Richard Levick on Democracy: An Owner’s Manual

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo by Zach Dischner

“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.”

—Marie Curie 

It’s been nearly 35 years now since my late father and I had taken our seats about eight rows behind the Washington Capitals’ goal when a late-arriving fan, juggling a couple of beers and hot dogs, asked to get by. With the National Anthem about to start, my father politely but in a voice that begged respect said, “In a moment, after we stand at attention.” The other fan stood with us, and as “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!” faded into cheers, we parted – and the guest found his way to his seat.

When he was out of earshot, my father turned to me in one of the few moments of instantaneous doubt I can recall in our near 60-year journey together, and said, “I don’t know why I did that. I guess, because no matter how many years have gone by, every time I hear that song, I am transported back to the Korean War, we were firing mortar guns and one minute my buddy was there and the next, he was gone.”

Like so many veterans, he didn’t talk about the war until the second half of his life and by the end, it had taken on a size that said it was among the most important things he had ever done. As I get older, I finally understand the beauty and pain of looking backwards, the tears that well up just behind the eyes, the throat that suddenly feels constricted. It happens a lot these days, such as when I hear a song by the late John Prine, ever-present since my high school days, surviving both neck and throat cancer but not the Coronavirus; or seeing photos of people spontaneously dancing, V-J Day-like, in the streets on Saturday. We are a non-partisan agency and I count close friends – and of course, thousands of business relationships – on both sides of the aisle, not to mention a battalion of relationships around the globe. But Saturday, for a brief and shining moment, decency won, and it is worth praising…and drying the eye.

When democracy was a theory, by the likes of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (and had its first social influencer in Alexis de Tocqueville!), they understood that representative democracy needed to not only be explored but explained. It wasn’t monarchy or theocracy, but a radical concept where in 85 essays they explained how and why rule by the people (for the Originalist, this initially meant only 11% of the population) could work. But it took Thomas Paine, the only non-landed member of the Founding Fathers – a delicious irony – to write the owner’s manual, in what would become the thirteen-colonies’ first best seller, Common Sense, selling 500,000 copies when our population was 2.5 million. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that would be like selling 65 million books in America today.

Common Sense spoke to how the average person could participate in a Republic – participation being the watchword as genuflecting had been the reflex of the day. We needed it, as the leap from monarchy to republic was a broad one. But no bigger a leap than from republic to democracy, which is where we have been for the past 20 years when the Internet changed everything, and everyone is Walter Cronkite, Annie Leibovitz and Cecil B. DeMille.

Where’s our owner’s manual today? How do we civilly engage in a hyper democracy when everyone has a megaphone, the reasoned and unreasoned? The wise and the exploiter? The righteous and the vulgar?

Into this void we wanted to do our small part, providing a series of programming and podcasts in areas where we can provide safe, intelligent and insightful forums for discussion on the issues of the day. For companies seeking to understand how to better lead on issues of interest to the African-American and minority business communities, we have partnered with Clark Atlanta University, launching The Innovators; for those trying to influence Washington from foreign shores, we have partnered with Foreign Lobby Report, with The Influencers; and for those interested in tech and emerging companies, we are launching From Garage to Global, with Silicon Valley sherpa and lawyer Louis Lehot.

As always, we continue to run our daily and weekly podcasts with the Corporate Counsel Business Journal in North America and In-House Community in Asia-MENA-UK, respectively. A shout out to CommPRO, which graciously shares many of these programs to its audience of 200,000 people on a weekly basis.

It’s one small step for humankind, but it seems a good time to provide forums where intelligent, insightful and decent conversations reign.

Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick

1 Comment

  1. Ron Misko on at 5:29 AM

    Inspirational and insightful. We would all benefit from re-reading — and re-understanding — our Democracy Owner’s Manual.

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