Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times,  JUNE 21, 2017

Excerpt

...“What we’re experiencing is an assault on the very foundations of our society and democracy — the twin pillars of truth and trust,” [Dov Seidman, author of the book “How” and C.E.O. of LRN] Seidman responded. “What makes us Americans is that we signed up to have a relationship with ideals that are greater than us and with truths that we agreed were so self-evident they would be the foundation of our shared journey toward a more perfect union — and of respectful disagreement along the way. We also agreed that the source of legitimate authority to govern would come from ‘We the people.’”..

,,,This anger industry is now “either sending us into comfortable echo chambers where we don’t see the other or arousing such moral outrage in us toward the other that we can no longer see their humanity, let alone embrace them as fellow Americans with whom we share values.”…

…With shared truth debased and trust in leaders diminished, we now face a full-blown “crisis of authority itself,” argued Seidman, who distinguishes between “formal authority” and “moral authority.”

While our system can’t function without leaders with formal authority, what makes it really work, he added, is “when leaders occupying those formal positions — from business to politics to schools to sports — have moral authority. Leaders with moral authority understand what they can demand of others and what they must inspire in them. They also understand that formal authority can be won or seized, but moral authority has to be earned every day by how they lead. And we don’t have enough of these leaders.”

In fact, we have so few we’ve forgotten what they look like. Leaders with moral authority have several things in common, said Seidman: “They trust people with the truth — however bright or dark. They’re animated by values — especially humility — and principles of probity, so they do the right things, especially when they’re difficult or unpopular. And they enlist people in noble purposes and onto journeys worthy of their dedication.”

Full text

A few days ago I was at a conference in Montreal, and a Canadian gentleman, trying to grasp what’s happening to America, asked me a simple question: “What do you fear most these days?”

I paused for a second, like a spectator waiting to see what would come out of my own mouth. Two things came out: “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”

It used to be that people didn’t want their kids to marry one of “them,” referring to someone of a different religion or race (bad enough). Now the “them” is someone of a different party.

When a liberal comedian poses with a mock severed head of Donald Trump, when the president’s own son, Eric Trump, says of his father’s Democratic opponents, “To me, they’re not even people,” you know that you are heading to a dark place.

So when I got home, I called my teacher and friend Dov Seidman, author of the book “How” and C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies and leaders build ethical cultures, and asked him what he thought was happening to us.

“What we’re experiencing is an assault on the very foundations of our society and democracy — the twin pillars of truth and trust,” Seidman responded. “What makes us Americans is that we signed up to have a relationship with ideals that are greater than us and with truths that we agreed were so self-evident they would be the foundation of our shared journey toward a more perfect union — and of respectful disagreement along the way. We also agreed that the source of legitimate authority to govern would come from ‘We the people.’”

But when there is no “we” anymore, because “we” no longer share basic truths, Seidman argued, “then there is no legitimate authority and no unifying basis for our continued association.”

We’ve had breakdowns in truth and trust before in our history, but this feels particularly dangerous because it is being exacerbated by technology and Trump.

Social networks and cyberhacking are helping extremists to spread vitriol and fake news at a speed and breadth we have never seen before. “Today, we’re not just deeply divided, as we’ve been before, we’re being actively divided — by cheap tools that make it so easy to broadcast one’s own ‘truths’ and to undermine real ones,” Seidman argued.

This anger industry is now “either sending us into comfortable echo chambers where we don’t see the other or arousing such moral outrage in us toward the other that we can no longer see their humanity, let alone embrace them as fellow Americans with whom we share values.”

Social networks and hacking also “have enabled us to see, in full color, into the innermost workings of every institution and into the attitudes of those who run them,” noted Seidman, “and that has eroded trust in virtually every institution, and the authority of many leaders, because people don’t like what they see.”

With shared truth debased and trust in leaders diminished, we now face a full-blown “crisis of authority itself,” argued Seidman, who distinguishes between “formal authority” and “moral authority.”

While our system can’t function without leaders with formal authority, what makes it really work, he added, is “when leaders occupying those formal positions — from business to politics to schools to sports — have moral authority. Leaders with moral authority understand what they can demand of others and what they must inspire in them. They also understand that formal authority can be won or seized, but moral authority has to be earned every day by how they lead. And we don’t have enough of these leaders.”

In fact, we have so few we’ve forgotten what they look like. Leaders with moral authority have several things in common, said Seidman: “They trust people with the truth — however bright or dark. They’re animated by values — especially humility — and principles of probity, so they do the right things, especially when they’re difficult or unpopular. And they enlist people in noble purposes and onto journeys worthy of their dedication.”

Think how far away Trump is from that definition. In Trump we not only have a president who can’t lead us out of this crisis — because he has formal authority but no moral authority — but a president who is every day through Twitter a one-man accelerator of the erosion of truth and trust eating away at our society.

We saw that play out between Trump and James Comey, the F.B.I. director.

