Populism and Partisanship

Nov 4, 2022

I recently read an article on the editorial page of my local paper about the speech that Donald Trump made to launch his most recent Presidential bid. The article pointed out the many inaccuracies and falsehoods that were contained within the speech. And yet Mr. Trump has millions of followers and tremendous influence within the Republican Party, with many of its’ members and leaders spreading his lies.

Mr. Trump is, in my opinion, a delusional egotist, and he may actually believe the lies. That does, however, explain why millions of Americans believe and promote his lies. The same holds true for many other successful populist leaders. I do not have the expertise to explain this strange phenomenon, but I am sure that there are many contributing factors including the under-regulated social media landscape, the appeal to base sentiments, and the anger of citizens at their situation.

Whatever the causes, the spread of inaccuracies and falsehoods have contributed to a decline in civil discourse among the participants in the policy-making process. It is civil discourse, and the mutual respect that it engenders, that makes collaboration and consensus building possible. In the United States, it used to be that elected representatives could work with one another across party lines to get things done. This is no longer the case – elected representatives can now only collaborate within their own party. This gives the leaders the power and diminishes the role of the representatives, and it is an example of the extreme partisanship that is now prevalent in many jurisdictions.

The rise of populism and extreme partisanship have significantly eroded civil discourse. A different approach, one that facilitates civil discourse, is required to enable collaboration and consensus building. The Civonus policy-making process is designed to facilitate civil discourse through the inclusion of the participant pledge, wherein participants agree to rules and norms of behaviour that enable collaboration and consensus building. All successful consensus building processes require participants to behave in ways that facilitate consensus building.

There are those that will not accept this and say that their right to free speech is paramount. However, there have to be reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech, otherwise we would live in bleak, divided world full of hate, mistrust, discrimination and inequity where nothing productive gets done. We hope and believe that all reasonable persons will come to appreciate that consensus building is better than division when it comes to public policy-making and those free speech absolutists will have to change their ways or step aside and let others try a new approach.

Political parties emerged initially to represent different classes in society and eventually evolved into more broad-based parties that we see today. In communist countries, only one party is allowed. By their nature, in democratic nations, political parties develop and put forward positions that represent certain values and ideas, that are different from those of other parties, in order to distinguish themselves to the electorate. They also increasingly use Big Data, sophisticated access to large amounts of data made possible by technology, to divide citizens into groups and target them for votes, creating winners and losers.

Then, when they are elected, they set out to implement policies based on those electoral positions. This leads to the implementation of policies that are representative of a sub-set of society and are not representative of the views and needs of all of society. Partisanship diverts governments from the pursuit of the common good, in order to gain or retain power. Public policy swings like a pendulum, based on partisan differentiation – often not arriving at the best solution for all. The Civonus policy-making process is designed to engage a broader cross section of citizens, experts, government officials and other stakeholders in the policy-making process. In addition to the improved policy-making process, Civonus Inc. will also provide a searchable database of all of the policy evidence and advice that is produced with each use, open and accessible to all governments and all people, subject to an open data license. The database will continually improve with each policy dialogue and reduce the need for governments to constantly re-invent policy.

I spent the majority of my career (over 30 years) working for municipal governments that had no political parties. Occasionally, a faction would coalesce around a particular issue, and they might vote as a block on other issues for a time, but in the main, the elected officials considered each issue independently and voted based on their conclusion of what was best for their constituents and/or for the whole community.

So populism, hyper-partisanship and even partisanship often do not allow the best policy-making to occur. The people of the world need and deserve better policy-making.

Robert Hughes, President and CEO, Civonus Inc.

Civonus Inc. offers an online policy-making process to facilitate better government policy-making; and to enable governments to collaborate with other governments on policy-making for issues they have in common. It does so through the meaningful engagement of citizens, government officials, experts and other stakeholders, in a process that is designed to produce more open, transparent, sustainable, inclusive, equitable, evidence-informed policy-making…

To find out more, visit civonus.ca.