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In this article we introduce what is certain to be a controversial approach to saving American democracy. It involves joining forces with liberals in other countries in new formal alliances and through new mechanisms in ways that will challenge us as individuals and as a society. It will require us to force the American Federal Government to do the same, and it will require our elites to change their objectives to those that are more egalitarian – or cease to be elites in short order.
We introduce our concept in the form of a broad strategic framework that is long on potential and critically short on detail at this point. We’ll flesh the concept out in subsequent pieces based on in-depth analyses, modeling, and your feedback.
We provide substantial context for our proposal up front because otherwise our prescription would make little sense. You may feel the same way even with the context – so be it!
We’ve written extensively in these pages about how to save American Democracy. We even published a full-blown strategy that you can read here (Just Nation Movement Strategy). But it’s been 16 months since we launched it – and as much as we know that this strategy must be adopted and will work if it is – we have now concluded that it isn’t enough by itself to do the trick. Nonetheless, it is a key point of departure, so we briefly summarize it here:
Just Nation Strategy Highlights:
Proposed Action: We posit the requirement for a new American progressive movement combining the resources, goodwill and aspirations of extant liberal, progressive, human rights, and democracy advocacy groups, as well as the Democratic Party. We suggest the Just Nation Movement is a useful placeholder name.
Approach: The strategy unfolds in a phased approach, each with its own over-arching objective:
Phase 1 – “Save and Preserve.” Phase 1 objective is to live to fight another day. It is characterized by actions that: establish the movement as a strategic entity and power base; ensure the safety, security, and rights of citizens; halt the right’s momentum and seize initiative for the movement. Massive, continuous ecumenical protests, economic boycotts and work stoppages must figure prominently in this phase.
Phase 2 – “Stabilize.” Phase 2 primary objective is to establish a societal framework preventing erosion of progress. It is characterized by a transition from total representative to increasingly participative democracy; a new Constitution; a new framework for justice; mutual accountability of citizens and officials to national commitments, agreements, laws, and objectives with justly enforced sanctions.
Phase 3 - “Flourish.” Phase 3 primary objective is to optimize the wellbeing of citizens and our global ecosystem. It is characterized by the establishment of mutually reinforcing objectives and their relentless pursuit through all societal mechanisms.
What does the journey to save American Democracy look like?
First order of business is standing up the Just Nation Movement. We recommend that the leaders of the ACLU, NAACP, March for Our Lives, Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Lives Matter, and Women’s Rights Movements, rapidly: establish a coalition including themselves and other key progressive organizations; develop a strategy; mobilize resources in support of the strategy; and act decisively.
Second is establishing a near-term objective and plan of action that all Movement elements can align to, and whose achievement most signals real change, momentum, and the potential for ultimate victory over the forces of evil. Our analysis and modeling indicate that the most appropriate of these, in terms of both efficacy at retarding the momentum of the right, and mobilizing action, is the swift pursuit of justice, individual, systemic, and institutional accountability, and the implementation of actual – vice aspirational -- rule of law.
What’s in it for existing progressive organizations that already have their own momentum? First, their very existence is at stake. The ACLU, for instance, will not survive the turn towards totalitarianism. In fact, the freedom and even lives of its membership may be at stake.
Second, they don’t lose anything through this combinatorial effort – they are basically capped out recruiting-wise already.
Finally, post-mobilization and post-vanquishing of the right, this new group of more fearless, mobilized Americans will be good recruits for the more single-issue organizations. Thus, we frame this collaboration as a necessary step in the near term, and a prudent investment in the future. Progressive organizations must come to see that the lack of an overarching movement and strategy is not their fault – but that its establishment should now be their overriding concern.
Why do We Need a Strategy? A strategy has many purposes; it indicates a seriousness of purpose; it serves as a rally point for mobilization of resources and energy; it serves as a powerful amplifier of resources and energy through focus and the reduction of waste; it indicates perseverance to adversaries, and it bolsters that of its adherents. But most importantly, it signals worthiness of the cause and the single-minded intent to fight for it no matter the opposition -- to adversaries, to third parties, and most important of all, to its own ‘troops.”
