Working to find actionable solutions to the nation's key challenges.

The Debt We Owe Each Other to Strengthen Democracy

By Beverly G. Hudnut

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

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“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” -Edward Everett Hale

We’re all responsible for what happens next.

Our nation is deeply divided—economically, racially, politically, and culturally. A majority of eligible voters disliked the 2016 presidential candidates. More than eight out of every ten voters were “repulsed” by the 2016 presidential race, according to a New York Times survey published last November.

Elections have consequences and various factions of citizenry feel empowered (or enraged), depending upon individual views of election results. Facts are reviewed through the eye of the beholder. Voters of all ideological stripes are disheartened.

2016 was also witness to the continued growing disapproval and distrust of government institutions, which has been going on for decades.

Despite all this, there has never a better time for all Americans to commit time to public service—in their own community or at the state or federal level. We all have a responsibility to serve each other to advance the common good.

Public service—especially through government jobs—is one of the best ways for a qualified young professional to develop an immediate portfolio of job skills and professional expertise. For talented mid-level managers, there may be no better forum to develop professional skills and emotional intelligence than by immersing yourself in government work. You learn from, and are often inspired by, highly competent and innovative colleagues with historical knowledge and understanding of the current issues at play as well as highly competent fresh-thinking young people and nontraditional government employees who are sometimes more inclined to think anew. The general public is the ultimate beneficiary of engaging young educated enthusiastic citizens in public service—a win-win scenario. In the vast majority of cases, government employees work hard with limited resources to provide the best services and outputs possible. Creative approaches yield new solutions for old problems.

We all have a responsibility to serve each other to advance the common good. 

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform noted that “successful democracies require an educated citizenry who actively participates in civic life.” Among the current problems the CPR report noted is that fewer Americans aspire to careers in public service. Younger Americans are less likely than those in previous generations to pursue careers in community, national, and public service. Compounding the problem, there are more volunteers than available positions for federal service opportunities like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps—and that gap would grow dramatically if current efforts to eliminate funding for those agencies is successful, as President Trump’s budget has called for. Prospective public servants also face an appointments process that discourages qualified individuals.

The commission’s recommendations issued a call for a new generation of public service, including:

  • that all Americans ages 18 to 28 commit to one full year of service within their communities, states, or at the national level—or run for office;
  • that schools at all levels ramp up civics education to inspire a new generation of active, engaged citizens;
  • that additional resources be leveraged to increase availability of federal positions and create a public-private “qualified-service opportunity program” to match service opportunities to demand of applicants;
  • and, that presidential administrations streamline political appointments and hiring processes and reduce burdensome pre- and post-employment restrictions.

The Commission on Political Reform remains confident that its recommendations—if embraced by the executive and legislative branches of all levels of government—would increase civic participation, encourage a better informed and engaged electorate, and enhance good governance.

Engage now. Honor our country. Let’s each do our part to ensure an improved and stable democratic form of government.

Engage now. Honor our country. Let’s each do our part to ensure an improved and stable democratic form of government. The future of our nation depends upon it.