The two-party monopoly has abjectly failed the American people. The Alliance Party has a better way forward.
Editor’s Note: The Alliance Party is a new political party, registered with the Federal Election Commission, that recently formed as the merger of several smaller centrist parties. Those parties include the American Moderate Party, the American Party, and the Modern Whig Party as well as several others. The Alliance Party is one of several developments on the American political scene rising on the periphery of the two-party system. These include the Serve America Movement (SAM)—TAI published an essay by its leaders this past September—Better Angels, Unite America, With Honor, Stand Up Republic, the Renew Democracy Initiative, and several others. This essay is thus the second in a series that we hope will eventually include all of these new centrist forces in American politics and civil society, or as many as we can persuade to write for TAI. Full disclosure: TAI Founding Editor Adam Garfinkle is a member of the Alliance Party.
In February a new American political party was born: The Alliance Party, or, for short, The Alliance. The result of a merger sealed this past October among several centrist parties, we, this new Party’s national chairman and vice-chairmen, beg your attention so that, beginning in a familiar traditional voice, we may explain why we have founded this party, and what we hope and expect it to achieve.
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to alter the habits to which a democratic public has become accustomed, a decent respect for the opinions of our fellow citizens requires that we should declare the causes which impel us to this conclusion.
We declare these truths to be self evident to all sentient adult Americans, that the inalienable rights of us all—among these Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—stand jeopardized on account of the debased political conditions with which we now live. We assert that it is the Right of the People to alter such a status quo, and to institute new leadership for government, laying its foundation on principles openly declared and organizing its efforts in such form as shall be most likely to effect the best outcome for the common weal.
Prudence dictates that political stabilities long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. But when a long train of failures caused by an irresponsible, insulated, and self-absorbed political class threaten to render the nation dangerously divided, disconsolate, fearful, and unsafe, it is the people’s right to throw off such a failed political class, and to provide new guardians for their future security.
Such has been the patient sufferance of the American people; and such is now the necessity that, we believe, constrains us to alter our political circumstances. The history of the present American political class over roughly the past 40 years, composed of malefactors of both major parties, is a history dominated by inadequacies, hypocrisies, and cowardice.
So we declare the need for a new independence, not from an empire as was the case when Jefferson wrote the original Declaration, but from a political status quo that no longer serves its avowed purposes. To prove this need, let Facts be submitted to a candid nation.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has refused to allow reasonable ballot access for any party that might threaten its position. It has corrupted the Federal Election Commission and the relevant election commissions of the 50 states to erect artificial stringencies that prevent the American electorate from having a fair range of true choices from which to pick on election days.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has failed repeatedly to consummate its responsibility in the Legislative Branch to pass a budget in a timely fashion, and has failed even to enact legislation for automatic continuance resolutions, as have the legislatures of other democracies, in order to prevent harmful government shutdowns.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has consistently misled the American people as to its supposed devotion to fiscal responsibility. As a result of its short-term pandering and political cowardice, the nation is today saddled with a debt so huge—$22 trillion and counting—as to mortgage the future of generations of Americans yet unborn. The dangers of this debt to prosperity and national security alike are acute.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has repeatedly failed to solve long-gestating challenges to sound public policy, among them the need for comprehensive immigration reform, dealing effectively with the crisis of spiraling health care costs and insurance premiums, staunching the looming insolvency of the Social Security Administration, responding to the need for sensible gun control, arresting environmental degradation of several sorts, responding to the growing deficiencies of K-12 public education, and many others besides. These failures exist despite the ready availability of pragmatic solutions to all these challenges.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has failed utterly to take the measure of changes in the world economy and to adapt policies to manage those changes. Captured by corporate and financial special interests, both parties happily abetted the massive offshoring of good American jobs. Locked in an obsolete industrial-age mindset, neither party has made a remotely serious effort to understand and to adapt to the IT/AI-abetted age of automation into which we are now venturing.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has similarly misunderstood the nature of modern economic vitality. It has failed to invest in basic science, and in research and development, to the extent that its wiser forebears did. Worse, it has judged consumption a better index of economic vitality then production, resulting in a massive distortion of its own comprehension. Consequently, it has erected an array of disincentives to work, and so has harmed working families and the communities in which they live.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has unwittingly created a poverty trap for the nation’s most unfortunate citizens, locking them into barren islands of privation and virtual nutrition deserts through a combination of predictable job loss, poor education, prejudice, and but thinly veiled zoning/housing discrimination. That this poverty trap aligns with racial divisions in American society is a consequence of a tortured history of which we are all aware; but that it has been allowed to persist, now for decades, without significant further effort by government to make fair amends for that history is an affront to all that America stands for.
