The other day I was thinking maybe I am getting old. Isn’t it old people who long for “the good old days?”
For me, the good old days means when people largely got along. Not that we didn’t have our issues like persistent racism and poverty in the United States. But I don’t remember ever feeling so left out of the political conversation.
In the old days, in general terms Republicans supported free enterprise, small government and low taxes, relying on economic growth to produce prosperity for the whole. Democrats generally believed a larger government and greater investment in social needs were necessary to achieve a better balance of resources among the populace. But these two rather different views of how to address the social and economic issues that date back generations could come together to solve problems and help our American economy and its people to thrive.
Compromise was possible, and solutions, not ideology, ruled the day. Tax policies were balanced — preventing greed from taking over, but not overreaching to the point of stifling innovation and investment. Regulations were balanced to facilitate a broad, balanced market. And there was pride in our country.
No one on the extreme left or the extreme right has a monopoly on the truth. As I see it, we have become an entirely immoral, self-centered society. There is no middle ground. It’s the tyranny of the special interests.
One of my mother’s favorite aphorisms is “everything in moderation.” How can we get back there? Perhaps it’s just another swing of the pendulum. During the Industrial Revolution the government had to intervene to break up monopolies to create a fairer market. That worked relatively well, and people accepted it.
Today in the Information Age our government institutions are fractured by poor leadership, lack of credibility, and factionalized special interests fueled by social media. There is no room to lead. No room for a middle ground. Take a side or be irrelevant.
Is there a way out of this? Some of the solution lies in the swing of the pendulum: incremental changes made by government that will chip away at the excessive hoarding of resources at the very top end of the economic spectrum provided that these efforts don’t overreach to the point of stifling investment.
This is dependent on good leadership. We cannot continue to elect ideologues, egomaniacs or extremists at any level of government. We need measured, thoughtful leaders who have the ethos to bring people together to address common problems with the recognition that everyone needs to give something and that we will prosper together.
Fundamentally we must restore trust in each other. We are in this together. If it doesn’t come from the top, then it must come from the grassroots — a growing movement of socially conscious capitalists — that will bring the warring extremes to the center for the benefit of us all.
Yes, I long for the “good old days.” Or maybe it’s the “great new days” that we can create together, if we can lay down our swords and find common ground.
Kathy Thibodeaux is the founder and principal consultant for KM Thibodeaux Consulting LLC, a San Francisco Bay Area-based government and community relations, and organizational development and strategy company.