September 9, 2020 marked the publication of Dr. Jim White’s newest title, Broken America: The Ten Guiding Principles to Restore America. This highly anticipated text by the best selling author of Opportunity Investing and What’s My Purpose was written to present the case that the United States is deeply fractured, and needs to heal to once again become a beacon of democracy.
September 9, 2020
“Our politicians must represent all of us for us to become unified again,” White said during his live stream Wednesday evening. “Broken America is a call to action to put political parties aside and find common ground to unite all Americans under our country’s founding principles.”
To celebrate the release of his book, Dr. White invited an early supporter of the book, Robert Shapiro, as a guest on Healing America with Dr. Jim White. Robert Shapiro is a Professor of Political Science, and former Chair of the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. Mr. Shapiro is also a fellow in the National Association of the Advancement of Science and specializes in American politics with interests in public opinion, policymaking, political leadership, the mass media, and applications of statistical methods. After introducing Mr. Shapiro, White delved headfirst into the interview:
“Broken America is a call to action to put political parties aside and find common ground to unite all Americans under our country’s founding principles.” – Jim White.
JW: The current political landscape, as you know, is divisive. In your opinion, where is the country headed if we remain this way?
RS: In terms of talking about divisiveness in American history, we’re in a very divisive period. My frame of reference in terms of worst-case scenarios obviously is the Civil War period. The degree of partisan conflict along the conservative lines and civility lines is really so off the charts that this is very worrisome. And if this would come to a head in the upcoming election. How do we break the cycle? That kind of thinking and work is very important.
JW: Do you think the Ten Principles, as laid out in Broken America, have any chance of gaining traction as we go forward?
RS: This is a very good question. I want to situate your book in the context of current approaches in how to deal with current problems. A lot of work is being done with political scientists engaged in a lot of hair-pulling. For example, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences issued a report called “Democratic Citizenship for the Common Purpose.” These task forces have come together to make recommendations to change the rules and structure of American politics in ways that could moderate American politics and make things much more conciliatory. And they’re trying to figure things out by changing the rules. Like, if they could change the rules for elections or voting, engaging campaign finance laws – things like mandatory voting, required national service, those kinds of structural changes. I think that’s all well and good, political scientists have studied certain kinds of things, there’s no evidence yet that any of those things have had effects. The alternative theory about this approach is to basically say wake up America, wake up political leaders. We have these guiding principles, and they stress the importance of political leadership. I’m ready to pass the baton to the next generation, but where your book fits in is aligning, hopefully, the next generation with the guiding principles.
JW: What in your opinion, if with all the rhetoric that has been shared now, suggests that the election could be illegitimate if one party doesn’t leave, and what happens if we challenge that? How do we reconcile that?
RS: The upcoming election as you describe it would be the 2000 election on steroids. There are two aspects of it. One is the candidate. If a candidate wins the electoral vote but not the popular vote – that will raise the issue of illegitimacy. We’re a country of laws, and the rule of law says the Electoral College winner is the winner. If we have a free and fair election and one wins the electoral vote, that’s the rule of law.
That would have to change constitutionally. The current issue is the act of voting itself, and the counting of voting itself. The one main difference between 2000 that I remind people of is Florida had a hanging change and caught everyone off guard. In the current election, we know what’s coming. The Post Office knows, the postal workers know, the state officials who run the elections know. The people know and they need to take greater care in how they vote. It’s very possible that the votes may be counted much more quickly than we’re expecting. It doesn’t look like that now. The rhetoric is high with all types of conspiracy theories. I wish the conspiracy thinkers on both sides would just cool it and wait for the vote.
JW: When people say that we are our biggest enemy, what do you say?
RS: One of the biggest images conjured up is the Russians interfering with the election. One threat is the coronavirus. There’s a health problem here that we need to get under control. The consensus today among even conversative economists is we need to get the health problem under control before we can deal with the economy. Thinking about your question, the biggest threat is us in terms of our behavior in the context of the current election. And the election has a way of potentially stabilizing things if we can show ourselves and the world that we can have a fair and free election in the face of everything that’s going on.
JW: I know you do a lot of work in the media, so what are your thoughts? How is the media helping or not helping?
RS: The media environment does not help to the extent that the incentives that the media have in terms of covering things are to basically emphasize conflict. Conflict sells, and the media are businesses – they’re trying to attract audiences. The liberal and conversative media have their niche audiences, and they’re trying to appeal to them. The conflict that we currently have doesn’t come from the media, it comes from political leaders. The media are going to cover them, and they’re going to cover them in a way that enhances the conflict.
JW: With students going back to school during Covid-19, as an educator of many years, do you get a sense of how the students are feeling amid the current political situation?
RS: It’s a little bit hard to detect because the students were told to go away in March. They haven’t all been invited back. At Columbia, we haven’t invited our undergrads back, it’s all online. What we do know is that the younger generation tends to be disenchanted with the different aspects of current politics. They tend to be disproportionately liberal and Democrats on a lot of issues -that tells you about the nature of generational replacement, of course. I think young people are very important in this process of generational replacement. They’re very important in the current election in the sense that they tend to be the group that is least likely to vote, so the extent to which voter turnout increases in that group, they can have a bigger effect on the election, depending on where they live. The college campuses are quiet. The campuses are much more sedate because people are following the social distance rules.
JW: In the time remaining, would you share some of the projects you’re working on right now?
RS: Some of the work I’ve been involved in is tracing the nature of partisan conflict we have in the United States. Republicans and Democrats have become more divided on all issues. It wasn’t like that 30, 40 50 years ago, and some of my work has tracked that. One thing I’m examining is to what extent that divide is occurring because the Republicans are becoming more conservative faster than the Democrats are becoming more liberal. And what I found is that it’s basically both parties moving in opposite directions. Based on data, it used to be that the Republicans were least likely to want to compromise, and the Democrats have started to catch up on that. Both sides are digging their heels in. So that’s one aspect of the work I’ve been looking at.