“America’s Best Idea”

Author: Gary Hart

All humans are sacred.  That is, until they prove otherwise.  All nature is sacred.  That is, until humans destroy it.  Of the many sins for which Donald Trump must answer in this life or another, among the worst is his destruction of what has been called “America’s best idea.”

In an essay in the New York Times (“The Beginning of the End of America’s Best Idea”, New York Times, November 23, 2018), Timothy Egan movingly intertwines American history with its decision in the last century or so to protect America’s natural heritage.  Though his focus is on California, and the devastating fires of recent years and those inevitably to come, he is writing for all our natural heritage…national parks, wildlife areas, recreational areas, unique pristine enclaves, camp grounds, hiking trails, and of course the wild animals that inhabit them.

That a huge national protest against Trump’s mounting depredations of all this heritage– left to us almost always against great resistance by corporate commercial interests–has not happened, is a mystery.  But it must begin.  He has spread so much unAmerican chaos in so many other domestic and international arenas that it is difficult to focus public attention on the long-term, probably permanent damage he has already done and promises to do against this precious heritage.

Though he holds what amounts to a sacred trust, the simple fact is: He doesn’t care.  Either he has no empathy for nature and its grandeur in America, or he places private profit ahead of it, or both.

Others have their own ground for impeachment.  This is mine.  The Constitution mandates that the president “take care that the laws by faithfully executed”.  He, his Cabinet officers, and their politically appointed subordinates are doing everything in their power to ignore or subvert the very national resource laws they are required to faithfully execute.

If you believe, as I do, that there is intergenerational accountability, the duty of each of us to preserve the commonwealth for future generations, and that this duty is moral, ethical, and sacred, then this president must be condemned for falling so far short of this standard.  Even worse, he consciously and purposefully trashes the standard.  His destruction of our heritage is perverse, intended, and even hateful.  He does not care.

There is much natural destruction guided by the president.  None more so than his denial of climate change.  All serious science and common sense connect increased carbon emissions with forest fires, rising tides, and increased storms.  Yet he casually, even gleefully, destroys regulations on those emissions for no other reason than that they were promulgated by the Obama administration.

We all know his demented approach; shrink national park and wilderness boundaries, open federal lands to exploitation, and appoint officials at Interior, EPA, and related agencies whose commitments were and are to privatize our national heritage for profit.  In a Constitutionally intended system of checks and balances, with a Congress responsible to the people, this would not have been permitted to happen.  Historic shame now rests on collaborative Republicans in Congress.

What will it take for Americans concerned for their children’s future to rise up?  Further evidence of dereliction of duties is not required.  Decades of hard work, of speaking and preaching, of testifying and legislating, or public education, were required to achieve the natural and environmental accomplishments we have achieved.  Considering the damage already done and that to come, many more decades of similar struggle will be required to repair this damage in decades ahead, even to return to the more sane pre-Trump era.  And that does not include an unfinished agenda not even being addressed.

Not all of our natural national heritage is in the West, but much of it is.  The East is experiencing flooding and severe weather.  The West is aflame, and those flames often engulf national forests and parks.  Regardless of our location, however, the public natural heritage belongs to all of us and is held in trust for future generations.

It should be on our national conscience to honor that trust.

[The author’s qualifications: Special Assistant to the Solicitor, US Department of the Interior, 1965-67; member, United States Senate Environment Committee. 1975-87; Chairman, Clean Air Committee, US Congress, 1979-80; Presidential Clean Air Project, 2004-05]


16 Responses to ““America’s Best Idea””


    Every word you write gives me the inclination and more, to take part in the rescue, the protection, the betterment, of the United States, country of origin of my wife, country of my in laws, country of kin who ventured across the ocean, from the British Isles and the Continent of Europe, to the Americas and a new continent.

    What is a man to do who so wants to help. I need a really good job offer!!!!!

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    Me too, Lorenzo. Gary

  3. Ken Cody Says:

    Thank you Senator Hart for this recent post. Hope you and your family had a great Thanksgiving. I agree what you are saying. I do worry for our children and future generations to come. Our current President does not show respect for the Presidency and continues to divide the nation. I hope that in the near future we will have the option of electing a Presidential candidate that looks out for the interest of the people not for himself.

