My introduction to the affairs of the community came early and from a great teacher–my father. I still have a check he displayed from the Office of the City Clerk of Sikeston, Missouri. The check is for $0.25; he received a quarter every three months as Mayor.
Dad saw his service as “giving back.” And after being defeated in an earlier election for Alderman, when the district he served was changed by a new political map, he did not complain. I suspect, although he didn’t say so directly, that he grew in defeat.
My introduction to politics in school was through the phrases “civic affairs” or “public affairs.” These were the phrases of the day used to describe democracy and at least suggested an understanding engagement between the elected and electors.
As I type, I can hear hard-edged voices saying “Isn’t that quaint?” Most ideologues and partisans have long since concluded that their way is the only way. Today it is not infrequent that narratives of destruction and doom accompany insistence on particular programs or policies or relationships. So, as I hear those voices, I recall by contrast Lincoln’s “appeal to our better angels.” Lincoln was speaking at a time when the Civil War still raged.
There is, of course, a lot to debate about, but yelling at each other is not debate. It is a rank appeal to emotion. And, we live in a time when unstable minds, not infrequently, translate political and religious hatred into guns and bombs.
Unfortunately, TV has converted unreality into “reality shows.” The current beneficiary is Donald Trump and the victim is civility.
There is, of course, no quick fix. Incivility will resist. America is already divided up into teams of combatants competing to see which will survive. When ruinous outcomes shape the political narratives, it can’t be good for the Republic.
What would be good for the Republic is a deeper appreciation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution–an essential element in the Bill of Rights. It reads: “Reserved Powers. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
While the Amendment deals with federal-state relationships, it implicitly deals with human relations. There is a recognition that if laws are made and enforced closer to where the voters live, the lawmakers will be forced to be more considerate of diverse opinions. Today, in public affairs, we need more consideration.
We know, of course, that there are national circumstances which require federal laws. Defense of country, civil rights, and aviation rules are several that quickly come to mind. When, however, the central government chooses to intrude on domestic affairs that can justly be left to the States, social fractures begin to appear and before long human division takes the shape of a deep river canyon. Better that the Congress and certainly the Supreme Court respect regional differences expressed through the ballot.
When the central government’s power is the hub around which most human affairs revolve, we invite instability and division. The nine justices of the US Supreme Court become outsized figures and the Court, meant to be non-partisan, takes on at least the appearance of partisanship. I have lost count of how many people have voiced disdain for Donald J. Trump, but have said they are voting for him because they don’t want Hillary Clinton to appoint the next Justices.
Additionally, and finally, when the central government controls much of our lives, presidential candidates become magnets for money. The money candidates receive is then used to buy people who poll, script, and package the candidates. Many voters then find a figure like Trump compelling because, regardless of how distasteful his candor, candor is above all else prized.
We should pay more attention to the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. In this moment of sharp division, our Republic would be more resilient if the calls for change had an outlet much closer to where people live and work.
leader who repairs the nation’s political fabric will be a historic figure.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.