I.  INTRODUCTION

We need to permanently shift how we play politics. We need to rethink how we engage, debate, and work with our political foes.  We need to modify how we use power and authority.  We need to embrace a different approach for interacting with one another and for governing our jurisdictions.

Why? Because the “status” of today’s “Political Status Quo” is unacceptable and unsustainable…

  • Governments repeatedly fail to address even the most obvious of problems.
  • Politicians are viewed with little more than contempt, distrust, and disdain.
  • Societies are becoming increasingly polarized.
  • Individuals are growing ever more cynical and disillusioned.
  • Conflicts, not cooperation, seem to be the new normal.

We could debate the causes for this sad situation for a very long time without meaningful resolution. But, rather than engage in a fruitless — even if interesting, debate — let’s pull back and recognize a few undeniable realities about this “Status Quo”…

  1. No one is content with this state of affairs. The desire to move away from today’s norm is nearly universal. Even though we are all partially to blame for the conflict and discontent we are experiencing, most of us hope for an end to this gridlock.
  2. There is no positive end state to the status quo. Current course and speed will never give us what we want and need…
    • Governments that routinely make progress against our most important objectives — prosperity, liberty, stability, sustainability.
    • Societies held together by celebration, shared values, and common goals, rather than conflict, shared fears, and common enemies.
    • Futures for our children that are more certain, more safe, and more prosperous than our own.
  3. The patience and forbearance of the public is limited. History has proven that the body politic – the public – will tolerate broken government, public corruption, and self-serving politics only for a time. Eventually the public will demand change. And the longer it takes for government to change, the more violent that change will be. In the extremes of history, this has been revolution. In more recent history, this has been a demand for ANY change that will derail the status quo – for example…
    • The “Arab Spring” that left many countries worse off than when they started;
    • The UK’s vote for Brexit even with unknown consequences and potentially detrimental consequences;
    • Or, the election of Donald Trump in the USA whom the majority of voters (even his supporters) do not like, do not trust, and do not support.

 

II.  THESIS FOR DISCUSSION

So, if we agree that the Political Status Quo is not acceptable – perhaps good for selling newspapers, but little else – then we need to collectively shift our political axis.  We need to practice a very different type of politics.  We need to shift the course of our political discourse and public interaction.  The time is right for a shift to “PIVOT Politics…moving away from political struggles for control and moving towards political struggles for progress.

With that as our high level thesis, let us explore four different types of “politics”. NOT ideologies – i.e., conservative or liberal.  But rather, four different approaches that we can use to influence, to shape, and to govern our societies and our governments.  These four approaches are formed by two different orientations – HOW we interact with one another, and WHO we are attempting to help in the course of our political discourse.

Pivot Politics Grid

Let’s look first at the two axes of orientation…

  • INTERACTION Orientation:   In many ways, politics is a game. An interaction between two or more players. The key element, therefore, is how each player treats the other. On one extreme is the interaction of FORCE – using sheer force and authority to make decisions. On the other extreme is RESISTANCE – doing everything possible to stop, divert, derail, or undermine the other side. There is a point of equilibrium in the middle – where the political players are willing to work together. In this middle ground, those with authority or the majority are willing to accept input and ideas from those without power or the minority. Conversely, the minority or the powerless are willing to defer to those in power and are willing to be governed.
  • BENEFICIARY Orientation: Politics is also a proxy – an arena where a few make decisions for the many. On one extreme, political actors can be self-serving…using politics for their own self gain. At the other extreme is the politics of the selfless – taking actions that benefit the greater good, even if that means sacrificing one’s own self interests. In the middle is the domain of constituent politics – serving a subset of the body politic, often to the detriment of other constituencies. The challenge of this orientation is that understanding and serving one’s own self interest is easy; serving the greater good is hard.

If you overlay the two axes on top of one another, you map the four types of politics – four very different directions of how we interact and how we make collective decisions…

  • POWER Politics: Using authority to force an agenda forward, regardless of whether it is universally beneficial, and with little regard to the objections or views of dissenters. Power Politics is used to appeal to a specific constituency and ideology with which the politician agrees. Power Politics gives rise to the tyrannical majority, the sovereign monarch, or the authoritarian boss at work.
  • PROTEST Politics: Actively resisting almost everything those in power want to do, with the hope that they can overthrow the governing status quo. The long term objective of Protest Politics is to switch roles with those in Power – to seize a future opportunity to become the decision makers with authority and control. Protest Politics often leads to a defiant and uncooperative minority, revolution, or labor unions intent on winning small victories against their employers for short term gain.

