Toward a More Perfect Union–Session Four of Four

March 4, 2021

Imagine you wake up in the future, say twenty-five or so years from now. As you look around and talk to people, you realize that so many of our current concerns about the health of our democracy have been successfully answered. In many ways, it’s an optimal democracy. So, what did you see that tells you this? What is it like? How does it work? These imaginative explorations of the future formed the final session of our four-part community conversation series “Toward a More Perfect Union.” You’ll find some of these different imaginings below, clustered around five different themes that emerged from the several discussion groups. Our discussion process focuses on exploring divergent perspectives and possibilities, so the ideas are only loosely grouped together. It’s quite possible to mix and match them in different ways. We encourage you to create your own vision and to see what you might remix from the ideas below.

We turned our imaginations to the future as a way to help picture solutions and not just problems. If we want to fulfill some of our democratic ideals, it helps if we first imagine what those ideals might look like if we actually reached them. What would it look like to have a healthy democracy that successfully addressed some of the many concerns that emerged from our earlier explorations? In our first session we explored concerns and questions surrounding participation in democracy. Our second session delved into the role of information in a democracy. In the third session we took a step back to draw together the many different concerns and questions that come to mind when you consider what it takes to be a healthy democracy. Perhaps in a future discussion series we’ll explore together in more detail the steps we might take to reach our visions of a truly healthy democracy.


If you imagine an optimal democratic society in the future, what do you see?


1. Imagine a democracy “for the people”—focused on getting things done for the common good

  • This democracy addresses the pressing and basic needs of the people in an inclusive and equitable way:
    • There is universal healthcare, housing, access to food, living wages (poverty, medical bankruptcy, homelessness, etc. are things people learn about in museums)
  • This democracy focuses on the stability of the society through equitable social-economic conditions
    • There is a social justice focus on overcoming divisions and repairing harms where groups were excluded socially and economically
    • The democracy embraces the equal dignity of each person (everyone is deserving of being able to participate fully in the social-economy)
    • There is reduced polarization and social divisiveness due the repair of inequalities in terms of race, class, geography, etc.
  • This democracy focuses on the stability of the material conditions for the society by addressing environmental sustainability and climate change
    • There is a social justice focus on climate change as central to societal well-being (abandoning the “robber baron” approach of using up our resources)
    • There is a focus on global collaboration on sustainability, since these environmental concerns can’t be limited to national borders
  • This democracy’s focus on a more equal economy has led to a booming economy, since economic gains are flowing more equitable to a wide range of the population
  • Politics are generally oriented around policy—around getting things done, rather orienting around culture wars or using polarization to win elections
    • As a result, the country is no longer held hostage to radicalized minorities within a political party
  • Because of the focus on getting things done for the people, this democracy is a nice place to live—people are generally enjoying a higher quality of life



2. Imagine a truly deliberative democracy “by the people”—where the people shape policy more directly

  • In this democracy, policy decisions flow from bottom-up: citizens deliberate together in citizen assemblies (etc.) to make policy decisions and government implements the decisions
  • In this democracy all citizens get to have a say in public policies, since every individual has gifts and contributions to make
    • They use technology to enable this, such as a portal to collect citizens’ analysis and solutions
  • Politics is local: people collaborate better face-to-face and at a human scale, so citizen deliberations start locally and build up from smaller local deliberations to larger ones
    • With policy deliberations being more local, personal, and direct, there are higher levels of public trust—and people don’t seek out angry “entertainment-style” political conflicts
    • In this democracy, policy may develop more slowly through citizen deliberations, but is likely to be more stable
  • Public service for the common good is widespread—everyone has the chance and the responsibility to serve
  • There is a civic education focus on people developing the skills and attitudes needed for productive collaborative deliberation



3. Imagine a democracy “by the people” with fluid borders and boundary lines

  • There are fewer, or more fluid, boundary lines when it comes to policy-making, democratic participation, and where people live and work
    • The distinctions of “states” became meaningless as units of political power in relation to how people were actually living their lives in a highly mobile society
    • There is more freedom of movement and citizen participation: people move fluidly across old boundary lines and they vote and participate in these different areas where they live and work
  • This democracy has a greater sense of unity, since separating people into competing geographic areas just created more divisions in a diverse society
    • There are regional differences, but these are not the same as human differences—people have come to realize they are more similar than they used to think
    • Even though differences still emerge, people are doing more together, collaborating across old boundary lines
  • Getting rid of the boundary lines of power has eliminated layers of unnecessary bureaucracy
  • This movement toward a re-conception of the borders of democracy was helped by learning from the EU experience of eliminating national borders
  • Fighting the common enemy of climate change at a global level led to a sense of international unity and encouraged the development of a functional transnational democracy
  • Democratic collaboration has been encouraged by bridging language divides
    • People are learning multiple languages and traveling more, to better understand different cultures
    • There’s translation technology to enable people to collaborate politically across global language barriers
    • Perhaps we’ll develop a common worldwide language to communicate better across the globe
  • There’s a UN-like democratic structure based on respect for all people and inclusion of all people for collaborative problem-solving


