The Universal Notebook: Sharing enriches the American Dream

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The things we share make possible the things we don’t. At a time when some people want to elevate private enterprise and personal profit over the common good, we need to remind ourselves that private gain is only possible when the public interest is well served first.

The ground upon which consumer capitalism grows is prepared by public education, public libraries, public safety and the justice system, public works and public health. Few would prosper without the investments we make together in a civil society.

Public facilities are an expression of a community’s shared values. That’s why I was so pleased to see that voters in Regional School Unit 5 last week finally approved construction of a new track and field after several failed attempts to do so. Voters in Durham and Pownal voted against the track, but voters in Freeport carried the day.

Investment in public education, whether in salaries, programs or facilities, is never wasted. Good schools are self-perpetuating. They produce a healthy, educated citizenry that values education and they attract people who will support public education. Good schools also create property value. The difference between property values in Yarmouth, where we lived for 32 years, and Brunswick, where we have lived for two, is the school system.

Here in Brunswick, the Stowe School and the high school are first-rate, but the junior high and Coffin School in my backyard are not. Though I will never have children in the Brunswick schools, when it comes time to vote on replacement and renovation, I will support a major investment in our shared future. It will make Brunswick schools better, which in turn will make Brunswick better.

Among the things we share, the most fundamental is a commitment to a set of shared constitutional values. The U.S. Constitution was established not to elevate the one above the many, but “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

These are the communal ideals upon which America is predicated. Currently, in this state and in this country, these ideals are everywhere under attack by forces of self-interest and personal gain.

Maine has a proposed state budget that would save money by throwing 20,000 people in need off Medicaid and that would end general assistance altogether, forcing municipalities to take up the slack left by the state cutting the social safety net.

Nationally, Republicans are in the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act, throwing 59 million Americans to the wolves. The underlying tenet of the ACA is that if we all share the risk of health-care costs, it will 1) guarantee that everyone is covered and 2) bring down the cost of health insurance. The reason it has failed so far to bring down costs is that too many healthy Americans have opted not to participate. That’s why we need a universal single-payer health insurance system.

When you look at the current crop of cabinet nominees, all you see are people who do not believe in the missions of the departments they will head. Environmental protection? Justice? National parks? Fair housing? Health and human services? National security? Fair labor practices? Economic regulation? Public education? All threatened by the prospect of being led by people who either have no experience or who have no commitment to these ideals. The very air we all breathe is threatened when the desires of the few are placed ahead of the needs of the many.

The things we share express the highest and best ideals of the American Dream. What it will take to keep that dream alive over the next four years are generous spirits and selfless individuals, people willing to share their time, their talents and their resources to better the lives of all.

For me, as a Christian, the primacy of sharing in the grand scheme of things is nowhere more succinctly distilled than in the words of the communion liturgy:

“We thank you for the beauty and bounty of the earth and for the vision of the day when sharing by all will mean scarcity for none.”

Can they hear that in Augusta and Washington? “The vision of the day when sharing by all will mean scarcity for none.” That’s what I believe in. That’s what I voted for.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.