Note: It is along this axis of Power and Protest – the constant battle between different constituencies – that politics is stuck today. Those with power abusing that power; those who protest simply wanting to become the powerful at the expense of the greater good. It is this axis that leads to gridlock, frustration, and the despair of the public.

  • PREDICAMENT Politics: Quickly addressing imminent threats and intolerable crises that cannot be avoided. Predicament Politics is the classic demonstration of responding to a catastrophe, retaliating against an enemy, or fighting for survival. In fact, the focus of Predicament Politics is simply to preserve the political landscape itself – protect one’s self, preserve the country, defend the business, or weather the proverbial storm. Predicament Politics is the natural result of a perfect confluence of interests…
    1. A crisis that threatens the politicians personally;
    2. A crisis that is equally painful for all constituencies;
    3. A crisis that threatens to undermine the authority of those in Power; and,
    4. A crisis that overwhelms the protests of those in opposition to the powerful.

Predicament Politics is always a temporary state of equilibrium between political foes and will evaporate as soon as the predicament itself goes away.

  • PIVOT[1] POLITICS: Pivoting one’s political influence to support – at least in part – what a political opponent wants. The advantage of pivoting from “a struggle for control” to a “struggle for solution” is the possibility of gaining MORE of what you want over the LONG TERM than one is likely to get with any other type of politics. If practiced consistently, it is Pivot Politics that would result in problems solved, societies healed, and the public optimistic about the future.[2] 

 

III.  PIVOT POLITICS EXPLORED

To demonstrate how Pivot Politics works, consider an overly simplified example of two mythical political parties – the Gold Party and the Silver Party…

SCENARIO #1 – The Status Quo

Two political parties as historic and current rivals, exerting Power and Protest Politics…

    • The Gold Party – recently elected to the majority — embraces a financial policy of making Gold Coins.   The Silver Party – the new minority, and formerly majority, party — prefers a policy of minting Silver Coins.
    • The Gold Party’s current legislative agenda calls for the creation of 1000 Gold Coins. The Silver Party has promised to resist the Gold Party’s agenda, because it believes the right answer is to mint 1000 Silver Coins.
    • Mindful of past political conflicts, the Gold Party exerts its power (Power Politics) to mandate the minting of 1000 Gold Coins. Furthermore, the Gold Party demands that all Silver Coins still in circulation be confiscated and removed from the economy.
    • In response, the Silver Party uses Protest Politics to convince a sizable segment of the public that Gold Coins are unattractive, thereby undermining the Gold Party’s agenda and creating societal discontent with the circulation of Gold Coins. The Silver Party promises that – if it comes to power in the future – it will demand that Gold Coins be pulled from circulation and that Silver Coins be minted.
    • Undermined by the tug-of-war between Power Politics and Protest Politics, the Gold Party is able to mint only 600 Gold Coins, rather than the 1000 they would have preferred.
    • However, in retribution, the Gold Party is successful in pulling 400 Silver Coins out of circulation – representing 40% of the 1000 Silver Coins that have been circulating in the economy. Thus, the Gold Party is successful in harming the Silver Party’s agenda.
    • RESULT FROM THE CONFLICT — The end result is Society with 600 Gold Coins in circulation, and 600 Silver Coins in circulation. The Gold Party will claim victory at “adding” 600 Gold Coins to the economy. The Silver Party will cry foul at losing 400 Silver Coins. Both parties will focus on their myopic issues, ignoring the larger concerns of the entire society. More importantly, the public is now dis-enfranchised, angry, and frustrated with the entire political process. In fact, both Silver and Gold Party supporters are convinced that their government delivers only fractional results, that their party fails to deliver on promises, and that the opposite political party must be further resisted.