The political class of the two-party monopoly, in thrall to special interests, created the conditions for the economic collapse of 2008, a collapse in which large numbers of ordinary Americans lost significant equity, and from which many if not most have yet to recover. But the political class of the two-party monopoly bailed out the banks, and left the American people to their own devices. In the process they have also left a financial sector more concentrated, just as opaque and misregulated, and as bound again to collapse as the one that crashed in 2007-08.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has facilitated the complexification of the Federal tax code for the benefit of special interests, not least the upper 1 percent of the wealth pyramid, at the manifest expense of average Americans. “Carried interest” tax deferral scams are one example of many dozens.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has over time aggrandized the role of the Federal government in the American Federal system, over-centralizing it and thereby creating a crisis of democratic participation among the people. The administrative state and its voluminous bureaucracies on both the state and Federal levels have metastasized into a herd of one-size-fits-all behemoths that is neither effective nor efficient, thanks in part to the conflicting and overly specific mandates inflicted upon government functions by witless legislatures dominated by witless lawyers. Regulation is of course a necessary and natural function of government, but American society has become notoriously over-lawyered, driving out common sense, professional initiative, and civic participation—all at enormous, and mostly gratuitous, expense.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has shirked its responsibilities to make hard choices on an array of social issues, shunting off to a largely unaccountable bureaucracy and to the Courts their responsibility as elected officials to make such judgments—a role for the Judiciary that the Framers never intended.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has undermined the rule of law by failing to enforce existing immigration laws and by actually rewarding those who have broken that law with “sanctuary city” protection; by endorsing (very recently banned) asset forfeiture laws, and the hyper-militarization of the police, in contravention of the Fourth Amendment; by allowing a huge disconnect to emerge between state and Federal drug statutes; and by many and several other means as well.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has allowed the function of the Veterans Administration to deteriorate to an intolerable level, betraying those who have put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms. This class has considered the VA to be so marginal to its concerns that rank patronage considerations have driven choices of leadership, to evident dismaying effect.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has been responsible for serial misjudgments and mistakes in the foreign and national security policies of the United States. In the greater Middle East alone several are familiar, but Democrats and Republicans alike also told the nation over many years that the growing wealth of China—made possible in large part both by American investments and by the U.S.-designed structures of the postwar liberal trading order—would result in a politically liberalized “stakeholder” China that posed no threat to American interests. These and other misjudgments have significantly undermined American leadership and now threaten to unleash dangerous chaos in the international system.
The political class of the two-party monopoly has reacted counterproductively to the post-9/11 threat of mass-casualty terrorism. Instead of asking the American people for courage and steadfastness, it has created a permanent bureaucratized paranoia that has undermined the pragmatic can-do spirit of the nation. And what it has done stupidly it has also done at enormous expense.
These facts represent no small failures each in their own right. But they sum to a conclusive indictment of the political class of the two-party monopoly, which has grown manifestly unrepresentative of the majority of Americans. One major party has lurched to the right and the other is far advanced toward lurching extreme left, both captured by special interests of one kind or another and both illustrating serious and growing internal fractures. Their abstract ideological manias have driven out pragmatism and any willingness to compromise on behalf of the nation, leaving our politics a toxic blood sport, and our political discourse a reproach to both decency and logic.
