For those of us who pass by it in the months and years to come, the abandoned, 14-acre Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center campus in North Waco will stand as an enduring monument to cheap talk by state leaders when it comes to mental health. Every time a tragedy erupts involving someone who obviously has mental-health issues — mass shootings are common examples these days — a hue and cry goes up among lawmakers that government and society must aggressively expand access to improved mental-health treatment. And some of us take them seriously.

Flag Day 2018 finds the United States of America anything but united. Our nation is in tatters. Gone are the days when our presidents — whether George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt — stressed if not demanded unity of citizens and appreciation of our social, cultural and political differences. Instead, today’s leaders in the White House, Congress and the Statehouse play on our many differences — and then smugly wrap themselves in the American flag as patriots.

Anyone who reads this newspaper knows we have vigorously opposed voter suppression in all its many ugly guises. We repeatedly opposed the state’s 2011 voter photo ID law as racially discriminatory, a conclusion eventually shared by the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — twice. We have condemned gerrymandering as corrupt whether Democrats or Republicans practice it. But as more states contemplate laws updating voter rolls, we add this: At some point, non-voters must accept responsibility for their failure to act.

One of the joys of the Tribune-Herald staff and, we hope, our readership comes in highlighting innovative ways to do more good in this community and beyond. While watchdog reporting remains the Trib’s priority, how can we not relish giving space, for instance, to the resourcefulness locally and nationally to help place abandoned and unwanted dogs with appreciative and loving owners, no matter where they live? Trib staffer Cassie L. Smith’s Friday story about a 2-year-old pit bull terrier languishing on the Humane Society of Central Texas’ urgent adoption list for months and the angel who transported Millie to a pit-lover in Iowa shows that, in our age of political and social polarization, not all is lost. Not so long as dogs are around.

For all the factors contributing to Baylor University’s tortuous saga involving student sexual assaults, the Sam Ukwuachu case remains the powder keg that blasted it onto the national scene in late summer 2015. This came partially through Trib coverage but arguably more so through a Texas Monthly investigative piece given wide distribution. Considering some of the irregularities that marked the trial, it’s no wonder the case still confounds.

A familiar saying holds that those of us who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. Yet this argument pivots heavily on what we learn and how rigorously we internalize those lessons. For instance, what have we learned from D-Day, the massive Allied invasion 74 years ago that marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe at the cost of some 10,000 Allied troops killed, wounded or missing in action that day?

For years, establishments operating at the present-day site of Magnolia Table sold T-shirts acknowledging the challenges of the notorious traffic circle out front and allowing the wearer to boldly claim “I Survived the Circle.” Now that the best and brightest of the Texas Department of Transportation and City of Waco have collaborated on striping the circle to make it safer, it may well be time to bulk up on a new shipment of those T-shirts.

Whatever your thoughts on gun control, the Second Amendment and the deadly mass shootings that increasingly characterize our tumultuous times, some credit should go to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Last week this Republican champion of gun rights dared to hold meetings with law enforcement authorities, state and federal lawmakers (not all of them from his political party), Second Amendment advocates and survivors of the May 18 shooting rampage at Santa Fe High School. This required more courage than we ordinarily see in politicians financially beholden to the National Rifle Association.

In what may well be a microcosm of our times, the Hewitt City Council opened its meeting Monday night with a plea that all assembled keep military personnel in faraway war zones in mind because “they’re the reason we can meet like this in a free country.” That done, the meeting erupted into furor over everything from allegedly defaming civil servants to a romantic affair that isn’t quite so scandalous to that most combustible signpost of all — Facebook indiscretions.

Thoughts and prayers? Why, sure. Bring ’em on, state and federal officials. Prayers for the dear, departed souls of yet more students and teachers shot dead at a school a little closer to home than the one in Parkland, Florida, home of all those annoying, so-called “soulless” students who dared to voice outrage about shooting rampages. Prayers, too, to the grieving families.

Longtime McLennan Community College softball coach Manuel Ordones has declined to speak of his May 2 resignation amidst allegations of impropriety, but his many fans haven’t been so quiet. On the Trib Facebook page and in letters to the newspaper, some say nine students on the MCC softball team forced Ordones’ resignation over childish concerns regarding playing time and team discipline — and not inappropriate comments and actions he allegedly made or took.

