller and underresourced compared to white churches, provided $89,000 per annum in services to their neighbors. The rate at which Black congregations provided programming was greater than comparable white ones. These are key Black institutions, especially for the poorest African Americans. Since they uphold the
biblical standards on sexuality and gender, it was clear that religious freedom guarantees were urgently needed for these congregations. Black churches also hold a fundamental belief that justice requires the church to defend the rights of all people. This must include individuals of every sexual orientation and gender identity. Religious communities have too often fallen short of that standard. This is a sin which the churches must correct. Even though Black churches need the protections of religious freedom, they are often more reluctant to engage in the fight for it. When the former governor of Utah, Michael Leavitt, invited my husband, the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, founder and director of the Seymour Institute, to become involved with the American Religious Freedom Program, we traveled to Kansas to support efforts to pass a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act and learned about this reluctance firsthand. We encountered a major challenge in getting the Black churches involved: a long-standing lack of support from religious freedom champions on issues about which Black communities care deeply. The most visible and ardent champions of religious freedom have often been far less interested in matters of racial justice. Historically, the faith traditions to which many concerned with religious freedom belong have been hostile to the freedom and rights of Blacks. This was true when the religious freedom of slaves was protected in the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina but reinterpreted to ensure that enslaved Africans could not sue for freedom on the basis of their Christian faith. It was true when the religious freedom of Southern whites was used as an argument against Harry Truman’s efforts to end employment discrimination based on race. It is true today when conservative Christians are indifferent to the public policy implications of the needs of poor Black communities. Furthermore, African Americans have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party and the candidates of that party since President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. Although it impacts all Americans, regardless of party, religious freedom is often seen as a Republican issue, which makes it difficult for many Blacks to support. After all, in the 20th century, the Republican Party served as a refuge for Southern whites who deserted the Democratic Party when Lyndon B. Johnson propelled the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act into law. For many African MAY 2021 67
jac q u e l i n e c o o k e - r i v e r s
Americans, to be associated with religious freedom advocacy smacks of betraying the fight for racial justice merely by association. I understand the hesitancy. Nonetheless, it is critical for all Christians to fight together for religious freedom as well as for social justice issues that align with core religious teachings. The right to act on deeply held religious beliefs has been among the most powerful weapons advancing justice for the Black community. It was this very right that allowed the Southern Leadership Conference and the tens of thousands of Black Southerners to march for civil rights. It was this very right that empowered the children of slaves to assert their faith in the fatherhood of God and the resulting brotherhood of all humans. Indeed, it was deep religious faith, stirred up by passionate singing and rousing sermons late into the night, that motivated African Americans to confront fire hoses, police dogs and officers with batons during peaceful marches for civil rights. Black churches are at risk because of declining support for this freedom. The Equality Act — which has already passed the House and is currently before the Senate — is a misnomer. The proposed legislation does not treat all Americans as equal but subjects the rights of people of faith to the rights of LGBTQ individuals. The act expands nondiscrimination provisions for the LGBTQ community on the back of federal civil rights protections. The provisions of the Civil Rights Act were created to address the legacy of slavery and the historical pattern of discrimination on the basis of race. The insinuation that sexual orientation and gender identity are analogous to race is false. This comparison implies, incorrectly, a historical and existential equivalence between the harm that LGBTQ individuals have endured and the experience of African Americans, who suffered the unique horrors of white supremacy, slavery, rape, terrorism and apartheid in the U.S. One area of great concern is the fact that this act strips away the right to appeal to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, largely gutting that law. In the opinion of Douglas Laycock, a leading legal scholar, the act “would ‘crush’ conscientious objectors.” The implications for Black people and Black congregations can’t be overstated. Black students are heavily represented among those attending religious colleges that would be at risk of losing federal funding because of the schools’ commitment to biblical values in the area of sexuality. And minority students at these schools are heavily dependent on federal aid. Thus, the act is likely to restrict the options of such students, reducing the 68 DESERET MAGAZINE
number of colleges they might attend. A similar impact is possible for younger urban students who, abundant research has shown, are particularly well served by parochial schools. At the same time, the act expands the definition of public accommodation, so that many entities, such as houses of worship, that would previously have been exempt could now fall under this act. Most Black churches offer youth services, provide cash assistance, operate food pantries and carry out voter registration, among many other services provided to their members and neighbors. The Equality Act would jeopardize the ability of these churches to offer services in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs. The potential harm to Black churches and to the vulnerable populations we serve motivates me to act, as I have recently in co-signing a letter to the Senate on the Equality Act from the AND Campaign, an organization committed to biblical values and social justice. As a daughter of the Black church, an elder in my own fellowship, as a Black Christian committed to justice, I am convinced of the need to protect the church’s right to live and teach in accordance with our most profound faith commitments. Two key aspects of this are standing firm on biblical anthropology and serving the poor and needy. I am therefore compelled to speak out against the Equality Act. Another key biblical principle must be observed: defending the rights of all individuals, especially those such as members of the LGBTQ community who have been targets of social ostracism. Therefore, I urge Congress to protect LGBTQ individuals. But Congress must not strip away the protections provided by the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It must not expand the meaning of public accommodations in a way that puts Black congregations that can least afford it at risk of lawsuits. Surely our legislators are wise enough to find a way to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community while reinforcing fundamental, constitutionally protected freedom of conscience and religion.
Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers is the director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies and a doctoral fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. note: Portions of this essay are included in the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies’ statement on the Equality Act.
HANDMADE JEWELRY & BABY BOUTIQUE
FREE RESOURCES FOR BLOOD CANCER PATIENTS Services and support for patient and families affected by leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, and myeloproliferative neoplasms.
WE’RE HERE TO HELP As the global leader in the fight to end blood cancers, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is committed to blood cancer patients and their families throughout their entire cancer experience. From immunotherapy to precision medicine, LLS has supported virtually every breakthrough used in blood cancer treatment today. At the same time, we help patients and families access the care they need to survive and thrive through our free education and support and bold advocacy efforts.
FREE EDUCATION & SUPPORT LLS is the leading source of free information, education and support for blood cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, families, and healthcare professionals. If you or someone you know with a blood cancer needs help, we’re here for you. LLS Information Specialists – highly trained oncology professionals – work with compassion to provide blood cancer patients and caregivers free, one-on-one support. Our wide array of free resources make all the difference.
PEER-TO-PEER SUPPORT A support program that matches newly diagnosed patients and caregivers with trained volunteers who share similar experiences
CLNICAL TRIAL SUPPORT CENTER
PATIENT TRAVEL ASSISTANCE
THE URGENT NEED PROGRAM
Registered nurses with expertise in blood cancers who conduct comprehensive clinical trial searches and personally assist patients and caregivers throughout the clinical trial process
Provides blood cancer patients with financial assistance for ground transportation, air travel and lodging-related expenses
Assists eligible patients in acute financial need with non-medical expenses such as utilities, rent, mortgage, food, overnight stays and child care
REGISTERED DIETITIAN Our registered dietitian has expertise in oncology nutrition and provides patients and caregivers with free nutrition consultations by phone or email
Call 800-955-4572 to speak to one of our Information Specialists or visit www.LLS.org/PatientSupport
THE FAITH ADVANTAGE THE UNSEEN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACTS OF AMERICAN FAITH BY B RIA N GRIM
t. benedict’s Preparatory School rises like a red-brick mountain from the urban cityscape of Newark, New Jersey. The school — which has been the subject of books and documentaries — readies 530 mostly poor, mostly minority boys for college and beyond. In an area where public schools are working hard just to keep young men from ending up in gangs, in jail or dead, St. Benedict’s sends 95% of its graduates to college, including a sizable number to Ivy League schools. Graduates, such as Uriel Burwell, often then return home to make an impact. Upon graduating from Drew University, Burwell was drawn to his childhood neighborhood where he has now built 50 new affordable houses and has rehabilitated more than 30 homes, attracting $3 million in funding for additional projects in the area. Religion sometimes gets a bad rap in the 24/7 news cycle. And if we’re not careful, some media narratives might blind us to religion’s enduring social strength. We rarely quantify the dollar and cents of faith’s impact, but the numbers should draw attention from even the most secular pockets of today’s society. According to a 2016 study by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, religion contributes about $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value annually to the U.S. economy. That is equivalent to being the world’s 15th-largest national economy, outpacing nearly 180 other countries and territories. It’s more than the global annual revenues of the world’s top 10 tech companies, including Apple, Amazon and Google. It’s also more than 50% larger than the global annual revenues of America’s six largest oil and gas companies. These contributions fall into three general categories: $418 billion from religious congregations; $303 billion from other religious institutions such as universities, charities and health systems; and $437 billion from faith-based, faith-related or faith-inspired businesses. 72 DESERET MAGAZINE
Religious congregations — churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and chapels — of every denomination add $418 billion annually to the American economy. These local congregations number more than 344,000 and employ hundreds of thousands of staff and purchase billions worth of services in every corner and crossroads of the country’s urban and rural landscape. Of course, these congregations do much more than just provide places of worship. Each year congregations spend $84 billion on their operations, ranging from paying hundreds of
RELIGION CONTRIBUTES ABOUT $1.2 TRILLION ANNUALLY TO THE ECONOMY. THAT IS EQUIVALENT TO BEING THE WORLD’S 15THLARGEST NATIONAL ECONOMY.
thousands of personnel to paying for goods and services as diverse as flowers, sounds systems, maintenance and utilities. Almost all is spent right in the local community. Congregations are like magnets attracting economic activity ranging from weddings to lectures, conventions and even tourism. For instance, 120,000 congregations report that people visit them to view their art and architecture. Schools attached to many of these congregations — such as St. Benedict’s — employ 420,000 full-time teachers and train 4.5 million students each year. By comparison, this is the same number as the total population of Ireland or New Zealand.
