Reader’s Forum — Paige Bartkowiak

American politics is failing us:

A Look at Chapter Three in The Politics Industry

Paige Bartkowiak

As we are all gearing up for one of the most anticipated elections this fall, Gehl & Porter’s book is an important reminder as to how we got here and why this election will likely fail to solve any of the issues brought up in the book, regardless of who is elected. Gehl and Porter reiterate throughout the book that the two parties will not give up their power and welcome a third party into the arena. The people of our country must come together to determine the desired outcomes of our political system and act to make sure our political system provides those. Regardless of political affiliation it must be seen as patriotic, not partisan, to want better for our country and to demand more from our elected officials. Chapter three provides data for where we are and sets the stage for what needs to be done.

The consequences of failing competitiveness Gehl and Porter outlined in chapter three all resonated with me because I have personally experienced all of them within the past month. We are living in a house (America) with countless cracks, Gehl and Porter discuss a few of the major ones. There is a lack of problem solving with our elected officials, no one seems to want to take accountability and work together to create solutions. There is no attention to preventative care; leaving our politicians to only deal with what is absolutely minimally required of them, instead of looking out for the long term health of our country. Most shockingly, the country is deeply divided. I was recently harassed while getting my mail by a political parade driving down my road. These individuals saw me as an enemy, a threat to their existence and as less of a person and decided they would yell obscenities at me from their megaphone. I do not believe our divide will be healed with electing the right person or initiating the right policy. Rather, this divide will take years of restorative justice, working together and building a shared country together. I do not think anyone reading Gehl and Porter’s book would disagree with the cracks in our home; how we got these cracks may be open for debate, but we have come to understand as a country we are in need of some repairs.

I value the section in chapter three discussing the consequences of the U.S.’s failing political system, as many of these topics have unfortunately been politicized; yet they are facts, rooted in data. Our country was seated at the top of many standards for a period in time, but without maintaining those gains we have fallen behind other countries. It is not unpatriotic to say we are not the best, and we can improve. In fact, I believe working on our country should be seen as one of the most patriotic things a person can do. We must make this declaration because we have ranked 26th in the world for overall social progress. Government must provide shared prosperity for its citizens and the current system of American politics is failing to do so. An interesting point to me was that we’re behind the country of Ghana in the rankings of safety; a country I called home four years ago.

Prior to reading Gehl and Porter’s previous paper and this book I did not understand how competitiveness was defined. It is not simply more candidates running for office. Instead, it is creating a shared prosperity for people and businesses which is desired and sustainable. Our country currently fits the definition of failing to be competitive. We have declining labor force participation, the private sector is strong while the public sector is weak, and economic gains are centered at the top of the income distribution.

Our country came to assume our future prosperity was assured, but over the past few decades we have realized it’s not. Like Democracy and relationships our prosperity is a living thing that needs attention, dedication and continued inputs to improve and not stay stagnant. Without an investment, we land where we are today; falling behind. Our political process’s foundation is cracking and we must work to repair the foundation while we still can salvage it.

One of the important, yet slightly overlooked sections in Gehl and Porter’s chapter three is around the lack of accountability elected officials have while in office. Elected officials should be accountable to their constituents; however, this is not how our political system operates today. Gehl and Porter discuss how the lack of accountability in part is due to the duopology between the Democrats and Republicans. It was striking to me how nearly 50% of Americans desire a third party; however, we have failed to see one emerge. Again, our political system is not responding to the needs of the people. Instead, the two parties rig our system to make it impossible for a third party to emerge. Thus, they use the political process to keep themselves in power. This chapter made the case for a multi-party system even more attractive to me as a consumer.

Chapter three discusses what Gehl and Porter believe are the five outcomes our Democracy must deliver: solutions, action, support from a broad base, balance short & long term needs and show fidelity to the Constitution. I personally favor a system where the people of our country come together to discuss the desired outcomes as opposed to politicians, business elites and the ‘experts’ deciding. While I recognize that some of Gehl and Porter’s five may overlap with the people’s I believe there would be more based on the lived experiences of more people contributing. As a citizen I pay into a system of politics which should work to improve my life, my community and my world. I am a dissatisfied consumer of the American Political System and I am actively working to change that system.

I fiercely agree with the claim that our political system is not broken, it is functioning exactly how the parties, political influences, monied interests, etc. are wanting it to work. A fundamental issue with our system is that it is catering to these interests and not the interests of the general public. Gehl and Porter outline the problems we are now seeing due to a failure of competition in the political arena. As Gehl and Porter conclude this chapter the promise of it being the darkest in the book is realized; however, it is important to understand what is truly broken, fully assessing the situation, before jumping in to salvage it. So while this chapter may be difficult to read it is nevertheless necessary to understand where we are and where we can go from here.

Paige Bartkowiak is the Head of National Development for The People. Prior to working for The People, Paige was the Major Fundraising Event Coordinator for Voters Not Politicians, a fundraiser for Senator Debbie Stabenow and a field organizer for Bryan Mielke.


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Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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