So, the underdog Donald Trump is to be the 45th president and the U.S. House and Senate will again be controlled by Republicans. Minnesota will have divided state government between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
There are certainly lessons for all of us to learn after our often-divisive 2016 presidential election.
I have always been a proponent of “lean and clean” government, identifying most of my life as an active — but often independent — Republican. (Full disclosure here: As the young Minnesota Republican state chair in 1975, I backed the rebranding of our struggling post-Watergate party to “Independent-Republicans of Minnesota.” We then expanded our outreach and focused on involving greater numbers of people and ideas in helping to shape our state and came back strong within three years.)
Mistake to refuse involvement
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, we Americans — most who say they are pessimistic about the nation’s future — are making a devastating mistake in our civic lives if we refuse any personal involvement in our political system.
Only about one in 10 of us currently get substantively involved in political party and campaign activity. Expanding this involvement will not be an easy sell, especially with our youngest citizens on whom the nation’s future depends.
So, regardless of age or station in life, many more of us must resolve to make our electoral system a more constructive experience. There is room for everybody in doing this, including the aging baby boomer generation. Oscar Wilde once mused about the value of age and experience when he said, “I am not young enough to know everything.”
Some months ago I began to meet with a number of my political friends of yesteryear. Most of us believed that to be successful in the way we govern ourselves, we had to begin to shape a future with qualified candidates and relevant ideas at least two to four years prior to an election. So, our gang began to begin to think through next steps even as most of us have fewer steps to walk in our lives than most others.
First off, some of us reasoned, there must be a respectful understanding of why America has been the longest-lasting and most successful democracy in the world. It was early in this wonderful experiment that two distinguished founders of the nation — John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — saw the value of two broad-based political parties with spirited, reasoned discussions both within and between the parties, including the value of compromise to make things work.
Better communities, state and nation
Those who become involved in political parties and campaigns must first think about the future of our communities, state and nation, rejecting the view that winning at all costs is the only thing necessary in politics. Far from it.
Both of the two major political parties have long-held principles that deserve to be understood and updated.
The Republicans have traditionally emphasized individual rights, privacy, local control, and a global worldview combined with a strong national defense. They want balanced budgets within our unique form of democratic capitalism where the private sector (businesses and nonprofits) provides more than eight in 10 jobs for U.S. workers.
Democrats bring to the political process consistent support for a more activist government that places the collective good of all over the individual. Programs advocated by the Democrats often focus on building an ever stronger national government that is mostly urban centered. Overall, Democrats want to use government at all levels to achieve social equality and prosperity for all.
The notion of including more moderate, mainstream thinking is essential to building a constructive debate between the two major parties that are now largely composed of hard-working activists at the far right and far left.
Diverse, nonwhite American majority
Who Americans are today is quite different from Adams’ and Jefferson’s era over 200 years ago; the nation has become the most diverse culturally, racially and ethnically in the world. Now the USA has a population of 319 million; we are 60 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic/Latino, 13 percent African-American and 6 percent Asian. Over the last five years or so more children of color have been born than white children, so the reality of a future nonwhite majority in America already exists.
Citizens involved in self-governance, starting at young ages, need to be learning to compromise — a good thing in a democracy — and to be trained on recruitment and the election of capable candidates of positive values and good character.
Working together, the political parties need to become more user-friendly and inclusive. Ideas could include earlier primary elections where voters themselves make the key candidate choices, consideration of multiple endorsements within the parties, full disclosure of all financial contributions, an enforceable truth-in-campaigns code, and adapting technology to engage more citizens. In 1992, Ross Perot proposed an “electronic democracy” using technology to measure views on critical issues, something that now seems like a most doable thing.
Personal engagement to make a difference
As for me personally, I want use my time and energy in our political system to advance successful ways to support very young kids already on a failure track in part by providing necessary early learning as a child’s brain develops, achieving literacy by third grade, improved K-12 and post-high-school education, job training and the provision of a kind of “life coach” volunteer mentoring model for these kids at least until they are age 25.
I’d also like to pledge that when we travel outside the United States, we will be positive ambassadors in other nations whose people are so often earnestly interested in learning more about our country.
Chuck Slocum (Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com) is President of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm; he is a former State Chair of Minnesota Republicans and was once Executive Director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.
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