Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Big things start small

Launch of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin rocket

Jeff Bezos' launch won't change anything overnight, and neither will the work of today's democracy reformers, writes Nevins.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Nevins is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and co-founder and board chairman of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.

Tuesday night, as I listened to Jeff Bezos speak of his vision for space, I was moved by the vastness of his vision; his vision of space as a production center to lessen the environmental dangers of industrial production to our planet.

His vision seems so far-fetched today, just as I am sure a vision of a vast commercial aviation business that flies millions of people around the world daily would have seemed only a distant dream after Wilbur and Orville Wright's first flight of 12 seconds and 120 feet in 1903.

I was inspired by Bezos' vision as it applies to the work I have been doing for over a decade to repair the broken democracy that currently exists in our nation. As the founder and chairman of the board of the Bridge Alliance, a coalition of 90+ organizations working together to strengthen our democracy and heal the divides that separate us as a society, I sometimes feel that my efforts and those of my colleagues are merely an idealistic dream given that the toxic polarization and dysfunction seem to bet getting worse, not better.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

And so Bezos' words inspired me. His statement that big things start small reminds me that the task of democracy reformers will not be easy. As things seem to be getting worse, I realize that now is the time to take bold steps. While polls show most Americans believe our democracy is highly dysfunctional, many say to me the chances of change are small given the enormity of the task at hand. I fully understand the challenges that lie ahead, but like the exploration of space, taking small steps now will build into giant leaps in the future. Just as Bezos realizes his dream will not be realized in his lifetime, I realize the same may be true for the work democracy reformers are doing.

As with most innovations, big changes are never the work of one person. Innovation comes from the combined energy and brilliance of a community of people all working toward the same goal. Like the transcontinental railroad or the great interstate highway system that has brought our citizens closer together in terms of proximity, we are building a similar infrastructure, an infrastructure for democracy.

The visionary leaders of the organizations within the Bridge Alliance recognize that democracy must be founded on discourse and discussion, and that these discussions must be replete with differing perspectives and opinions. This visionary group of men and women, with whom I work daily, understand that embracing our ideological differences will ultimately lead to inquiry, and this inquiry to truth. Civil discourse and critical thought are essential if the grand experiment that is American democracy is to succeed.

This week, Bezos decided not only to invest in space, but in the infrastructure of democracy as well. Two "Courage and Civility" awards valued at $100 million apiece went to José Andres, whose World Central Kitchen helps feed masses of people following natural disasters, and Van Jones, who has founded several efforts to bridge the divide that separates us.

In announcing the awards Bezos said. "We need unifiers and not vilifiers. ... We need people who argue hard and act hard for what they believe. But they do that always with civility and never ad hominem attacks. Unfortunately, we live in a world where this is too often not the case. But we do have role models."

Now is the time to realize that bold changes are needed. The recipes of the past simply do not work. As idealistic as it seems today, flight exploration is going to change the very nature of commerce, so the work of the Bridge Alliance and our members seems equally as preposterous.

Let us be bold idealists, with big dreams:

  • A democracy where elected representatives are direct and honest in their public statements, putting ethical commitments above partisan and career objectives, surely seems impossible in today's environment.
  • A democracy where elected representatives who engage constructively, and do not dehumanize each other and refuse to debate the issues of our time in good faith, seems so far away if not impossible.
  • A democracy that represents the diversity that is America, a democracy that represents the voice of young people, people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, rural and urban dwellers, conservatives and progressives, is within our grasp if We the People invest today in this dream for a better future.

We need to be bold and now is the time!

Read More

Podcast: How do police feel about gun control?

Podcast: How do police feel about gun control?

Jesus "Eddie" Campa, former Chief Deputy of the El Paso County Sheriff's Department and former Chief of Police for Marshall Texas, discusses the recent school shooting in Uvalde and how loose restrictions on gun ownership complicate the lives of law enforcement on this episode of YDHTY.

Listen now

Podcast: Why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies

Podcast: Why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies

There's something natural and organic about perceiving that the people in power are out to advance their own interests. It's in part because it’s often true. Governments actually do keep secrets from the public. Politicians engage in scandals. There often is corruption at high levels. So, we don't want citizens in a democracy to be too trusting of their politicians. It's healthy to be skeptical of the state and its real abuses and tendencies towards secrecy. The danger is when this distrust gets redirected, not toward the state, but targets innocent people who are not actually responsible for people's problems.

On this episode of "Democracy Paradox" Scott Radnitz explains why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies.

Your Take:  The Price of Freedom

Your Take: The Price of Freedom

Our question about the price of freedom received a light response. We asked:

What price have you, your friends or your family paid for the freedom we enjoy? And what price would you willingly pay?

It was a question born out of the horror of images from Ukraine. We hope that the news about the Jan. 6 commission and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination was so riveting that this question was overlooked. We considered another possibility that the images were so traumatic, that our readers didn’t want to consider the question for themselves. We saw the price Ukrainians paid.

One response came from a veteran who noted that being willing to pay the ultimate price for one’s country and surviving was a gift that was repaid over and over throughout his life. “I know exactly what it is like to accept that you are a dead man,” he said. What most closely mirrored my own experience was a respondent who noted her lack of payment in blood, sweat or tears, yet chose to volunteer in helping others exercise their freedom.

Personally, my price includes service to our nation, too. The price I paid was the loss of my former life, which included a husband, a home and a seemingly secure job to enter the political fray with a message of partisan healing and hope for the future. This work isn’t risking my life, but it’s the price I’ve paid.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

Given the earnest question we asked, and the meager responses, I am also left wondering if we think at all about the price of freedom? Or have we all become so entitled to our freedom that we fail to defend freedom for others? Or was the question poorly timed?

I read another respondent’s words as an indicator of his pacifism. And another veteran who simply stated his years of service. And that was it. Four responses to a question that lives in my heart every day. We look forward to hearing Your Take on other topics. Feel free to share questions to which you’d like to respond.

Keep ReadingShow less
No, autocracies don't make economies great

libre de droit/Getty Images

No, autocracies don't make economies great

Tom G. Palmer has been involved in the advance of democratic free-market policies and reforms around the globe for more than three decades. He is executive vice president for international programs at Atlas Network and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

One argument frequently advanced for abandoning the messy business of democratic deliberation is that all those checks and balances, hearings and debates, judicial review and individual rights get in the way of development. What’s needed is action, not more empty debate or selfish individualism!

In the words of European autocrat Viktor Orbán, “No policy-specific debates are needed now, the alternatives in front of us are obvious…[W]e need to understand that for rebuilding the economy it is not theories that are needed but rather thirty robust lads who start working to implement what we all know needs to be done.” See! Just thirty robust lads and one far-sighted overseer and you’re on the way to a great economy!

Keep ReadingShow less
Podcast: A right-wing perspective on Jan. 6th and the 2020 election

Podcast: A right-wing perspective on Jan. 6th and the 2020 election

Peter Wood is an anthropologist and president of the National Association of Scholars. He believes—like many Americans on the right—that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and the January 6th riots were incited by the left in collusion with the FBI. He’s also the author of a new book called Wrath: America Enraged, which wrestles with our politics of anger and counsels conservatives on how to respond to perceived aggression.

Where does America go from here? In this episode, Peter joins Ciaran O’Connor for a frank conversation about the role of anger in our politics as well as the nature of truth, trust, and conspiracy theories.

Keep ReadingShow less