Social Distemper by Al Sikes

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The Iraqis have a constitution, as do the Afghans. Both are relatively new and influenced by the United States. Yet, it would be hard to find anyone that believes Iraq’s or Afghanistan’s Constitutions have secured and stabilized those countries. Both countries are fraught with deep divisions; neither have cultures that yield readily to a stable constitutional democracy.

Culture is the hinge. In a constitutional democracy, bereft of civility, the way forward is difficult at best. Incivility is an attack on the very institutions we have so long celebrated—take a look at the latest polling on confidence in America’s foundation.

Today’s battle over Supreme Court nominations underscores the impotence of the Congress and too expansive interpretations by the Supreme Court. Both right and left believe their ultimate aims will be determined more by Courts than legislative actions. And, the last two Presidents have relied more on executive orders than prevailing with a legislative agenda.

Deep divisions did not start with President Trump nor will his defeat end them. He has, however, amplified divisions by his win/lose confrontations. Trump seems only satisfied when shaming the opposition. He, in particular, has sowed social distemper and we have only sour fruits to harvest.

Each public policy or election campaign battle is fought like the ultimate battle. Cycles of opinions, however, preclude that result; America is not owned by the right or left. Lawmaking is at its best when reason prevails; political battles thrive on passion, the antipode of reason.

I have been particularly alarmed by the power-seeking clergy. My religious tradition is replete with warnings about seeking power over love. Yet, the successor to Billy Graham, his son, is quick to attack in the pursuit of temporal power. The Church cannot win political wars; its doctrines can only prevail when it is true to its scriptures and its actions therefore show the world a winsome face.

And speaking of religions it is now, on the Left, an article of faith that some cluster of white men cannot find reason. I am all in favor of diversity, but find a construct that ultimately undermines our Constitution, a product of emotion not reason. The Founding Fathers were, after all, mainly a cluster of white men often drawing on the philosophic wisdom of white men.

I have no idea when the fever will pass or for that matter if it will. The causes of the fever will require strong medicine and in public affairs that means leadership. How many leaders, not pretenders, are prepared to be candidates in a political world where human frailty is weaponized and policy positions, aimed at Congressional resolution, are attacked by the Party’s base as being weak and accommodative?

Candidates in the weeks ahead will be pressed on the issues of the day. To me the biggest issue of the day is whether compromise is a necessary principle of first rank in our Democracy.

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. 

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