The Question

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I’ve been in dialogue with a small group of smart people, many of whom read and contribute to this series. They have offered great clarity and insight and have pushed me to refine what I now see as the key question of our time. The question I pose is in service of something much larger and which requires naming in order for the question to make full sense. It is about our acute political polarization and how we can bring people together so that we have the muscle to demand the change – the democracy – our country needs.

Over most of the decades of my adult life I have seen what looks to me to be an incremental loss of democracy in America, with the people losing power and an elite few gaining it. Most Americans are centrists, but most of our elected officials are either partisan zealots or they cower before the zealots, resulting in governmental outcomes we the people don’t want and helping to polarize our citizenry. For example, 80% of Americans want universal background checks on sales of firearms and a ban on assault weapons, but the legislative extremists and the powerful, well funded lobbying groups ensure that there is never even a vote on the issue. There are many other examples of how we the people (as in democracy = “rule by the people”) are not getting what we want, all of which is to say that democracy has been sorely compromised.

What requires naming for The Question to make full sense is that we must save our democracy. Perhaps you prefer “restore” our democracy. Either way, just stopping the thieves is insufficient.

So, my question is:

How can we politically polarized Americans find a way to talk with one another, not scream past one another, and come together in the common cause of democracy?

Just asking the question unmasks me as the 60s idealist I remain, but I believe that it is the question we must answer in order to change our course. I went out on a limb with my article ringing the alarm of fascism staring us in the face and I expect substantial push-back. So, too, did those ringing the alarm in Mussolini’s Italy, in Hitler’s Germany, in Stalin’s Russia and in Pol Pot’s Cambodia (yes, I know those last two were communists – the same democracy robbing principles hold) and many other places where authoritarians ruled. The danger usually isn’t obvious when change is made incrementally, but now you need only look at the cabinet and advisor picks of our President Elect, match that with his extremist promises, flagrant lies, pathological need to be powerful, his thin skin and cruelty, his obvious contempt for our laws and the Constitution and you should be able to see the fascist freight train at the other end of the tunnel barreling down on us.

It is possible that you don’t and won’t share my view of the dire future we face if we sit back and let others make our decisions for us. That’s okay, because you likely share my view that we have lost key elements of democracy and that we have to re-secure them or we will lose all.

Abraham Lincoln said it best: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We must stand together – righties, centrists and lefties –  if we are to restore our democracy.

So, back to my question:

How can we politically polarized Americans find a way to talk with one another, not scream past one another, and come together in the common cause of democracy?

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

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Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
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5 Responses to The Question
  1. dominickpalella Reply

    To answer your question Jack, you must stop ignoring the fact that our elected officials have autocratic authority. They can make harmful decisions, or simply take no action to stop the harmful decisions by others in their executive or legislative branches of our political system. You can call our political system a democracy, if you like, but there is quite obviously no factual evidence that it operates as one.

    Thus, people are polarized on issues that are created by those in power and beyond their personal control. I don’t know how many times I have to explain the undeniable fact that those elected have no obligation to listen or respond to us. Instead, they listen and respond to each other, their private party leaders and their corporate benefactors.

    A better question to ask is “how can we convince people to stop electing politicians who are supposedly “accountable” to them only at their next election?” Voter’s political ideologies and personal values are totally irrelevant, if they keep electing private political party members who ignore them the day they take office. People are screaming past each other because many of them refuse to recognize how powerless they are letting politicians make decisions for them they have no control over. Unfortunately, they are too brainwashed to understand or take action to do something about it.

    Many simply don’t vote because they believe their votes don’t count; while others engage in unproductive political activities like protesting, and attempting to elect people they think agree with them. The common cause of Democracy cannot be realized until the common problem with our political system is recognized and addressed by responsible citizens with some common sense. Stop talking about problems with our politicians and demand that those in office or candidates in elections will be accountable to you. This gives every constituent a voice in the decisions made by their representatives. Voting in elections will not create a representative democracy. Voting for the decisions of your representatives in office will.

  2. John Calia Reply

    Great question, Jack. I might suggest that we start with some self-awareness about the language we use. For example, calling people with whom we disagree “crazies” is not a great way to begin a constructive convo.

    I have spent a lot of time thinking about polarization and wrote about it in my blog last March.
    http://whowilllead.blogspot.com/2016/03/lessons-in-depolarization-lets-start-now.html

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Good catch of “crazies”. Changed to “extremists” in the written article.