  4. Gary Hale Says:

    Hope this finds you well. I think now and then of my small involvement in your campaign and how much better off our country might have been if a few members of the media had not lost their minds and standards.
    Enjoyed this post in particular because I spend my days now working with my company’s partners helping businesses, schools and communities become greener with their energy practices. It is very fulfilling on a personal basis. However, our country needs a sustained national effort to protect our planet and our children.
    My very best wishes to you and your family. Please keep up your good work.
    Your old friend in CT,
    Gary Hale

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    Thanks, Gary. So many friends across the country for so many years are among my greatest blessings. GH

  6. Joe Thompson Says:

    I campaigned vigorously for you during your run for the Presidency and truly believe you could have made a real difference in the State of our Country. Watched you on CBS Sunday Morning and really enjoyed it. You look good and healthy. If Trump thinks there’s fake news now…he should gave been around when the fix was on in Miami back then! Would love to know (without you publishing it) how to contact you and get an personal autographed picture from the man that should have led our Nation…God Bless You!

  7. Jim Bickhart Says:

    An appropriate framing of Trump’s sins and failings regarding stewardship of our natural heritage.

    You’ve been in mind of late – I saw the film, read Matt Bai’s book (as well as various of yours), read Doug Wilson’s nice article on CNN.com, saw you on CBS. The memories of those complex days in May 1987 echo strongly through time.

    It has occurred to me that part of what you were up against was the “perfect storm” you faced by trying to conduct (and will) a different, more substantive type of campaign at the same moment various forces were moving campaigns in exactly the opposite direction. You were outnumbered.

    Sometimes – perhaps usually, one supposes, we don’t enjoy the luxury of being able to test our theories and beliefs to their fullest extent. You certainly didn’t. But, as with many things, you turned out to be right about us getting the kind of leadership (if one could call it that) we deserve for allowing things to go that way.

    All the best for the holiday season. Until our paths cross again…

    One of the “Hart guys,”
    Jim Bickhart

  8. Bill Pruden Says:

    This thoughtful posting, combined with the finally completed election season, coupled with the recently released film The Front Runner as well as your television appearances related to the film, are a poignant reminder of what might have been. At the same time, they are, in their own way, an inspiration, a powerful reminder of your life long–and still ongoing–commitment to the betterment of the nation and its political process. Indeed, the post and its discussion of the environment and our nation’s heritage are in their own way a continuation of the film’s scenes about the location of your announcement speech, a debate that reflected both your determination both to do things differently and to change things. The power and symbolism–on many levels–of that visual are no less relevant to our current condition than are the blog post’s stated concerns about the environment and what we will bequeath to our young. We live in a distinctive and strange political time, one which like much in your career, you foresaw. It is a time that cries out for leadership, but leadership is hard to find, and as the final scenes in The Front Runner make clear, the current system does nothing to encourage the kind of leaders we need to enter the fray. And yet years later, despite your own disappointments, you continue to seek a place in the arena, working to rallying those of us who still care–and hopefully a younger generation that is starting to recognize the extent of the challenges we face. No one ever said politics was easy nor that our leaders would be or could be perfect, but as The Front Runner makes clear, it would have been easy for you to walk away but your belief in the process and in this country would not allow you to do that. For that we must say thank you while also trying to apply that example to our own lives.

  9. John Dedie Says:

    Did you help write this letter? I can hear your voice reading it. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/10/ex-senators-op-ed-1055429

  10. Gary Hart Says:

    I didn’t participate in drafting the Senatorial letter, John, but would have been happy to participate if asked. It reminds me once again, and should remind others, that there was a time when Democrats and Republicans agreed on certain national principles. But thanks for hearing my voice. Gary

  11. Matthew Correia Says:


    I just found this blog. The new movie “The Frontrunner” really struck a chord with me and caused me to read your book “The Courage of Our Convictions” which is absolutely brilliant. I am a college student myself, currently working on a project about how politics has become a media spectacle, and the possibility for a new generation(and the pitfalls this new one may face with the internet).

    I am wondering what you think of the Bernie Sanders campaign and the seeming response of the popluarist base of the Democratic party(people like Cortez specifically) showing how the strength of his ideals(despite his status as a senior-citizen jewish white man) have brought people into the fold. I’d love to read an article on this from you!

  12. Gary Hart Says:

    Sorry that I do not maintain a photo file, Joe, and have not for years. And as to Matthew’s question about Sen. Sanders’ campaign, I am reminded of working for George McGovern who some saw, incorrectly, a kind of Sanders populist candidate. He proposed higher taxes on the wealthy and polls showed he lost the votes of NYC cab drivers, among many others, because they all thought someday they would be wealthy. Enough said.

