Pew polling finds the partisan divide amongst Americans to be the most acute in 25 years. While that will come as no surprise, what should concern all of us is that this partisan estrangement is deepening into something much more concerning: a fundamental mistrust of the other sides’ intentions and morality; a view of the other side as being close-minded and whose lack of intellectual honesty threatens the nation’s future; and a deeply held belief that partisanship now trumps ( no pun intended) the obligation for citizen cooperation.
As trade association and corporate leaders and as lobbyists for established interests, I would suggest that the Pew findings are more illuminative than many of us might recognize. Extrapolate from the poll’s findings the widening national inability to reach policy consensus and then bring it home: is it any wonder that within your own organizations, corporate boards, and lobbying communities, it has become increasingly difficult to reach and sustain a consensus when it comes to issue management?
Each and every one of us bring historical biases to the workplace. As the Pew poll indicates, as a society, those biases are deepening, making the reaching of consensus every more elusive. For years, most of you have heard me opine about the need for a return to a civil society where our discourse allows us to disagree without being disagreeable. Clearly, the forces that divide us as a society are winning, as we increasingly self-segregate into communities of like-minded souls.
Here’s my point in a nutshell: if my crystal ball is accurate, we’re looking at Hillary Clinton in the White House; a 52 seat Democratic Senate; and a Republican House, albeit with a winnowed majority ship. Sooner rather than later, we will all sit down to begin game-planning for that possibility. Perhaps, we really need to go back to our structural cores, to determine what our Boards, corporate officers, and historical allies will define as the limits of their own reach when it comes to policy planning. Our “leash” when it comes to planning and executing a legislative strategy may be shorter than any of us think, circumscribed by the emotional and intellectual divide that the Pew polling highlights.
While most of us would agree that zero-sum planning in almost any aspect of our lives is rarely a useful tool, the growing divide that is today an American reality, may force many of us to a dark and fruitless professional place. I possess no panaceas for this partisan contagion except to remind all of us that a return to old-time values ( respect for others; a recognition that that which divides us should always take a backseat to all that which unites us as Americans; that feelings of omnipotence should be reserved for a higher power; and that being an American is THE greatest personal gift any of us will ever receive), could illuminate a path towards national sanity.
The next few years, like the past several years, will test our ability to build a consensus agenda. The malignancy of partisanship that is consuming America only exacerbates our ability to succeed, both as professionals, but also, and much more importantly, as Americans. Before the planning sessions begin, let’s do a reality check within our own organizations to ascertain what it truly achievable, and to remind everyone that changing demographic, economic, and cultural realities may demand a new approach.