Republicans have a strategy, Democrats do not. The Republican strategy is replete with achievable objectives, campaign plans, resourcing options, communications plans, and flexible tactics. Republicans even have a long-term, if hidden, meta objective known as an “ideality.” Their ideality is the maximum possible accrual of power and money for its elite with the least possible accrual of responsibility, transparency, and accountability. Achieving this has been their utopian objective for over fifty years, and they have all but achieved it with the left firing nary a shot in defense.
Characteristics of Effective Strategies:
• Rest upon detailed and actionable situational understanding of the transactional environment (the conceptual battlespace where competition occurs). Our most recent Intelligence Estimate confirms that the right maintains information superiority over what we call the Democratic-Progressive Ecosystem (DPE), and that few DPE members have a sufficiently deep understanding of the right’s strategy to counter it effectively.
• Identify, characterize, and account for all relevant factors influencing the environment and domain of action (in this case, culture, politics, and economics). Our Intelligence Estimate determined that even fewer DPE members have any feel at all for the complex system dynamics impacting their work. Indeed, they seem thoroughly shocked by Donald Trump and everything the right has been doing since the Nixon Administration, whereas a relatively simple intelligence analysis illustrates not only why Republicans do what they do, but also what they are likely to do next.
• Are based on trans-disciplinary domain knowledge with deep subject matter expertise in each domain. While Democrats have long and rightly prided themselves on deep legal, policy and comparative government expertise, their lack of knowledge of systems, modeling, simulation, AI and other technologies, Big Data, and evidence-based analytical techniques is putting them at a distinct disadvantage as the right’s deep pockets enable them to quietly exploit knowledge and capabilities in these areas.
• Have clear and complimentary objectives, tactics, principles, and effectiveness measures. I couldn’t tell you in simple terms what the long-term Democratic strategy and agenda is, by what means they hope to achieve it, or how they measure success.
• Are target-centric and results oriented, yet simultaneously extensible and feedback-oriented. There is no evidence that Democrats ever effectively leverage election feedback in a rigorous and comprehensive manner. What we see mostly is bewilderment, denial, and external blame -- followed by execution of the same old losing strategy and tactics. If the Democratic Party were a business, it would be losing money most years, and never providing its stakeholders with sufficient Return on Investment.
• Are aligned in all aspects to the resources that can be brought to bear. The groundswell of support (money and votes) for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, compared with that afforded Hillary Clinton in 2016, is a major proof point that creating a sense of urgency commensurate with the actual threat is a high leverage tactic that Democrats need to become comfortable with. But Democrats did not leverage the money or people support fully, nor did they show proper appreciation for it. They take it for granted because they’ve grown fat and lazy as one of two parties atop a very rich nation with a money-fueled electoral process. Asking people for their money and to vote every four years is both too much to ask when you provide no results in return, and yet too little because a robust Democracy requires the continuous harnessing and vectoring of energy towards the continuous improvement of the polity without which entropy takes over and, well, produces things like Trumpism.
• Leverage partisan advantages easily, while simultaneously constraining the opposition’s advantages. Democrats seem afraid of – and often disdainful of - their own most effective and numerous resources: progressive-minded Democratic politicians and citizens. Effectively led, that plurality is unstoppable. Ineffectively led, it is being thwarted by a determined minority. Evidence for this conclusion includes: the tepid support for, and sometimes even opposition to, the so-called “Squad” by Nancy Pelosi and other high-ranking Democrats; the failure to threaten Republicans with massive civil action in response to illegal actions, un-democratic political tactics, and possible future violations; and the failure to energetically support -- morally and/or their own presence -- Black Lives Matter and other protest efforts. This is an issue primarily of control. Democratic leaders would rather be in control of the liberal agenda than win with shared control. This subtle but palpable principle is a leading cause of the liberal voter apathy leading to Trump’s 2016 victory.
• Deploy resources artfully against the opposition’s center of gravity. The Republicans’ center of gravity is its system of impunity. Democrats missed multiple opportunities to attack, and never did so comprehensively.
