With President Donald Trump dominating news cycle 24/7, many Americans are happy to forget politics and spend President's Day relaxing. It has become just another three-day weekend to go to the movies or take the family on a quick vacation. Not for Utah Senator Mike Lee. In a recent phone interview, Lee shared his feelings on this particular holiday --- President's Day.
From his childhood, Lee developed a deep reverence for the Constitution, love for the Republic and respect for the office that continues to this day.
"As a Latter-day Saint (Mormon), I was taught by my parents that these were wise men raised up by God for that very purpose," Lee said. "Those involved in writing the Constitution --- not to say every word was inspired or infallible or their words were flawless, but on the whole --- the government they devised was absolutely brilliant. And it is a document that to the extent that we follow it, it has led to the greatest civilization the world has ever known."
Earliest President's Day Memory
While attending various Lincoln Day dinners in Utah and around the country, Lee's thoughts drifted back to his kindergarten days and the lessons he learned about the Constitution and two of our greatest presidents.
"My teacher made us a cake the Friday before President's Day, and it was decorated with this elaborate frosting depicting the faces of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington," Lee said.
His teacher taught Lee and the other children about the sacrifices these two presidents and their families made for a great cause and the Constitution.
"I always reflect back on that on President's Day," he said.
Respect for the Office
Throughout Donald Trump's presidential run, the Utah senator made no secret of his opposition to Trump's candidacy. But now, because of his deep respect for the office, Lee is looking for common ground with the President.
"There's nothing that will weigh a person down faster, more relentlessly than contempt for another human being," Lee said. "When you respect people who hold that office, even when you disagree, it actually makes life better. It causes you to look for ways to be constructive."
Because of his reputation as one of the most conservative members of the Senate, you might think Lee's favorite president would be someone like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, right? Possibly Ronald Reagan?
While he agreed all three of those belong on Mount Rushmore, leave it to Sen. Lee to choose one of the more obscure and widely ignored presidents of the last century to add to the group.
"Calvin Coolidge is not treated fairly by historians --- not even remotely," Lee said. "He's not treated well, perhaps in part because of his political philosophy, but he is the type of president we should always aspire to have."
One of the things Lee said he admired most about Calvin Coolidge was his deep respect for the Constitution.
"He was going to recognize limited power for the federal government at a time when it was rapidly becoming more fashionable to advocate for more government," Lee said.
Coolidge fought back against powerful interests within his own party advocating for bigger government, for higher taxes. He even went to war with large entities like the Chamber of Commerce who wanted higher taxes, while Coolidge wanted to reduce the tax rate. They fought him on this aggressively, but he won and convinced Congress to lower the rate.
"As he did that, even though he was mocked and ridiculed at every turn for taking this position, he was ultimately proven right," Lee said. "As they reduced the tax rate, the economy flourished and they actually brought in more revenue."
Coolidge was not only fiscally conservative but also knew the power in leaving things well enough alone. Sen. Lee referred to Amity Shlaes biography of Coolidge and his belief that government could cause harm with poor legislation.
No-Good Government Solutions
"Once a bad law is put in place it takes on a life of its own, it has its own inertia. It's there and it will continue, absent some other action," Lee said. "So it can be very hard to get rid of a bad law."
Ronald Reagan was famously quoted as saying: "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
Reagan would be spinning in his grave to know how much faith has been put in those people who are "here to help." Lee discussed the type of president we need to fix that problem.
"In an era over the last hundred years or so, we've seen the rise of the progressive movement in America. We've seen the American people put an almost religious-like faith in the government," Lee said. "Coolidge stands out in open defiance against that both for constitutional reasons and policy reasons that had to do with the need to protect the common man."
Optimism About Trump's Presidency
Now that Trump has been elected, his apparent reverence for the office has Lee optimistic.
"I'm hopelessly optimistic," Lee said with a chuckle. "I always believe that someone who believes in that kind of approach is willing to stick with it even though it's difficult, is willing to remain consistent with it, needs to be president and will be president. Our current president has just taken office and he could decide to be that type of president and I would be thrilled if he did."
Conservatives are often heard pining for the next Ronald Reagan, but according to Sen. Lee, America might be even better off with another Calvin Coolidge. Whether Trump can be that type of president remains to be seen. But we can all take a page from what a young Mike Lee learned back in kindergarten: Respect the office, reinforce the fabric of our great nation and be optimistic.
Elected in 2010 as Utah's 16th Senator, Mike Lee has spent his career defending the basic liberties of Americans and Utahns as a tireless advocate for our founding constitutional principles.