4. Imagine a representative democracy “of the people” that focuses on good governance

  • This is a democracy where people get to choose their leaders, maximizing citizen participation with greater equity
    • Campaign finance reform has undone the corrupting power of money on elections and politics (the power of citizens outweighs that of lobbyists)
    • Technological advances have increased our ability to include more voices in setting the political direction of our country
    • Civic education efforts have motivated (in some cases required) greater participation in voting
    • Citizens have more opportunities for productive discussions with one another about public matters
    • There are more and better pathways for citizens’ policy ideas (including ideas from citizen discussions) to reach the government and shape policy
    • The anti-majoritarian features of our system have been removed (e.g. no more filibuster)
  • There is a core focus on truth and expanding access to quality information about public matters
    • The workings of government are transparent and open to the public
    • Journalists have unfettered access to government officials
    • There’s a core civic educational focus on information literacy so that citizens can better differentiate between truth and falsehoods
    • Citizens are better able to find the information they need to make public choices
    • The cycle of social media mis- or disinformation has been broken (the cycle of social media spreading falsehoods and then other media outlets and politicians magnifying those falsehoods)
    • There are independent fact-checkers for elected officials and candidates
    • There’s a sense of living in a shared reality, a common fact-basis for the society
    • Transparency in the workings of government has raised the level of people’s trust in the government and in society
  • There are better politicians
    • Politicians are doing a better job of representing the broader public interests, not just their particular supporters or base
    • Reforms like getting money out of politics have made politicians more responsive to the will of the people
    • Politicians go through a pre-screening vetting process (like the confirmation process for cabinet positions) that determines eligibility for government office
  • To maximize the influx of new, fresh ideas, the voting age has been lowered and there are age and term limits in government (even for judges)
    • It’s proposed to set an age limit for government figures at 65



5. Imagine a democratic society that is more egalitarian, empathetic, and cohesive

  • This democracy has gone through a profound shift of values—away from prioritizing financial success and individual wealth to prioritizing the wellbeing of all and recognizing the humanity of all
    • There’s a sense that we are all in this together (we all are “our brother’s keeper”)
    • The society is focused on the equal dignity of each person and is owning up to the fact and legacy of racism
    • Capitalism has been put in its place—in service of the democratic society, and not the other way around
    • Instead of a culture of avoiding or minimizing taxes, there’s a focus on taxation as key to the way a democracy works for and by the people
      • There is participatory budgeting through taxation, involving citizens in decisions about where to invest in public needs
    • Instead of celebrating the accumulation of wealth, the culture celebrates how people distribute that wealth to help others meet their needs
    • People report a higher level of happiness
    • This shift was enabled by learning from successful social democracies around the world
  • The society takes an inclusive approach to policymaking, working to include diverse perspectives
    • Education plays a role in introducing multiple perspectives and developing citizens’ capacity to inhabit them
    • Citizens are learning multiple languages to better communicate with each other within the country and to learn from (or together with) others outside the country
    • Technology might be used to broaden perspectives, so people understand what it’s like to be a different person and to inhabit every different role in society (every race, every sex or gender, economic status, etc.)
  • People have learned how to communicate respectfully with each other across their differences, to understand each other, and to collaborate
    • Civic education encourages interactions across groups and teaches the communication skills necessary to collaborate with respect and openness
  • This democracy focuses on instilling ethical norms focused on the common good and social cohesion
    • Ethical leadership replaced the patronage system, where leaders acted out of narrow self-interest, with a system that focuses on enlightened interest in the common good
    • There is a renewed sense of integrity among elected leaders and citizens
    • Social norms focus on civility and mutual respect
    • People have learned to be generous, balancing their desires with a sense of duty to the greater good
    • There is an evolving concept of “we the people” which enables the country to better engage immigrants as new democratic citizens

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