There’s an adage, explained Seidman, that says: “Ask for my honesty and I’ll give you my loyalty. Ask for my loyalty and I’ll give you my honesty.” But Trump was not interested in Comey’s honesty. He only wanted Comey’s blind loyalty — delivered free because Trump thought he had the formal authority to demand it. “But true loyalty can’t be commanded; it can only be inspired,” said Seidman.

Alas, Trump is not going to get any better and the technology is not going to get any slower. It is imperative, in the short run, that some moral leaders emerge in the G.O.P. and actually restrain Trump. But that’s doubtful.

But the upside of today’s political-technology platform is that leaders can come out of anywhere — fast. Look at the new president of France. In the long run, the only thing that will save us is if more people — no matter what age, color, gender or faith — build moral authority in their respective realms and then use it to do big, meaningful things. Use it to run for office, start a company, operate a school, lead a movement or build a community organization. And in so doing you can help put the “We” back in “We the people.”

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Our Democracy Is at Stake

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, New York Times, October 1, 2013

Excerpt

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.structural changes in money, media and redistricting…are superempowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule. If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process. President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.

Full text

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded. When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled.

This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown. Noting a shameful statement by Speaker John Boehner, Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ”

Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.” How did we get here? First, by taking gerrymandering to a new level. The political analyst Charlie Cook, writing in The National Journal on March 16, noted that the 2010 election gave Republican state legislatures around the country unprecedented power to redraw political boundaries, which they used to create even more “safe, lily-white” Republican strongholds that are, in effect, an “alternative universe” to the country’s diverse reality.

“Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 percent to 64 percent,” wrote Cook. “But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 percent to 75 percent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 percent white to 51 percent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.”

According to Cook, the number of strongly Democratic districts decreased from 144 before redistricting to 136 afterward. The number of strongly Republican districts increased from 175 to 183. “When one party starts out with 47 more very strong districts than the other,” said Cook, “the numbers suggest that the fix is in for any election featuring a fairly neutral environment. Republicans would need to mess up pretty badly to lose their House majority in the near future.” In other words, there is little risk of political punishment for the Tea Party members now holding the country hostage.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s inane Citizens United decision allowed a single donor, Sheldon Adelson, to create his own alternative universe. He was able to contribute so much money to support Newt Gingrich’s candidacy that Gingrich was able to stay in the Republican presidential primary race longer than he would have under sane campaign finance rules. As a result, Gingrich was able to pull the G.O.P.’s leading candidate, Mitt Romney, farther to the right longer, making it harder for him to garner centrist votes. Last month, for the first time ever in Colorado, two state senators who voted for universal background checks on gun purchases lost their seats in a recall election engineered by gun extremists and reportedly financed with some $400,000 from the National Rifle Association. You’re elected, you vote your conscience on a narrow issue, but now determined opponents don’t have to wait for the next election. With enough money, they can get rid of you in weeks.

Finally, the rise of a separate G.O.P. (and a liberal) media universe — from talk-radio hosts, to Web sites to Fox News — has created another gravity-free zone, where there is no punishment for extreme behavior, but there’s 1,000 lashes on Twitter if you deviate from the hard-line and great coverage to those who are most extreme. When politicians only operate inside these bubbles, they lose the habit of persuasion and opt only for coercion. After all, they must be right. Rush Limbaugh told them so.

These “legal” structural changes in money, media and redistricting are not going away. They are superempowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule. If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.

President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/opinion/friedman-our-democracy-is-at-stake.html?hp&_r=1&

The Earth Is Full

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, New York Times, June 7, 2011

You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?

“The only answer can be denial,” argues Paul Gilding, the veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, who described this moment in a new book called “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.” “When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required.”

Gilding cites the work of the Global Footprint Network, an alliance of scientists, which calculates how many “planet Earths” we need to sustain our current growth rates. G.F.N. measures how much land and water area we need to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, using prevailing technology. On the whole, says G.F.N., we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth’s resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths. “Having only one planet makes this a rather significant problem,” says Gilding.

This is not science fiction. This is what happens when our system of growth and the system of nature hit the wall at once. While in Yemen last year, I saw a tanker truck delivering water in the capital, Sana. Why? Because Sana could be the first big city in the world to run out of water, within a decade. That is what happens when one generation in one country lives at 150 percent of sustainable capacity.

“If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees,” writes Gilding. “If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth’s CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science.”

It is also current affairs. “In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today,” China’s environment minister, Zhou Shengxian, said recently. “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation’s economic and social development.” What China’s minister is telling us, says Gilding, is that “the Earth is full. We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact.”

We will not change systems, though, without a crisis. But don’t worry, we’re getting there.

We’re currently caught in two loops: One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices; rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher oil prices, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability. At the same time, improved productivity means fewer people are needed in every factory to produce more stuff. So if we want to have more jobs, we need more factories. More factories making more stuff make more global warming, and that is where the two loops meet.

But Gilding is actually an eco-optimist. As the impact of the imminent Great Disruption hits us, he says, “our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades.”

We will realize, he predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less. “How many people,” Gilding asks, “lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?’ To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.”

Sounds utopian? Gilding insists he is a realist.

“We are heading for a crisis-driven choice,” he says. “We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/opinion/08friedman.html?_r=0