There’s quiet irony in the fact Andrea Jackson Barefield will join the Waco City Council just two days after Mother’s Day, given the fact her mother represented a powerful presence not only on the council but also in our city. Annals show Mae Jackson was our town’s first popularly elected black mayor, but she was far more than that.

However one feels about his candidacy, one must feel at least some sympathy for Barry Johnson, Republican candidate for district attorney in what has to be one of the strangest county-wide races we’ve seen in years. After all, the Democratic candidate for the position, we are repeatedly told, has only suspended his campaign. Yet serious voters are right to wonder some five and a half months from Election Day: Is he in this race or out?

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, sometimes compared to President Trump in brash persona, remarked Monday that the president will indeed rate a Nobel Peace Prize if “he can fix North Korea and if he can fix the Iran nuclear deal.” Given the vehemence with which Trump condemned the 2015 Iran pact as he announced the United States’ withdrawal from it this week, one only hopes his newly assembled diplomacy team is up to the complex challenges.

Last Saturday West residents voted down a proposed $20 million bond issue to construct a new, larger West Elementary School, a development that, at least on the surface, doesn’t make sense when one considers the valiant struggle of this resilient community to rebuild after a deadly ammonium nitrate blast leveled or heavily damaged much of West five years ago. Only weeks before the school election, town leaders were taking a well-deserved victory lap, leading anniversary celebrations of the amazing progress made since the explosion.

Last month in these pages, McLennan County Veterans Service Officer Steve Hernandez hit the public alarm button concerning not only plans to relocate the Post-Traumatic Residential Rehabilitation Program (PRRP) from Doris Miller Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco to VA facilities in Temple but the possibility VA officials contemplate another run at shuttering the local medical center, as they did more than a decade ago. Hernandez noted how, after much debate over moving PRRP in 2016, the decision was made to keep it in Waco. Now its future here seems fluid at best, though Republican Congressman Bill Flores is fighting the move. We’ll see how that works out.

With respects to our well-intentioned friend Bobbyee Oliver on this page, we must acknowledge increasing reservations about the National Day of Prayer as practiced on Capitol Hill in recent years. Lawmakers have too often proven the National Day of Prayer is more political prop than principle. Example: Congress’ continued dithering on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era immigration program that allows some individuals brought to the United States illegally as children to not only delay possible deportation but also become eligible for work permits in our country.

As a rule, the Trib leaves ribbon-cuttings and store openings to others such as the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, but today we make an exception: We heartily welcome Dick’s Sporting Goods on occasion of its grand opening in Waco this past weekend. Even before it opened locally, the company set a fine example of being a good corporate neighbor, bowing to polls consistently showing that overwhelming numbers of Americans really do question sales of what are commonly referred to as “assault weapons.”

If the long, winding and extraordinarily complicated saga of Texas’ 2011 voter ID law is ever fully laid down, its telling will be further muddied by outright ignorance and devious political manipulation of the worst kind. This includes all those who supported this odious law by insisting (and possibly in all sincerity), “Why, what’s so wrong with having to show a photo ID at the polls?”

It’s Precinct 2 McLennan County Commissioner Lester Gibson’s tragic fate that, after a long and remarkable career in public service, he winds up his final year in office as an example of political “whataboutism.” If examples we’ve seen everywhere from Facebook to the McLennan County Republican Club are any indication, his failings are regularly, even gleefully, trotted out to excuse other politicians of misbehavior, bad policy and cheap shots.

Never in our history have so many Americans, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, voiced so much concern about the right to vote being impeded or votes themselves being rendered irrelevant. Given everything from slyly crafted voter ID laws obviously intended to suppress minorities to foreign campaigns to undermine confidence in our democratic processes, the outrage is understandable. Yet, year after year, many elections attract only a small percentage of eligible voters.

Republican Congressman Bill Flores has announced another series of town-hall meetings that, strictly speaking, aren’t town-hall meetings at all but essentially Facebook video chats, complete with telephone and email access. While we don’t deny such formats bolster accessibility for shut-ins as well as folks living in rural stretches who can’t always drive to the larger towns where real town-hall meetings were once held, such formats short-circuit vital, face-to-face encounters where constituents give their congressman bits and pieces of their pent-up minds — pro and con, left and right, Republican and Democrat, good and bad.

