When my father was 6 years old, his family moved from the Old Road (now Combe Road) in Uintah, Utah, up the steep hill to Uintah flat, about where Ogden’s Harrison Boulevard would lead if it continued south. Dad’s job was to herd the family’s brood sow up the hill to the family’s new farm. (For you city folk, a brood sow is a fertile female pig.)
It was July 9, 1909, and the weather was July hot. Being young and in a hurry, Dad urged the hog to move faster than the beast wanted to move. Halfway up the hill, the sow had heatstroke and died.
It was one of the few times my grandfather lost his temper with his son. After all, the brood sow was a vital source of food for the family, producing large litters of piglets to be fattened up for ham and other cuts of protein. It would take months — even years — to raise up another brood sow.
The event made a lasting impression on my father. More than once, he said to me: “Don’t be in such a hurry; you’ll kill the pig.” He would then recount the story about Uintah hill and his father’s uncharacteristic scolding.
I sometimes think about that story when I hear news of today’s impatient young people marching up one ideological hill after another to demand change. Be careful, I think, or you’ll kill the pig.
Young people typically respond: “There isn’t time. We must save the world now. This moment. Before I grow even a day older.”
But democracy is, by design, a slow and deliberate process. Push it too hard, and it ends up with debilitating heatstroke.
One can make a rational argument that impatient young people inflicted Donald Trump on the nation. In 2016, vociferous rallies by mostly young people gave Bernie Sanders the impression that he might actually have a chance to win the nomination and the election. As a result, he withheld his endorsement of Hillary Clinton much too long. When he finally confronted reality, it was too late to bring his adoring crowds along with him. As a result, too many of the young rally-goers not only did not vote for Clinton, but did not vote at all. Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton, but he won the election in the Electoral College. It would have taken only a few thousand young voters in selected states to change the outcome. Instead, they killed American democracy for at least one election cycle. And even after Trump is gone, it will take a few years to raise up a replacement for this marvelous democracy that has nourished the nation so well for more than two centuries.
Endless hurrahs for young people who are willing to march for a cause. It undoubtedly raises awareness about vital issues for citizens who have grown too old to learn or too complacent to act. But the hard work begins after the marches and demonstrations are over. It involves learning about and voting for candidates who may not be as visible as presidential candidates but who have the understanding, the patience and the skills to work with others toward a vital goal. It involves working in roles that are not nearly as much fun (or as transitory) as marching or demonstrating, roles such as attending boring meetings and trudging door to door for worthy candidates. It may even involve preparing one’s self to be such a candidate, having the patience to wait for the proper time to campaign and sacrificing personal economic gain in favor of performing vital services.
There was a time when youthful energies called attention to the futility of the war in Vietnam. We did our best to demand action. The war ended — eventually. But despite our protests (and perhaps partially because of them), voters re-elected Richard Nixon. One wonders whether the conflict might have ended sooner — and with less trauma on both sides — if we had directed our attention more toward working wisely within the system to bring about change. In other words, if we had paid more attention to the struggles of the pig and less attention to our own impatience.
Don Gale, a longtime Utah journalist, remembers both the good and the bad that came from demonstrations against the war in Vietnam.