There was a time that four issues largely defined the agendas of many prominent Republicans: A concern about national debt, a belief in a strong American presence on the world stage, the value of “free markets and free people” and a certain moralism built on personal accountability. In the Trump era, all four have been abandoned by the Republican Party. Any challenger, Republican or Democrat, who picks up these four gold coins will do well with a broad swath of those moderate voters who so often decide elections. They will also make our country a better place.

In 2015, when Pope Francis issued his Laudato Si’, an encyclical on the environment, he instantly became the world’s religious leader on anthropogenic climate change. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many evangelical Christian pastors expressed skepticism or denial of climate change. But given the plethora of religious traditions in the world, it is important to consider what other faiths teach on this crucial issue.

Our nation paused this past week to bid an emotional farewell to its last president drawn from the Greatest Generation, a generation that, by God’s grace and undaunted courage, helped save Western Civilization. Tributes cascaded from the pulpits of both the National Cathedral in Washington and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. That generation’s enduring virtues of guts and sacrifice were celebrated by renowned statesmen such as his closest friend, former Secretary of State James Baker; insightful chroniclers such as Bush’s biographer, Jon Meacham; and by family members likewise drawn to public service — a son, President George W. Bush 43, and a grandson, George P. Bush.

Three years ago I attended my 60th high school reunion. At the Friday night banquet I surveyed the crowd: We had almost 600 in our graduating class, so even 60-plus years later we had a good group. But as I looked around, I wondered: Who are these old people? Answer: They were the people I grew up with, spent a remarkable period of my life with. Many of them I remembered all the way back to elementary school.

Judaism has a tradition that those who mourn should not listen to any music for one month. On Tuesday, exactly one month after 11 worshippers were shot at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, violinist Itzhak Perlman will hold a concert in honor of those who died. On Oct. 27, my beloved hometown of Pittsburgh experienced the worst anti-Semitic attack on American soil.

We aren’t among those who assume our president and first lady are such snowflakes that they can’t take the sort of good-natured ribbing to which our Republican friends subjected earlier presidents and first ladies (i.e., Obamas, Clintons). We thus politely decline the suggestion (tied to a brick that came through the front window) to “LEAVE THE TRUMPS ALONE.”

In the United States, we have long held that universal, free (that is, tax-supported) public education for youth is a fundamental responsibility of society and serves as a basic community resource, providing a pathway to understand democracy, exercise responsible citizenship, explore the world’s accumulated knowledge, appreciate American culture and prepare for a world of work in which we ultimately attain economic security. However, extending from the first taxpayer-supported school in 1639, attaining free public education for all children has been a bumpy evolution, fraught with issues of both race and religion.

Nearly a year has passed since his death, but on Dec. 2, 2017, we buried another World War II hero. I know that you didn’t hear about it. It didn’t make much news, but this man, my Uncle Alphons Urbanovsky, 95, was a member of the Greatest Generation. He did what he had to do and didn’t ask for a handout or sympathy. He proudly served his country and worked to provide for himself, his family and his community.

Official election returns start coming in within a few hours. Whatever happens, I have learned some things about the power and potential of American democracy by investing three to four hours daily for three weeks in being part of a phone bank for the Beto O’Rourke Senate campaign — the first time I have done this for anyone.

“How do you have patience for people who claim they love America but clearly can’t stand Americans?” These words are spoken by a political lobbyist in the 1995 movie, “The American President.” In it, a lobbyist is having a romantic relationship with President Shepherd, a widower. No party affiliation is referenced, but the president’s primary re-election opponent is politically rabid Sen. Bob Runsom.

I am somewhat conflicted about news regarding the 14th Amendment to our Constitution. It was ratified on July 28, 1868, and was obviously enacted to provide for the citizenship of slaves and their children. Since then it has somehow evolved into a “magic wand” for citizenship for thousands, if not millions, of the children of illegal immigrants. That issue is approaching a boiling point due to “caravans” headed toward our borders.

At the Baylor Homecoming two years ago, the 1976 Track and Field Team — of which I was a member as a pole vaulter — was recognized at halftime of the football game for winning the SWC Indoor Conference Track and Field Championship 40 years earlier. Most members of that team were in attendance for the weekend’s festivities which in addition to the football game included a dinner and the homecoming parade.

Some of you might be thinking right about now, “Isn’t this the same guy who also hates Valentine’s Day?” The answer to your question is “Yes,” but only because I can never pick a good gift or place to eat on Valentine’s Day. I hate Halloween for a whole different set of reasons. The main reason is that I get tired of hearing people say they like my scary, grumpy old man mask. This is especially frustrating because when they ask, I’m never wearing a mask.

The other evening as I scanned Facebook while watching a cable news segment on an attempt by the North Dakota state legislature to suppress the Native American vote in this year’s mid-term elections, several Facebook posts from Waco friends caught my eye: They contained a photo of a page from the most recently published Waco City Limits newsletter. In it: an announcement that the date of the upcoming mid-term election was “November 16, 2018.”

The 2018 general election has been widely heralded as “the most important election in a generation.” From the climate standpoint, this description is appropriate. While climatologists intensify their warnings that we must decarbonize by 2050, the Trump administration’s every environmental action is decreasing our ability to combat climate change. We will thus compare the climate change portfolio of candidates in several of the major November races.

