Empowering Communities To Save America

Empowering Communities To Save America

A lot of analysts affirm that Donald J. Trump was elected as president of the “divided states of America”, but, a more in-depth analysis, reveals that Donald Trump is not the cause of this division but he is a consequence of the crisis of the American democracy.

When we talk about democratic crisis in America (but this phenomenon is about other countries in Western World, of course), we refer to polarization between right and left because Republicans and Democrats just don’t seem interested in reaching a “mutual partisan adjustment” but they prefer conflict. And this phenomenon is very rooted in the whole society: in fact, according to the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt: “Polarization is here to stay for many decades, and it’s probably going to get worse”.

Last November, Trump won the elections thanks to different aspects: the race (whites voted overwhelmingly for Trump and levels of turnout and support of racial minorities for Clinton are insufficient), party affiliation (Trump gained a great support among Republicans and also among Independents), the importance of some issues (i.e. economy, immigration, terrorism, federal government efficiency, etc.) and urban/rural conflict.

And it is the main point of focus: in America, but also in Europe, there is a stark difference between big cities and rural areas, between the center and the peripheries that leads to a polarization of political preferences among voters. This scenario reminds the masterpiece of Rokkan and Lipset about cleavage structures in Western countries. According to electoral studies based on United Kingdom (2016 Brexit referendum) and France (2017 Presidential elections) there is a re-emerging polarized pattern in American and European societies: the conflict between the center and the peripheries, namely the conflict between the more developed and richest areas and the less developed and poorest areas.

At this point, the mistake we must avoid is thinking that centralization of power is the answer to tackle the problem. Au contraire, it is not the solutions because the United States is a geographically, culturally, socially and economically varied place. In this case, a top-down approach could hit the trust in democratic institutions.

Is there a solution?

Richard Florida (director of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute) and Joel Kotkin (Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange) affirm that the way to adapt democracy under intense polarization does not lies in “enforcing uniformity from left or right but in embracing and empowering our diversity of communities”. This idea concerns two aspects.

First of all, the American citizens. Recent polls (2015 Gallup poll and separate 2015 Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll) say that almost half of Americans (49 percent) view the federal government as “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens” and nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe that “more progress” is made on critical issues at the local rather than the federal level. It is clear that citizens think that it is easier to solve problems through pragmatic responses provided by local government instead the dysfunction of national government.

In the second place, we have a lot of papers and books by political scientists, economists and sociologists that underline the fact that America is “a nation of cities” – to use a phrase popularized by Lyndon B. Johnson. One of the most important thinkers was Daniel J. Elazar, a scholar of federalism that thinks that the pragmatist orientation toward democracy and the democratic experience, emphasizing social intelligence for social problem solving and the self-guiding society, de facto offer a way to overcome the narrow view of democracy as an exclusive product of the central state.

It is indeed necessary to re-discover the importance of local roots of democracy and traditional American federalism based on local autonomies and cities. A federal approach is necessary if we want to recover an appropriate civic environment through civil society and civil community based on collaboration, cooperation and responsibility. Measures as shifting decision-making authority from the national government to cities and metropolitan areas, giving cities greater tax and fiscal authority, creating new mechanisms to coordinate major investments in infrastructure, talent, and economic development recognizes both the advantages that come from local innovation and problem solving and the substantial variations in local capabilities and needs.

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La polarizzazione ideologica nella democrazia americana ha trovato il suo apice nell’elezione a presidente di Donald Trump. Per ridurre questa polarizzazione bisogna operare a livello locale, promuovendo l’empowerment dei cittadini riscoprendo il carattere tipicamente americano di “nation of cities”.