The rancor of our political rhetoric, egged on by a media culture fixated on clickbait, has abetted incivility, hollow political posturing, and outright falsification to an extent not seen since the decade before the onset of the Civil War. Indeed, the nation is increasingly hostage to a “cold civil war” thanks to the behavior of its political class. Unfortunately, the chill is thawing; we have already witnessed some political violence, and if we the people do not force into retirement most members of the current political class, the extent of future political violence could come to stagger our imaginations.
The failures enumerated above are ultimately behind the frustrations that led in November 2016 to the election of the current President, who has fomented in turn the crisis of American governance in whose midst we live and worry. The current President therefore must be seen as a symptom of deep dysfunction, as well as a subsequent contributor to that dysfunction since his election. Everything was not fine before November 2016, and it will not be fine in future just because the current President eventually leaves office—one way or another. It is a mistake to ascribe our problems to just one person, concentrated into just a few months of political time.
Many of us in the Alliance Party are frustrated. All of us are disappointed with what our political leadership has done to our great country over the past several decades, and we tremble for our future. In essence, through their dereliction of responsibility as regards the national debt, their allowing an accident-prone financial system to get even worse, their lack of concern or action with respect to the inadequacies and inequalities of our system of public education, and their failure to understand or help adapt the nation’s labor profile to new circumstances, the political class of the two-party monopoly has declared war against America’s children, born and yet unborn. It is hard to overstate the travesty of intergenerational responsibility it has perpetrated.
We have concluded, many of us reluctantly, that hope for redemption from within either of the two major parties is no longer a serious possibility. The two dominant parties are locked in an increasingly obsolete pseudo-debate. Neither party’s leadership understands the new challenges afoot. Neither possesses even a vocabulary to analyze them.Neither party’s leadership understands the new challenges afoot. Neither possesses even a vocabulary to analyze them. In consequence, neither major party offers any vision for the future—one offers a puerile nostalgia and the other increasingly offers a warped utopia. Both repel practical creativity within their midst.
We of The Alliance Party stand for the traditional virtues of politics as a vocation: reason, service, respect for others and their views, compromise, humility, honesty, a problem-solving focus, and the courage to make hard decisions. The members of the current two-party monopoly stand only for re-election. The process that collects money to produce an electoral win collects no input from the citizenry at large. Few of our elected officials feel any shame at putting party above nation, because they take the passivity and political fecklessness of the nation for granted. They therefore feel no compunction against trying to bypass the Constitution, distort the rule of law, and often even violate the demands of basic human decency when it suits their needs.
A time of political realignment in America is now upon us, and The Alliance means to be a leading vehicle of it. We want to be clear: The Alliance Party intends to establish a foundation within our communities for the long term. We will run candidates at all levels of government, and we mean to win many, many elections. We will not be satisfied with being a telegenic irritant or a fulcrum to drive the major parties back to their senses. We are not a “third party”—we are a new party that intends to become a major party. The American electorate must suffer no longer with choices of lesser evils.
Is this a realistic ambition? It has happened before in American history, when a major party—the Whigs, which put four Presidents in the White House—disintegrated in 1852 due to internal dissension and the modern Republican Party rose to take its place. Many leaders of the new party had been Whigs—not least Abraham Lincoln—but they switched allegiances and began anew to make a difference. It happened, too, in a different way when the Populists of William Jennings Bryan took over the moribund Democratic Party in 1896, and it happened in 1932 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt assembled the New Deal coalition that largely defined American politics for the rest of the 20th century. Something similar is about to happen again. It is time for reform and renewal. Indeed, it is past time.
Not convinced? Then recall what happened in the spring of 2017: Emmanuel Macron smashed the hollow vessel of French politics, winning the presidency and a parliamentary majority as both the Gaullists and the Socialist parties turned to dust. When a frustrated French electorate spied a chance for real change, an electoral revolution ensued. Is the American electorate today any less desirous of real change than the French one was less than two years ago?