• Deliberately create an integrated ecosystem to enable the projection and protection of power. As noted above, Democrats have less than robust relationships with their own constituents and ecosystem partners. They have been slow to combine and leverage emerging sources of progressive energy -- which allows the Republicans’ dark money, system of impunity and rabid supporters to divide and isolate what would be an irresistible combined force.
Why do we conclude that our strategy is insufficient?
First, the pitched political battles that appear to be going the Democrats’ way, or are at least being fought to a draw, are a distraction from the real battlefield. Dark money harnessed to the right’s structural advantages, ruthlessness, and momentum have created a vicious circle that the left’s timidity fuels rather than reverses. This dynamic has only gained momentum since we drafted the strategy. The added right-wing strength and continued unwillingness of the left to fight back hard enough render our strategy commensurately insufficient.
Second, if the United States were going to overcome the chronic toxicity generated by 40% of its population and most of its elites – it would have done so by now. Slavery, Jim Crow, the genocide of Indigenous Americans, misogyny, ignorance as art form, irrational fear of the other – these things have characterized us from jump and are never successfully ameliorated regardless of level of effort, historical cycle, cataclysmic events abroad, or apocalyptic predictions of the future.
Third, history – Germany and Japan after World War II are good examples – tells us that a nation state’s DNA is almost unalterable solely through time and domestic events – that it takes a total obliteration of a nation’s institutions, culture, and myths by an outside force to force radical change.
What about incremental change leading to highly functioning democracy? Doesn’t happen often, and only in circumstances that don’t now -- and may never -- exist in the U.S. It requires highly and broadly educated citizens with homogeneous interests. The U.S. can never reach escape velocity – weighted down as we are by the purposefully undereducated right which does not share liberal objectives. For most of my life I believed the myth that this was the course we were on in the U.S. – only to be brought crashing to earth by the 2016 Presidential election and subsequent events.
In summary, if the US were going to get it done by itself – that would already have happened. Our cultural DNA, structural/Constitutional deficiencies, and resulting path dependence are dooming us, and the myth of American Exceptionalism is keeping us from seeing reality clearly -- and that others may have better ideas.
There were several periods in our history (after the Civil War, after World War II, after Nixon) when we could have put ourselves on an irreversible glidepath to fully functioning democracy for all – but our elites have failed us – we failed to hold them accountable – and we can no longer open that heavy door by ourselves.
Towards a Solution.
Objectives: What we seek is first, global alignment and the integrated execution of effective approaches to retard, reverse, and prevent future degradation of the environment so that we survive long enough to make substantial progress towards quality-of-life objectives.
Second, we intend to preserve existing democratic governments so that there is a resource and power base from which to launch efforts to improve quality of life.
Third, we intend to ensure that there is sufficient global capability, policy alignment, and resources to enable all human beings to self-actualize in a truly meritocratic world.
This list of objectives is prioritized for clarity and resource allocation, but of course they are systemically linked and must be pursued simultaneously.
Start point: Admittedly, it’s a near hopeless situation to get from where we are to the future state we intend. Samson vs. Goliath, Continental Army at Valley Forge, WWII Great Britain after the fall of France-type hopeless.
We’ve conducted multiple analysis and developed many models that confirm this conclusion. If you believe otherwise, you are either in denial or hopelessly obtuse. This is a situation which calls for near-term skepticism of all proposed solutions, mild pessimism for the mid-range outlook -- both coupled with a long-range optimism. Our proposed solution is animated by these outlooks.
What can work? We believe the answer is a combination of Network Effects – (Definition: “the phenomenon by which the value or utility a user derives from a good or service depends on the number of users of compatible products. Network effects are typically positive, resulting in each user deriving more value from a product as more users join the same network;”) and an emergent international liberal democratic network that builds on yet transcends the loose affiliation of people often described as “the West.”
Network effects were the dynamic behind the Arab Spring – even though the technologies received all the credit. Technology is just a tool, and it must be harnessed to a long-term strategy to be effectively applied. It was the lack of strategy and international network support – allowing the elites to snap back forcefully -- that doomed the Arab Spring.
The most effective emerging technologies and business models also leverage network effects – think Facebook, Wikipedia, and OpenAI.
