A genius of the American founding was to invent a structure that allowed national initiative while permitting local diversity. Because there is a single nation, much focus has been on its activities. As time has passed we fear loosing the importance of local governance and enterprise.
Instead, the interest with a 24/7 news cycle has become a spectator sport for the “doings” in DC or New York and tragedies around the world. All of this focus has fostered powerful national cults of personality.
David Brooks NYT Essay about Localism
David Brooks recent essay has described the localism option. He writes that the liberal, conservative dichotomy has failed for many folks. Likewise with populism. The next initiative will be localism. While national politics is nasty and discouraging, we hear refreshingly of local successes.
100,000 Mile Journey
Beginning with an Atlantic article by James Fallows in March of 2016, and now a book entitled Our Towns A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America co-authored with Deborah Fallows, the authors observe abundant local success. The investigation occurred between 2013 and 2016 as they flew their single engine aircraft to larger and smaller locales throughout the United States.
Consistent with David Brooks speculation, the Fallows concluded “. . . even if most parts of the complex American ‘system’ work better than their counterparts in the rest of the world, America’s national political system works worse.”
“10 ½ Signs of Local Civic Success”
James and Deborah Fallows express frustration with the national impasse because it discourages comprehensive measures to address the nation’s problems. They see hope though with “local resilience and adaptability”. They chronicle this throughout the United States with “10 ½ Signs of Civic Success”. Quoting from the final chapter of their books these signs include:
- People work together on practical local possibilities, rather than allowing bitter disagreements about national politics to keep them apart.
- You can pick out the local patriots.
- The phrase “public-private partnership” refers to something real.
- People know the civic story.
- Successful communities have downtowns.
- They are near a research university.
- Successful communities have, and care about, a community college.
- They have innovative schools.
- Successful communities make themselves open.
- They have big plans.
- Craft breweries and small distilleries are common in the local economy.
Comments Challenging David Brooks
Reading the comments to David Brook’s article, the reaction is quite different. Localism seems verboten. The common reaction includes
- “rurally isolated and generally impoverished”
- “Norman Rockwell is dead”
- “Localism is a pretty name for Jim Crow laws”
- “Perhaps Mr. Brooks is a member of another species the out-of-touch, the “Limousine localist”.
Without contesting each of these points specifically, I believe, Mr. Brooks is dealt unfair judgments by these New York Times readers. They express perception that local or rural represents the impoverished and benighted image vividly portrayed in the movie Deliverance.
This is a very unfortunate stereotype. I view it as intolerance or even bigotry. Traveling 100,000 miles in a single engine aircraft, James and Deborah Fallows effectively challenge this conventional thought.
Resilience: The Key to Local Success
The victor will not be the sector that wins the argument on the pages of the NYT, Instead winning requires success in the resilience contest. The question is then: Which segment of the American experiment demonstrates the greatest resilience in surviving and building more common wealth and engaging communities?
Referring to resilience we ask what is the Giant Sequoia in the room? Because of its intrinsic qualities and the fortune of its location, and the strength of its community, what in the American experience will survive and prosper?
About resilience please see: http://amendoon.net/resilient-giant-truths/
In Its Local Roots
My prediction is that the future of American is in its roots. We do not find its promise the brittle edifice of its structure. A thousand communities have greater opportunities than a single, cumbersome and contentious super-structure.
Only if the residents of the super-structure can buy-in to a compelling cause (not an authoritarian leader) will it advance. In this, localities have the advantage because they emphasize interaction and participation. These communities may or may not experience networks and enterprise. When they are successful identity is achieved, problems solved, and progress made.
This cannot be said for the super-structure contender because of complexity and the difficulty of the multitude becoming interactively participatorial with specific enterprises. Instead of putting their hands on the problem, they remain in the bleachers.
Spirit of Municipal Institutions
Alexis De Tocqueville observed many years ago in Democracy in America:
“A nation may establish a system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty. The transient passions and the interest of an hour or the chance of circumstances, may have created the external forms of independence; but the despotic tendency which has been repelled will, sooner or later, inevitably reappear on the surface.”
Tocqueville’s key message avows the spirit of municipal institutions is basic to liberty. Liberty fuels the American engine. It is sustainable in people’s spirit and can overcome despotic tendencies which will inevitably reappear.
Serving as a city manager for more than three decades, I am testimonial to the spirit of municipal (local) institutions and how they support liberty. Throughout the nation, this opens up possibilities. While success depends upon leadership, networking and the abilities of local actors to raise capital, this potential is the foundation of our culture.
Localities are not the residue of a failed countryside, but instead the resilient, hardscrabble promise of a rising nation. With local effort it can move from static to dynamic. Localities with identity, energy and spirit will overcome and will be pioneers in the direction of a resurgent America.
Their strength does not come from the central government’s wisdom or in most cases federal largesse but from the vision, passion, and capability of their citizenry. Local economy and government is not a spectator sport but instead a hands-on endeavor to preserve important culture and to advance local enterprise.
Not Mr. Rockwell’s Locality
Living locally may not be idyllic as Mr. Rockwell painted it, but it continues to offer participation, identity and a path forward for those acting on their challenges. James and Deborah Fallows chronicle successes, but the many other communities challenged by meth, oxycodone, teen pregnancy, low employment and limited educational opportunities will struggle on.
Ultimately, their potential for success will not be drawn by a contentious central government political fight or a hand-out from the State Capital or Washington DC. Local dedication and resilience are the agents for success. In my experience, larger government normally impairs localities in this fight. The next step should be a local choice.