A cancer on ‘The Last Best Place?’

February 7, 2022 6:24 am

Shaking hands illustration (Photo illustration via Pixabay | Public domain).

For Montanans “The Last Best Place” conjures up many things, including wide open spaces, bountiful resources, honest people, good neighbors, thoughtfulness, hard workers, and government run by people you know.  It is one big town with long distances between the neighborhoods. You know folks all over.  The kids may drive 250 miles to play a football game.

But this good place has cancer.  It lies in a malignant growth of dishonesty, selfishness, incivility and ignorance.  Recently a friend said that in all the 50 years he had lived here he was proud to say he was from Montana.  Now, for the first time, it makes him ashamed.

Don’t take this wrong.  We are still the last best place.  Neighbors and responders from all over help with a crisis like the Denton fire.  The local support services are always there to help the less fortunate among us. We remain healthy in many ways.  But we still have a cancer.

Congressman Matt Rosendale said last fall that he is proud to be endorsed in his reelection bid by Donald Trump – a corrupt, lying, anti-democratic, twice impeached (for abuse of office), bigot, who brags about groping women’s genitals and participated in a conspiracy to overthrow a presidential election.  Are these values that represent anyone’s “last best place?”

Republicans’ support for “the Big Lie” about the 2020 election, and for a political party that no longer supports American democracy, or truth in general, is both a Montana and national shame. A recent poll indicates two-thirds of Republicans apparently cannot tell you who legitimately won the last U.S. presidential election.  Only 10 percent understand that the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an insurrection.  This indicates a level of ignorance, or denial, in a major political party that is unprecedented in American history and scary.  If this is not a cancer, what is?

But the incivility and selfishness are sadly local and personal.  While vaccinations and mask wearing are not required in Montana, responsible citizens comply, if not for themselves, to keep their neighbors safe.  Whether there is some “Constitutional right” not to do so is not the point.  Otherwise, the message is clear: You care about your own rights, real or perceived, but you do not give a damn about your neighbors’ rights, health, or peace of mind.

Loaded guns in college dorms or libraries?  Few Montanans are anti-gun, but many appreciate the U.S. Supreme Court Heller decision that provides for special places where firearms are not appropriate.  Many families are uncomfortable sending their kids to a college that allows loaded weapons in dorms, or visiting a library with armed patrons wandering around.  They see these places as sanctuaries and their right to have them recognized as such.

Extreme gun advocates, however, and the Republican-led Montana legislature, do not care about the rights or feelings of these fellow Montanans.  This “to hell with my neighbor” attitude and behavior surrounding vaccines, masks, and guns is not a value to be associated with any “last best place.”  It is an ugly selfishness that is part of our public cancer.

The incivility we see now in some school board meetings, forums on public health, city council meetings, and similar gatherings is inexcusable.  This includes obscenities, name-calling, harassment, and even death threats.  An elementary school teacher might excuse some of this as “they weren’t raised right” or “they don’t know any better.”  But these are adult Montanans, they should know better, and their behavior is deplorable.

Make no mistake.  This is a cancer that has been nurtured under six years of Donald Trump on the political stage.  It is decidedly not a “both sides do it” thing.

What we need is for a number of Montanans to rediscover civility, decency, and fact-based discourse if we are to beat this cancer that is sickening “the last best place” we love.

David Darby is a believer in American democracy who has held a variety of senior positions in Montana, both in state and federal government, including State Budget Director. He also served for a decade overseas as a senior U.S. Treasury Department advisor to foreign governments.  He is retired and lives in Billings.

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David Darby
David Darby

David Darby is a believer in American democracy who has held a variety of senior positions in Montana, both in state and federal government, including State Budget Director. He also served for a decade overseas as a senior US Treasury Department advisor to foreign governments. He is retired and lives in Billings.