By Doug Luciani
“Divide and rule, the politician cries;
Unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German author and statesman
There are a vast number of structural and operational challenges facing our local communities, the state of Michigan and our great nation – some of the same issues that businesses face all the time. If companies allow themselves to be distracted or preoccupied from making critical long-range decisions about the future, the result is almost always inevitable – they won’t be part of it.
That’s why it’s so disheartening – even a bit scary – to watch so many of our decision-makers continue to engage in divisive, agenda-driven politics that sap the public’s attention and energy from much more real and immediate issues. The recent national firestorm ignited over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is the latest example of the “divide and rule” approach to governance, one that led to a black eye for the Hoosier State while at the same time doing precious little to deter the dividers there and elsewhere from their agenda.
Business saw this coming. Major corporations and business groups pleaded with Indiana lawmakers to steer clear of their version of the RFRA. Most businesses know that it’s not good business to get involved with the personal lives and beliefs of their customers/clients. They know that actions perceived as discriminatory – fairly or not – can have profound consequences for a state and the people that do business there. Indiana lawmakers couldn’t backpedal fast enough to try and rescue their state from its self-inflicted public relations disaster. But in many ways, the damage was already done.
Equally curious is that the backers of this kind of divisive legislation are often the loudest complainers about government overreach, or creating solutions that lack a problem. Sorely lacking in the RFRA debate in Indiana or elsewhere are actual examples of individuals or groups who’ve been denied religious freedoms. Much more prevalent are specious “what if?” arguments based on highly unlikely, even bizarre scenarios where an individual or business would be subjected to some abhorrent situation or transaction that no one would be comfortable with. Lots of imagination, but few facts or real-life likelihoods.
It’s also interesting to count the number of these “dividers” that show little interest in tackling larger, complex challenges of infrastructure, public education, the growing weight of the criminal justice system and other very real, very immediate issues. In Michigan, the Proposal 1 ballot issue to raise more than $1.2 billion a year for Michigan’s road and transportation system that goes before voters this month has all sorts of opposition from Lansing insiders – some of the same individuals who’ve failed to address Michigan’s failing road network for more than a decade.
Most people in Michigan agree that its road system is a mess, and getting worse all the time. But when likely voters are asked about Proposal 1, they consistently site their distrust of lawmakers to properly carry it out among the reasons for their opposition. That’s another downside to “divide and rule” politics. They escalate the public’s level of distrust and skepticism in our decision makers to the point where viable, common-sense solutions are submersed by public apathy and mistrust – and giving the dividers more cover to resume their agendas of distraction.
It’s time for everyone to start pressing these dividers to offer real solutions to the state’s and country’s long-range challenges, instead of accepting their narrow agendas and simplistic opposition. How do we fix our roads, makes our schools excel and bolster our health care system? One thing’s for certain – we’ll have a much better chance of forging real solutions if we get behind those who want to unite and lead, instead of divide and rule.
Doug Luciani is the CEO of TraverseCONNECT, powering the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org