But it’s what congregations do in their communities that makes the biggest contribution. Congregations provide 130,000 alcohol recovery programs such as the Saddleback Church’s Celebrate Recovery program that has helped more than 27,000 individuals over the past 25 years. Congregations also provide 120,000 programs to help the unemployed. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has employment service centers across the country (and world). Some of this work runs counter to stereotypes some may have about religious groups. For instance, nearly 26,000 congregations are engaged in some form of active ministry to help people living with HIV/AIDS. That makes one HIV/AIDS ministry for every 46 people who are HIV-positive. Just recently, under the sponsorship of Walgreens and the First Ladies (pastors’ wives) of Chicago, nearly 50 Chicago churches hosted free screening for HIV and other diseases. The data shows that congregations overwhelmingly include a society-building, outward community focus, with over 320,000 congregations helping to recruit volunteers for programs outside their walls, to nonreligious groups, ranging from Big Brothers and Big Sisters to the United Way and the American Red Cross. If we extend our view beyond what happens at local congregations and schools, we can find tens of thousands of other religiously affiliated charities, health care facilities and institutions of higher learning also doing these sorts of good works every day. These add another $303 billion of socioeconomic impact to the U.S. economy each year. These include charities such as the Knights of Columbus, whose 1.5 million members respond to disasters and other human needs. One in 6 people visiting a hospital in the U.S. is cared for in a Catholic facility. And it’s not just Catholics. Health care services, such as those ILLUST RATI ON BY R OSE WONG
provided by the Adventist Health Systems, employ as many as 78,000 people in 46 hospitals. Institutions of higher education, such as Jewish-affiliated Brandeis University, is one of thousands of religiously based colleges throughout the country. And even small religious charities can have a profound impact. Islamic Relief USA, for instance, responded to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, by hiring 20 local staff and distributing 135,000 gallons of water during the height of the water crisis. Religion-related businesses also add another $438 billion to the U.S. economy each year. These include faith-based enterprises, rang-
ing from Halal and Kosher food industries to religious media such as EWTN and the Christian Broadcast Network. The largest group within this sector is not religious companies, per se, but faith-inspired or religion-friendly companies. Tyson Foods, for example, employs a large force of chaplains for its multireligious workforce. And the religion that inspires many businesses in the U.S. also has a way of spilling across borders. One American CEO, Don Larson, motivated by his faith, started a company in Mozambique that not only stocks the shelves of America’s major food stores — from Giant
and Wegmans to Whole Foods — but empowers tens of thousands of people. His innovative model is based on what he calls a “reverse tithe” — where 90% of profits go back into the local community. That means many American consumers are participating in a faith endeavor, perhaps unaware. The benefits of faith have a way of multiplying like loaves and fishes, or like Uriel Burwell returning home to help struggling families in Newark, New Jersey. Brian Grim is founding president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. MAY 2021 73
STRING THEORY LINDSEY STIRLING IS THE WORLD’S MOST PROMINENT VIOLINIST. SHE’S ALSO ITS MOST UNSTOPPABLE BY ET HA N B AUER
threatened her health. They progressed into anxiety and depression, he’s always reminding herself. Whether before a concert or into a catch-all question that informed her impressions of family and on a hike with friends, after a concert or in Arizona with family, fortune and friends and fame: Am I enough? even alone at her Los Angeles home, Lindsey Stirling gives herself regular Seeing her perform, you’d never know it. What Stirling does best is mental nudges, little reminders to buoy her through the low moments. captivate. Wearing outlandish suspenders, colorful tutus, skeleton-print You’d be forgiven if you doubted that she needs such affirmations, that leotards or some combination thereof, she twists and swivels and jolts there could even be low points in the life of Lindsey Stirling. across the stage, all the while sawing away on her electric fiddle. The At 34, she’s a star of and for the modern era: an experimental violindancing limits the music, and the music limits the ist who dances while she performs and who rose to dancing. Again, the trick is doing them together global prominence on the strength of her YouTube and packaging them with a tremendous production channel, now 12 million subscribers strong. She’s value, whether in person or online. toured the world. She’s collaborated with artists The world first took notice of Stirling’s unique ranging from neo-soul standout John Legend to SHE’S A STAR skill set when she competed on “America’s Got country duo Dan + Shay to a cappella legends PenOF AND FOR THE MODERN ERA: Talent” on Aug. 3, 2010. A loud buzz interrupted tatonix. And she’s brought the timeless tones of the A VIOLINIST WHO her national