As Americans, we each have the right to express ourselves and to critique our leaders.

This is an important observation. But in the spirit of fairness, it’s also important to observe that we have the responsibility to base our expressions on a foundation of facts. It’s imperative for us, as we contemplate the actions of our public officials, to ask ourselves, “What would I do in their shoes?”

Remember the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, which took the lives of 80,000 Japanese civilians instantly and a total of 175,000 eventually? That was U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s decision. World War II already had taken more than 70 million lives. The president agonizingly concluded that taking tens of thousands of lives with the devastating atomic bomb was better than allowing the war to linger, costing hundreds of thousands or even millions more in casualties.

What would you have done in his shoes?

Four decades after World War II, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan was faced with the proposition of responding to Libyan sponsored attacks on American soldiers and citizens. He ordered air strikes on critical military and terrorist sites in Tripoli. Libyan lives were lost.

What would you have done in President Reagan’s shoes?

Just a decade after that event, my family and I hosted a young Libyan student during Utah’s Olympic campaign. We took him to the annual Lindquist Family Symphony Pops and Fireworks at Weber State University. When the fireworks began, he turned face-down on our picnic blanket. I asked him what was wrong. He responded that the fireworks brought terrifying flashbacks of the strafing of Tripoli he had witnessed as a child.

Leaders at the highest levels are forced to make tough decisions that impact the lives of innocent people as well as “the bad guys.”

Now, leaving the international scene and turning our attention to state and local leadership, we must recognize the difficult decisions our state legislators and community leaders are obligated to make these days.

Where is the balance among keeping people safe, keeping a robust economy, keeping our youth educated and looking after the well-being of our workforce?

Lives and livelihoods depend on the decisions of our leaders.

Realizing the need for changes in Utah’s taxing structure, the state’s leaders held eight public information gathering sessions in every region during 2019. These well-publicized events were held to discuss the need for changes and garner input from the citizens.

As a result, the legislature put together plans that included a $200 million tax decrease, but also a return to a sales tax on food with an easy exemptive process for low-income families. Sensing the public’s perceived displeasure with that plan, the lawmakers laudably repealed their action in acknowledgement of the will of the people.

What would you do in their shoes?

“High quality education for our youth is imperative to our state’s ongoing success,” said Utah Senate President Stuart Adams.

Thus, K-12 education funding was increased during the 2020 legislative session by an additional $378 million, including a $75 million education rainy day fund.

In further action to help our young citizens, legislators passed timely bills to address vaping and placed a tax on all vaping products, the revenues of which will be used to help prevent vaping, the use of electronic cigarettes and drug use among Utah’s youth.

Before the closure of this year’s legislative general session, leaders recognized the oncoming onslaught of COVID-19 and appropriated $20 million to bolster state and local efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The legislature will return with a special session soon to further address economic needs in light of the coronavirus and its impact on our revenue projections, businesses and citizens,” said Utah House of Representatives Speaker Brad Wilson.

Our state representatives are doing their best to keep our economy healthy and keep us healthy, too.

What would you do in their shoes?

The federal government’s official instructions to citizens include “stay informed of issues affecting your community; participate in the democratic process, and respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.”

All of us would do well to apply that admonition. Being an American citizen requires responsibility beyond listening to our favorite talk show host. It requires us to study issues, participate in civic dialogue and vote based on trustworthy information, while respecting the rights and opinions of others.

It requires us to be as responsible as we expect our leaders to be as if they were in our shoes.

Robert A. Hunter is director of The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State University, where he also teaches leadership and political life. He may be contacted at rhunter@weber.edu.

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