The peril of modern democracy: short-term thinking in a long-term world

Democracy Political leadership Politics Strategic interests Strategic planning

For those interested in the long-term prosperity and strength of the United States, Australia and their like-minded partners, and in the success of democracy as a model, current trends should be of serious concern. Strategic risk is higher than it needs to be and citizens are growing more pessimistic about the future and disillusioned with democracy. This is before one even begins to consider the opportunities that short term-oriented, reactive and hyper-partisan democracies are missing. The irony is that the way that democracies are currently working is not satisfying for anybody, least of all political leaders and the general public.

The refusal of democracies to think and act strategically is a significant driver of the malaise in which the United States, Australia and their partners find themselves. But this is not to say they are bound to continue down this road. These countries have shown in the past that they can think and act very effectively at the strategic level, building consensus and getting behind strategic actions that require short-term sacrifice to achieve long-term goals and ambitions. That democracies find themselves in their current predicament is not due to a lack of capability or a systemic flaw in democracy itself; it is a succession of choices by democratic societies inclined to think tactically rather than strategically.

While some will leap to the conclusion that democracy needs a wholesale redesign, turning this malaise around may not require it. Creating a deliberate space in the conversation between citizens and governments for action on optimistic and strategic ambitions may begin to reset this malaise. Allowing people to own some of those ambitions may contribute further. This is a low-risk and high-return strategy that it is just waiting to be tried.

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