I am a democrat, federalist and capitalist. I am not a Republican or Democrat. And I am an American troubled by stagnation—a disabling state-of-affairs caused and perpetuated by a misunderstanding of America. A misunderstanding of the importance of freedom.
America has had many beginnings and as those beginnings are absorbed into our culture some level of change inevitably takes place. America has been and remains a frontier. At times welcoming, sometimes not. Our frontier status is in part geographic, but mainly turns on the success of freedom. And, for the most part, the people who want to come here are coming from the unfree world.
Unfree is not comfortable with free. China is a working example. It has worked to suffocate Hong Kong while increasingly trying to intimidate Taiwan. It does not want successful models of freedom in its self-defined sphere of influence.
In a sense, America’s first beginning was the Declaration of Independence. A restless people declared their separation from Great Britain.
New beginnings often create tension with the past. And since our Constitution gives everyone a chance to speak and vote, we need to understand the need to work through our disagreements. Disagreements are inevitable and when they turn implacable, they work against our strength.
Democracy, of course, is governance by consent. Federalism, roughly stated, honors State and Local governments by restraining what is done by the central government. Most, although not all, believe government closer to its voters is superior.
But, let me turn to capitalism which puts freedom in bold letters. This is an enduring part of our lives that we all feel and touch each day. Politics is often remote, not the personal machinery of capitalism.
Capitalism, our business foundation in the free world is not perfect, but what it does, when monopoly is denied, is assure freedom. A chance for people to work for themselves, to build family security while making things and serving others.
It also, if we are listening, has a story to tell about how we can end stagnancy in the way we govern ourselves. Politics, world-wide, invokes an animating motivation: “I want power and I don’t want to give it up.”
Conversely, the freedom to make and sell and service and maintain is invitational and gives us each a chance to say yes or no. Capitalism has shown like a flare around the world. In Africa I have seen capitalism break out in small market settings and beyond. Where markets are free in Africa and elsewhere prosperity exists.
Capitalism, if we listen, tells us of the dynamics we need in governance. Dynasties are bad. Closed systems, stifling. If a business person sees a falloff in sales, for example, he/she quickly looks for causes and adapts accordingly. All the while entrepreneurs dream of new opportunities and then pair them with energy and capital.
Let’s apply this quick action by a business person to public education. How many schools have recognized the severe challenges faced by children who arrive at school unprepared? A child might be said to be in a kindergarten or first grade class, but that is a false designation. All 5- or 6-year-olds do not arrive equally prepared. Allocating students based on chronology or geography weighs on progress. A business person would quickly realize that distinctive approaches are necessary if each child is to have an equal opportunity. Yet, politics freeze’s structure.
There are many examples of political control causing stagnation. The most telling example is found in the self-protective laws that protect the dominant political parties. Democrats might not like Republicans, or vice-versa but both like the closed system. Their politicians climb ladders and remove the lower rungs as they make their way up. The prospect of a President Biden versus former President Trump rematch in November of 2024 tells us all we need to know.
We desperately need a new beginning in politics. We need to escape the deadly hold of Whataboutism— “My candidate might not be great but he/she is better than yours.” Our vote should not be measured against standards of mediocrity. Our time is too challenged for mediocrity to be the standard.
As we celebrate July 4th, 2023, we should resolve to be more confident about America, July 4th, 2024. Stagnancy in a dynamic time is perilous. We should get to work.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.