CEO Quest Insights
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CEO Quest Insights

Mere Democracy

I usually write about business stuff.

But every once in a while, I publish a commentary — as I did a year ago, when I published “From Every Corner: Rise, Leaders, Rise” on That article called for people with leadership skills to rise up and help their communities get through the pandemic. As was true then, we are at yet another moment when leaders must rise.

January 6 showed that democracy is not indestructible. It survived — barely. Now it’s on us to bring it back from the edge. To do this, we citizens must hear each other, return to our nation’s mere ideals, learn about our system of checks and balances, and act to support them. Our country is sick; let’s make America healthy again.

Governments are overthrown by mobs all the time. We were seconds and inches from catastrophe. Our founding fathers feared how easily faction could devolve into violence. Violence yields a victor. Victory brings power. Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

To counter these risks, they devised a brilliant system of checks and balances. But today the system’s cracked. We’re beset by differences — seemingly irreconcilable. From guns to abortion to race and privilege to the role of religion in society and the definitions of family and gender, we stand in opposition. Certain our tribe is right and the other is wrong, we gloat at each victory and brood at each defeat.

Our acrimony has exacted a steep tax, paid in trust and respect. Many have lost trust in police to serve equally, judges to rule justly, elections to run fairly, elected officials to lead wisely, the economy to grow freely, media to report truthfully and science to instruct accurately. As trust has flown the coop, facts have lost influence over opinion — fertile ground for demagogues.

This is not the America anyone wants — a house divided, weakened from within by cynicism and distrust. We seek a fresh, new and vital America — capable of embracing the future; of giving us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; of positive growth and change; of resuming its place as a beacon of hope for the world; of vigorous debate without damage to democracy itself.

The Capitol attack demanded a response. But where to start? I chose to listen. I engaged friends across the rainbow, country and political spectrum. Differences are many, I learned. But there’s common ground in ideals. Ideals widen the apertures of our world views.

To heal America, we must first see America. The beggar, prisoner and Lutheran minister share one flag. The farmer, carpenter, call center worker, software engineer and Fortune 500 CEO share one flag. The Minneapolis couple whose business was torched and college student protesters who marched peacefully for racial justice share one flag. The out-of-work coal miner and out-of-work climate change activist share one flag. From sea to shining sea we’re a hot mess of triumphs and tragedies, similarities and differences, harsh realities and bold dreams — and we share one flag.

In diversity, we are bound by ideals, enshrined in our Declaration of Independence; and checks and balances, enshrined in our Constitution. Yet today America is unchecked; it spins out of balance. To regain our center point, we must renew commitment to five ideals:

Individual liberty

Equal voice

Equal justice

Equal opportunity


We have lost sight of these. In our zeal for tribe, we seek our liberty at the expense of others’. Our voices rise — to drown out others. Our demands for justice ignore injustice around us. We approach opportunity as win-lose. We marginalize truth-tellers, bending truth to our views.

This has left us less respectful in debate, less tolerant, more judgmental, and now — more violent. To renew, we must rededicate to ideals. We are strong when we support the right of all to liberty, voice, justice and opportunity. We are strong when we seek common ground. We are strong when we live in truth; it discomforts but it sets us free. We are strong when we admit privilege and give it up if unearned or, if earned, use it to strengthen America.

Democracy is messy. Can gun rights square with safety rights? Can voting access square with the states’ rights to run elections? Can religion square with evolving views on gender and family? Can equal voice square with the filibuster, or Puerto Rican statehood? Is it OK for Democrats to pack the Supreme Court, given Trump’s rushed Ginsburg’s replacement? How does race factor into crime and punishment?

No simple answers: but how we find answers matters.

Do as I did. Find diverse friends. Discuss differences in opinion. Together, ponder the mere ideals of American democracy. Assess their health; consider how to strengthen them. For only we the people can fix America. If we lead, the political class will follow. That’s how we form a more perfect union.


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