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Mares: Shared Sacrifice

The election of President Trump has reminded me of Elizabeth K?bler-Ross' five stages of grief. The first is denial – as in how could 63 million people be so wrong? After that comes anger, followed by bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

So far, it appears that we’re well into the anger stage, with plenty of resistance movements afoot – like marching on congressional offices, letter writing campaigns, volunteer legal work on immigration, sending money to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. There's even a loose coalition called Indivisible whose manual is titled A Practical Guide for resisting the Trump Agenda. But if we ever hope to stitch the country back together again, we’ll need some middle-of-the road ideas to help us navigate the remaining stages of bargaining, depression and acceptance.

The Texas populist Jim Hightower once said "The only things in the middle of the road down here are yaller lines and daid armadillos" (sic) so the first challenge would be to find an idea that has countrywide relevance and lends itself to vigorous but civil debate. So I propose the topic of universal service – otherwise known as the draft.

To begin with, at age 18, every young man and woman would receive a choice of options for national service. In addition to the five branches of the military, graduates would learn about new civilian service branches organized around issues like education, health care and poverty, even infrastructure projects, a la the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930's. It seems patently unfair that just a small percentage of young Americans do the fighting for the rest of us, and creating a civilian option would provide a counterbalance to the notion that public service is only the duty of those in uniform.

We could create one million full-time civilian national-service positions. Universities and corporations, among other institutions, could help make national service obligatory - and socially acceptable. Schools could adjust their admissions policies - and employers their hiring practices – in order to benefit those who serve.

In both service paths, recruits would meet people unlike themselves, members of other classes and ethnic groups, with different aspirations. Young recruits would learn that shared sacrifice by the individual, for the sake of the community, lies at the heart of good citizenship.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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