How America Ends

TitleHow America Ends
AuthorYoni Appelbaum, Senior Editor, The Atlantic

Will democracy survive our current factionalism?

  • Our democracy has long depended on faith that elections are “neither permanent nor intolerable,” that losing one election is mere prelude to next election
  • Democracy is at risk when either party loses faith in their ability to win next election
As Is Situation:
  • Increasingly shrill, apocalyptic political rhetoric stokes fears & validates tribalism
  • Thoughtless tweeting & digital demonization fuels greater political acrimony
  • Increasingly divided political camps (geographically & ideologically)
  • Declining trust in civic institutions, democracy & each other
  • Waning ability of center to absorb extreme ideological movements & impulses
  • Despite recent successes (e.g., Electoral College, Supreme Court & Senate), many GOP leaders fear dramatic demographic changes will end GOP dominance
  • Narrowing GOP base could irrevocably damage two-party system & democracy
Historical trends:
  • US history replete with examples of political over-reaching & worse, e.g.:
    • Federalists passed Alien & Sedition Acts, criminalizing criticism of administration
    • As Northern states abandoned slavery & outgrew South, Southern states lost faith in elections, became more strident & used federal laws to support slavery (e.g., 1850 Fugitive Slave Act)
    • “Redemption era” Democrats stole franchise from black voters
    • Progressive Republicans wrested municipal governance from immigrant voters
    • Reaction to World War I immigrants led to many regrettable events (e.g., Prohibition, Palmer Raids, Ku Klux Klan revival & nativist immigration laws)
  • Democracy ultimately prevailed as electoral losers realized they could build new coalitions & regain their influence in future elections, e.g.:
    • Political parties have continually realigned to accommodate immigrants (e.g., In 1924, Democratic Party nearly destroyed by fight between nativist & anti-nativist forces, but, after losing in 1928, won next 5 national elections with broad ethnic coalition)
    • While immigrants have influenced US culture, most have embraced core American values (e.g., entrepreneurialism & egalitarianism) & become more American
  • Today’s GOP seems to have lost its faith in democracy & immigration:
    • After Romney’s 2012 loss, RNC recommended expanding base to include minorities, women & youth & rebuilding party into organization that could win national majority
    • In 2016 primary, GOP voters abandoned GOP establishment’s calls for inclusion for candidate with disdain for public service, democracy & diversity
    • Instead of expanding base, GOP turning against democratic processes, challenging legitimacy of elections & using other tactics to hold power focusing on suppressing voters (e.g., extreme gerrymandering, polling place cuts, voter suppression & immigrant census count suppression)
Future issues:
  • Demographic – cultural strains from ascendancy of historical political minority
  • Economic – economic stress from global competition & postindustrial economy
  • Informational – growing reliance on smart phones, social media & misinformation
  • Political – waning hope of either political party for future elections increases vulnerability of democratic systems to reckless self-serving demagogues
Next steps:
  • Center-right leaders start rejecting nativism, broadening partisan coalitions & competing more aggressively for new voters in diversifying nation
  • Conservative thought leaders rebuild GOP as party of conservative principles, develop more appealing ideas for diverse constituencies & mount good faith, fact-based challenge to progressivism in free marketplace of ideas
  • GOP must renew its commitment to vibrant democratic institutions & competitive elections, learn to gracefully accept electoral defeats & restore its faith that democratic elections offer a viable, short-term path to victory
Our Take:

Our two-party system is messy, but it has shown a remarkable ability throughout our history to adapt to change. Continually competing for majority support, our parties have assimilated movements, built and rebuilt coalitions and tailored their platforms to those ever-changing coalitions. And they have absorbed and even quashed the assaults of Nativists, Luddites and Know-Nothings and other extremists.

At first glance, the author appears to suggest that it is solely up to the GOP (or center-right) to reform itself and save our nation, a notion that seems simplistic if not unfair. However, after watching the recent impeachment trial in the US Senate, the author’s fears about the GOP seem all too prescient. With the solitary exception of Mitt Romney, GOP Senators appeared almost eager to cast aside long-held conservative principles (starting with public accountability). To many observers, they seemed less a party than a cult slavishly devoted to their “supreme leader.”

Our history gives us hope that American system will prevail, but success will not be attained solely because of the work of one party or the consequences of one election. For our democracy to prosper, we must do more than hope that one party will put the country first. Sure, both parties could benefit from serious reform, but we also must take other steps. We must engage more citizens, reduce the influence of money in politics, improve civic education, make our elections competitive and improve governance. And we must ground these actions in our founding constitutional principles.

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 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.


