“Optimism assumes all will go well without our effort; pessimism assumes it’s all irredeemable; both let us do nothing.” In a single sentence, Rebecca Solnit, author of “Protest and Persist,” masterfully sums up why giving up hope is not an option. Too much hope, however, can lead to inaction and complacency. We must strike a balance between hopeful optimism and realistic pessimism. Neither pure optimism nor pure pessimism can save us, so what can
We have a supermajority of Republicans in our state legislature. The House of Representatives has fourteen Democratic lawmakers out of seventy-five total representatives. In the Senate, we have six Democrats from a total of twenty-nine Senators. Given these dire circumstances, virtually any bill the Republican supermajority introduces passes. This led to the passage of the horrendous bill banning gender-affirming care in minors.
It’s hard for our Democratic lawmakers, voters, and activists in the state not to lose hope, given how little sway they hold. It’s equally difficult for Republican lawmakers to avoid becoming too complacent and losing urgency when it comes to our water crisis. I decided to interview three people, two Democrats, and one moderate Republican, from different facets of our political system and ask them how they maintain hope in our imbalanced political landscape.
I spoke with the founder of Alliance for a Better Utah, Josh Kanter; former Utah House Representative Becky Edwards; and Suzanne Harrison, a member of Salt Lake County Council. I asked them seven essential questions about hope, policy, and their views on our future. Here are excerpts of what they said. I’ve linked their answers in full at the end.
The first question I asked is what hope meant to them. All three responses shared a similar premise. Josh Kanter said that hope for him is about making “a world you and my kids will inherit.” He added that for him, history has always been “two steps forward, one step back,” and he hopes that a more “humane world will continue forward.” Becky Edwards believes that “hopeful optimism is essential in creating energy for making change.” The difference between Edwards’ statements and those of optimists is that she blends hope with action. Suzanne Harrison shared another heartfelt sentiment, stating that “hope means having faith in ourselves and others.”
When I asked Josh Kanter how he stays hopeful in today’s political climate, he gave me a perfect analogy: “I view the political climate as a pendulum. The pendulum will swing back, sooner than later, to forward progress and good people.” I found his use of the analogy interesting because it seems to indicate that there’s something unavoidable about the swing of a pendulum; it swings back and forth without consideration of human actions. It almost doesn’t matter who's in power, because there are time periods where certain policies are simply more powerful and popular. Nevertheless, we cannot become passive victims of this swing. There are times when you must intervene, and change the course of history by meddling with the pendulum. That time is now.
The Utah legislative session wrapped up a couple of months ago, so I decided to inquire about what they believed was the most concerning piece of legislation and the one that filled them with hope. Suzanne Harrison had a specific piece of legislation in mind, HB 469 Wildlife Related Amendments. The bill allows anyone with a hunting license to kill cougars, which would be “dangerous for our ecosystem” and was passed on the Senate floor with “zero public input.” Josh Kanter was most concerned with HB 215 Funding for Teacher Salaries and Optional Education. The bill tied an increase in teacher pay to school choice. Josh Kanter pointed out that “the legislature passed vouchers years ago and there was a citizen referendum to overturn it.” This means that the majority of Utahns are opposed to such a bill, and instead of finding a more equitable solution, our legislature tied their unpopular bill to teacher pay, making it impossible to vote against. Overall, all three interviewees agreed that they were hopeful that the Legislature was taking the water crisis seriously, or at least more seriously than before.
With the next question, I employed an ethical lens. We live in a Republican supermajority in Utah, so I inquired about whether or not they think supermajorities, regardless of political affiliation, should exist. Even if the tables were flipped and Democrats had the supermajority, as a question of morality, do you believe any one party should have total control over the laws passed by the state? The answer: a resounding no.
Josh Kanter gave a perfect response: “No, not really. I do think the ‘damage’ done by a Democratic supermajority tends to be less harmful to people’s lives than the damage done by typical Republican supermajorities.” Where with a Democratic supermajority, states pass minimum wage increases, environmental protection laws, and provisions to safeguard reproductive rights, Republican supermajorities target our youth transgender population and outlaw life-saving procedures like abortions and gender-affirming surgeries.
Becky Edwards gave an incredibly insightful response as well, noting that “with [a] supermajority comes a ‘super responsibility’ to govern in a manner that truly represents the needs of every resident.” It fills me with hope that despite the fact that Edwards’ party is currently in control, and she doesn’t need to compromise, she admits that spirited debate is part of the political process and that a supermajority impedes said process.
Finally, I wondered if any of the three prominent figures in our city would consider moving to another state where their views might be more widely accepted.
Suzanne Harrison says she would not move; Utah is her home. As Harrison masterfully puts it, “I believe in balance and the importance of sharing different perspectives, even when it may feel uncomfortable.” Despite the fact that her views might be more widely accepted in another state, leaving would mean abandoning a part of the population that remains hopeful.
On the other hand, Josh Kanter remains hopeful that “there are places that are more aligned with my views,” which makes sense given how difficult it would be to dismantle a supermajority and how increasingly dangerous it’s become to live in a state that criminalizes our youth for being who they are, that cares more about business growth than water preservation, and that wishes to peddle mendacious propaganda on abortion solely to appease their own base.
I randomly emailed three prominent political figures, and in a matter of days, they responded to a kid they’d either barely heard of or simply didn’t know, who was writing for a newspaper they’d never heard of. This is what can save us: good people. These people are genuinely concerned about the well-being of our communities, and that will always overpower the harm caused by supermajorities and hateful ideologies. I would like to thank Josh Kanter, especially, for his help with this story. He is an inspiration to me and the work he has done for Utah makes me hopeful that one day we’ll live in a state for everyone, not a select few.
I reached out to Evan McMullin with these same questions but got no response.
You can read their full answers here.