 

SCENARIO #2 – Pivot Politics

Two political parties able to PIVOT towards, not away from the other…

  • Instead of trying to undermine the Gold Party, the Silver Party PIVOTS and agrees to support most of the Gold Party’s agenda. (This requires the Silver Party to admit that the Gold Party is the chosen majority of the people and that their agenda is going to move forward.)
  • In exchange for their general support, the Gold Party PIVOTS and changes their agenda from minting 1000 Gold Coins and pulling Silver Coins from circulation to minting 800 Gold Coins and also minting an additional 200 Silver Coins. (This requires the Gold Party to view the Silver Party more as ally rather than enemy. It also requires the Gold Party to build upon the Silver Party’s previous work rather than trying to dismantle it.)
  • The Silver Party would clearly gain in this scenario – producing an extra 200 Silver Coins and somewhat reducing the Gold Party’s aggressive 1000-Gold-Coin agenda. But, this scenario works only if the Silver Party has pivoted and has become more supportive, rather than resistant, to the Gold agenda.
  • In this scenario, the Gold Party would also benefit by pivoting. By gaining the partial support of the Silver Party today, the Gold Party has delivered most of their promised agenda, has quieted potential protest from the Silver party, and has most likely guaranteed that their agenda will be less likely to be reversed if and when the Silver Party once again becomes the majority party in the future.
  • RESULT FROM THE PIVOT — The end result is a societal gain of 800 Gold Coins and 200 Silver Coins, with the Political Parties working together rather than against one another. The total economy boasts 1800 coins in circulation rather than 1200. And, a satisfied public is also more likely as additional value is created by the political process and open conflict is reduced.

 

Admittedly, this fable of two political parties is greatly simplified. In the real world, differing agendas cannot always co-exist.  But, the concept of pivoting TOWARDS the opposite political party is the key principle to embrace.   Countries, businesses, and other organizations do this when both sides are threatened – i.e., predicament politics. The goals is to make this desire for progress the norm, rather than the exception reserved for desperate situations.

 

IV.  THE ELEPHANT-IN-THE-ROOM QUESTION

One might ask whether “Pivot Politics” is just a new, fancy term for “Consensus Building”. That’s a fair question.  And, for some people, and in some situations, the two concepts are one and the same.  That said, long term observations have shown that “consensus” is rarely about “pivoting”.  In fact, “consensus building” is normally about two or more parties…

  • …with significant overlap in their respective agendas;
  • …with no ability for any party to enact an agenda alone;
  • …and with both parties urgently needing to reach an agreement and unable to accept the status quo

In other words, consensus building is often minimalist in nature – each party giving and taking as little as possible; both parties negotiating on small issues in order to reach a final agreement; but neither party giving up much. It is two parties getting mostly what they want, because both parties mostly agree or their need is urgent. By definition, therefore, most “consensus building” is about “Predicament Politics” — both parties being forced to reach an agreement due to the problematic nature of the challenges being faced. And, likewise, “consensus building” is often about each party moving as little, rather than as much, as possible. In such cases, neither party truly pivots in their position.

Conversely, Pivot Politics is about pushing for agreements where no common ground exists.  It is about the majority enabling and allowing the minority to influence decisions, to set policy, and to share ideas.  Likewise, it is about the minority being willing to accept the decisions, leadership, and governance of the majority.  It is not about “compromise”.  It is about “progress”.

 

V.  AN EXTRAORDINARY EXAMPLE for an EXTRAORDINARY CONCEPT

To demonstrate how different Pivot Politics would be from our normal thinking, let us consider an extraordinary – even somewhat extreme and unrealistic – example from American politics and government.  Without question, the example might raise a few eyebrows or be seen as preposterous and improbable;  yet, it is exactly that type of mind-jarring shift in thinking that is needed if we hope to fundamentally change how politics works in the future!

HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE: The USA 2016 Presidential Election Reimagine

Few would disagree that the U.S. Presidential Election of 2016 was unlike any political event in history – an election that will undoubtedly be debated and studied for decades to come!

That said, let us consider one of the least understood, most frequently debated, and often maligned steps of the USA’s election process — the role of the Electoral College. As we all know, in 2016, it was the Electoral College that enabled the candidate who had lost the popular vote (Donald Trump) to still win the final election.  Although many believe that the popular vote should be the only determinant of the presidential election, the electoral college has always existed as a buffer between the public vote and the final decision as to who should be President.  Several reasons that this buffer exists…

Circuit Breaker — It is well known that the Founding Fathers feared tyranny – the rule of a few over the many. But, they also feared hysteria – the masses swept up by raw emotion ad confusion – unable to make a considered and careful decision as to who should lead the country. The Electoral College, therefore, was meant to be one last opportunity to intervene if and when the typical election process was seen to have failed. One could argue that 2016 was such a year – both parties nominated candidates they did not like, thus creating a sense of a “no win” election for the majority of voters.