Of anecdotes told during Tuesday evening’s service marking the fifth anniversary of the ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people, injured hundreds more and blew part of West off the map, none proved more telling than that offered by civic leader John Crowder. Three schools in West ISD were lost in the earthshaking blast, he said. Yet when the new week began just days later, local students were pursuing their studies, notwithstanding all the death, destruction and uncertainty then smoldering about them.

Of all the disturbing images of the 51-day FBI siege of the Branch Davidian complex 10 miles east of Waco, few convey the tragedy better than searing photographs of the place in flames amid a tank and tear-gas assault 25 years ago today. For those in the know, these images make people wince, turn away, shake their heads. Such images represent, after all, the awful coming together of dynamics contributing to a colossal loss of life that day (at least 76 people, many of them children, claimed by flames, smoke and gunfire reportedly originating with the Davidians themselves) and even earlier in the spectacularly botched Feb. 28, 1993, raid by federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents (four agents and six Davidians dead). But where to start in any retrospective analysis? Equally important: Do the dynamics of 25 years ago have contemporary parallels that compel us to question what’s happening all around us today? Dare we ask?

No time of year more than spring reveals how picky we McLennan Countians can be on what past local events rate historical and societal reflection. Many folks — especially those past a certain age — are happy to revel in a milestone anniversary of the May 11, 1953, tornado striking Waco. While the tornado left 114 dead and much of our city in ruins, the incident nearly 65 years ago is punctuated by rousing anecdotes of sacrifice, heroism and unity. Themes of rescue, renewal and rebuilding run rampant. And it’s not like anyone “caused” the killer tornado.

The Tribune-Herald was one of the very first newspapers in the nation to endorse Republican Congressman Paul Ryan when he was announced as the bottom-half of the Republican presidential ticket in 2012. Our editorial proclaimed that his presence on the team “guarantees the Republican campaign will focus on issues instead of the demagoguery and sound bites that now characterize both campaigns.” His involvement in the Mitt Romney campaign, we said, would “prompt vivid discussion about concerns the tea party first raised three years ago.”

Outrage, skepticism and, perhaps more than anything, confusion have festered lately in normally peaceful Woodway over questions of sexual harassment involving a once largely unquestioned city leader. The matter culminated when Yost Zakhary, who has long led the city as both public safety director and city manager, offered to resign from the latter post after earlier agreeing to leave the former.

From a business perspective, the empire launched by Waco-based reality TV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines demonstrates smarts, foresight and entrepreneural daring. Even as their home-renovation series ended last week (reruns continue), the couple has charted well beyond it, maintaining the insanely popular Magnolia Market at the Silos, overhauling and reopening the Elite Cafe as Magnolia Table, producing a handsome home furnishings magazine and plenty else. To our thinking, their example vividly bolsters the case for proper expansion of Cameron Park Zoo.

Many Americans’ preference for President Trump is based on an image he carefully cultivated as a decisive, studied corporate titan with useful insights into the qualities that make up a good management team plus a keen regard for all that unbridled capitalism can do. In the past year, this image has taken some lumps on the first point, given the number of people he has hired with great pomp, then thrown under the bus without so much as a parting “You’re fired!”

Individuals swept up in what has increasingly seemed a wildly indiscriminate Twin Peaks dragnet on May 17, 2015, are understandably disappointed by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ decision Monday further delaying action on their civil rights lawsuits. After all, many allege almost brutal disregard of their civil rights in the wake of deadly Twin Peaks violence between members of rival motorcycle groups, the Bandidos and the Cossacks. More than 170 bikers landed in jail on dubious charges. Many remained there for weeks on million-dollar bonds. Hardly justice’s finest hour.

Easter 2018 finds Christianity in crisis. As Americans mark the resurrection of Christ , some Christians fear their faith is under societal siege. Others wonder if Christianity isn’t so much imperiled by an increasingly agnostic people or godless culture but by their own church leadership, particularly among so-called “evangelicals.”

A memorial is nothing if it doesn’t yield lessons to subsequent generations. And while monuments such as the Waco Vietnam Veterans Memorial command reverence for the fallen and awareness of sacrifices borne by those who served alongside them in conflict, these monuments should also spur each of us to think hard in the here and now. When our political leaders whip followers into a frenzy for war, do we as citizens pause to ponder the cost in blood and treasure? Or do we let what passes for patriotism blind us to the frightful consequences and grim possibilities?

