Insults, anger and disgust are in, while deal-making, compromise and governance are so old school. We’re all too busy having a national hissy fit to sit down and do the boring, important stuff.
My friend Mark Gerzon, author of the fine new book, “The Reunited States of America“, puts it this way. “We can’t solve any of the problems we face if we’re tearing each other down the whole time.”
Ratings for the Republican debates shot up this year and cable TV networks are loving the slugfest. Watching candidates exchange insults can be entertaining, even if we are appalled by the spectacle.
But the news media obsession with clashes, controversy and contests only get us so far. If politics is a permanent campaign, when is it time to govern?
“There’s a whole America out there that’s not getting any news coverage. And that’s the America where Americans work together,” Mark tells us in the latest episode of our podcast, “How Do We Fix It?”
He’s right. My years of business reporting taught me that when successful executives face four bad quarters, they throw out the old rule book and re-think what they’re doing. Flexibility and pragmatism are essential to their survival.
Only if Congress would do the same.
For the past 4, 8, 16 years, mainstream politicians have been fighting over the same old stuff. Their goal is simply to score points at the expense of the other guy.
No wonder we’re fed up.
But outrage will only get us so far. What’s really constructive in the messages and speeches that we’re hearing from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? Beyond talk of building walls or making health care and college free, how will these “outsiders” turn their promises into reality? After all, the nation’s founders did invent separation of powers with checks and balances.
The first step to radical reform of government, Congress and our political culture is to reform ourselves. The most radical thing many of us could do right now is to ask questions.
In business it’s often called brainstorming.
“Do you want to get drunk on being right and enjoy that feeling of being with the people you agree with and bad mouth the people you don’t?,” asks Mark. Maybe yes. But a nasty hangover may be the result.
Perhaps we’re at a national turning point. It’s time to sit down and spend time with those we disagree with. Listen and learn from the other tribe. Not declare and defame.
Smoke filled rooms, anyone?
(If not, maybe vape-filled rooms would do.)