Don Baer is the CEO of strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller and Chairman of the research firm Penn, Schoen & Berland. He just published an article on LinkedIn titled “The Surprising Source of America’s Divisions”.
Burson-Marsteller conducted a survey on American values. The survey can be found at bm.com/values.
Here are some nuggets, which will give you the gist of the article. I recommend you read the survey however, since there is quite a bit more data. In my opinion – his article is a bit more negative than the survey implies – but he is certainly reasonably in line and consistent with the survey.
Americans see the quest for unity – a drive intrinsic to our large and diverse nation since its founding – as trending in the wrong direction. Indeed, one in five Americans are not even sure we will remain the United States of America: 20 percent of respondents doubt we can remain united as one country.
But Americans are just as unambiguous about what divides the country: The failure of America’s civic leaders to live up to those promises. For all their divisions, one factor that unites Americans is their belief – across all lines of age, party, gender and region – that “politicians” do more to foster disunity than any other figures.
It is the inability of our leaders to enable our institutions to fulfill basic American values that drives Americans’ sense that our country is coming apart. When given a wide array of choices, Americans were much more likely to identify “money in politics,” “Congressional gridlock,” and “wealth inequality” as contributing to “America being divided” than any other factors.
Enough quotes – I think you get the point. Americans believe that our politicians, ultimately, are not succeeding at bringing us together.
Here’s my problem. We’re a democracy – we have no one to blame but ourselves.
If we were a monarchy, or a dictatorship – then I would completely agree with the notion that we can blame our leaders for not bringing us together. That being said, don’t we have some responsibility to elect leaders that do, basically, what we want of them? Remember, the survey does not list individual politicians – it’s across the board. All politicians – those on the left, those on the right – and across all demographics. We, as a people, believe that our political class has failed us – the same political class that we elected.
Slide 15 of the presentation that summarizes the survey (again – found at bm.com/values ) has an interesting question. The survey asks “What do you think America could do to become more united?” Here were the choices, of which you could select 3.
1. Hold politicians more accountable
2. Cooperation by Republicans and Democrats in Congress
3. Limit the power of the Federal government.
4. Limit the influence of money in politics
5. Hold our politicians to a higher standard
6. More economic equality.
Of these responses, #1 received the most votes at 27%, and #6 the least at 18%. What struck me however is that there were literally no options that suggested we, as individuals in a democracy, had a responsibility too to help America become more united. Can you imagine what the percentage would have been if there was a seventh option:
7. Take personal responsibility and vote for politicians who you think will unite us, regardless of political affiliation.
Sorry – but in a democracy, we have no one to blame but ourselves.