As a staff officer, I learned a valuable lesson about commanders: They don’t like to hear about problems. The first commander I ever worked for, who went on to become a two-star general, liked to say, “Don’t tell me problems, tell me solutions.”
So rather than repeating what’s wrong with our political system, I offer three solutions to fix it.
The first step is perspective or big-picture thinking. Big-picture thinking changes problems previously thought to be impossible into solvable issues. Immigration is a good example.
Our southern border is experiencing a refugee crisis being treated as an immigration problem. The root cause of the refugee crisis is violence in Central and South America; refugees aren’t all coming from Mexico, they are coming through Mexico. I was stationed near the U.S.-Mexico border on active duty with the U.S. Air Force. We were regularly ordered to avoid certain areas south of the border when off duty because they were too dangerous.
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Nobody will trek thousands of miles through jungles and deserts just to get a free visit to the emergency room. They are fleeing certain death in their homelands. By only looking at the border, we see an intractable immigration problem; but a broader perspective shows the root causes are in Latin America, and all of them are solvable.
Gaining the widest possible perspective requires maximum participation — the second step.
The more people participate in our democracy, the more perspectives add up to a better big picture. Electronic voting is one way to increase participation in elections. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of Americans own a cell phone. If we could cast votes from our smartphones, people would.
Lowering the voting age to 16 is another way to increase voter participation; if 16-year-olds are mature enough to operate a motor vehicle without supervision, they are old enough to vote. Teaching civics to secondary and college students needs to be a graduation requirement, and giving 16-year-olds the vote would give them incentive to take those classes seriously. Getting more people to take part in elections will increase the need for compromise.
The third step is power sharing, which is difficult because citizens are required to make sacrifices.
One sacrifice is recognizing the legitimacy of decisions made by winners of our elections. We may not agree with particular decisions, but under our system of government winners get to call the shots for their term of office. Founder James Madison warned of the dangers of factions, and today neither liberals nor conservatives want to share power, which is why they paint their own losses in apocalyptic terms.
History teaches us perpetual rule doesn’t work. No single group or individual or ideology can govern forever because the world is constantly changing. That’s why our founders embraced democracy and created a Constitution which can be amended. Absent an organized way for decision making to change hands, resentment inevitably builds up until it boils over into violence.
Winston Churchill wrote that “democracy is the worst form of government there is, except for all the alternatives.” When democracy malfunctions, the result is a division of the citizens into two camps: handfuls of extremists and legions of non-participants.
Today the political left and right are both getting more extreme, while the majority of people caught in between are opting out of the political process. As citizens, we are responsible for correcting our system of government when it goes wrong, and to do that we need to come up with working solutions.
Broader perspectives on problems, increased participation and a commitment to power sharing are three ways to get started.
Jason Belcher of Harold is an entrepreneur and former Air Force officer.