We think not. More than 41 percent of new voters register as independents. That is no accident. Every poll shows that the American people believe, correctly, that today’s major parties do not represent their views. Every poll shows that most Americans feel a sense of futility with making their voices heard in today’s political environment. Their instincts are uncannily correct. A recent poll conducted by Triton Polling and Research found that 56 percent of New Hampshire voters would consider voting for an independent—meaning a non-two party monopoly—candidate for President. Why is that a significant number? Because if the 2020 Alliance Party presidential ticket wins 56 percent of the vote, that ticket will win the White House.
These views on the part of the American electorate align with the fact that many new centrist social and political movements have been founded in the past few years: Better Angels, Stand Up Republic, the Renew Democracy Initiative and more than a dozen others. This is a positive sign. The Alliance Party fully supports these new energies rising outside the bounds of the two-party monopoly, and looks forward to cooperating with all groups and individuals working to build the next American future. In this venture we are neither glibly optimistic nor pessimistic: We are merely very focused.
It is not enough to be against something. That is too easy and too emotionally indulgent. The Alliance Party is for an America that continues to struggle toward its high ideals, to create a more perfect union. We are in unbreakable agreement on a basic philosophy of government, which we express with just three words: unity, community, and responsibility. Let us elaborate a bit on what we mean.
Unity: The Alliance Party is dedicated inalterably to the principle of E Pluribus Unum. We will never, like current small-minded Republicans, deliberately divide Americans and sow fear and hatred by stigmatizing immigrants, blacks, Muslims, or any group. And we will never, like current Democrats, indulge in divisive “identity politics” blame-game victimization stratagems.
We reject all forms of bigotry and exclusion, which only divide us. We affirm without reservation the primacy of conscience and free speech as integral to basic human dignity. And we believe we are all Americans first, political partisans second. The American people understand that more unites us as Americans than divides us as Republicans, Democrats, and others.
Community: We believe in the primacy of local politics—in other words, in subsidiarity. As noted above, we believe the Federal system has become unbalanced toward the center, and that we need to return as appropriate resources and decision authority to the states and to localities in order to foster levels of democratic participation that can justify and fulfill the Founders’ vision.
Obviously, key functions of the Federal government remain critical to national security and well-being. We can easily name them, for they are virtually an historical constant across the globe. In the American case, six such functions stand out:
First, the Federal government must maintain full responsibility for external security—the military function—and for defining who is and can become a part of the nation within its territorial definition.
Second, the Federal government must establish and regulate the parameters of our continental-size market economy, which requires clear and actionable property rights, contract and patent law, and other legal requirements that must be constant for all 50 states. The idea that markets bear a primeval resemblance to natural selection and predate the invention of government—such that government should therefore have little or no role in their regulation—is ahistorical nonsense on stilts.
Third and related, only the Federal government can establish what money is, and manage its production and value.
Fourth, only the Federal government can enforce fairly and uniformly the highest law of the land—in our case including the Bill of Rights, an integral part of the Constitution.
Fifth, the Federal government must be responsible for major infrastructure investment and maintenance—including our burgeoning information infrastructure—since critical infrastructure far transcends the capacities of any one state or group of states to finance and manage.
And sixth, the Federal government must have the means to perpetuate itself such that roles within its main functions remain the same, but the individuals who fill them can change without undue disruption.
Beyond these six key functions, we believe that the primacy of state, county, and municipal government should prevail. The solutions to problems are usually best found nearest the problems. And after all, we live in an increasingly net-centric, distributed-system world; our over-centralized Federal system is a vestige of an industrial age now largely passed, and does us more harm than good.
Moreover, subsidiarity puts a high premium on democratic participation. It is much easier for most people to interact in smaller than in larger groups. Participation in democratic governance at the local level is also a means of building social trust and community, which we sorely need to restore after decades of erosion.
And mark well: Clawing back our overgrown administrative/bureaucratic Federal state is the only politically realistic way to get a handle on paying down our $22 trillion national debt, for neither eviscerating Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, nor raising taxes to levels necessary for the purpose, are even remotely feasible.
