Leveraging Our Differences

It's time to reframe the United States

Fireworks on July 4, 2021
Independence Day is a time for celebration and reflection.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Anderson edited "Leveraging: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework" (Springer, 2014), has taught at five universities and ran for the Democratic nomination for a Maryland congressional seat in 2016.

As we celebrate our independence this month, the vast majority of Americans need to decide to reframe our country.

The polarization narrative has a stranglehold on Washington and the American people. It is nothing less than the reigning paradigm of American political thought. This is unfortunate because the paradigm is misguided, even though there are certainly pockets of polarization throughout the country and considerable hostility between the most vocal elements of both the Democratic and Republican parties, inside and outside Washington.

We need a new paradigm to reframe what America is. There are three main themes that need to be addressed.

The polarization theme is the first.

Poll after poll, survey after survey, show widespread agreement on many major policy debates, including the need for immigration reform with a path to citizenship, protection of Social Security and Medicare, massive investment in infrastructure, funding for paid parental leave, reforming the criminal justice system, confronting climate change, significant support for child care for the middle class as well as the working class and the poor, and more.

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One-third of the 240 million members of the American electorate did not vote in 2020, and 44 percent of Americans, according to the latest Gallup poll, regard themselves as independents. Today only 53 percent of Republicans still believe Donald Trump is the rightful president, whereas this figure was in the 70 percent to 80 percent range in November and December.

That figure is nothing to boast about from the standpoint of national health, but when only 25 percent of the electorate identify as Republicans this means about 13 percent of the electorate do not think Biden is the rightful president. That is nothing to brag about if you think Trump is the rightful president.

The idea that we are a country where Democrats are pit against Republicans the way Southerners were pit against Northerners prior to The Civil War is plainly false. Most of us sit somewhere between the two 20-yard lines of a football field. The media and the politicians, however, give most of their attention to the extremists, especially when it comes to getting elected in primaries and most especially in House primaries in gerrymandered districts.

The polarization narrative is one part of the poor framework used for understanding our country of 330 million people who are a complex mix of urban, suburban and rural voters with ever increasing minority representation.

Washington is definitely polarized as the Democratic and Republican parties are engaged in a bitter battle that concerns not only policy differences but a titanic struggle over the 2020 presidential election and the laws — federal, state and local — that should govern elections. It is the American people who are not.

A second part of the process of reframing America is to accept the fact that we do not live in a society with a capitalist economy. We must acknowledge that we live in a society with a mixed economy. From the New Deal to the Great Society we morphed into a "mixed economy," one in which the government intervenes in a very substantial way in the private sector. We have a massive system of regulation and redistribution, one that gave us and in most cases still gives us everything from Social Security and Medicare to the Affordable Care Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Violence Against Women Act and the Interstate Highway Act.

We, and many other countries, rejected both capitalism and socialism in the 20th century and carved out a middle ground. We do not have a "capitalist mixed economy," which is what most economists would say. We have a mixed economy, plain and simple. When you mix chocolate cake and vanilla cake you get marble cake, and when you mix capitalism and socialism you get a mixed economy.

One of the chief reasons we need to jettison the concept (and word) of "capitalism" is that it enables Republicans to provide a wrongheaded critique of Democrats as raging "socialists" who have rejected capitalism. Since neither the country nor most Republicans are capitalists in any interesting sense of the term, Republicans need to be denied the opportunity to falsely label Democrats as socialists during candidate campaigns. (Less than 5 percent self-describe that way.)

If the public — especially the moderates and centrists, many of whom are independents — could come to understand that our political-economic system is not capitalist or socialist in any interesting sense of the term, then they would not be swayed by unfair, grossly inaccurate labeling and fear-mongering by the hard right.

The third element of the new framework concerns public policy debates about the size of the federal government. It is time to drop it.

In the 21st century, the pressing issue about our federal government must not be framed in terms of its size, although of course there are major questions about the nature and extent of federal spending. Instead, the driving issue is more nuanced and indeed pervasive. It concerns whether the federal government effectively leverages resources across federal agencies to solve problems that cannot be solved by one agency alone, including climate change, systemic racism, family policy, job creation, infrastructure and the pandemic crisis itself.

Leveraging — resource leveraging, financial leveraging and bargaining leveraging — is the dominant way companies, nonprofits, politicians and individuals get things done today. When the Cold War ended, the nuclear family declined and information technology revolutionized business, politics and personal life, traditional lines of authority dissolved.

This was an invitation for resource leveraging, especially of the internet and social media, to take off: If you can no longer order people and countries what to do and your bargaining leverage is weakened, you need to leverage resources to get things done. The most obvious form of resource leveraging is leveraging government investment to generate private investment on a public works project. A reframed America will integrate the concept of resource leveraging across Cabinet departments into the entire framework.

We need to throw out concepts about our country that undermine our ability to live and work together with dignity, compassion and common purpose. It is time to reframe America.