The Journey to Find America began last night. My 11-year old son Alistair and I got on the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited in Albany, NY last night and rode it to Chicago where we changed to the California Zephyr train bound for Denver today.
This trip has been awhile in the making. When I learned that the Human Capital Institute’s conference on Employee Engagement would be held in Denver again this summer, heard Alistair express a clear preference to spend as little time in summer camps as possible during his summer break and learned that my wife Elizabeth’s vacation time was nearing an end, I began plotting this trip.
This afternoon we are sitting in the observation car on the train. We’ve not even ￼crossed the Mississippi into Iowa yet but already the immensity of the Midwest has impressed both of us. It’s a big country and getting to 435 congressional districts across it in the next 15 months seems more daunting sitting here than it did at my desk in Vermont. In particular, I’m wondering if and how I can really begin to change the way we communicate, both in the media and as individuals, about governmental policy.
But even as I worry about this, I find reassurance that when we visit our first district in this endeavor, Thursday in the Colorado 2nd, I will find the right message.
Almost 30 years ago a friend and I embarked on a similarly large travel odyssey. How could it be similarly large to planning to travel to 435 congressional districts? We aimed to visit all 178 professional baseball parks for a game in one season. More than 40 states and several Canadian provinces later we succeeded. During that summer we were asked many times why we were doing it and almost always the answer was…to find out what was different about all these places.
In truth, what we found was a lot of similar people. There were quirky differences in the ballparks (way more than there are in minor league baseball today) and different wacky promotions and regional food but the people were the same. I think they still are.
Watching the news on any given night you are likely to wonder, what happened to this country? Why are we so angry with each other? What could possibly bring us back together? But actually I don’t think we are that far apart as Americans. I think we mostly want similar things and have similar values. So this time around I am out to find commonalities not differences; when Alistair and I hit the road on Thursday to make the long journey back to Vermont through at least ten districts that’s exactly what we will be looking for.
How does a blog that purports to be about making government better, meaning more effective, not weigh in on what has to be one of the saddest periods in our government’s history? That is the question that has been vexing me since I saw President Trump’s latest round of tweets and all the follow up to them in the last few days.
But I haven’t known what to say, frankly, and thus I’ve been sitting on my hands. There is nothing I can write in this blog that hasn’t been written by others in publications with many more followers.
For the record, I do not think that the President of the United States should be carrying on personal and vindictive attacks against members of Congress. I also don’t think it is helpful when members of Congress attack the President and each other in a personal way and I think there is plenty of evidence that members of both political parties have done this frequently and are doing it even as I write this. That breaks my heart and, to be candid, tests my resolve as I prepare myself to spend the next several months trying to convince members of Congress to do the exact opposite of what they are now doing.
But here’s what gives me hope. I am traveling on business today just a few miles from the district of one of the congresswomen under attack by the President. I talked with dozens of people over the course of the day and do you know how many were talking about this? None. Do they have opinions? Probably. Are they worried about what this in-fighting means to the principles of a democratic government? I hope so. But I am assuming that many of them, like me, were just getting their job done and wondering when will this end?
I am hopeful and optimistic the name calling will dry up when we stop paying attention to it and feeding the fire. It strikes me that, collectively, many of us are acting like the parents that scream to their children (analogy is intentional) “I told you not to use that fu*#in language in the house.”
So, let us instead focus on solutions to the policy challenges and questions we all face as Americans and encourage our media outlets to do the same. How do we put more money in the bank account of every American? How do we make healthcare more affordable? How do we ensure that our kids and the legions of other citizens who are currently unprepared for the jobs of the future get prepared? Let’s talk about that. There’s plenty of time to tell the candidates how we really feel at the polls on November 3, 2020.
Currently interviewing for 435 positions in the House of Representatives. You will represent your congressional district by helping to put in place legislation that will aim at improving the lives of each of your 710,000 constituents.
Must possess good collaboration skills, be able to reach consensus and take action
Must come prepared with specific and measurable ideas on how you will represent all the people in your district including a strategy for working with colleagues with different ideas about how to help them
A track record of learning from past experience, assimilating new information and changing a previous position considered a plus
Ideologues strongly discouraged; must be able to look past political parties to weigh the merits on both sides of each issue before you
Experience helpful but not necessary. We will train the right individual
Finger pointers and whiners need not apply. Evidence of engaging in obstructionist politics will be considered a serious liability
Interviews will be conducted over the next 16 months for a two-year appointment starting in January 2021. The hiring committee is quite large and will make its decision based on observable demonstration of the competencies listed above.
To join the hiring committee please see findamerica.org and follow this blog!