Of course, subsidiarity is not a panacea. Corruption at local levels is no scarcer than it is at the national level, and insular forms of blinkered thinking may at times be worse. Nevertheless, subsidiarity can enable populations who think “red” and populations who think “blue” to each have most of what they desire without denying the other what they desire. We do not need, nor should we seek, a one-size-fits-all solution for every public policy decision point that comes along, but rather embrace the bounded flexibility inherent in subsidiarity and in a well-balanced federal system.
Moreover, local government can function as experimental laboratories in search of new “best practices.” Winners can be scaled up across the states and, when appropriate, adapted to the national level. Waiting for all our problems to be solved at the national level is roughly akin to waiting for hell to freeze over.
Indeed, some culture war issues are so fraught with emotion and unmovable conviction on both sides that no solution to them on the national level is possible. These issues fester in endless toxic debate, poisoning the politics of everything they touch. It would be best to return such issues to local constituencies, where there is at least a chance for consensual resolutions. It helps that, in many cases, there is simply no remit in the Constitution for such issues to have ever become Federal questions in the first place.
In short, we believe government should better support what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of social life that form the bedrock of any decent political order.In short, we believe government should better support what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of social life that form the bedrock of any decent political order. Too intrusive a central government actually undermines that bedrock, destroying the very basis of its own legitimacy over time. We believe government should strive toward the ideal of what Thomas Jefferson termed the virtues of “ward democracy,” a form of self-government that encompasses and gives voice to family, faith communities, workplaces, and, indeed, to the full array of Tocquevillian mediating institutions that are the traditional hallmarks of American democracy.
These aspirations are already built into the structure the Framers have given us; we see no need for amending the Constitution in any way to do what is best for our country.
That is why one proposal that the Alliance Party is considering concerns an expansion of the House of Representatives. The House started small: In 1789 there were only 65 members. With each census the number increased with population growth in order to maintain roughly the same ratio of representatives to constituents—until 1911, when Congress capped the size of the House at 435. But as the population continued to grow, that act meant that the original ratio shifted steadily upward. Today the number of constituents per representative is more than one per 700,000; the Founders had in mind something more like one in 30,000. No wonder most people feel de facto disenfranchised, as mere drops in an immense ocean.
Many proposals to enlarge the House have emerged since 1911, but they all ran up against a general antipathy to making government in Washington any larger than it already was. But now we can do something we could not readily do before: We can significantly enlarge the House, but not site it in Washington, DC. A new law enlarging the House could and should stipulate that Congressmen will spend only ten weeks a year in Washington, another ten in caucus with their state house colleague in their respective state capitals, and the rest of the time living in their districts and interacting with their constituents. Work would be broken down by committee assignments, and secure communications and vote casting insured by email, telephone, chat rooms, and other telecommunications venues—the same way every major business now operates.
When is the last time you heard a Republican or Democratic politician voice support for, let alone come up with, a significant constructive idea?
Last in this regard, one more important, but usually unspoken, virtue of bringing politics back to the level of communities and neighborhoods stands out: The toleration of differences—even the celebration of the dignity of difference—is far easier in the context of face-to-face interactions than it is through mediated images. It is much harder to look another person straight in the eye and despise him or her than it is to do so virtually on the internet, where anonymity is a normal if unnatural state of affairs.
Since most Americans are more tolerant in daily practice than they are in the ether of abstraction that defines virtual media, it follows that political polarization will decrease when Americans, irrespective of their political views, come again to depend on one another as neighbors—rather than on a faceless bureaucracy taking cues from a distant capital city.
People in any given community or neighborhood do not all share the same beliefs any more than on any given imaginary Main Street, USA all the houses look exactly the same. So long as it is not forced on people, diversity is certainly a great strength: It makes the nation more than the mere sum of its parts. It enriches everyone who lets it, and that would still be most of us.
