Building Bridges

Written by Terry Clayton and Elizabeth Harris

Recently I wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper that elicited a response from someone who interpreted what I said as a partisan opinion. I welcome intelligent rebuttal. It shows that people are thinking, caring and acting. But it wasn’t my intent to pit one party over the other. My intent was to show that the US and most societies around the world have exceeded their ability to provide a sustainable relationship with the environment.

Societies, past and present, have always used their technology to exploit the physical environment for survival. Historically, when societies degrade their environment to the point where it no longer provides for their citizens, they either collapse or are forced to evolve in size and complexity to restore balance. We are at this tipping point. If we are to survive our rapidly changing world, the political, economic and social reshaping needed is global. This means global governance with the authority to enforce environmental decisions. I go into detail in my book Facing the Moment: Lessons from a Global Odyssey.

The individual who refuted my article pointed out that capitalism is the best economic system. And he’s right, in that money fuels action in our world. I also subscribe to the idea that the most effective economic system is capitalism -- regulated democratic capitalism, not unregulated corporate capitalism. Unregulated capitalism, particularly in the US, has metastasized into a system of exploitation of people and the environment. It has done so by controlling the political system through legal bribery (contributions) wherein those who have the most money for advertising, combined with no requirement for honesty, have created a corrupt and dysfunctional governmental system.

Our species has a remarkable ability for self-deception, short-sightedness and rigid thinking. It has delivered us into the predicament we now must deal with -- inequality, social change and the climate crisis bearing down upon us. There are those who believe that the only way to cope with this perfect storm is to establish authoritarianism, which they understand to be more efficient than democracy. But authoritarianism does not work as a governmental model. It concentrates all the wealth and power into the hands of the few. The result is that many are excluded and their contributions unrealized. And because authoritarianism is more corrupt than a democracy, it becomes more rigid and ultimately caves in on itself. It is more corrupt because there is no transparency, no checks, balances or accountability. Democracy, on the other hand, does work. Yes, it is slow and seemingly sloppy, but in that very push-pull, lays a system that has proven to work for the greater good.

In my extensive global travels, I’ve observed that the societies that work best are those whose primary goal is to benefit all citizens rather than to increase the wealth for some at the expense of everyone else. Greed is the major reason why societies collapse internally. Striving for wealth and power makes many individuals selfish, dishonest and exploitative of others by gaming economic and political systems. The Republican rhetoric is all about fewer taxes and smaller government, which has been their clarion call since Andrew Johnson, who became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Under the weak shell of his administration, the captains of industry and finance saw an opportunity to remake the liberal democratic Republican Party into supporting the interests of the wealthy and of business. Since then, the development of the Republican Party has paralleled that of the National Socialist Party in Germany which ultimately came under the control of Adolph Hitler. This was accomplished by infiltrating an established party in the chaos of that time, filling the vacuum and flipping the ideology. Since the Regan administration, and the weaving of Libertarian ideology into its sociopolitical scheme, what the current Republican ideology is really advocating for is fewer taxes for the rich and corporations, and fewer regulations to prevent exploitation of consumers and the environment; smaller government so that the rich can abuse the tax code and not pay their share of the necessary expenses for running a modern society.

The extreme difference in wealth in our society is growing more obscene yearly. The GOP trope, that Democrats ‘divide the country by race, means, sex, ideology, (and) hatred,’ doesn’t pass the reality test. Ask yourself which party's agenda is to create a better society and which one is interested in increasing the wealth of a few? Which party creates and supports programs that benefit the average person and is actively recognizing the climate crisis that has begun, and is taking steps to address how we will navigate through it? Which party is behaving like playground bullies, failing to pass substantive legislation (see Pew Research article) or has put forth a plan for mitigating the effects of environmental destruction?

My main point is that collectively, we have larger global issues in front of us that if not dealt with, will cause our extinction. We cannot afford to continue bipartisan infighting born of outdated party-line rhetoric leading only to argument, agitation and ultimately stagnation. The US is a major power in the global community and our domestic issues are on display for all to see. We need astute and forward-thinking politicians and neutral bureaucrats to carry out regulatory functions. By ‘neutral’ I mean those bureaucrats who serve democracy rather than politics such as Alexander Vindman, Cassidy Hutchinson, Brad Raffensperger, Fiona Hill, and others. Officers of public service are duty-bound to the constitution and democracy even in the face of extreme partisan threats. These bureaucrats resisted lies, coercion, and duress because their allegiance was to the larger whole rather than to insurgent interests.

It’s time to find ways to build the bridges we will need to cross, economic and otherwise. Recently President Biden and Senator McConnell met on one of the most traveled bridges in the US. They agreed to fund its repair as well as to build a new one. It was an example of cooperative leadership that solves a critical problem. I see it as a metaphor for the path we need to be taking, domestically as well as globally. Cooperation is, and always has been, the key to survival.