The Enemy Within

TitleThe Enemy Within, Atlantic, December 2019
AuthorJames Mattis, retired United States Marine Corps general & former Secretary of Defense

Have we taught our children the principles of citizenship or already forgotten them?

  • In 1838, Abraham Lincoln warned that our nation’ greatest threat came from within, that while our external enemies would not defeat us, we could still “die by suicide”
  • Our politics are paralyzing us; we doubt instead of trust, dismiss instead of listen, demonize instead of compromise & stress differences instead of commonalities
  • E pluribus unum is not just a phrase on our coins, it is a moral imperative, a noble expression of our duty to build a “more perfect” union for future generations
Historical context
  • Our founders designed a constitutional system durable & flexible enough to build on our strengths & fix our flaws (e.g., 13th & 19th Amendments), a historic achievement
  • Our founders understood that we humans are imperfect & that our success as a nation would depend on our humility, realism & collective capacity to solve civic problems
  • America remains an experiment, a never-ending commitment to perfecting our union that demands our ceaseless attention, patience & patriotism
  • Every citizen’s responsibility is to work with others to fix our constitutional system when it falters, not discard it for empty slogans or vague promises
As Is Situation
  • Cynicism, while momentarily gratifying, is a cowardly & corrosive trait that fosters distrust, resentment & suspicion; ultimately, it solves nothing
  • Dissenting views are inevitable & useful, but mean, scornful rhetoric is not
  • Per recent Pew survey, 2/3 of Americans believe that our declining trust in government & one another hampers our ability to solve our nation’s problems
  • Our institutions (e.g., media, judiciary, labor unions, universities, teachers, scientists & civil servants) are easy targets, but attacking or neglecting them impedes our ability to solve problems & improve society
  • Short-term thinking often succumbs to selfish, shortsighted temptations (e.g., leaving burdensome debt or eroding environmental conditions for our descendants)
  • Today’s tribal warfare & political paralysis have created a national crisis, with a mounting backlog of neglected problems, one that demands a sober, unified response
Civic leadership
  • Real democratic leadership is patient, quiet, diplomatic & collegial
  • Real leaders don’t arrive on white horses with grand promises to cure every ill
  • Leading is serving, always seeking & drawing inspiration from those we lead
  • Per Dwight Eisenhower, leadership is “the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it”
  • Civic institutions may suffer from low favorability ratings, but they remain our best vehicles for reaffirming & transmitting our values over time
Civic action
  • Progressing nationally means participating locally
  • One of our most vital challenges is declining civic participation & faith in government, but only we can solve it by increasing our participation
  • Overcoming challenges is usually done one base hit at a time, not by swinging for fences
  • Civic participation often inspires change from ground up (e.g., Rosa Parks’ bus ride & local environmental clean-up efforts)
  • America is more about our pews (e.g., communities, local governments & civic institutions) than our pulpits (White House, Congress & media)
  • Impetus for long-term change often comes from pews, not bully pulpit
Next Steps
  • Strengthen civility – listen to others, ask questions in ways that enlist opponents & frame challenges as solvable problems not as irreconcilable differences
  • Take long view – set strategic goals & debate problems & solutions against long-term ideals (e.g., stewardship & intergenerational fairness)
  • Honor incremental change – reward small, gradual improvements (e.g., public schools, infrastructure, electrification & nuclear-arms control)
  • Recognize our commonalities – value what Lincoln called our “bonds of affection” (e.g., shared traditions, freedoms, generosity, warmth, humor & service to others)
  • Remember our collective power – renew our ability to come together at moments of crisis (Pearl Harbor & 9/11) & turn adversity into a crucible for progress
  • Strengthen civic institutions – invest more in the civic institutions we need to remain a vibrant democracy & beacon to the world (e.g., schools, universities & governments)
  • Improve civic education – upgrade curricula & instructional materials to ensure our students understand our civic principles, ideals, aspirations & responsibilities
Our Take

Mattis warns that our constitutional system, as robust as it is, cannot long endure our current tribalism & paralysis. He urges more personal humility, respect, compromise & collaboration. He counsels more support for our civic institutions & leaders who are diplomatic, collegial & patient. He implores us to substitute long-range ideals for short-term gratification. Finally, he calls for a renewed commitment by each of us to become better, more informed citizens, actively engaged in tackling the growing backlog of civic problems & perfecting our union for future generations. Mattis does not address the costs of civic education, but Civic Way believes that the best investment we could possibly make in democracy would be in a more thorough, robust K-12 civic education.

Our View of Democracy & Personal Responsibility

Introduction Some of us complain incessantly about our politics and politicians. Others dodge any discussion of politics whatsoever. As a society, we have become less and less adept at rising above our political biases, listening to divergent views and reaching consensus. Worse yet, we seem to be losing faith, not only in our civic institutions…


Our View of Localism – Part 3 (Reforming Local Government)

To fully embrace localism as a governing philosophy, we must make our state and local governments more efficient, effective and responsive. To take on more responsibility and deliver solutions more quickly and cost-effectively, our communities must be organized and equipped for the challenges ahead.


Localism (Part 3)

TitleA 10-Year Perspective of the Merger of Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky
AuthorJeff Wachter (Abell Foundation)

Has nation’s most recent major city-county merger, by Louisville & Jefferson County Kentucky into Louisville Metro government, met expectations?

