There is a Cure to the Polarization That is Damaging American Democracy

January 11th, 2021 - Written by Professor Michael Cortrite
 

Over the last few decades, the political system in the United States has become increasingly dysfunctional. Power is in the hands of the two main political parties. This political duopoly, Republicans and Democrats, seems to be mostly interested in a contest with each other to see who can get more power. This results in the duopoly winning and the public interest losing. That is, the duopoly keeps getting more power and the constant infighting between the Republicans and the Democrats means that very little legislation gets passed that might help ordinary citizens. (Gehl & Porter 2020).

Peter Drucker, the father of modern management and perhaps the most influential leadership and management thinker of the twentieth century would be appalled at our current state of dysfunction. Drucker’s leadership philosophy of Management as a Liberal Art is focused on the human component. Leadership should empower and provide people with opportunities for human development and fulfillment. Power and profits should be secondary to the responsibility of leaders to empower and help people. (Maciariello & Linkletter 2011).

United_States_Capitol_outside_protesters_with_US_flag_20210106(web).jpg

United States Capitol outside protesters with US flag on January 6, 2021.
Source: Tyler Merbler; Wikimedia Commons

Drucker, in his book, The Ecological Vision, said “an effective organization ethic, indeed an organization ethic that deserves to be seriously considered as ethics, will have to define right behavior as the behavior that optimizes each party’s benefits and thus makes the relationships harmonious, constructive, and mutually beneficial” (Drucker 1993 p.213).

An unfortunate consequence of the animosity between political parties is polarization. Republicans and Democrats have mostly refused to listen to each other’s ideas. It has gotten so bad that not only do the political parties think that the other’s ideas are wrong; they think that the other’s ideas are evil. And, of course, when someone is fighting against evil it is their moral obligation to do whatever it takes to ensure that the “other’s” ideas are completely trashed and exposed as being “evil”. The bottom line of all this is that many politicians and even ordinary people treat each other with disrespect, there is little to no communication and very little can be accomplished. If a political system can’t function, it is destined to failure. (Doherty 2014) Barack Obama said it best in his farewell address on January 10, 2016 while commenting on our increasing naked partisanship and stratification, “we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there…we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible”.  (Obama 2016)

In 2020 Katherine Gehl (a CEO) and Michael E. Porter (a professor at Harvard Business School) published a book, The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy. Gehl and Porter posit that there is a duopoly in the United States, i.e., the two main political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans have all the power. Both of these parties want to increase their power while many corporations and businesses want to harness this power to increase their profits.

Gehl and Porter use the phrase, the “political-industrial complex”. They warn that the political-industrial complex (our American political system) has seized too much power. The duopoly (Democrats and Republicans) has the power to stop any outsiders who might want to enter the political system and challenge their power. They zealously guard their power and at the same time try to wrest as much power as they can from the other side. They cite several things that work to make our political system dysfunctional. One of these is plurality voting; that is, whoever gets the most votes wins. It is a feature of our election machinery that is one of the challenges for a healthy and fair system. As an example, three candidates are running against each other in a party primary and one candidate gets 34%, and the other two candidates get 33% each. Under our plurality system the person who got 34% wins even though 66% of the voters voted against that candidate.

Gehl and Porter have a list of election reforms that can save democracy by eliminating most of our polarization. One of their proposals is a new approach for congressional elections; something called final-five voting (instead of plurality voting). This would entail (1) replace closed party primaries with open non-partisan primaries (you don’t have to belong to a political party to run in a primary) in which the top five finishers advance to the general election, and (2) replace plurality voting with ranked-choice voting in general elections. This ranked-choice voting is a little complicated, but it makes sure the most popular candidate wins
(see appendix 1 below).

Historically, the role of business is to make profits for shareholders. 87 percent of annual lobbying of Federal Government officials is done by businesses—that’s $3,000,000,000 (Yes. That’s 3 billion). There is also ”shadow” or unreported lobbying that doubles this amount to $6,000,000,000 (And yes. That’s 6 billion). This money goes into the hands of Republican or Democrat partisans, giving them even more power. Almost half of all lobbyists are former government officials hired by businesses at large salaries. This creates the conflict of government employees trying to stay on the good side of business in hopes that they will be hired as lobbyists after they leave government employment. And, of course, businesses hoping to enrich themselves, contribute huge sums of money to partisan political causes and candidates, enriching and keeping the duopoly in power. (Gehl & Porter 2020)

Besides writing a book, the authors, Gehl and Porter, are donating all royalties to the Institute for Political Innovation. They published an article in Harvard Business Review (July-August 2020). There are several YouTube interviews and discussions on this subject. They have also been in negotiations with major corporations, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon to enlist their support in stopping businesses from encouraging this political duopoly. 

The bottom line is that we, the people need to heed Peter Drucker’s Management as a Liberal Art philosophy and return control and power to the people. The current way the political system operates clearly does not put people first. You can help by making yourself more familiar with this problem and with the solutions offered by Gehl and Porter. Remember their words, “The duopoly wins, and the public interest loses”. You could read the book, read the Harvard Business Review article, or take a look at one of the YouTube videos (They run from 50 minutes to 80 minutes (I recommend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2lvE-6ytMM&t=23s). Most importantly, get involved! Lobby whatever businesses you are involved with to become more ethical and more socially responsible by not encouraging the duopoly by lobbying, hiring of ex-government officials, and by not making campaign contributions to partisan political parties. 

About the Author

Professor Michael D. Cortrite

Dr. Cortrite has 30+ years of experience, education, and training related to subjects being taught.  He is currently teaching at the MBA level at California State University in Northridge and is also an Educator at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance. He was a professor of Administration at Santa Monica College where he developed a new Ethics in Law Enforcement class.  He has held many positions at the Santa Monica Police Department rising to the rank of Sergeant.  His publications include “What Is the Best Method of Evaluating a Police Training Program?” (Vol.4) as well as co-authoring “Ethics Training: A Passing Fad or Sustaining Component.”  He has also volunteered at various organizations including his current Board of Directors position at the Santa Monica Police Activities League.  Specialization: Management and Organization Behavior.

References:

  • Doherty, Carroll, 2014, Political Polarization of the American Public Pew Research Center retrieved 1/5/2021 https://justin.vashonsd.org/Resources/BadScience+Evidences/CounterFactualRationale/PolarizationInAmericanPolitic
  • Drucker, Peter, The Ecological Vision: Reflections on the American Condition 1993 Routledge New York
  • Gehl, Katherine & Porter, Michael, The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy 2020 Harvard Business Review Press Boston
  • Gehl, Katherine & Porter, Michael, Fixing U. S. Politics: What Business Can—and must—Do to Revitalize Democracy.  Harvard Business Review July-August 2020
  • Maciariello, Joseph A. & Linkletter, Karen E., Drucker’s Lost Art of Leadership: Peter Drucker’s Timeless Vision for Building Effective Organizations 2011` McGraw Hill New York
  • Obama, Barack, Farewell address from Chicago Illinois on January 10, 2016 retrieved 1/5/21
    https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Barack_Obama%27s_Farewell_Address
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