Our communities are under tremendous stress at a time of massive and rapid change in the country and in the world; it is central to the Alliance Party’s mission to support, strengthen, and, as necessary, help build them anew. Strong and vibrant communities, and solid families within them, are the foundation of a strong and vibrant America. That our political class has for all practical purposes lost sight of that core truth is, we believe, the font of the dysfunction of the past quarter century.
But here we must be frank. Yes, we are critical of our two-party monopoly’s political class in recent times. But it is generally true that in a democracy people get the government they deserve. We the People have let the deal go down. We have not held our leaders’ feet to the democratic fire. In our affluence and complacency, lulled by the ceaseless temptations of a shallow entertainment culture, we have been lax in fulfilling our obligations as citizens. We have rendered ourselves too easily divided by political sharpsters who use language for its shock effect like social media uses clickbait. We have not well shouldered the civic responsibilities of self-government. So when we go pointing fingers, we need occasionally do so in front of a mirror.
Responsibility: Citizens of a democracy have a civic duty to participate in creating and maintaining a decent social and political order. We hear much talk of rights, but rights are meaningless without responsibilities. Symptomatic of the crisis of participation we face, many Americans have come to assume that the government grants rights to people as it grants financial benefits to some. But the premise of the Constitution is that sovereignty resides with the people; so it is the people who grant rights to the government, not the other way around, to create our unique form of ordered liberty.
But for ordered liberty to work in the context of limited government, citizens must engage in efforts to realize common goals outside of government—in society. So beyond voting every once in a while, citizens must work together on behalf of the common weal—whether by volunteering to mentor the young or to care for the old, being mindful stewards of the land, or investing resources in a better future.
Civic responsibility also means being an educated voter and community participant. That means getting off the couch and away from the screens that pervade our lives and into the mix of the real world—the world outside our heads. We learn with and from others, and we learn from doing as much or more than we can learn from books.
The Alliance Party’s emphases on community and responsibility are obviously related. If our communities are sound, people will be drawn to participate in them. They will embrace their agency and fulfill the civic responsibility that their liberty requires. By the same token, when people participate they build community in the process. The unraveling of both participation and community that so many Americans have experienced in recent years can be reversed only by joining the two elements together, this time in a positive direction.
That is why, for example, The Alliance supports a scaled-up voluntary National Service/Baby Bond program. Such a program can build community and social trust even as it spreads equity available to young people.1 We are also studying the feasibility of a New Pioneer Act—a renewal of the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts. As with the original, a New Pioneer Act would use selected plots of Federal land to build new communities, some based on state-of-the-art non-corporatized agriculture, others on different economic bases. The aim, again as with the original, is to spread equity, especially among young people, teach craft and touch skills, rebind people with the natural world, and experiment with a range of new best practice innovations in education, elder care, infrastructure and more. Such a program, if ultimately scaled up from pilot-scale beginnings, would also create huge numbers of good jobs as these new communities prove market-viable.
The Alliance Party places the highest value on being present and active at the local level because we are not a conventional political party: We are part social movement, as well. We correspond exactly to what David Brooks wrote in his May 14, 2018 New York Times column: “I’m a Whig. If progressives generally believe in expanding government to enhance equality, and libertarians try to reduce government to expand freedom, Whigs seek to use limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility.” (Full disclosure: One of the merging parties that has formed The Alliance Party is the Modern Whig Party.)
We have ideas about energetic but still limited and self-limiting government, and about social mobility. One of them involves getting people working together at local levels throughout the country to “Plant a Billion Trees” in a decade. (That sounds like a lot of trees, but it works out to fewer than four per person spread over ten years.) We can help ameliorate global warming by sequestering massive amounts of carbon in one of the most cost-effective ways science offers us.
We will partner with other groups to get these things done, and so knit together more social capital in the process. We can create local Planting Brigades and develop youth-based “Dig That Tree” Auxiliaries to help them. We look forward, as well, to establishing community-based stewardship associations to care for our environmental commons. If businesses and other groups can “adopt a highway,” communities led by The Alliance can adopt a forest or a park or a public playground.
