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Cooperation or Chaos?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Carroll G. Robinson and Michael O. Adams
June 14, 2016

meeting-1002800_640This year’s presidential primary season has clearly indicated that something is going on. What it is, we are not yet sure. Are the Trump and Sanders campaigns transformational movements or just momentary phenomena?

Are voters trying to send a message that transcends personalities or are they simply attracted to two personalities out of anger, frustration and disappointment?

Is this year’s presidential primary season a modern manifestation of a desire for a new progressive/populist reform movement?

Will the effort to pass state based legislation to move to an all proportional based Electoral College succeed?  Would awarding Electoral College votes based on a combination of congressional districts and statewide results make the presidency less partisan or does partisan political gerrymandering undercut this effort?

Do we really need a federal constitutional convention called by the states to propose a federal balanced budget amendment and term limits for Congress? Will campaign finance reform make the agenda?  Could we end up with a full blown constitutional convention? Remember, Philadelphia was only supposed to be a meeting to improve the Articles of Confederation, not replace them.

In the book, Post-Capitalist Society, Peter Drucker made the observation that the world changes every 50 years. Are we at the beginning of a new fifty-year cycle of transformation?

Is 2016 a tipping point? Will the fight between Apple and the FBI over encrypted phones become a transformational issue?  Will the 2016 presidential election and the fight over the nomination of Merrick Garland be transformative events?

Have the two major political parties in our country become obsolete? Are they now the primary cause of dysfunction and partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C.? If so, how do we change things?

Will the war on terror fundamentally alter the experiment that is America? Will concerns over national security override privacy or will privacy concerns, in this era of encryption, undermine fighting crime and the war on terror?

Bullying, Deception, Intimidation, Threats and Fear

To understand what is really going on in the world right now, you need to read or re-read Niccolò Machiavelli’s, The Prince.

America is currently facing a mounting and concerted long-term strategic geopolitical challenge. This challenge is coming from China, Russia, Iran and the global terrorist organizations spawning from religious extremists in the Middle East.

Terrorist organizations are growing, regardless of their names. Support for terrorists is expanding in places like; China, Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Russia, New and Old Europe, Syria, North Korea, Iran and in the Middle East. These organizations pose a real and present danger to the national security interests of our nation.

These problems are being significantly underestimated or intentionally played down. Why? In order to avoid dealing with this issue in a substantive, immediate and long term manner?

As Machiavelli has taught us, for a smart prince, war is always the last option. However, this does not mean that a smart prince does not prepare for a physical confrontation. Evil can’t be placated and is never satisfied no matter the number of concessions made to its current and long term demands.

Having a home security system does not mean you want your house broken into nor does working out mean you want to get into a fist fight. However, as Benjamin Disraeli said, we should be, “prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.”

America needs a strong economy and military to be prepared for the worst.

The Union won the Civil War, some say, because of a better and stronger economy (See Steven R. Weisman’s, The Great Tax Wars). We now know that it was the strength of the American economy that allowed President Reagan’s strategy, “peace through strength” to succeed.

America needs a bigger, stronger, more modern military but the prerequisite for that is a strong and growing economy built on investments in research and development (R&D) and the nation’s intellectual and physical infrastructure.

The chaos in the Middle East and the fervor over the Iranian nuclear deal must not distract America from smartly playing in the long term, ‘soft power’ game of global geopolitical chess.

These are interesting times and the conversation about the future of our nation – and the world – is beginning anew.

Public administrators must lend our expertise to this ongoing conversation as it relates to public policymaking, foreign and domestic.


Authors: Robinson and Adams are professors at the Barbara Jordan – Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. This piece was originally posted on the Urban Policy 101 blog in the Houston Chronicle, Sept. 10, 2015 and was prepared with the assistance of Brandy Smart, graduate research assistant in the BJ-ML School of Public Affairs, eMPA Program Class of 2017.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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