Federal lawmakers on the right and left are talking more about the need to regulate Facebook, which raises a basic truth that all businesses should embrace. If you want to discourage stern regulation by Big Brother, the rules are simple: Scrutinize your own business practices, stamp out abuses, anticipate trouble and, when you mess up, admit it promptly and offer pragmatic solutions to assure your customers that it won’t happen again.

Never did we imagine we would reach a point in national politics and American society where adults vehemently blamed and even vilified children for leading peaceful campus walkouts to improve campus safety. Even conservative jurists have made it abundantly clear that First Amendment rights do not end at the schoolhouse door. And if there’s one area of politics where high school students surely have the right to speak out, it’s societal conditions that leave them less safe in the classrooms and hallways of their own schools.

Even before 23-year-old Mark Conditt blew himself up Wednesday morning along busy Interstate 35 in nearby Round Rock, the vermin infesting political extremes tried to make hay of the series of explosions that left the city of Austin and Central Texas in terror. The goal: Use these tragic events to confirm their own political narratives, whether facts backed them or not.

For at least some Americans, war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia conjures images of combat on land, at sea and in the air, fought with tanks, ships and bombers. Yet intelligence information increasingly suggests that will be the final phase — and only after the Russians or other enemies of democracy have softened up the United States for the kill through more subtle but effective means of 21st-century warfare.

Our nation is about to get a whopping lesson in tariffs, an economic trade initiative that has sharply divided the United States since the republic’s earliest days. President Trump’s decision to impose largely indiscriminate and significant tariffs on imported steel and aluminum as a way to revive the domestic steel industry has fellow Republicans in Congress worried that it could undermine benefits of the recently passed tax law.

During a Wednesday afternoon press conference with Texas news media, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, second in command of Senate Republicans, voiced surprise at high Democratic turnout in the primary election back in his home state. He warned fellow Republicans to avoid complacency in the Nov. 6 general election, no doubt fueled by speculation that Democrats may retake Congress. Regardless of your party affiliation, that’s sterling advice for voters.

Republicans who treasure integrity, transparency and accountability in the administration of justice in McLennan County should vote for Barry Johnson for district attorney in Tuesday’s Republican primary election. Of all our election recommendations in spring 2018, this one we advocate most fervently. We do so not only for the sake of daily justice but also the reputation of our county.

If our accomplishments are to be judged fairly, they must be judged in proper context. Yet even this fails to tell the entire story. Certainly, retiring City Manager Dale Fisseler must be gauged by more than the time he spent leading our city — four years — even when placed alongside the 33 years that his predecessor (and supporter) Larry Groth spent in various capacities at City Hall.

For visitors, tourists and local folks alike, Magnolia Table now beckons, testing not only motorists’ vigilance on our city’s infamous traffic circle but Chip and Joanna Gaines’ ability to master ownership and management of a restaurant. Our view: The challenges of negotiating the roundabout or even restoring an old home pale alongside ensuring customer satisfaction in a competitive restaurant business that does not long tolerate slackers. This latest endeavor may well test the Gaineses more than anything they’ve thus far pursued.

Last week saw a remarkable televised town-hall meeting dominated by Stoneman Douglas High students and teachers, most of them outraged over the Valentine’s Day mass shooting that left 17 fellow students and teachers dead. The culprit in this massacre: a former student armed with an AR-15 rifle. Only hours later NRA firebrand Wayne LaPierre, speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference, warned that “opportunists” now use this massacre to push a “socialist agenda” that includes scrapping gun rights.

Many old enough to recall crusading evangelist Billy Graham in his prime and his nationally televised sermons before thousands in coliseums and auditoriums worldwide marveled at his animated, stunningly direct way of spreading the Gospel, back when saving souls was the primary business of evangelism. At his very best, he stressed a Christianity of optimism, patriotism and inclusiveness, including in the area of civil rights.

Since his very first election in the tea-party tidal wave of 2010, McLennan County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry has consistently impressed us as a bold leader and consensus builder. Rather than ducking problems or applying bumper-sticker slogans to complicated challenges facing the county and constituents, he routinely has rolled up his sleeves, sounded out his fellow commissioners and constituents for input and offered practical and thoughtful solutions. We strongly recommend Ben Perry be re-elected to a third term on the county commissioners court.

