An Unprecedented Time in Washington D.C.

Recently I had the privilege to attend “The Business of Policy” residency at The Brookings Institution, a four-day immersion in Washington D.C. as part of the Washington University Executive MBA program. My fellow cohort members and I had the opportunity to engage with policymakers and witness how policy is formulated during an unprecedented time for our country.

I returned with a renewed faith in our government, the people behind it and our role as its citizens. Every moment was rich in content, but to summarize, following are my top five takeaways:

  1. Our Representatives Want to Hear from Us

At a time when the reform of our taxes, healthcare and immigration are all on the table, know that your voice matters. What I heard was that in general, politicians realize that their perspective is not representative of the norm. They genuinely want to hear real-life stories of policy’s impact on the American public.

They have all of the quantitative data they need from top scholars in our country’s think tanks. It is up to us, as citizens, to provide the qualitative balance to the numbers that don’t show up in a spreadsheet or Venn diagram.

To be heard, email your House of Representatives contact first and book a personal meeting when you are both in your home district vs. in D.C.

2. We Have to Seek Our Own “Truth” from News Sources

The digital media revolution has put the onus back on us more than ever to determine what is “real” news. Today anyone with a wi-fi connection can publish information. Traditional mass media news sources are businesses that can only afford to tell the stories that attract eyeballs. Much of social media content is a commercial message with a company’s best interests behind it. We must know the sources of our news–and have many of them.

Democracy cannot exist without a free press. Media covers power and has it’s own power as a result; however, we choose where we get our news, giving us the ultimate power. It is our responsibility to defend that freedom. Accept nothing. Be judgmental of everything. Get a mix of news that leaves you feeling like you got “the truth,” which is said to be usually somewhere in the middle of everything out there.

3. It’s Not About “Big” or “Small” Government

It’s not about big or small government. It’s about identifying where has the market “failed” and needs government to intervene.

Thinking in terms of two parties will minimize our understanding of issues as well as our opportunities for solutions. “We the People” need to set the example of effective debating and listening to all sides of a story. We must stop being quick to label someone or their ideals as one party or another. We must be the example for our families, communities and country.

4. The “Elephant” in the Room

President Trump, entered office with the lowest approval rating of any president-elect in the history of polling. The American people disapprove of every president at some point, but Trump holds the record for getting there fastest–in eight days. President Clinton was second to him at 573 days.

Good, bad or indifferent, everyone seems to recognize that “business as usual” has left the White House. Reports state that Trump frequently clashes with congressional Republicans on ideology and messaging. His current approval rating with Congress is at only 16% as of August 2017.

Most of our current Congressional leaders have never worked with a Republican president before. With Trump’s inauguration, Republican representatives moved from an oppositional role of voting “no” on Obama’s agenda to a governing party, now struggling to move things thru. Voting ‘yes’ means you are held accountable. ‘No’ is always easier.

Amidst all of this disapproval though, we must remember that our founding fathers established our government with appropriate checks and balances. While the President, by design, holds the executive function, it is the Congress that drives the legislative activity, and technically Congressmen represent their districts’ point of view.

Civic engagement is higher than ever in the U.S. and so is the desire for a third political party. Interesting times lie ahead. We must stay informed, engaged and open.

5. The U.S. is Aristocratic

In the “land of opportunity,” we do not have true socio-economic mobility opportunities for all. It was unsettling to learn that much of what you can achieve is pre-determined by your family stability, education, race and where you live. Data shows that it is not the top 1% of wealthy households in America that are the roadblock to upward mobility, but more so the top 20%, upper-middle class households who are highly protective of their position.

For example, a white upper-middle class student who does not finish high school has a better chance of staying in the upper-middle class than a black low-income college graduate has of rising there. That is crushing.

Those in the top 20% of income can help in small ways, such as:

  • Choose to bring an underprivileged child to “go to work with mom/dad day.”
  • Propose the affluent school PTO donate half of its proceeds to a school in need.
  • Offer internships and growth opportunities to minority kids vs. our own.

Understanding is the first step in truly tackling this multi-faceted issue. A documentary film shot in St. Louis, “For Ahkeem,” is a good start to a better understanding of the challenge.

Final Thoughts:  We are a nation with the freedom, knowledge and resources to accomplish just about anything. Claim your passion and go make a difference.