What this new “New World Order” might look like. We haven’t had a chance to think it all the way through, much less model it robustly yet, but we think an early framework looks something like this:
At the top level, there are two major lines of effort – one multi-governmental-led; the other driven by an international coalition of concerned people.
Line of Effort One – Governmental: Kicks off when Biden wins a second term. He announces a desire and initial framework for a merger of North America, European Union Nation States -- and selected other global democracies -- into a totally new Democratic entity that eventually supersedes the European Union and NATO -- and forces the U.N. to adapt or shrink the rest of the way to total irrelevance.
For examples of the problems this solves: it allows Great Britain cover for its Brexit mistake, it allows the U.S. to move towards “socio-economic socialism” (as opposed to political socialist systems such as Communism) under the cover of capitalist expansion, allows us to effectively influence – and if necessary -- dump -- Turkey, Hungary and any other current NATO/EU members who are not really Democratic and won’t play by the new rules, and allows us to sunset the United Nations which does nothing very much of good but sucks down an inordinate amount of resources. It would force the U.S. to adopt better standards for equality, privacy, and justice by forcing our government’s hand towards enforceable best practices -- much as happens now with the EU.
It would allow for rational solutions to global warming and immigration not now possible within the narrow frames we try to solve it with, and within the constraints imposed by the status quo.
Line of Effort Two – The People: Using participative democracy principles and leveraging existing examples, the citizens of the coalition nations create an overarching coordinating mechanism and multiple sub-mechanisms to hold governments accountable, to advance optimal policies, and to prevent the governmental line of effort from being captured yet again by moneyed interests.
The governmental coalition and the instruments of participative democracy will share power – legally – and the Court of International Justice will expand to include jurisdiction over the combined entity.
This effort would be characterized by massive, purposeful exchanges of students, technocrats, and Government officials. It would electrify the U.S. citizenry and be the equivalent of the New Deal, NASA, the Marshall Plan, and the UN put together.
The New World Order we propose – this placeholder name is only partially tongue in cheek -- will be successful because it provides multiple new mechanisms for citizen engagement, and hope that the massive problems we face can be resolved through concerted action. Targeted network effects will amplify and accelerate early efforts. That and the global reach of the program will prevent successful backlash from nation state elites.
The New World Order enables us to rejuvenate Democracy as chosen way of life, establish justice as the organizing principle of the coalition, reinforce and expand fair trade, and provide for mutual defense all at the same time – but from a much more powerful platform.
It is likely that the people’s effort will have to lead and gain traction and pull the governmental effort along – this is for the best anyway.
These lines of efforts must be synchronized to reach escape velocity – or they will be picked apart by well-funded opposition and ameliorated by path dependence. And there must always be some unresolved tension between them to prevent tyranny.
This program will require multiple support tools and mechanisms that will take some time to itemize. That said, evidence-based policy identification and optimization – supported by AI and other forecasting capabilities, will play a key part. They will allow the integrated program to empirically establish what is achievable given a basket of resources, thereby depriving political parties and elites of their ability to dominate discourse with alternative facts.
Done right, this integrated effort would constitute sufficient “well-structured noise” to jolt the west out of its equilibrium and create a cascade that continually enriches Democracy and people’s quality of life.
The right will push back on this from multiple angles – particularly likely will be charges of communism, internationalism, and loss of sovereignty. But it strikes me that this kind of strategy is how you ultimately defeat it. Brexit is a prime example of right-wing idiocy run out to its logical extension, as was the U.S. political response to Covid – by highlighting these and similar examples the fascists can be illuminated as the frauds and grifters they are.
And the mainstream press will attempt to dismiss this as fanciful – because it would disrupt their place in the order – it is after all a very conservative force regardless of common characterization.
Most concerning, it is likely that a majority on the left will initially greet this concept as too utopian. But tell me, where is the humanity, honor, liberalism, and courage in accepting dystopia but failing to fight for utopia? Doing nothing would be the real “un-American” approach. This is exactly what most American liberals have done since the 1960s.
Overcoming these inevitable knee jerk responses to our proposal will be a challenge to be sure. But we don’t see a viable alternative.
Compromise in terms of pace in which this comes together is legitimate – compromise that waters the concept down must be resisted and will initially be the major responsibility of the people line of effort.