The New Localism, How Cities can Thrive in the Age of Populism

TitleThe New Localism, How Cities can Thrive in the Age of Populism (2018)
AuthorBruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, The Brookings Institution
Defining features of new localism:
  • Global – continually promoting global perspectives, links & competitiveness
  • Self-reliant – relentless use of local leadership, institutions & resources to solve problems
  • Pragmatic – committed to focused, innovative & feasible problem-solving
  • Entrepreneurial – courage to reform institutions & leverage assets to seize opportunities
  • Futuristic – disciplined focus on long-term vision, strategies, investments & results
  • Collaborative – participatory, interactive & open civic dialogue & problem-solving
Relevant historical trends:
  • Though most of 20th Century, our reliance on federal & state government increased
  • During 1980s & Reagan’s New Federalism, federal government’s role began to wane
  • Since then, burgeoning federal debt has limited federal fiscal flexibility
  • In recent years, nationalization & toxicity of politics created need for new approach
Factors creating fertile conditions for New Localism:
  • Big socio-economic changes (e.g., demography, equity gaps, urbanism & globalism)
  • Fiscal stress & hyper-partisanship undermining faith in government top-down solutions
  • Rising anger toward global elites, civic institutions, immigrants & other groups
  • Growing embrace of faux populism & simplistic, short-sighted solutions
  • Countervailing search for new approach to governance & problem-solving
Sample New Localism success stories:
  • Pittsburgh – informal civic, business, labor, charity & university alliance spurred big civic investments (e.g., $1.5 billion via Pittsburgh Regional Asset District over 20 years)
  • Chattanooga – dynamic public-private collaboration produced tangible benefits (e.g., 140-acre Innovation District, high-speed Gig City network & smart energy grid
  • Indianapolis – networked governance model—city-county merger (Unigov) + formal civic group (Central Indiana Corporate Partnership)—provides regional platform for assessing problems, tapping assets (e.g., pension funds), crafting solutions & selling initiatives
  • Cleveland – Greater Cleveland Partnership (successor to foundation-funded Cleveland Tomorrow) has provided strategic leadership for region since 2004
  • St Louis – 501c3 entity created by academic, health & cultural entities to develop 200-acre innovation district (Cortex) with state & city support
  • Philadelphia – after 1990s Naval Yard closure, created public-private Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to acquire Naval Yard, issue tax credits & tax-exempt bonds & spur renewal (e.g., over $1 billion in investments & 12,000 employees)

Copenhagen – created publicly-owned, privately-managed public asset corporation to acquire urban core area, update zoning, borrow funds, build transit line & other infrastructure & raise funds for future phases (e.g., harbor renewal & transit expansion)

Outlook for New Localism:
  • Populistic anger could increase pressures for replacing or reforming civic institutions
  • Outdated, top-down ways could give way to new, localized models of governance & finance sharing power & responsibilities across civic networks
  • Metro areas that modernize structures, build new civic networks, monetize assets & unlock capital could provide models for other areas
  • New Localism could offer most radical restructuring of federalism since New Deal
New Localism best practices:
  • Organization – create formal, well-funded civic network structure to facilitate networked local governance across boundaries (e.g., region, metro, city, CBD & district)
  • Governance – restructure government, unify public asset management, create new structures to finance & carry out initiatives & strengthen public-private partnerships
  • Collaboration – organize diverse stakeholder group, build community engagement mechanism & develop neighborhood service agenda & initiatives
  • Diagnosis – Assess current situation & local institutions, prioritize problems to be solved, define risks & identify potential improvement opportunities
  • Planning – forge ambitious vision based on risks & opportunities, define measurable outcomes & adopt long-term investment strategies
  • Marketing – build community-wide consensus for change, nurture collaborative culture & aggressively promote initiatives, locally & globally (e.g., innovation districts)
Our Take:

For anyone who cares about government & community progress, we urge you to read this important & timely book. It provides a great foundation for understanding the forces contributing to New Localism as well as best practices & proven strategies for implementing New Localism as a governing philosophy in your state, region or community.

Our Day of Reckoning

TitleOur Day of Reckoning
AuthorCamille Busette, Director of the Brookings Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative

Since 1968, has America made progress as a land of opportunity?


Our future competitiveness will depend on people of color, but the American Dream remains out of reach for too many. Regardless of the source—the Census Bureau, Federal Reserve or Annie E. Casey Foundation—or the metric, the facts are clear. People of color face the longest odds for success in the land of opportunity. And, despite post-Great Recession gains, our vast racial wealth gap remains. Even more worrisome, current federal policies could exacerbate inequality, limit economic mobility and undermine our global competitiveness.

As is

Despite profound demographic changes (e.g., for the first time, most children under age 10 are non-white), our nation seems sharply divided between white and non-white, natives and immigrants, haves and have-nots, insiders and outsiders. For many people of color, the nation offers the threat of insecurity and despair. After eight years of our first African-American president and a national vision of hope, we have handed the keys of national power to the forces of anger, intolerance and greed.

To Do

To ensure our optimal economic performance and our global competitiveness, our nation must afford its young ample educational options and its adults every opportunity to fully participate in our ever-changing economy.

