America deserves better. Donald Trump didn’t make America great. Nor have any of the hotheads on the Left or Right; they tear at American enlightenment.
E pluribus unum made America distinctive, aspirational and ultimately powerful. We all contribute or at least have the right to. This is the source of our enlightenment. And make no mistake, right now, in public affairs we are trading on what America has been. While enjoying historic momentum, we are depleting historic advantages.
America, a bold experiment, endures because our Constitution, laws, and institutions have been more right than wrong, adaptable, and resilient. These enduring strengths have protected us during periods of poor political leadership. We are now in one of those periods and the American people know it. Take a look at the polls which periodically measure people’s attitudes toward our political parties and important government, business and societal institutions.
My assumption is that most of the men and women who are elected to one of the two houses of Congress are reasonably able. Most had to run several campaigns against aggressive foes.
But, when it comes to courage there is clearly a troubling deficit. Members of Congress no longer go home to work; unfortunately, most emotionally and financially need the government job. The result: very little sacrificial courage since it is very difficult to run for office outside your political party lane.
Yet, there are important issues that can only be resolved by persons of goodwill who are willing to work with people whose political brand or constituency is different. Indeed the inability of Congress to even perform basic duties defiles the job they work so hard to keep.
Outside Party Lines
Let me begin what I hope will be participatory. The question: what challenges can only be resolved across party lines? There are a number of intractable issues on my list, but let me cite only three.
- The underlying freedoms our business communities and their employees enjoy have given America financial power that is almost unimaginable. We continue to be able to finance huge deficits that would swamp other countries. Yet, our greed for debt financing imperils this position as increasingly other sovereign debt, including China’s, are thought to be relatively safe. In the mid to long-term we will be competing against China on more than TikTok. Both political parties conspire to add more debt as they trade costly favors that are buried in omnibus spending bills almost no one understands.
- We have often come together and gotten to know each other through public education and military service. Public education has, in much of America, splintered. At the same time, most of America’s youth do not engage in military service. I suspect the election of Donald Trump surprised so many because Americans increasingly live in demographic silos. Are there ways we can draw on the strength of everyone while getting to know each other?
- Climate change is real. There is a solid case that our dependence on fossil fuels is at the least a contributing cause. There is an irrefutable case that new generation nuclear energy when paired with wind and solar will supply our energy needs while creating a much cleaner environment. But, we continue to take no for an answer as advocates hold the rudder tightly in roiling seas.
Alliances matter—we learned that in elementary school math. Power in most things comes from addition not subtraction. Are there public challenges that can break apart societal silos and create new alliances? Only, I believe, if there is a shift in how we use political leadership instead of letting political leadership use us.
America is, for very clever and aggressive entrepreneurs, a land of copious amounts of milk and honey. After a businesswoman or man has made a great deal of money, they often start charitable organizations that seek to improve the lives of people who have been less fortunate. The challenges America faces today put it in the less fortunate category when it comes to political leadership and government outcomes.
According to Pew Research approximately one-third of the electorate regards itself as independent of the two political parties. A well-funded and thoroughly bi-partisan organization should be formed and concentrate on a set of issues that will move independents and their voting patterns. It is time for those who have done very well to become politically active and to do so outside the divisions that have infantilized our politics.
This should not be a do-gooder organization that at best receives a tepid response. Its mission, principles and signature issues should be thoroughly poll tested so that it can shape its messages in an appealing way. Its organization brand must have energy and the leadership, skill and passion.
An effective independent organization will differ from a political party. It will not field candidates, but will put its thumb on the election scale by endorsing and advertising for candidates prepared to work on crucial issues outside the rhetorical echo chambers of intense partisanship.
It is often said we are evenly divided between Left and Right. Polls show otherwise, yet the bases of both political parties have outsized power. They are passionate and disciplined; only a countervailing force that is equally passionate and disciplined can move America beyond the intense polarization that is bleeding our body-politic.
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.