Introducing a New Editorial Series in Public Integrity: “The State of the Republic”

By Donald E. Klingner, Ph.D.*
Distinguished Professor, University of Colorado Colorado Springs

In 1968 I graduated from Cal Berkeley with a BA in Political Science. Now, after 5 years with the federal government and 45 as a public university professor, I look back at the places I’ve been, the people I’ve known, and the things I’ve done. Each day, I look forward to doing the job in front of me with skill, passion and professionalism. I remain committed to the values I developed a half century ago – social equity, economic justice, and political participation.

Because the values that are most important are always those most threatened, the quest to advance public service never ends. When Benjamin Franklin was asked what he and other framers of the U.S. Constitution had created, he answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” As Editor-at-Large for Public Integrity, I’ll be writing a series of bimonthly scholarly essays on “The State of the Republic.” These will appear over the next two years, beginning in January 2019. They will focus on current U.S. public policy issues that are critical to the future of global democratic governance. Each treatise will be “bookended” by one or more short pieces authored by global experts. Topics will include:
  • Equality: Equality of opportunity and access for all (economic, social and political), the influence of the Constitution and its intellectual roots.
  • Voting Rights and Political Participation: Representative vs. direct democracy, vote suppression, disenfranchisement, fraud, and gerrymandering.
  • Peaceable Assembly: Ethical concerns related to the people’s ability to gather together in physical and virtual public spaces, including balancing 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, police relations, and terrorism.
  • Privacy: Constitutional protections, and the role of government in protecting citizens in the age of data harvesting.
  • Migration and Immigration: the history of diasporas, cultural identity politics and multiculturalism, demographic trends, migration and immigration policy, human trafficking, political inclusion, and economic sustainability.
  • Gender Equality: patriarchy and misogyny, discrimination, rights movements, domestic violence, and pay parity.
  • Informed Citizens: The key to democracy, public education, fake news, alternative facts, social media, and political propaganda.
  • Corruption: The effects of transparency and accountability in public, corporate, and community-based organizations; prevention policies and practices.
  • Public Safety: violence in society and toleration of it, including public spaces like streets, schools and public gatherings; institutionalized support for hate speech and violence that perpetuates insecurity and discrimination.
  • Environmental Sustainability: rollback on climate change, air and water quality, environmental racism, assault on public lands, corporate social responsibility.
  • Peace, War, and Everything in Between: slow burn conflicts, open-ended wars, killer drones, mercenaries, child soldiers, and UN peacekeeping efforts.
  • The Future: Is the glass half full, half empty, or broken?  Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha, the case for optimism vs. pessimism, and the role of professional associations that support professional public administration and public service.

Because political culture and discourse are increasingly shaped by sound bites and propaganda-driven media echo chambers, people get little training—negative examples aside—on how to discuss policy issues with those who disagree on their objectives or strategies. While opposing viewpoints are inevitable, they are best discussed conscientiously, coherently, and strategically. While not all readers will agree with my perspective in these essays, they will be rooted in fact, well-argued, thoughtfully written. They will model the rules of civic engagement:
  • No matter how much you disagree with someone, be more concerned with learning what they believe and why than with explaining or defending your own viewpoint.
  • No matter how illogical or uninformed they seem to be, do not cut them off, tune them out, or attack their ideas by attacking them personally.
  • If you have trouble with these two rules, repeat this mantra silently to yourself as you listen to them: “Is it possible that for any reason, under any circumstances, what they have to say might conceivably be true?” Repeat as necessary.
  • If this mantra gives you trouble, do it while breathing through your nose, not your mouth.

As public administrators, public servants, and scholars, we share the belief that we can help governments, businesses, and NGOs work more effectively together to support economic development political participation, social justice, and environmental sustainability. Almost ninety years ago, the Great Depression stoked the fear and anger that led to World War II. But, just as those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, so are those who have learned from history although their leaders have not. The US faces hard times again today. While unemployment is down and the stock market up, inequality and underemployment hamper economic growth. Our aging population; crumbling infrastructure; underfunded schools; tattered social safety net; expensive wars; and spiraling public and private debt make us increasingly vulnerable – maybe not to foreign armies, but certainly to fentanyl and other drugs, and to the foreign trolls and bots that stoke social conflict and use social media to attack our democracy.

Our elected leaders face their own hard times. Effective solutions to big issues tend to be unpalatable and politically risky. So, while their best approach is to take the high road and appeal to our intelligence, shared values, and a continued belief that the American dream is real, they instead may find it easier to blame others. Seeking scapegoats, they may point to other countries as thwarting US political or economic hegemony, to immigrants for stealing “our” jobs and undermining “our” culture, or to other Americans (those “not like us”) for supporting beliefs, policies, or lifestyles different from their own. “Divide and conquer” trumps “E pluribus Unum.”

I look forward to joining our colleagues over the next two years as we contribute together to the ongoing conversation among engaged and informed citizens that – together with a contentious yet mutually respectful relationship between public administrators and elected officials – is the cornerstone of democracy.

* Dr. Donald Klingner is Distinguished Professor of Public Administration in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He is a Fellow (2007) of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), past President (2008-2009) of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), and recipient (2017) of the Doctor Honoris Causa from IAPAS (Mexico). He is co-author of 16 books including Public Personnel Management (7th edition 2017, also published in Spanish and Chinese), over 200 other publications and over 150 conference presentations. He was Distinguished Professor in Residence at the US Department of Health & Human Services (1991), Fulbright Senior Scholar (Central America 1994), visiting professor at UNAM, Mexico (1999-2003), and consultant to the UN, the WB and the IADB on public management capacity building. He was a faculty member at IUPUI (1974-1980) and Florida International University (1980-2001). Prior to earning a PhD in Public Administration from the University of Southern California in 1974, he worked for the USCSC (now USOPM) from 1968-1973 as a management intern and staffing specialist.