Our Take

As the author reminds us, Dr. Martin Luther King called on us to recognize our common humanity. To honor our legacy, realize our hopes and inspire the next generation of leaders, we must become—and fight to remain—the land of opportunity.

What Millennial Mayors Are Doing for City Hall (1-31-18)

TitleWhat Millennial Mayors Are Doing for City Hall (1-31-18)
AuthorAndrew Small, freelance writer in Washington, DC and former editorial fellow at CityLab

Will millennials have the opportunity, capacity and right stuff to lead?

Key Findings

A wave of bright, young leaders is rising across the country, from Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend (IN) to Mayor Lydia Mihalik of Findlay (OH) to Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami. Millennial leaders possess many characteristics that public executives need to face the future—the humility to be admit ignorance, the courage to ask questions, the ability to multi-task and the willingness to share and borrow great ideas.

Envisioned Landscape

Distressed or stagnating local jurisdictions, like South Bend was in 2012 when Newsweek labeled it one of “America’s Dying Cities,” will test our local leaders. But they also will offer exciting opportunities for the untested idealists of today to become the proven leaders of tomorrow. A youthful public executive office offers hope to voters, an opportunity to replace nostalgia with foresight, to see old problems with new eyes, to trade caution and certainty for innovation and experimentation.

Proposed Actions

The torch of leadership is inevitably from one generation to the next. Millennials are no different. They may surface first in local government, but their service as Mayor or County Executive will likely be a stepping stone to higher executive office. We should embrace such rising stars and help them take the next step.

One More Thing

If we believe in government and care about its quality, we must think more about how to enhance its leadership. Supporting young, emerging leaders can take many forms, but one way is to provide them with the systems and tools they will need to attain their vision for their communities and restore public faith in government.

The Future of Community Indicator Systems

TitleThe Future of Community Indicator Systems
AuthorJ. Benjamin Warner, President & CEO of Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI)

Which measures matter & who decides which measures matter?


1.The community indicators movement, invigorated by 30 years of experience & local innovation, will evolve from democratizing data to galvanizing civic progress.

2. Efforts to develop standard global progress measures, led by OECD & UN, will continue.

3. Demand for creating a uniform, national well-being index for US, one that surpasses traditional indicators like gross domestic product (GDP), will continue to grow.

4. Several factors (e.g., technology & data availability, literacy & visualization) will enhance our capacity to measure civic progress, but some factors (e.g., data proliferation) will make it harder to select effective measures.

As Is:

1. Community indicator systems distill data in ways that help civic groups shape priorities, assess conditions, forge strategies & take civic action; they are a vital component of any effective community change model

2. Community indicator systems, while evolving, are not without defects, e.g.:

     Political pressures can distort decision-making, threaten funding & undermine efforts to sustain a broad civic progress agenda

     Some systems are designed to preserve, advocate or promote rather than to address long-term civic needs

     Some indicators are excluded that could illuminate cross-cutting issues, prompt unconventional thinking or suggest innovative solutions

3. When issues defy easy measurement, some leaders shoehorn clumsy proxy indicators

Jacksonville, Florida

1. Nation’s oldest community indicator system, “Quality of Life Progress Report.”

     System designed to measure progress over time, not to compare other cities

     Initial system included 83 measures covering economy, public safety, health, education, environment, mobility, government, social & culture

     System since expanded to measure other aspects of community life (e.g., poverty impact)

     Indicators & methodologies continually revised as better data become available

     Annually, leaders use data to highlight negative trends & mobilize civic action

2. Citizen input critical to success & growth of indicator system, e.g.:

     Indicators selected by citizens & informed by experts

     Citizen input used to improve data usability for laypersons

     Multiple presentation options offered (e.g., simple briefings, detailed reports & interactive web-based mapping) to accommodate diverse audiences

3. Biggest challenge facing system is securing support from political leaders without sacrificing system’s political independence (never championed by single official).

To Do:

1. Design indicator system to promote needed civic change, not leaders or institutions:

     Build system that serves interests of entire community & represents vital constituencies & geographic units, not just civic institutions or political incumbents

     Select reliable indicators with direction (i.e., highlight performance gaps, spot future trends & suggest needs for improvement)

     In selecting indicators, strike balance between possible & practical, rigorous & familiar

2. Create unifying index for aggregating data, simplifying complex issues, connecting citizens to data & enhancing system utility for compelling civic change.

3. Use system to tell vital stories, anticipate civic problems & spur civic change.

4. Diversify civic leadership groups not only to better visualize civic progress, select measures & set priorities, but to ensure that the entire community’s interests are served.

Our Take:

We agree that the challenge facing communities is not so much to bring more data to citizens, but better data. With better data (& more compelling stories), communities can track their progress. The Community Indicators Consortium (CIC) offers training & research to help communities build civic tracking systems & share their experiences. We also applaud CIC’s effort to integrate community indicators with government performance measures. Ultimately, this initiative could yield a powerful platform for spurring civic progress in every community.