Step back and look at our country. What do we see? Large, yes, we are over 325+ million strong. That is about 4.25% of the world population. Diverse, yes, many races and many cultures. For many years in the past these two factors were considered as a source of strength. Many people but generally shared values, issues and goals. It was possible to discuss, debate and compromise. The outcomes were not always favorable to our personal interests, but they were accepted because the process was perceived to be fair and understood.
Now we look at today’s situation. Our large and diverse population has evolved. We see extremism resulting in tribalism and polarization. This is so severe that we are unable discuss, debate and compromise. Every topic seems to present a contest between factions with opposing views. It is “us” vs. “them” with nobody willing to represent and defend a “middle ground”.
Today we recognize and bemoan a ‘financial elite’, an ‘intellectual elite’, a ‘religious right’, to name a few. The result of this extreme fractionation of our society is political gridlock, self-interested career politicians, political factions even within party, gerrymandering for political gain, an authoritarian executive branch, and the politicalization of the judicial branch of government. The bottom line: we are seeing a severe assault on our democracy with a negative trend line that is very concerning.
So we have to ask the question: Is the fractionation and tribalism the result of our size and inherent diversity? Is what used to be a source of strength now the source of a negative outlook for our democracy? I am not sure of the answers to these questions. One thing that I do know for certain, however, is that we must discuss and debate these questions. Personally, I avoid a fatalistic point of view. I believe that there are root causes to today’s situation that are not specifically size and diversity of the population. We are a capitalistic democracy. We are motivated by finances, money and wealth. When wealth and financial well-being accrues preferentially to a small small segment at the expense of the well-being of the rest, polarization and unrest will result. We naturally look to assign blame. The fault may be attributed to immigrants taking jobs, free trade taking markets and industries, minorities collaborating to succeed at the expense of others, etc. When the system appears not to be fair, to be rigged in favor of the few, there will be unrest and resentment. This can and will grow into what we are experiencing today. So my thought: Capitalism is good but it cannot be unbridled. The financial success of the country must be accessible to all. The opportunity to succeed must not be damped by a system rigged to benefit a few. We must work to assure a system that allows for a reasonable degree of financial ‘leveling’ – so that the sharing ensures a degree of common interest, issues, and goals – the basic requirement for discussion, debate and compromise – a basic tenant for a healthy democracy.
Another approach is to recognize the inherent differences in interests and values that exist regionally. Middle America, particularly agriculture oriented areas have different views and incentives than tech heavy ares, for example. One approach could be more empowered state governments – accept policy differences between states. This would clearly not be easy – but worthy of debate? I think so.
Democracy – Too big to succeed? No, but … we must discuss and attack to root causes of our increasing polarization and combativeness. Eliminating diversity or throttling population/immigration growth is not the answer.