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Where is American Democracy Headed?

  • brendagiven
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Our current political environment is unsustainable. We’ve reached a historical inflection point where change is inevitable. The question is which direction will America go? Will we become less aligned nationally and more fragmented socially, or can we find a “balanced center”, closer to our founder’s aspirations and historically what made America so successful?

An enlightening study by ATKearny developed four options for America’s future, based on economic growth and national alignment, or social fragmentation. While today we’re experiencing high economic growth, despite low national alignment, trade and immigration conflicts may be propelling us toward the worst-case scenario, which is low economic growth and low national alignment. Let’s face it, our almost 10-year economic expansion can’t last forever.

The ATKearny research identifies 5 areas that continue to decline – 5 areas that require immediate and serious reform, if we are to prevent or mitigate the worst-case:

  1. American’s trust in core institutions continues to fall.
    • Political hyper-partisanship is worsening. According to Voteview, Republicans now vote more conservatively than at any time since the founding of the party in 1854, while Democrats’ votes are more liberal than at any point since 1905.
    • Special interest and lobbyist influence are strengthening. The U.S. scores lowest among all Western countries, ranking 75thglobally, on the ability of average citizens to impact government, according to the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project.
    • Washington’s gridlock is likely to be prolonged. We’re caught in a self-reinforcing cycle. More active voters, esp. in primaries, increasingly favor more extreme candidates who promise not to compromise, which further alienates less active, centrist voters, who, if engaged, could be the catalyst to restore some balance.
  1. Income inequality continues to rise (we’ve now descended to a level on par with Russia).
    • Stable, good-paying jobs are disappearing (94% of net job growth has been from the part-time, gig economy, which pays poorly).
    • Rural communities are falling further behind. The FCC reports that “39% of rural Americans lack access” to high-speed broadband Internet, critical for the jobs of the future. Labor shortages also make it harder for small communities to grow, esp. in the Midwest.
    • Millennials may become a lost generation. The Federal Reserve warned that Americans born between 1980-89, 73 million millennials, are at the greatest risk for declining wealth accumulation, already 34% below earlier generations at the same age.
  1. The U.S. is experiencing increasingly costly climate-linked natural disasters. Flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, drought, super tornados… undermine American economic competitiveness. In 2017 the cost of U.S. climate disasters exceeded $300 billion.
  2. Our physical infrastructure remains in disrepair and there’s no plan to fix it. In 2016, the American Society of Civil Engineers found that the U.S. needs to invest $4.59 trillion by 2025 to meet our future infrastructure needs.
  3. U.S. K-12 students continue to underperform their global peers. According to the OECD’s latest PISA study, U.S. students rank 19thin science, 20thin reading and 31stin math among the 35 OECD member countries. Without intervention, we may not have the labor pool necessary to compete with the investments propelling China and India to the forefront.

Americans are ready to address our problems head on. Research consistently indicates citizens want to do what it takes for the long term, and are frustrated by current leaders who ignore them and appeal to our lesser natures. Fortunately, we’re in the midst of a pivotal generational leadership transition, with the passing of the torch from Baby Boomers to Millennials.

Perhaps Millennials will do better at ending the corruption, disregard for the electorate and partisan gridlock than the previous generation. Perhaps they’ll provide leadership with the high ideals, shared vision and can-do optimism that has defined the strength of America’s past.

In the meantime, it’s up to each and every one of us to refuse to accept the status quo. The most reliable source of national improvement has always come from grassroots political movements. We can change our political conditions. Be the change.

  • Join wethepeople.org. Get in on the ground floor of our crowdsourced democracy movement to bring together Democrats, Independents and Republicans to represent the common interest of all citizens. Your contribution helps empower Americans to propose, refine and vote on common-sense political solutions and compete with special interests for political influence.

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Author: brendagiven

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