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Vision and Veracity

The circus atmosphere surrounding many of America’s presidential election cycles has a tendency to abate once a new administration is in place and the rich talent pool of established veterans is assembled. Regardless of party affiliation, Washington has many seasoned, motivated patriots who are caring, connected and deeply dedicated to prosperity, security and global harmony. So far, a pattern of deflection and chaos has prevailed.

There is a much more profound game afoot here. While discontent, distrust, allegations and paranoia seem to be the primary drivers of this evolving administration, questions about trade, public health, infrastructure, international respect, climate change, and economic well-being loom ever larger. This is not to say that four months is enough time to foster major events or significant change, but one would expect more clarity about where we are going, key priorities, why they were chosen and how the country will proceed toward established goals. Whipping up generally nonsensical health care legislation in the House is not ideal progress.

The Senate now promises to eviscerate the House offering and replace it with something more workable, at least according to those senators willing to share. Unfortunately, the committee assembled to accomplish this has no women members and seems destined to battle over party-centric ideology rather than real improvement in the ACA. One would think they would take note that every major hospital, medical professional, physician, senior citizen and social services organization in America has criticized the House bill.

The deeper question here is about vision. While symbolism, rhetoric and bombast might for some reflect progress, it merely obfuscates the lack of vision, planning and long-term strategic intent. No corporation or voluntary organization would dream of managing its affairs in this way. Blather about putting coal miners back to work, bringing millions of manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and demanding greater trade equity from established trade partners is both vain and foolish. Even neophyte economists will explain why and how an economically connected planet, costs for natural gas vs. coal and predictable economic cycles must guide policy decisions and, one would hope, promises.

Historians will look back in not too many years and marvel at the idiocy of building a wall between two friendly nations that are socially connected trade partners and long-time collaborators. While there are some issues with immigration, the data clearly show a decline in illegal immigration over the past several years and the value of a cooperative policy framework that works for the people of both countries. A 1,900 mile wall will cost well over $20 billion—money that could be spent for tax reform, education, health care, better airports and seaports, greater cyber security, and a reduction in the number of substandard bridges and roadways. Misallocation of precious resources at a time of growing federal debt is not only unwise, it is ignorant and unethical.

Instead of laughable pontifications and promises, is there a sensible long-term vision? For instance, how will America address the destruction of the seas? The ocean’s bounty, once a miracle of evolution, is now in peril. In the November/ December 2013 edition of Foreign Affairs, oceanographer Jeremy Jackson termed the destruction of global ocean habitats “the rise of slime.” By that he meant that once complex oceanic ecosystems and food chains featuring large animals have devolved into simple systems dominated by microbes, jellyfish, and disease (see Great Barrier Reef). Reported by Alan Sielen, this article should be enough to galvanize the international community into action.

Is the new administration even aware of this enormous force that is now impacting the entire planet? More critically, where is the leadership required to deal with not only the oceans, but education, atmospheric pollution, pandemic safeguards, financial regulation, true and lasting healthcare reform and economic inequality? If you need another exclamation point, see the Time Magazine special report on infrastructure (April 10, 2017) entitled, ‘Dear Washington, We need to rebuild. Can you get your act together?’ by David Von Drehle.

Politics is not voodoo, with incantations, hexes, and illusion. We assume that politicians are elected to seek the best common good for all constituents. Keith Allred, prior to running for governor in Idaho a few years ago, directed a superb apolitical organization called The Common Interest. Its sole purpose was to foster bipartisan support for policies and legislation that would have positive impact on all citizens…focusing on the value gained for all people rather than special interests. Importantly, the primary driving force for all of that organization’s work was truth. Sharing information with a commitment to total honesty was the central value that provided a platform of openness and trust.

The ideal of veracity in all things must be embraced by both the administration and Congress. Organizations that fact-check news can vouch for most of its accuracy. So too can those organizations reviewing the accuracy of what comes from the White House. In other words, the word ‘fact’ is a self-defining word that is easy to verify.

Challenging those who deal in data (CIA, FBI, NSA) or report current events (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Gannett, the Associated Press, etc.) is a fool’s errand. Certainly, there are editorials and opinion pieces, but those are separate from news reporting. As most working people already know, it is best to remain faithful to the truth…due to the ease with which credibility and trust can be lost. And, once lost, it is difficult to recover.

Inflamed rhetoric, policy discontinuity and factual disconnects are rapidly leading to global distrust and, more critically, loss of respect among valued allies. As previously reported in this space, many economists believe that the U.S. is in a natural economic cycle that is responding to resource depletion, an aging Baby Boomer population, product and industrial life cycles and rapidly advancing global competition. Some have recently predicted 2 to 2.5 percent GDP as the norm in the years ahead. Good managers assess reality (read Confronting Reality by Bossidy and Charan), then develop strategies and action plans. There is no denial, deflection, blaming, gaming, or incoherent grievances.

America needs a wise, thoughtful and workable vision. There are good people in Washington on both sides of the isle and more than a few good ideas. The Tip O’Neills, Henry Kissingers, and Everett Dirksens may be gone, but ample talent, drive and spirit remains. My question is, Will those individuals pander to their parties or to America? Will they rise above the pettiness, pranks and discontent and actually do something that matters, long-term, for all Americans?

With over four decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). Reprints of his book, Planning the Future – A Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning for Elected Officials, Public Administrators and Community Leaders (2010) has sold out several times. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).