Merger model:
  • Voters approved merger (54%-46%) in 2002 which took effect on January 1, 2003
  • City & county governments merged into single government (Metro Louisville) headed by mayor & 26-member Metro Council
  • City designated as Urban Services District (USD) with higher property taxes for higher services (e.g., fire protection, sanitation, recycling, street lighting & cleaning)
  • Fire services excluded, but City & County police units merged into Metro Police
Pre-merger initiatives:
  • Per 1975 court-order, City & County schools merged into single County School District
  • While prior city-county consolidation referenda failed in 1956, 1982 & 1983, several functional mergers (e.g., planning, zoning, parks, recreation, library & purchasing)
  • In 1985, leaders negotiated City/County Compact which created 1.25% occupational tax-sharing formula & Greater Louisville Economic Development Partnership & imposed moratorium on incorporation of new cities & annexation of unincorporated areas
  • In 1998, City & County renewed City/County Compact for 10 more years, but neither city-county tensions nor city-county merger support abated

In 1997, city & county leaders merged Greater Louisville Economic Development Partnership & Louisville Area Chamber of Commerce into Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), area’s first full-service, regional economic development organization (EDO)

Pre-merger profile:
  • Louisville’s population steadily declined from 1960 to 2000, falling to US’ 65th largest city & Kentucky’s 2nd largest city
  • Jefferson County included 93 cities, including Louisville, each with own government
  • City run by mayor & aldermen represented 21,000 people each, while county run by elected judge-executive & 3-member Fiscal Court representing 230,000-person districts
  • Area’s manufacturing base declined & economic transformation, which began during 1990s, slowed by ineffectiveness of multiple competing EDOs
  • Louisville was 259th safest among cities with at least 75,000 residents
  • City suffered from steadily declining tax base
  • City-County government experienced steadily increasing combined workforce & costs

Growing City-County racial divide as city’s African-American population nearly doubled from 18% in 1960 to 33% in 2000

Post-Merger Profile:
  • Population grew nearly 7% during 2000s (not solely due to merger) & City emerged as US’s 18th largest city & state’s largest city
  • Louisville Metro, due to merger & some municipal consolidations, has 83 cities, some of which use Louisville Metro for certain services (i.e., usually ex-county services)
  • Council members represent 25,000-30,000 residents for county & USD, improving overall representation, but diffusing clout of individual representatives
  • Louisville Metro more effective at setting coherent agenda, tackling big issues & launching major projects, especially for region
  • While area’s economic transformation not solely attributable to merger, unified EDO & progressive reputation made Metro Louisville more competitive (e.g., more effective business relocation & expansion efforts & increased employment)
  • Louisville became 6th safest city with at least 500,000 people & rose from 259th to 157th safest among cities with at least 75,000 residents
  • Louisville Metro operates Louisville Fire & Rescue for USD & area still served by 20 independent fire departments, but Merger 2.0 Task Force recommended merging suburban fire departments into Louisville Metro to improve fire protection & save money
  • Streamlining government has enabled Metro Louisville to deliver comparable services with fewer employees, no tax increases (property tax rates for former city & county residents have declined) & only minor fee increases (e.g., booking fees for arrestees)
  • Combined police staffing levels remained unchanged, but post-merger police funding increased at similar pre-merger rates (4-8% per year)

6 of 26 council districts (23%) represented by African-Americans & while this has diluted influence within USD, it has extended influence into county

Approval factors:
  • Prior merger of school systems removed potential stumbling block
  • Strong local pro-merger leadership (e.g., Democratic Mayor & Republican County Judge-Executive, Senator McConnell & every county judge-executive & city mayor since 1980)
  • Strong local media support (Courier-Journal, LEO magazine, Louisville Magazine, The Voice Tribune & Louisville Defender)
  • Created African-American majority districts to address local NAACP concerns
  • Excluded fire protection services from merger due to firefighter union objections

State legislature passed enabling legislation lifting ban on city-county merger referenda & allowing one-time-only referendum for county voters

Other cities:
  • Of 105 city-county consolidation referenda held in US from 1902 to 2010, only 27 (about 25%) approved by voters; most efforts end without vote (e.g., Pittsburgh & St. Louis)
  • Most recent major US city-county mergers occurred in Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Miami & Nashville (some mergers have included suburban cities)
  • Recent smaller city-county mergers included Athens GA, Augusta GA, Kansas City KS, Lexington KY,) include Lexington, Kentucky
  • Some consolidated upon creation or early in history (e.g., Anchorage, Denver, Honolulu, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco & Washington, DC)
  • While post-merger studies have been limited, major regions with city-county mergers (e.g., Indianapolis, Jacksonville & Nashville) have experienced overall net benefits (e.g., reputation, economic growth, streamlined government & stable taxes)

Post-merger issues may include tax distribution, service refinements (e.g., policy & fire), USD boundaries & political representation (especially for minorities)

Our Take:

Restructuring local government is daunting. Winning voter approval is a formidable hurdle, often pitting supporters against odd coalitions (e.g., rural whites & urban African-Americans). Implementing structural changes also poses serious challenges. Still, if we want local governments to do more (often with less), we must be willing to challenge the status quo & replace calcified structures & processes with modern models & systems.

Merging local governments (e.g., counties, cities & special districts) & realigning their operations with today’s challenges will not be easy. But, those regions with the vision & boldness to be innovative will likely become more competitive, not just among their more recalcitrant peers, but in the global marketplace as well. More effective, efficient & accountable local governments will win the future. They will make better use of scarce resources & enable their leaders to speak with one voice & tackle the regional challenges that too often vex our current jumble of balkanized, overlapping & bickering fiefdoms.