television debut. The buzzer signiviolin to an otherwise uninterested audience. She’s ROSE TO GLOBAL fies failure, signifies that at least one judge felt the not an elite violin player; she’s not an elite dancer; PROMINENCE performance was beyond redemption and should she’s not even an elite video editor or director; but ON THE STRENGTH stop then and there. To this day, when she hears she’s very good at all three. And by putting them OF HER YOUTUBE CHANNEL, that song — “Tik Tok,” by Ke$ha — she hears that together, she’s become arguably the world’s most NOW 12 MILLION buzz. One judge told her she wasn’t good enough well-known violinist, who on July 10, coronavirus SUBSCRIBERS to fill a theater in Las Vegas, while another told her outbreaks pending, will fill the 20,000-seat USANA STRONG. she “sounded like a bunch of rats being strangled.” Amphitheatre near Salt Lake City. She cried in a backstage bathroom until a custodiHere, in the waning days of a global pandemic, an kicked her out. “I don’t know that I would’ve everyone’s trying to rediscover their footing. For gotten off that stage and ever wanted to perform Stirling, the uncertainty predates the lockdown, again,” Jennifer Stirling, Lindsey’s older sister, says. but with more time alone with her thoughts, more “She’s brave.” She did take some time off from playing her violin, but by time to dissect each interaction, each conversation, some old issues year’s end, she was performing small concerts at universities across the have resurfaced. country, sometimes at noon in the cafeteria. But she didn’t seem to be Those feelings of doubt were blessedly absent as a child, when she getting anywhere. Everyone, it seemed, thought she was just too unusual got her first “violin” (a cereal box with a paper towel roll for a neck), to be marketable. Until she got a message through YouTube from a video or as a teen, when she competed in a pageant and, on a whim, decidproducer named Devin Graham. ed mixing violin and dance would offer her best chance to stand out, Graham had also attended BYU, and he came across Stirling’s thus setting in motion her niche career. The feelings started to simmer “America’s Got Talent” audition. “I’m always looking for talent that’s during her college years at BYU and during her 18-month mission for unique, and I’d never seen someone play the violin and dance at the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York. They same time,” he says. “There was something special about that.” The two manifested first as an eating disorder that destroyed friendships and 74 DESERET MAGAZINE
P HOTO GRA PH BY CAR A R OBBI NS
l i ndsey sti r ling r etur ns to th e stage thi s s u mme r , p e r fo r mi n g i n j u ly at u s a n a a mp h i t h e at r e n e a r s a lt l a ke ci ty.
MAY 2021 75
it’s not only music or performance where she’s found herself wondering partnered, and Graham ended up filming about 25 videos for Stirling’s whether she’s enough. About three years ago, after finishing a tour, she channel. One, filmed in front of ice castles in Colorado and featuring took a vacation with a group of friends. Touring can become repetitive, an original song called “Crystallize,” racked up over a million views in a and fame can make a person question their relationships. “I found mysingle day. “It continued to accelerate after that,” Jennifer Stirling says, self wondering, ‘What do I bring to the table if I’m not a performer?’ I “which shocked me a little bit. I shouldn’t say shocked, but I guess I’ve just didn’t know who I was in that space of just being.” One longtime just never thought as big as Lindsey has.” Using what was then the novel friend, McKay Stevens, has seen these fears bubble up many times. He’s technique of building a fan base through social media, Lindsey Stirling known Stirling since her days in Provo, when he met her at Velour Live was able to launch her performance career. She soon toured the world, Music Gallery and was so impressed by her uniqueness and gumption from Prague to Perth. that he asked her to perform with his band. He’s seen Stirling’s questions But her large following did little to impress the musical mainstream. of self-worth serve her well, as fuel for her unceasing ambition. He’s also The New York Times, for one, echoed the comments of the judges on seen the weight of their burden. “It’s probably helped her find that huge “America’s Got Talent.” A review co-written by the paper’s pop critic and success in her career, and to outshine everyone else that was doing stuff classical musical critic in 2014 begins by calling Stirling “one of the most on YouTube,” he says. “But it’s also the curse of not really being able to unlikely music phenomena in recent years.” The pop critic, however, goes rest in the peace or confidence of knowing what you’ve done is enough.” on to call her violin playing “grating and naive,” says her dancing leaves Stirling has spent a lot of time in Arizona over the him “uneasy and unimpressed” and, with verbiage past year, with her family and her faith. “No matter that can only be read in a voice droned with condewhat,” she says, “I can kneel down and pray, and I can scension, calls her music generally “cold, vague and call my family.” She’s needed to as the pandemic has almost mistlike in its inconsequentiality.” His classhuttered much of the music industry. Even though sical counterpart agreed, calling Lindsey “a compeher fan base is more