While the nation convulsed through more than two weeks of tumult as the U.S. Senate examined and considered the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, I heard from many people who spoke with absolute certainty. Some were convinced, utterly convinced, that Kavanaugh was falsely accused. Others were just as convinced he was guilty. They saw bright lines and bad motives. Systems of judgment, though — both criminal law and the proceedings involving Kavanaugh — are not black and white. Rather, they’re drawn in grayscale, somewhere on a spectrum between absolutes. And yet we must act on those sometimes subtle gradations.

Between my junior and senior years in high school, I worked on my uncles’ farms in southern New Jersey. The first day I got to drive an old tractor from one farm to another, except I could not figure out how to stop it as I slowly rolled into the garage at my destination. Luckily, I was going very slow and there was a very sturdy work table at the end of the garage that stopped me. Totally flustered, I backed out and rolled right over one of my uncle’s tool boxes.

If you somehow missed the recent production of “Newsies” by the Waco Civic Theatre, you need to submit to a civic flogging. Speak to anyone fortunate enough to score a ticket for one of the many sold-out performances and you’ll hear nothing but praise for the casting, singing, acting, set design, lighting and, most of all, the intricate and exciting choreography. Highlighted by the delightful characterizations by Joey Tomayo as lead newsie and Karis McMurry as his romantic counterpart, the entire cast — from very young to more experienced — was superlative in conjuring up a time long gone. Not lost in importance: The local talent did it all. Tomayo is a first-grade teacher at Rapoport Academy and McMurry is a local senior in high school!

Whether at Waco’s weekly Enneagram gathering or across the pond at the London Enneagram Centre, this personality test to end all personality tests is as popular as royal engagements. Many humans have developed an insatiable hunger to know if they are a Reformer, Lover, Achiever, Creative Individualist, Thinker, Security Seeker, Adventurer, Leader, Peacemaker or some perverse combination thereof. OK, we’ll confess a few here and there are not so infatuated.

In a field just three blocks from tourist mecca Magnolia Market at the Silos lay a homeless man fast asleep in the middle of the day. He was covered with blisters from the sun, with stickers and grass embedded in his matted hair. He smelled of both alcohol and human excrement. He had no sleeping bag, no bottle of water and no protection from the 103-degree temperature. As he awakened to the touch of a person trying to help, his words made no sense. “There are demons all over me,” he said in confusion. Then he cried out loud with tears running down his face.

The editorial board of the Waco Tribune-Herald recently recognized the relationship between our summer’s intense heat and drought and climate change. Although the equivalent term “climatological shift” was used for “climate change,” I applaud the Trib Board for referencing this critical association. This column will explore more deeply the issues of severe weather and global warming raised in the editorial.

Recent decades have produced numerous scientific studies on the devastating effects of plastics on our environment. Some plastics take centuries to degrade to a level where they no longer threaten terrain wildlife, marine life and soil fertility. Fish and wildlife routinely swallow plastics as a food source or strangle themselves attempting to play or interact with plastics. And plastic obviously offers no nutritional value to the soil for the feeding of plant life.

On Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship USS Missouri, a son of German pioneers from Fredericksburg, Texas, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, signed a treaty with Japan ending World War II. My dad fought across the Pacific and always admired both General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz, who worked together to coordinate a brilliant Pacific offensive that brought Japan to unconditional surrender with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If truth is indeed still truth, let’s accept a certain harsh reality about ourselves before it’s too late. Many people attack the free press because they prefer a narrative that suits their sensibilities about politics, society and religion, regardless of whether it always withstands scrutiny. And here’s another truth: Any leader who undermines accountability by elected officials is inherently weak in integrity and should be viewed as a threat to our individual liberties — perhaps not now but surely in the future.

The latest clash in a long-running war that threatens the progressive movement in America took place Aug. 13, 2018 in a courtroom in nearby Waxahachie. The Trump administration was not a party to this fight over who would be on the ballot to replace Republican Congressman Joe Barton. In fact, Barton’s former chief of staff, now the Republican nominee for the November general election, referred to the lawsuit as being “like manna from heaven.”

There are a lot of important things we’re talking about in national politics these days. My law school classmate, Brett Kavanaugh, has been nominated to the Supreme Court and the usual (and appropriate) attention is being given to his record. Trade and international tariffs are a hot issue. So, of course, is the ongoing investigation into Russian influence on our elections.

A year ago this weekend, carrying tiki torches, Confederate battle flags and banners, tens of thousands of neo-Nazi, alt-right and white supremacists gathered from 35 states across America for a massive rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Anti-Nazi and anti-fascist counter-protestors clashed with them. Many were severely beaten. On the final day of the rally, a white supremacist launched his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one, wounding 20 others.

Much has been said over the past two years about the “coarsening of political discourse” in the United States, lamenting the devolution from discussing policy differences to name-calling and even character assassination. Traditionally, we have looked to our political leaders to inspire and remind us of the higher values of democracy and what it means to universally cherish life, liberty and the pursuit of prosperity — the original meaning of “happiness” in 1776. But few would disagree with the observation that public political conversation has become more polarized and confrontational.

Flashback

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

The U.S. economy has been performing well, setting the stage for future growth. Much of the slack in the labor market has been eliminated. Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 261,000 in October and the unemployment rate is down to 4.1 percent. The number of unemployed persons was 6.5 million, down 1.1 million since January. About 1.6 million of the unemployed had been jobless for 27 weeks or more.