  13. Brian McCarthy Says:


    I think that, to some of a younger generation (younger than I, possibly those of Matthew’s age), the differences between Senator McGovern in 1972 and Senator Sanders in 2016 MAY not be clear. Your example of the taxi drivers is illustrative, but you might be uniquely qualified to summarize an ideological distinction; to many, they are both just thought of as “the left wing of the Democratic Party”. You did say “enough said”, I think for some a little more may be helpful though. If you disagree, no need to post my comment.



    As is the way often with Senator Hart our much loved host, in a way his own kids have called, enigmatic, our wise host gets to the nub as few can, never vague or vacuous,but poignant and provocative.

    Mathew asks about Senator Sanders ans ms. Cortez.

    Read the previous blog by our host. He, as would I, rejects the attempts any might now make, to make the Democratic party a Socialist one, and particularly a left wing socialist one.

    I invite Mathew, as one probably a generation just above him, who at fifty has the enthusiasm of fifteen, but the wisdom of more years, see what is happening in my country, the UK.

    I am a member of the Liberal Democratic party in the UK. It is in the radical and moderate centre and centre left. As with many parties of the same or similar name, what it says in the title, is what it stands for.A coalition with the Conservatives, in the crisis that was the world recession,has, despite some good work, but also strange bedfellows and too much coopertation, led to the party I am in, becoming, a fraction of what it was electorally.

    The Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn has, not all, but some through his doing, moved to the far left. People have joined that party who have come from minor socialist parties, even the ex Communists. The resultant enthusiasm by younger people in hungering for hopefulness, has become the alienation of many, especially much of the Jewish community, victims of father left conspiracy nonsense about bankers, and anti Israel sentiment, both a form of the newer insidious, as well as older, antisemitism.

    Mathew and all America, as one who married one from your country and loves its best features as if it were my own country, be careful. FDR, JFK, self described, to utilise modern parlance, self identified, as Liberals.

    There is plenty of room for social democrats and even some liberal minded democratic socialists in the Democratic party. But Senator Sanders is in the European sense a social democrat, and yet was never a member of the Democratic party even when those such as our senator were at the helm or trying too lead it.

    The Democratic party is not a socialist one.

  15. Matthew Correia Says:

    Seantor Hart, thank you for your response. I am also with Brian here, I’d love to hear the you expand on the Bernie point a bit

    “I am reminded of working for George McGovern who some saw, incorrectly, a kind of Sanders populist candidate. He proposed higher taxes on the wealthy and polls showed he lost the votes of NYC cab drivers, among many others, because they all thought someday they would be wealthy.”

    Perhaps this is just my naivety showing, but I don’t completely follow your point. I feel that Sanders is specifically NOT a populist as he has been labeled by many, he seems to fit many of the ideals you asked to be followed in your manifesto for Democrats. He is an independent thinker, not just trying to win election for mere power, but trying to improve the status of the “ideals” of our country as a whole.

    What I think is interesting is the evolution of the “populist wing”(people who adapt positions to cater to the people and win election rather than bring people TO their ideas) of the Democratic party to be more like Bernie in the most recent elections. It shows the epistemic connection between idealism and populism.

    What am I missing?

    Are you agreeing that Sanders is not a “populist”(as he is accused of) because the people, like in NYC Cab drivers, assume they will be rich and thus vote against higher taxes? That makes sense.

  16. Matthew Correia Says:

    And in response to Lorenzo, I think the great thing about Bernie is he is not a “true socialist” in that he doesn’t want to remove the private market for private ownership. Bernie Sanders is a man who owns multiple homes, cars, etc. He is a capitalist.

    BUT He sees the VALUE of pirmarily Marxist ideals. Philosophy of politics is an evolution, ideas can inform each other. I have seen Senator Hart, here even, cite the likes of Machivelli(a classical conservative) to defend liberal ideas. Bernie is similarly using “modern views” on the economy to inform what is chiefly a classically LIBERAL philosophy. Again, the biggest evidence of this is his ownership of nice houses/mansions. Bernie is not some crazy, radical, ascetic Marxist, he just sees value in some of the ideas of public ownership in some spheres.

    I think, if anything, Bernie sells himself as MORE socialist than he really is.

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