Are We Kissing Democracy Goodbye?
BY PHILIP KOTLER & CHRISTIAN SARKAR – As President-Elect Trump and his “Corporate Cabinet” take over Washington – the American public will witness radical changes taking place in our institutions, policies, and regulations. These changes might undermine America’s position as the world’s leader over the past century. The billionaires and generals who make up Trump’s cabinet bring along unprecedented (or should we say unpresidented?) conflicts of interest the likes of which have not been seen before in American history.
- Trump — who ran against Goldman Sachs by name as a candidate — has selected a Goldman Sachs veteran (and foreclosure king) as his Treasury Secretary, Goldman Sachs’ president as his number two economic advisor and a Goldman Sachs-alumni-turned-racist-business-mogul as his chief White House strategist.
- To run the Labor Department, Trump has tapped a fast-food tycoon whose companies have racked up a record of labor law violations and who opposes raising the minimum wage, ensuring overtime pay for millions of workers and providing sick leave.
- Trump’s choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency has actually sued that very agency to block implementation of arguably its most important program ever, the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.
- The pick to run the Pentagon left the military and promptly landed on the boards of directors of General Dynamics, one of the largest defense contractors, and Theranos, the disgraced biotech firm beleaguered by allegations that it lied about its purported breakthrough blood testing technology.
- The nominee for Secretary of Education favors the proliferation of charter schools, some of which are organized as for-profit businesses. Another billionaire, she has long been an advocate for “school choice,” which does involve, to some extent, funneling money away from public schools and toward private educational options, including for-profit and Christian-based schools.
- Last, but certainly not least, Trump has named Rex Tillerson — CEO of Exxon Mobil, the sixth largest corporation on Earth — who has no foreign policy experience but deep ties to Russia, as his Secretary of State.
The irony is that this new cabinet lacks not only lacks any members who care about the 51 percent of the citizens who voted against Trump but who even care about the voters that elected Trump. Trump’s voters were those who lost their old jobs and suffered a decline in their real incomes. When Trump’s voters discover that they have been conned and that the wealthy are the real winners, we can expect a powerful backlash.
What did the Democratic Party Lose this Election?
Many factors led the Democratic Party to lose the 2016 election. Hillary was not the best candidate – Joe Biden and some others would have easily won. James Comey, the FBI director, brought up again uncertain email charges against Hillary in the last week before the election. There is evidence that the Russians had some influence on the results. Many Democrats were overconfident that Hillary would win and they did not go to the polls to vote.
Let’s take a broader look at the Democratic Party. The Party thinks of itself as the party of “Reason and Caring.” Its adherents focus on activities that enhance freedom and well-being for all. Democrats favor cosmopolitan thinking and multiculturalism. They favor thoughtful decision making, healthy life styles, gender and racial equality, and social betterment and progress.
Democrats do care about money making but they also care about human rights and human advancement. Democrats espouse the decisions and values of former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is not one party with all democrats working together. It is a fragmented party driven by different interest groups. One group, Black Lives Matter, wants to increase the rights of minorities and fight racism. Another group, feminist women, want to increase women’s right of reproduction and equal pay and opportunity. Another important group, progressive Bernie Sanders followers, want a more progressive platform for reducing or curbing income inequality. Two other groups created separate political parties to run their candidates instead of Hillary Clinton.
This high level of polarization hurts the Democratic Party. The party seems to lack unifying themes. Too many Democrats are rowing their boats in different directions. The party needs to do a far better job describing its basic tenets and contrasting them to the basic tenets of the Republican Party, now represented and distorted by President Donald Trump.
What Must be Done to Save our Democracy?
Democrats must unite if they are going to save Democracy from slipping into a pseudo democracy or plutocracy. The Democratic Party needs to focus on three developments that have seriously reduced the Party’s power.
The first is the Citizens’ United decision of the Supreme Court saying that corporations are persons and they are entitled to spend what they want during elections. It is crucial that Citizens United be reversed either by a subsequent Supreme Court ruling or by Congress. Did you know, for instance, that David Bossie, the president of Citizens United, was the deputy campaign manager of Donald Trump‘s campaign?
The second focus must be on abolishing gerrymandering, the shaping of Congressional voting districts to bring back the same incumbents into power in each election. Today, 98% of the political incumbents are likely to be reelected in 2018. Hopefully the Supreme Court will require more Congressional voting districts to be re-designed by independent groups rather than by partisan state legislative bodies.
The third focus is to modify or end the Electoral College. Many states turn over all their electoral college votes to the party that received the majority, thus cancelling the representativeness of voter interests. Instead, they should proportion the state’s Electoral College votes and this will bring the final Electoral College vote closer to the popular vote. Two recent Presidential candidates – Al Gore and Hillary Clinton – won the popular vote and lost the presidency. When you think about the great difference in American history that would have been delivered by Al Gore instead of George Bush or Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump, we shudder at the harm done by the Electoral College. The irony is that the Electoral College was supposed to prevent unqualified people from becoming President, by adding another step. It failed to do this, so why keep it.
Businesses are Also Losers
Not only are voters losing but businesses themselves may lose under Trump’s personal vindictive politics. Businesses today face increasing uncertainly under the Trump administration. Businesses don’t know if Donald Trump will personally stop them from opening production abroad or criticize their company for other reasons as happened with Carrier, Lockheed and Boeing. Businesses don’t know if Trump will hurt our relations with our allies such as Mexico, Japan, and several European countries and make it more difficult to sell abroad. Businesses worry that strong inflation might result as taxes are reduced but increased infrastructure and military spending explose our deficit. Businesses would need to raise their prices and they might find consumer demand falling off drastically. Businesses don’t know if Trump’s cabinet will undo many agencies and regulations that gave them some certainty.
We need a New Capitalism marked by a growing number of companies that care not only about profits but also care about people and the planet. Capitalism can’t work unless it leaves enough money in the hands of the working class to buy the products they need to keep factories working and jobs growing and making a profit. Businesses need to leave behind the old practice of “pirate” Capitalism and wake up to a broader concept of social responsibility.
We are seeing this happen with Unilever, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Costco and a growing number of other brands becoming brand activists – adopting innovative policies for the common good. We would add that consumers need to use their buying power to favor companies that embrace people and planet values. Once businesses realize that their future is better served by liberal values than by conservative values, we can move forward.
We hope that our citizens and our businesses stand up, work hard, and fight to build on the foundations of Capitalism and Democracy that made our country great. The stakes are too high.
Philip Kotler is the “father of modern marketing.” He is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He was voted the first Leader in Marketing Thought by the American Marketing Association and named The Founder of Modern Marketing Management in the Handbook of Management Thinking. Professor Kotler holds major awards including the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) Distinguished Marketing Educator Award and Distinguished Educator Award from The Academy of Marketing Science. The Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI) named him Marketer of the Year and the American Marketing Association described him as “the most influential marketer of all time.” He is in the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame, and is featured as a “guru” in the Economist.
Christian Sarkar is the editor of this site, an entrepreneur, consultant, artist and activist. See the $300 House project. To fight for our Democracy, beginning tomorrow, check out this blueprint for resistance >>
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