internet-centric than most, she tent though hardly dazzling player” and wondered if still makes most of her money from touring and her songs are only popular as “study music for nerdy SHE TWISTS merchandise. She had just landed in Colombia to teenage girls.” They’re hardly alone. In an article AND SWIVELS AND JOLTS ACROSS start a South American tour on the day in March posted by the Murphy Music Academy — whose THE STAGE, ALL 2020 when the world changed and coronavirus lockblunt slogan is “There is no pleasure in mediocrity” THE WHILE SAWING downs took hold. She hasn’t performed since. — the author openly acknowledges that Lindsey AWAY ON HER The fact that she’s an established talent hasn’t is the most talked-about violinist in classical muELECTRIC FIDDLE. made the downtime any easier. It never has. “I alsic circles only because of “her pubescent fan-club most feel like the pressure gets greater (as my caand their mothers who immediately assume, upon reer progresses),” she says. “Because there’s more discovering you are a violinist, that you must revere at stake.” Indeed, she’s at the center of a microMs. Stirling as being at the top of your art form.” economy, with managers and marketers and muThere’s even an (admittedly very small) subreddit sicians and crew members relying on her to make called “Lindsey Stirling Sucks.” their living. She also still pushes herself creatively, The worst criticism of them all, though, came which is why she’s experimented with podcasting and TikTok during the when Stirling was 28 and was invited to perform with singer Andrea pandemic. In some ways, that disruption to her usual routine has been Bocelli and London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. She felt honored rejuvenating. But it’s also allotted more time for questions of inadequaand accepted. But, “Within minutes of arriving at my first rehearsal,” cy, along with the accompanying depression and anxiety, to flare up. she writes in her memoir, “all the excitement drained from my body, inThose bouts of depression and anxiety, of hopelessness, of feeling like stantly replaced by insecurity and fear.” Bocelli openly ignored her, and she’s not good enough as a performer or daughter or friend, she’s realized, the other violinists openly snickered. On her first night, Bocelli snubbed never really go away. But she’s learning to accept them and deal with them. her when taking post-show bows. On the second, he cut her first song. She knows, to borrow her own phrasing, that when times get tough, she After the third night of the “slaughter,” she left. But that performance can kneel before God, and she can call her family, always. So when critics stayed with her, along with the self-doubt inflicted from all the negative write bitter reviews, or when she longs for motherhood — her next major reviews. When asked whether she still doubts herself even now, after all goal in life — or when she takes the USANA stage this summer, she’ll turn her undeniable success, she says, “Absolutely.” In spite of her critics, she’s won a pair of Billboard Music Awards to them for wisdom and guidance and reassurance, and yes, she’ll remind as well as YouTube’s Artist of the Year Award. Her fans are legion and herself once more. “I’m always wondering, just being me, am I enough?” worldwide, drawn to the brightness and flare that punctuate her art. But she says. “And I’m trying to learn, over and over again, that yes I am.” 76 DESERET MAGAZINE
make a home
m e ta c o l e m a n . c o m
866-501-9598 or NateWade.com
BUILT. NOT MADE .
SUPERIOR CUSTOM TEAM APPAREL prolook.com
CONTINUED Continued from page 44:
Continued from page 60:
While he has pitched it as a plan to fix roads and bridges, a consistently popular enterprise, only $115 billion of the $2.3 trillion package actually goes to fixing roads and bridges. It’s been called a “Trojan horse” because most of the legislative package will simply serve as a vehicle for tax hikes on working families, $620 billion in green energy handouts, payoffs to Democratic donors at labor unions and energy regulations modeled after the Green New Deal (which became a political punchline for attacking air travel and methane from cows). The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote, “Mr. Biden is redefining infrastructure as social-justice policy and income redistribution.” Another critical issue that unites Republicans and divides Democrats is the corrosive influence of the left’s cancel culture. CNN’s Harry Enten wrote, “While Democrats may mock them, the fear of cancel culture and political correctness isn’t something that just animates the GOP’s base. It’s the rare issue that does so without alienating voters in the middle.” Morning Consult polling before the 2020 election showed that a 46% plurality of Americans believe cancel culture “has gone too far,” and 49% said it “had a somewhat negative or very negative impact.” Few things bring Republicans together like overreach from the other side. With so many nakedly partisan moves from an administration that promised unity, and a race to the left that prioritizes liberal ideological benchmarks, there’s a Republican resurgence forming. Combine that energy with the winning issues Republicans have run on around the country in recent years, which have shown a demonstrated success at expanding our base, and you have a roadmap to success and an even stronger party. Our country may very well depend on it.
