I suspect that very few people who read this article are going to like it, and that’s great. Because too many of us are just eating AI-driven Doritos for the brain, served up to us by social media. Delicious and satisfying, but most definitely not good for you.
I am an American ex-pat living in Spain for nearly 20 years, but I remain indelibly an American. And we can disagree on many things in the U.S.A., but democracy is not one of them. It is a rarity, but the one thing virtually all Americans can agree on is the sanctity of the country’s constitution and of the rule of law to protect that democracy.
Last Wednesday’s incursion into the United States Capitol immediately on the heels of a fiery speech three blocks away by the President seems to have broken the fever of populist divisionism that has driven the U.S. over the past four years. The population and much of the government has arisen from the somnolent poppy fields of Oz and said a collective “enough is enough.”
I am often asked by my American friends what Europeans think about what is going on in the U.S. And my answer is usually that actually Europeans generally think about other things. However in the last week, certainly the world has had its eyes on the U.S.
I think this roundtable with Cristiane Amanpour pretty much summarizes the world view. Europe has been there. A hyper-charged partisan atmosphere and a war against objective facts is a volatile recipe for authoritarianism.
Europe has, of course, struggled with its own nativist-driven politics recently (See Brexit). But generally from the outside, the situation in the US has looked like an odd collective somnolent hypnosis where it is just about sides, there IS no compromise, the facts do not matter and reasoned discussion is out of place.
I recently came across a really nice video from Arnold Schwarzenegger that serves as a clarion call against authoritarianism and complacency harkening back to his childhood in Austria. George Will sounded a similar cautionary note in our recent Spark Disruptors event as well.
I hope the sensible middle of the Democratic and Republican parties can unite. In my fantasy they would form a “Competence Party” focused on paving the roads, defending the borders, and teaching the population how to read, do math and think critically. Right now such a party could be incredibly powerful, as the Liberal Democrats in the UK have been from time to time. The old-school Republicans and the Democratic middle actually have a lot in common, and views that would resonate with a majority of the population, which is what they’ll need to have backing them in a democracy.
Along the way the fundamentals that have made the U.S. the beacon on the hill (Lady Liberty, the sanctity of Democracy, and a wide-eyed optimism) have given way to the language and actions of autocracy and bleakness.
Our issues are much more complex than the current partisan dynamic paints them.
Why are some of the big red states going purple? It’s because these states are well run by largely Republican governments, making those states appealing places to live with lower taxes. So blue state people move there because of that. Tell that story. I mean, California, run by Democrats, is a MESS. The taxes are high and homelessness is rampant. And New York is not much better. There is of course a gray zone. Massachusetts has a dynamic economy, good schools and a decidedly liberal bent; Alabama and Mississippi, not so much, on either count. It is a complicated story, but the point is that the Republican party does not need to depend on lower vote counts and nativism, and the Democrats may want to consider talking less about culture and more about inequity.
In the market of politics, as George Will likes to say, the politicians need to be selling ideas focused on the collective good and aimed at winning over the majority of the population. That’s where good policy and a stronger country will emerge from. Better policy will NOT come from a complete focus on “winning” and “blocking” but from finding common ground and better solutions and listening to the other side to take what is good, compromise and actually govern.
The irony is that the division the U.S. has been mired in comes from the very strength of America: its diversity. The diversity of people, ideas, and thought have been a hallmark of the country since its founding. That diversity is a two-edged sword: Sometimes, it cuts in the way of division, and sometimes, it cuts in the way of creativity and forward progress. And along the way, in a history that has certainly had its brutality, different groups of people strive for equality and empowerment, and those trends continue. The great bridge in America that has united waves of immigrants has been ideals: freedom, possibility, aspiration. The American Dream is real and is unique in the history of the world. And it’s all still there for us to tap into. I, for one, couldn’t be more excited to have my feet firmly planted in that reality. It’s all bubbling up. Come along with us and enjoy the ride.