It is important that Party community-building activities involve multi-generational civic participation, because age-segregated cohorts compose a significant social problem. We want sports leagues, faith communities, book clubs, and groups of all kinds to pitch in. We emphatically include able residents of retirement and even assisted living facilities, for we are largely wasting the accumulated experience and wisdom of the steadily increasing numbers of healthy and still vital retirees among us. With our youth and with our elders we will go forward together.
We have other ideas, too—on the debt problem, education, immigration, national security, healthcare, press freedoms, energy, civil rights, sustainable economic growth, climate change, gun control, and more. Read our Platform for some details.
And unlike the major parties, we have also established an ongoing Alliance Party Policy Workshop in which ideas are presented and discussed among Party members, and the general public beyond, on an ongoing basis. We relish open debate and welcome an environment in which argument is conducted in the spirit of reaching a common goal, and through it a better future for all Americans. The Alliance Party invites a spirit of constructive engagement within its ranks and between Party members and the wider American public.
Why? Because the nation needs ideas, small- and medium-sized ones but also big ones. America is at its best when it conceives and pursues a pioneering project, a collective striving with a purpose. That is partly because we share but marginally the sort of bloodline nationalism characteristic of other Western nations. Hence, we have always had a smaller social idea than that of our European allies, which helps to explain their greater affinity for social democratic welfare states. Our creedal founding as a child of the Enlightenment has bequeathed a more abstract national ethos, which has meant that America’s national unity has tended to inhere more in a sense of common purpose than in a static “creed” or DNA base: As a nation we have always been more verb than noun, so to speak; but that has made our unity more fragile and so, as our history illustrates, more vulnerable to disruption.
Now it is, once again, painfully disrupted. We live in a relatively rare moment in our history when no clear common pioneering vocation exists to unite us, even as the stories we tell about ourselves have lost traction. Indeed, the pessimism stalking the land arises mostly from a pervasive sense of collective purposelessness. And so the nation seems to be disintegrating into identity groups defined partly by class, partly by educational levels, partly by ethno-racial criteria, and partly by ideology—all reinforced by the now-well-understood echo-chamber effects of designer media.
Worse, our routine political dynamics now exacerbate instead of ameliorate this disintegrative tendency. Political entrepreneurs both Left and Right, preying on economic insecurity and fear of ethnic and subcultural differences, seek to create partisan enclaves defined by contending us-versus-them atavisms. “We the People” are shrinking among what some call the “tribalization” of our society and politics.
For reasons already laid out, we cannot now expect social/institutional innovation from the Federal government in its current state of disrepair, as we have experienced in our history with a variety of projects—the Homestead and Morrill Acts, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the GI Bill, and others. Reform dynamism must therefore start from outside government, and it must renovate government as it moves toward success. That is why the social movement aspect of The Alliance is so critical.
The story Americans must tell each other in the onrushing future is a story about work and dignity, about mastering technology before it masters us, and about finding new unity in a new purpose that wrestles with both—and that will ultimately defrost our government from its present immobility.
We are under no illusion that all of our problems are political in any simple sense. The strains we all sense run deep in the culture. Many disquieting trends have been decades in the making. Some we recognize; others, like the striking decline of deep literacy, we have barely noticed. Passing this or that law cannot vanquish all the challenges we face, but working together we can ease the pains of this difficult era. That is the least we can do, and it is what we must do.
We must wrestle with the deeper challenges we face together, in the great noisy swirl of American democracy as it rises above the inert funk into which we, together with our failed political class, have cast it. We will bring solutions to government. The people will solve their problems, as only the people can. As always, democratic government reflects us; it does not, for it cannot, fashion us.
There is a peaceful revolution in our future. The pioneers of the next America are rising among us now, and The Alliance is the vanguard of that peaceful revolution. We need you to be successful, so please join us. Can you, especially those of you with children and grandchildren, afford not to?