Jennie and the kids. His town. His dreams. And the Afghan people he’s grown to love. Birthday cards and photos sing of home from the paneled wall, but the war calls him outside. He pulls on his uniform, laces his boots and straps on his armor, patting a ceramic front plate. He meets Jessie at “the box,” a shed where the Guardian Angels wait for duty, and picks up Momin, the interpreter, at the “Best Buy,” a bazaar that sells watches and trinkets. The passenger door of their SUV won’t open from the inside so Jessie, feeling uneasy, rides in back. Momin wonders aloud if today is the best day for a ruck march. On the Afghan side, they find all the top officers are busy or running errands in town. Still, about 40 trainees wait at the meetup. It’s not the biggest turnout, but it’s not bad. Afsar Khan stands among them, fingers dancing on the handle of his M4. The crowd snakes along dirt roads, past low hills and firing ranges backed up against the Ghar. It’s more a social event than a tactical exercise. Friends chatter or take group selfies. Brent stays in the lead, as sweat breaks and blisters form, grinning. He loves doing soldier stuff. Jessie frets over the Afghans taking tea out here for no apparent reason, but Brent collects such moments. If he had time, he’d stop to sip and talk for as long as they’d have him. Brr-rrapp! A burst of gunshots about 10 feet back. One grazes Jessie’s lumbar. He spins and returns fire in the direction of the shooter, as Brent falls beside him. Blood is everywhere. Calling for gauze, Jessie wraps it around Brent’s head. Momin calls a translator back at the camp for help. Brent looks like he’s trying to breathe or speak. But for once, it falls on somebody else to make things right. They lift him onto a truck, beside a dead body. They don’t know it yet , but the body belongs to Khan, chased down by his fellow commandos and executed by an Afghan officer. “Floor it,” Jessie shouts. The truck rumbles down the road and the bodies slump together, legs and fates intertwined. Each man loved his country enough to die for it; neither doubted that God was with him. As Momin sobs, as Jessie yells and bangs on the cab, the truck plows through the barricade into Camp Scorpion, carrying both martyr and martyred onto U.S. soil. It’s too late. Maybe it’s been too late all along. His dreams were too big, his ambitions too grand for a man not born into money, who lacks the political advantages of an Ivy League
Matt Whitlock is a Republican strategist most recently with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Salt Lake City, Utah (ISSN 1545-5939) Editorial Office: 55 N. 300 W., PO Box 2220, Salt Lake City, UT 84101. Advertising: 801-2046336 email@example.com. Postal Delivery/ Circulation: 801-204-6100 Established June 15, 1850. Published Friday by Deseret New Publishing Co., 55 N. 300 W., Salt Lake City, UT 84101. Periodicals Postage Paid at Salt Lake City, UT. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Deseret News, 55 N. 300 W., PO Box 2220, Salt Lake City, UT 84101 DESERET NEWS registered as U.S. trademark. WEB ADDRESS. deseret.com © 2021 by Deseret News Publishing Co.
82 DESERET MAGAZINE
education. Brent Taylor was forever rushing to close the gap. Now, that weight is lifted, or at least passed along.
Utah. North Ogden. February 2021. In the shed, Jennie rifles through the detritus of her late husband’s life. “I was married to the man for 15 years and I feel like I’ve come to know him better in the last two since he died than ever before,” she says. “On a deeper level.” She hefts a flag, a proper triangle encased in wood and glass. “What do I do with seven of these,” she says, grimacing at the weight. One for each child, presented at the funeral as the governor looked on, now scattered among plastic bins and wooden crates. “I guess we’ll have a museum someday.” She almost laughs, then closes the lids and bounces down a rickety ladder. Three trampolines ride out the winter across a wide lawn strewn with toys. Beyond a wood fence, two garden plots languish. Brent loved the hard work of preparing the soil to plant “ridiculous quantities” of peaches and beans and corn for canning later, but his attention tended to drift in between. Now the ground lies fallow. Jennie has become a public figure in her own right, accustomed to the podium, from the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base to the Provo Freedom Festival, local TV and podcast interviews. She even gave a TED Talk. In January 2020, she was named civilian aide to the secretary of the Army for Utah, the highest civilian post in the National Guard. “I feel like I’ve walked into my husband’s boots,” she says. If she ever runs for office, he’s given her a platform. Still, she’s always reminding herself to get home and do the dishes. Now Megan, 15, is boiling spaghetti for dinner and the nanny is leaving for the day. There’s a new deck behind the house and the kitchen was finally remodeled after flooding while Brent was on his last tour. Somebody calls, and Jennie asks them to pick up another daughter from dance class. Gently, she packs Brent’s challenger coins and medals back into their box, pats his dress blues and silently zips them away. Additional reporting by Dodge Billingsley and Jeff Parrott.
