No matter your political persuasion, it must be conceded that our society is so polarized that our national government is becoming less and less able to govern. We cycle between opposing national leadership interests that aim to undo the actions of their predecessors. We continue the gridlock that occurred under the Obama administration where the Presidential opposition party will stonewall all the actions of the Executive.
This state of affairs is not a product of one party or another, nor can they be solved by the “victory” of one party. The critical civic issues are structural and systemic, including, campaign finance, gerrymandering, electoral college disenfranchisement, basic public education on civil liberties, and the ground up expansion of participatory Citizenship to strengthen the ability of local communities to take charge of their own future.
A nation divided cannot stand (for long). To draw a parallel with our own Civil War, where would we be today if either the mostly heavily urban communities who voted Democratic in the last national election, or the largely rural areas that voted Republican, attempted to secede from the Union (or capture unilateral power). Eventually we must face the urban/rural divide and all its implications in terms of the vote, the net flow of tax money, and the disparity in economic prosperity between regions and sectors of our society. The issues of taxation, representation, and relative regional economic and political power should sound familiar.
If a terrorist were to write a script on how to successfully attack the West, it would be to render political systems so polarized that they become unable to govern effectively, and to engender internal divisions over perceived threats (internal and external), creating a climate of survival, apocalypse, and perpetual conflict. A political climate of perpetual war is an enemy of democracy and civil liberties. That is Orwell’s vision. Enter the politics of Apocalypse, which has supported tyranny throughout history.
In the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that there will be successful attempts at the national level to create common ground. However, there is a unifying force that has the potential to transcend our national political impasse, that is a common interest in strengthening local communities to take on their own future. This is about creating and expanding de-centralized power at the truly local level of our own communities. It has been apparent for some time that our future depends on a much-enlarged role for people at the grass-roots level to provide the leadership and resources necessary to create a sustainable future. Local empowerment could appeal to both sides of the political divide, and could arise free of the debilitating ideological rhetoric that is progressively dis-empowering our larger political system.This is not to say that the national and state level politics should be ignored, or that people who are cooperatively engaged at the grass-roots must give up their national political passions. However, there is a level of action at the local level that cannot and should not be dependent on state and national politics. This has always been true.
Broad local support is necessary to take actions that are beyond the interests and capabilities of big institutions. Local citizen engagement is the only viable source of the resources necessary to successfully take on our domestic future. Public debt and limits on revenue are permanent features of our society that limit the ability of government to fund needed solutions on all our keys issues: health, energy, housing, etc. The great resource is committed local private action for local good. On what important issue is this not now an essential requirement? There is not enough money to pay people to be Citizens and steward their own future. Further, where will the leadership come from that requires effective government at the state and national levels, if not from grass roots constituencies that are powerfully organized and demanding something different.
Here and there across the country some communities are coming together at the local level to find common ground. PlacerSustain, as a “Sustainable Community Network,” is neutral on matters of left or right politics, but does stand for building the relationships necessary to take charge of our own future. If there are interested members of our community that wish to step forward and start having the discussions about common ground, PlacerSustain can assist by co-hosting community events for that purpose.
These comments are my own, and do not represent the position of PlacerSustain the organization, except to the extent of offering support for community discussion.