Filter — The “two party” system is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, it is entirely possible for 3 or 4 credible candidates to be running for President which would make it ever less likely that one candidate would be elected with a majority of the popular vote. In such a circumstance, the Electoral College would serve to filter out minor candidates or candidates who appealed to a small region of the country.

Funnel – By forcing a candidate to win multiple statewide elections, rather than one nationwide vote tally, the Electoral College creates a funnel by which diverse interests, geographies, and values are merged into the national vote. In essence this protects – or magnifies – the minority voice above and beyond the sheer will of the majority.

Whether a person agrees or disagrees with the concept of the Electoral College, we often forget that it was designed to be an independent body — aligned to the public will, but able to exercise free choice in the election of the President. It is, in fact, both a political entity and a political process.  Therefore, it has always been possible – even if unlikely – that the Electors of the College could choose to elect a person as President who had not even been a candidate for the office. Evidence of this independence began to surface shortly after the election when organized efforts were launched to persuade some a few GOP electors to defect from their candidate, vote for Clinton, and sway the election towards the Democratic party. In many ways, this was a classic confrontation of Power versus Protestor Politics — a confrontation that accomplished nothing and that would have resulted in a country fractured and frustrated.That said, imagine what a very bold example of PIVOT Politics might have looked like…

    1. First, the Democrats conceding that the Republicans had legitimately won the election and that the country was destined to have a GOP President;
    2. Second, Hillary Clinton abandoning pride and protocol by releasing here electors from their philosophic duty to vote for her;
    3. Third, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party proposing that Democratic Electors should vote for a Republican candidate other than Trump – for example, a more moderate and experienced Republican such as Jeb Bush or John Kasich. And, at the same time, Clinton would have publicly encouraged Republican electors to also vote for the alternative Republican candidate.

In a world of constant “black vs. white” Conflict Politics, this seems like a bizarre concept.  Yet, if Clinton had pivoted, the Republican Party’s electors would have been given a viable option – rather than elect Trump whom they did not like and whom they questioned as fit for the Presidency, or support a Democrat which would have been an extreme act of political betrayal, they would have been offered the option of voting for a Republcan candidate seen to be both politically acceptable and fit for office.  To vote for this new candidate would have simply required Republican Electors to pivot, holding true to the key outcomes they valued, but also being able to include the minority voice in the decision process.

Admittedly, this example is extreme. But, the Political Status Quo in the USA is unprecedented – one of the worst political environments and situations the USA has ever faced.  Still new in his administration, President Trump has been divisive, ineffective, and disruptive.  Most of the country is now more dissatisfied, more disillusioned, and more disgusted with politics than ever before.  One could imagine that a “coalition” President – supported, even if as a second choice, by the Democrats, and aligned with the Republicans – might have been able to bring the USA together on a forward-looking agenda.   It is likely that a President, elected via pivot politics would be destined to practice pivot politics across their entire administration. One could imagine four or eight years of unprecedented cooperation and progress.

 VI.  CONCLUSION

Pivot Politics would not be without risk or controversy. In fact, it will take tremendous courage for leaders in business, politics, and society to shift how political discourse is conducted in the United States.  But, we must remind ourselves that the political status quo is not working and is not sustainable.  Except for those rare instances of Predicament Politics when something MUST be done, the political status quo of Power vs. Protest — as the only avenue of political discourse — is doing more harm than good.  Conflict, distrust, and gridlock are becoming deeply embedded norms without our societal, commercial, and political infrastructure.  We need to embrace a different norm.  We need to demand that our politicians, our business leaders, our social exemplars, and others embrace, practice, and accept Pivot Politics as the only logical way forward – to unify our Society, to heal our politics, and to satisfy the public.

[1] PIVOT – When an athlete “pivots” their position or their body, one foot is stationary — firmly planted in a set position, while the other foot moves away from where it was originally planted. This combination of staying fixed AND moving at the same time is an exact metaphor of what Pivot Politics requires – keeping one foot firmly planted in a person’s traditional beliefs, while partially moving onto an opponent’s terrain.

[2] Note: If POWER and PROTEST Politics is the “natural” state of political affairs, and if PREDICAMENT Politics is a “temporary” state affairs, then PIVOT Politics can best be categorized as an “intentional” state of affairs – an approach to political interaction that is thoughtful, purposeful, and consciously embraced.