THE LAST WORD
d a mbi s a moyo
PRESERVING DEMOCRACY BY LO IS M. CO LLIN S
hen economist dambisa moyo was born in Zambia in 1969, Blacks weren’t issued birth certificates — a fact her parents didn’t tell her until she needed one to attend college. Instead, they built her childhood around “a narrative that was very constructive and was incredibly helpful. My parents never clouded my vision with the forces that could have worked against me.” Moyo didn’t just go to college; she attained an MBA in finance, a masters in public education at Harvard and a doctorate in macroeconomics from Oxford. She’s also written a bestselling book called “Edge of Chaos,” which argues that we need to overhaul democracy to jump-start economic growth. Today, she’s one of the most influential voices on the world stage of global policy, from co-authoring a controversial recent report on racial disparity in the United Kingdom to speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2020. That was a busy year for Moyo, capped by marriage to Qualtrics co-founder Jared Smith in December. She tweets avidly, sharing ideas like her three rules for success: No does not mean never, it just means not now. Get feedback. Never stop learning. She is a patient teacher, a careful listener and — no surprise, considering those early lessons from her parents — an optimist. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
lem is that it creates a mismatch with the economic problems, which are all long term, structural and intergenerational. What that means, because there’s this schism between short-termism in politics and long-term challenges, is you’re always in that situation where policymakers and politicians are proposing and implementing policies that are short term, very attractive, but over the long term, when politicians are long gone, have left a much bigger problem for other generations to deal with.
You write and speak frequently of America’s role in the global economy. A recurring theme is the failure of democracy. Why does democracy fail? Democracy is failing because the political structure of democracy is to have elections very regularly. In Europe, heads of state elections tend to be every four to five years. In the United States, you have elections every two years. The presidential election is every four years. The prob-
What can we do about this? It’s worth stressing that every single class of debt in the United States — government debt, household debt, credit card debt, auto loans and student loans — now is over $1 trillion. This shows just how problematic the situation the U.S. economy is in. There’s a high risk of inflation. A lot of people are worried that there’s so much demand — we’re seeing
84 DESERET MAGAZINE
Is that an endless cycle: Kick it down the road for the next guy? There’s a wonderful book by two economists, Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, called “This Time Is Different.” They looked at what happens when governments become heavily indebted. When that happens, not only does it slow economic growth in a very, very dangerous way, but a lot of governments end up having to default. The fact that China is the largest foreign lender to the U.S. government means that in the United States this debt problem has become less of just an economic problem. It’s now more of a geopolitical challenge at a time when China is, in terms of economic growth, on sturdier footing than the United States.
ILLUST RAT ION BY R ANDY GLASS
it already for property — for goods and services as we come back out of being in lockdown for a year, that prices will go up. In response to rapid increases in prices, the government — in particular, the Federal Reserve — will have to raise interest rates. If interest rates go up, it becomes much more expensive to service the debt we’re already sitting on. There’s a whole slew of things we can do to solve an issue of high indebtedness. Ideally, you want to create economic growth. If you take debt and you invest in productive assets, there’s a strong argument that’s a good thing for an economy; you want a government to be investing for future generations. The problem is, are governments, households, corporations actually getting the returns that we need? We’re coming back out of the pandemic and there will be good growth this year. But further out, the growth trend is declining. A lot of big economic headwinds are creating a drag on economic growth, beyond just debt — things like income inequality and climate change making it harder to create economic growth to help pay off debt. What should we do on an individual, family or otherwise smaller-than-agovernment scale? Pay off debt? One, limit your borrowing. Two, to the extent that you are borrowing or even if you’re not, you should be thinking about productive assets like real estate, which hold value over time, particularly in an inflationary environment. If you have a physical asset like a home, you’ll always have a home. Or infrastructure. The U.S. infrastructure is graded D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers. That’s unacceptable. Countries like the United States cannot compete globally without infrastructure. By that, I mean roads, railways, airports, ports, digital infrastructure. That’s what I would consider a productive investment that will help not only GDP increase, but further enhances our ability to pay down debt we have. Is education a productive investment? Absolutely. There’s a lot of evidence the United States has underinvested in education. On a per capita or individual student basis, the United States is among the highest in terms of paying out money, but if you look at surveys, such as the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the wealthiest countries in the world, the United States lags in mathematics, science and reading. For the first time in the history of