Hearty congratulations to the League of Women Voters of Waco for not only staging an engaging and informative candidates forum Tuesday at Knox Hall but pursuing a more active role in helping voters better acquaint themselves with both candidates and issues. At a time when more and more dubious sources on social media mislead if not outright lie to Americans about politics — and when too many of our so-called “friends” are happy to oblige the enemies of democracy by posting such filth — the nonpartisan league in its newly reinvigorated incarnation seeks to provide deeper insight into those individuals vying for our votes.

The past six Sundays, the Waco Tribune-Herald has again offered, as a public service, lengthy Q&As with local candidates in contested races in the upcoming primary election. In coming days we’ll offer Trib editorial board recommendations of certain candidates who particularly impressed us with their grasp of the issues (many of them complicated), their ability to offer practical solutions to problems and, yes, their talent for consensus-building. As we’ve said before, such recommendations are sometimes based on their politics but more often we ascertain candidates as if they were in a job interview: Based on their answers and demeanor, who would you hire to work for you?

Cruel ironies arise from the latest mass shooting, this one at a South Florida high school where a gunman took apparent revenge on students and teachers in halls he once walked. One irony: the cries of supposed grief and anguish from national leaders for young victims, even as many of these same leaders do everything they can to exile nearly 2 million young individuals whose only crime is they were born in a foreign land and came to America through no fault of their own.

With McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna desperately dumping Twin Peaks biker cases right and left in recent days, the astonished taxpayer must demand honesty of himself if not of Reyna: Does anyone really believe Reyna has suddenly been struck by an epiphany that has stubbornly eluded him in the nearly three years since the May 17, 2015, biker shootout that left nine dead and 20 wounded?

For those of us who pass by it in the months and years to come, the abandoned, 14-acre Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center campus in North Waco will stand as an enduring monument to cheap talk by state leaders when it comes to mental health. Every time a tragedy erupts involving someone who obviously has mental-health issues — mass shootings are common examples these days — a hue and cry goes up among lawmakers that government and society must aggressively expand access to improved mental-health treatment. And some of us take them seriously.

Paul Ryan, departing ingloriously from Congress in six months, has capitulated to Donald Trump and House right-wingers at the expense of the “Dreamer” immigrants brought to the United States at a young age. Ryan blocked a bipartisan bill that would have given the Dreamers protection from deportation and given them a pathway to citizenship. The measure also would have provided money for more sensible border security than the expensive and inefficient Trump wall.

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.

For more than seven years now, those critical of the Affordable Care Act have blanketed newspapers such as the Trib with letters to the editor decrying how Democrats back in 2010 “rammed” Obamacare down the public’s throat. Now that Senate Republicans are doing much worse — crafting a repeal-and-replace health care bill behind closed doors without so much as a legislative hearing — these same hypocritical critics are as quiet as crickets in winter. Ditto regarding the House Republican health care package passed this spring without a single hearing for the public to scrutinize and sound off.

Pronounce us not only impressed but even astounded at the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness Report Card that parents of school students receive this month. While some of the infighting over education in the Texas Legislature this past spring must surely discourage parents, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Texas Education Agency staff have produced a document that not only better communicates to time-pressed parents how their children did on STAAR testing but how parents can help them strategically improve. And if the TEA report card doesn’t give them enough information, they can log on to a state education website to learn more about their children’s strengths and vulnerabilities in testing.

If any incident can tug at the heart strings and beg for immediate and compassionate resolution, it’s that involving Nicki Stone, a gutsy young police officer and single mom of two fighting breast cancer who now finds herself at the center of attention over a city sick-leave policy. It’s also another instance that more broadly highlights the hypocrisy of a society that so often claims to be pro-life but can’t ever quite manage it day in and day out.

If there’s ever a right time for a McLennan County department head to accidentally hike his pay, this isn’t it. Homeowners are rankled over property appraisals and crying foul; the McLennan County Commissioners Court is preparing to enter the tedious, often contentious period of setting the budget and tax rate — typically a time of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth; and, finally, concerns over one commissioner’s forgetfulness in county affairs has spilled over into a public display of racially charged accusations of witch hunts and plots hatched behind closed doors.