Every time I read the Gettysburg Address—especially the final few sentences—I tear up. It’s such a concise and powerful speech. I can only imagine how the audience reacted to President Lincoln’s five-minute masterpiece after listening to Edward Everett pontificate for nearly two hours. In 300 seconds Lincoln summed up horrific slaughter, honorable sacrifice, and American exceptionalism.
Now, in August 2016, I believe we’re experiencing a political Gettysburg, as two sides are locked in a massive, destructive, and sometimes horrifying battle. At times the fighting seems only to reinforce the status quo—a war of attrition. Eventually, one side will prevail, likely the one with greater resources. I’m thinking it’s Hillary Clinton.
But, either way, the nation will never be the same again.
What’s being shattered now, as you read this story, is the governing consensus. Although it’s been fraying for quite some time, it’s now in tatters. Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and others have marshaled significant support by championing proposals that are outside of the boundaries that have been in place since the end of World War II.
The country demands a new “middle” for the parties to accept, one that allows for political stability, vigorous debate, and collective progress. Not everyone will get their way, but everyone must have their say.
Many groups, including No Labels (http://www.nolabels.org) are actively working on these issues, often with little fanfare. More need to get involved.
The Economist magazine—one of my favorite news sources—speaks to some of the key issues at stake in this election, specifically the issue of openness in our systems.
Below are three key issues that I believe, if addressed effectively by politicians and voters alike, can set the stage for a new governing consensus in America.
First, leaders must make a better case for open borders and trade. Openness is messy—and it works. Although the world seems as though it’s falling apart in many ways, the last twenty years of openness have been among the safest and most prosperous in human history. Openness reduces poverty and diminishes conflict.
Additionally, openness must prevail within America’s social, political, and economic systems. For too long the measure of progress has been the inclusion of a token minority or two in a system—similar to when Donald Trump suggests at a campaign rally that the sighting of one African American face in the audience provides evidence that he is a supporter of the group. Wrong. An open society needs to mean that racial and ethnic groups move beyond grudgingly tolerating each other and move towards including and appreciating one another. Not every group is the same. White privilege is real. Inner city challenges impact some communities more than others. We need dialogue to address these issues—out in the open—so that citizens can make deliberate efforts towards building a stronger communities. We too often get stuck in fruitless cycles of blame, fear, and retribution.
Second, the country needs a stronger social-safety net. Globalization creates winners and losers, even more so than the free-market systems of forty years ago. This doesn’t mean creating an enormous welfare state that redistributes hard-earned money from innovators to lazy, entitled do-nothings. It does mean evolving government support systems to help the unemployed manage job or career changes and transition to the new economy by acquiring new skills.
More specifically, the country is moving to what many economists call an “Artisanal Workforce.” Likely gone are the days in which large companies employed tens of thousands of workers who traded time for big salaries. An artisanal economy allows technology and flexibility to support workers starting business, pursuing personal passions, and making the impact on the world that they choose. Government can help support the private sector in framing this change for the population and providing measured resources.
And third, unstack the deck. Effective lobbying efforts shouldn’t undermine voting. For example, close to 90% of Americans support common-sense gun control measures. Not a repealing of the second amendment. Not a government-led confiscation of all firearms across the country. Yet the effectiveness of the NRA to pressure politicians on this issue distorts the will of the people. Similarly, many unions stand in the way of progress on educational reform, sometimes putting their own short-term needs ahead of the pupils they serve. Banks that are “too big to fail” end up failing us all. No lobbying group should be a de facto “shadow government” that controls the agenda and makes the rules behind closed doors.
Democracy is a messy business. As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Yet it tends to work because of its adaptability to changing times.
Let’s evolve American politics. The so-called left and right coalitions have served the American system for decades. Both have admirably contributed to a nation that is prosperous, safe, and open—by any objective world standards.
The country needs a new governing consensus—and then within that consensus various groups can emerge to advocate positions and influence outcomes, openly and fairly. The system is not failing; it’s in need of reform.
The only mistake at this point would be to give up. Lincoln didn’t and I won’t.