the country, this generation will be less educated than the preceding generation. McKinsey, the global consulting firm, has argued that underinvestment in education of Blacks and Latinos in this country is so acute it will essentially put the United States in a permanent economic recession by 2050, especially as those groups become the majority. And we can then get into the question of what sorts of education are high-value-added investments. Obviously, we’re moving more into the digitized and technological world. So the STEM subjects will basically earn a higher premium in future settings. That’s not a big mystery, everybody can see that that’s what’s happening. But we really do need to think about education as an investment. You’ve said lack of economic growth means a country can’t dent poverty and that “at stake are our livelihood and living standards.” How do we grow that economy? In economics, three things create growth. Capital — essentially, how much money do you have? And how are you spending it so it’s investment capital? No. 2 is labor — both the quality and the quantity of the population. Having a declining population — think about places like Japan or parts of Europe — that’s not a good thing for future generations. We know we’re going to be more digital-focused. We need more skills in STEM, science, technology, engineering, mathematics. Third is productivity; 60% of growth is explained by productivity — things that
actually speed up the ability to convert capital and labor into growth. We know moving from handwriting an essay to typing an essay to now all of us having individual computers, those gains in technological expertise are a great contributor to economic growth, rule of law, more capitalistic society where people are able to become entrepreneurial. They help speed up the ability for capital investments and for labor to contribute to growth. The problem is that even with the best of circumstances, the world is not stagnant and a number of economic headwinds start to drag down economic growth. Debt is a great example. Ineffective governments. Inequality, which creates friction and divisiveness in society also hurts growth. Technology could be a very good thing. But if it creates more unemployment and a jobless underclass, that will further create a drag on economic growth. This is sobering. Should we be depressed? Quite the contrary. I really do believe in problem identification being a good chunk of how you get to a proper solution. The United States has a 300-year history of being able to reset, to identify problems and to continue to move forward in a very meaningful and important way. That is not to say it’s easy and it’s always happened. Clearly, we’re in a pretty divisive period. The world is counting on the United States to get these things right. I can’t emphasize that enough. A lot of countries, millions and millions of people across the globe, are counting on the United States to really get back down to basics, including having a strong, effectual government. If you look back in history, it is absolutely the case that government was heavily involved in setting up the sorts of constituent parts to make investment attractive. The government was involved in the building of Silicon Valley, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the Manhattan Project. The U.S. government historically has been a great visionary that created infrastructure and an environment in which the private sector could thrive. I’m reminded of what someone told me some time ago: The most effective governments are ones that are data-driven, forward-leaning, have measured outcomes and are not corrupt. If we can have government that is focused on basically firing on those four cylinders, I think we can create the environment where the pie is expanding and we’re not just focused on redistributing a pie that is stagnant. Any last words? What keeps me up at night is that we’ve been trained to think everything comes for free. And we haven’t really thought enough about trade-offs. You cannot be all things to all people. You cannot have public policy that only moves in one direction. Take data privacy. We all wanted the COVID vaccine last year, we want the cancer cure yesterday. But part of being able to do science and analytics to find those solutions, you need big datasets. At the same time, we don’t want to give up our privacy, which is fine on the surface. But if the companies like Merck or J&J decide that they’re going to have operations in places like China where the data privacy issues are not as stringent as the United States, we often object. You’ve got a trade-off. Do you want the vaccine yesterday? Yes. Do you understand that I can reduce the time by which I get that information if I’m able to have bigger datasets, which you’re not willing to give me because of data privacy? Business leaders, politicians, public policymakers are dealing with those types of complex problems all the time. Data privacy, environment, pay equity, gender and racial parity, all these issues — if they were easy, trust me, somebody would have solved them. MAY 2021 85
BUSINESS IS RISKY. WE HAVE YOU COVERED. 0 8
COMMERCIAL AND BUSINESS INSURANCE GURUS. AGENCY801.COM
DISCOURSE. SALT LAKE CITY: 4,226
Journalism is so much more than clickbait headlines and one-sided finger pointing. At Deseret News, we’re committed to giving readers in Utah and across the nation an outlet for principled, illuminating journalism—where context matters and finding solutions is just as important as highlighting problems. Join us as we examine the “why” behind today’s most important stories in our new expanded weekly edition, our online coverage, and our new monthly magazine.
CHICAGO: 577 LOS ANGELES: 305
WASHINGTON D.C.: 335
SAN FRANCISCO: 52
NEW YORK: 36
P R I N C I P L E D, I L L U M I N AT I N G , N E W S . Deseret.com