I often write here about how tribal we have become. We retreat into our own “camps”, voting for only those running for our preferred party, watching only our kind of news.

We think we have a choice…..but do we? Have we been convinced that one is right and the other is wrong and those two choices are the only thing on the menu? Maybe.

I recently came across the work of Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter, She’s a former CEO, he’s a political academic. Together they have been working to understand the root causes of the failure of political competition and what to do about it,

So what is the problem? As they write, “The problem is not Democrats or Republicans or the existence of parties per se. The problem is not individual politicians; most who seek and hold public office are genuinely seeking to make a positive contribution. The real problem is the nature of competition in the politics industry.”

They contend that our system isn’t broken and that it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do. We have created a two party system that seeks to maintain the status quo of two parties.

Consider other industries that at first have a lot of innovation and competition but over time coalesce around 2 (or a few) larger companies which dominate the marketplace. Consider our tech industry….Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google and a few others. Or our media companies. Or our meat industries. Or our soft drink industry.

Once a few or two companies dominate an area of industry, then they become so big that any true innovation is “gobbled up” and absorbed into the larger companies where it can be controlled. Or, the rules of entry into an area are set to limit newcomers.

Our political system is the same. The Republicans and the Democrats, even though they seem to be competing, have set the rules for governing and elections to limit innovation and third parties.

Gehl and Porter write, “Parties, then, compete to create and reinforce partisan divisions, not deliver practical solutions. The duopoly appeals to its partisan supporters based on ideology, not policies that work.”

As we sit and identify as “Republican” or “Democrat”…..and as we judge the other party to be “out of touch” or “morally bankrupt” or “{fill in your own complaint}” becoming more and more tribal and identified with “our party” and “our group”…..we are actually playing into the partisan divisions that serve to maintain the two party system.

So what can we do? Gehl and Porter offer four suggestions.

One: Restructure the election process. Ideas include a top four non-partisan primary, they describe as a “move to a single primary ballot for all candidates, no matter what their affiliation, and open up primaries to all voters, not just registered party voters. Institute ranked-choice voting with instant runoff in general elections.” They also suggest nonpartisan redistricting and rewriting debate rules which favor the existing parties.

Two: Restructure the governing process. “Legislative and governance rules must align the process with the public interest and reduce the ability of parties to control Congressional deliberations and outcomes simply for partisan gain,” they write.

Three: Reform money in politics. As I have written about here “on the bridge” for years, we need to change the incentives for our politicians. Currently they must fund raise to stay in power and then become “beholden” to those who gave them money. They need to work for everyone, not just the rich and corporations and powerful who can spend the bucks.

Four: Open up competition, without waiting for structural reforms. They list a number of current initiatives that are in the works at local levels or by non profit groups that can serve to get the ball rolling towards real competition. Bottom line is we cannot wait for our political leaders to initiate change, we need to do it. We need to be the change.

I strongly urge you to go read their full report (around 70 pages but has a concise executive summary you can read in a few minutes). Here is the link.

To their list of political system changes, I would like to also offer a few things that we can each do to move us to a more effective system….

Set an intention personally to reduce our sense of political tribalism. The more we retreat into our preferred political camp and throw shade at the other side, the more we are feeding into our sense of divisiveness and exacerbating the problem. We need to become aware of the role we all play, including ourselves, in maintaining the current system and set a plan to change.

Find ways to bridge our differences with others. We need to find things that we share in common with those who think differently and focus our energy of those commonalities. We need to seek to understand the beliefs of those who think differently even if we don’t agree. We need to close the gap in our thoughts, actions and feelings to cultivate a sense of our common humanness with those who believe differently.

Become an agent of change in our own sphere of influence. Each of us can be a force for healing our divisiveness right where we are. Where do you have impact and influence? How can you use that to be a positive change agent?

Yes, it’s easy to see that the needed change is large and we may be small…..but we all know that all change starts with a few committed individuals. Become that person.

Mark Gilbert