Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man speaks dissension.”
Leonardo da Vinci: “As every divided Kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.”
Solomon and da Vinci’s words are wise. It is not, however, necessary to retreat to centuries-old biblical verses or genius commentary.
Division is a daily headline. It often shows up in business or sports stories. Thousands of words are used to assess an organization’s uniting purpose and management—conclusions are expressed in terms of culture, morale, or chemistry.
Yet, our nation’s most important enterprise — governance — fails on any measure of effort to achieve unity. We optimists must fall back on the brilliance of the constitutional framework of separation of powers across branches. Yet, we all know that intense and intractable division among government leaders is debilitating.
Today we have a President whose attacks are berating and endless. No wonder he has no true allies and frequently falls back on his daughter and son-in-law for White House duties. He is even unwilling to give his latest Chief-of-Staff a permanent title. We don’t have an emergency at the border; we have an emergency in the White House.
The Constitution’s most expansive delegation of power was to Congress. Today they are incapable of timely budgeting and appropriating and frequently are so mired in heavily fertilized muck they cannot even keep the government open.
The dysfunction in the White House and Congress results in the federal courts being clogged with cases to sort out the constitutionality of Executive actions without Congressional approval. The centrality of the courts has become so pronounced that politicians fight to near fatal results over who gets confirmed.
America is often characterized as exceptional; indeed it has been. Today it has exceptional assets — our Constitution, for example; but a nation so emotionally wrought that it can’t operate successfully is not exceptional. If America were a sports team, it would be well down in the rankings and much of the blame would be attributed to player morale and poor locker room chemistry.
This is not, of course, the only time government division has undermined “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Our nation’s founders were unified on some things and deeply divided on others. We fought a civil war. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became so exasperated by the Supreme Court he tried to pack it with more justices.
Yet, our nation today faces unique and complex challenges. Let me give brief voice to one. The centrality of network computing threatens people, infrastructure they rely on, and their governments in untold ways. America’s history recalls that it has been protected by oceans and its military. Today, however, critically important networks can be seized, interrupted, and manipulated by a handful of clever people with ill-intent. China, for one, is organizing its computing assets to stifle dissent, steal secrets and incrementally compromise the networks of other countries.
Network computing, as the hub of a business or government enterprise, is capital intensive and artificial intelligence (AI) superiority is fed by large-scale data. Autocracies well led, that capture and utilize global computing assets, are a threat. Perhaps a clever politician can come up with a three word slogan to draw attention to this menacing reality facing the world’s democracies.
Freedom is a wonderful gift, but we should keep in mind an exchange with Benjamin Franklin, who after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or Monarchy?” Franklin replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
A Republic is “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their representatives”. America is at an emotional boiling point. The domestic and foreign sources of emotional heat are not going to turn down the temperature. Regardless of your partisan pre-disposition, vote for candidates who talk unity and have shown they will “walk the talk”.
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.