Political Polarization and Turf Before Trust.

Hyper-partisanship is Creating Extremist Politics

I have commented extensively on the Reboot Alberta Facebook Group and on social media about the destructive hyperpartisanship in Alberta’s broken political culture.

While that dynamic was true in the time preceding, during, and after the April 2019 provincial election, especially during Legislature sittings. Times have changed but political partisanship is still a driving force in governance. The UCP is still intent on beating up on the NDP and it’s Base supporters like unions, professionals, and academics.

The NDP is no longer as intent on beating up on the UCP as its prime political purpose. We still have a strong partisan flavored ideologically-based opposition criticism from the NDP Opposition, and that’s to be expected in our Adversarial model of politics.  But they are offering some serious pragmatic criticism of UCP policy beyond leftist-based ideological perspectives.

Fixin’ for a Fight or Fighting for a Fix?

What’s different now is the NDP Caucus is not just spouting political propaganda and partisan rhetoric.  That is in contrast to the UCP, who is still stuck in the “fixin’ for a fight” model of political discourse. The NDP is offering serious concerns and criticism on the intent and consequences of the hard-right Republican-Esque UCP political agenda, policy approaches, and program changes.

The hyperpartisanship of the recent past has not disappeared but it has evolved even though we are still seeing political tactics and strategy based on polarization. That means we need more non-partisan citizen engagement in politics and policy development where we are more about fighting for a fix to solve the complex challenges we are facing. This is because we are still stuck in the antiquated, almost medieval adversarial winner-loser partisan political culture mindset that sees achieving power as the primary purpose.

Swinging from Left or Right, Boom or Bust, Black or White and Political Paralysis

Our hyper-polarized political culture now offers a binary choice between a Left or Right ideological option. The purpose of politics, as exercised through political parties, too often controlled by self-serving Bases, is to gain political power and then impose an ideological worldview on all Albertan citizens.

We need to move from a political culture of division and debate and embrace a human-centered collaborative design approach to problem-solving and opportunity seeking. All of us are smarter than any of us, and ideological extremists are pathologically toxic to prosperity and progress. Is the reality in Alberta that we are a long way off from embracing any shift in consciousness towards a Moderate Theory of Change?

The Kennedy-controlled UCP government is not delivering good policies and programs based on Moderate and Progressive primary values. They lack any commitment to authentic Transparency, Accountability, Openness, Honesty, Integrity, and Stewardship. They are failing us in all aspects of applying those fundamental political cultural values that Alberta Moderates believe in.

We Albertans are facing increasingly complex issues, personally and provincially. We need to increase our ability to collaborate across sectors, regions, and interests.  We need to start including people we have never had to work with before, the “Others” whom we are more used to fighting against.

Beyond Crude, Crass, and Closed

Henry Mintzberg in his book “Rebalancing Society” notes the western democracy reality is siloed sectors of the public through government, the private sector via markets, and the community sector of civil society groups and institutions.  He notes that:

“Each sector suffers from a potentially fatal flaw.  Government can be crude. Markets can be crass. and communities can be closed.”  

He goes further to note:

“Crudeness, crassness, and closed-ness are countered when each sector takes its appropriate place in society, cooperating with the other two while helping to keep both- and their institutions – in check.”

I am struck by the insights of Adam Kahane in his book “Collaborating with the Enemy” about the challenges we are facing when he wrote:

“We live in a complicated time. It is a divisive and polarizing era in which we respond by constantly seeking like-mindedness. We have a growing number of ways to meet up with people similar to ourselves. We are drawn to people with the same interests, same taste, same politics. Every time I buy something online, I am told what other people like me also bought. And it works. We live in a time of growing alienation and isolation. We are losing trust in our institutions and our governments to act in our interests. Most of our elections are variations on a ‘no’ vote. We have growing economic divisions, ideological divisions, and contests over values.”

Levels of Trust amongst citizens as persons and as groups within society, as well as our political leaders, our democratic institutions, and our economic systems are in serious and accelerating decline.

Personal alienation and isolation are growing and exacerbated by the strictures of COVID while tribalism is expanding and intensifying at the same time. We are not building Trust, we are creating Turf. We are increasingly focused on getting what we want based on what we believe in.

We are less aware of or caring about other points of view and perspectives. As a result, we see the decline of empathy and compassion for the “Others” and our social cohesion falls apart. Worse yet, we are seeing those with other perspectives as not just the “Others” but also as the “Enemy.”

Personal attacks become normative and co-creative community-building disappears as we stake out our Turf and reject any effort to establish Trust with others. We are institutionalizing Tuf over Trust with the Kenney War Room and the ironically secretive “Public Inquiry” into certain Anti-Albertan activities by those deemed as UnAlbertan individuals and organizations by Mr. Kenney.

Time for Radical Renewal?

We have a fairly clear idea as to where we are today as Albertans. We have lots of evidence to show how we got here. What we don’t have is a clear-eyed sense of where we are going, what we aspire to be, and what we need to do in our striving to achieve those aspirations.

We need to change the arc of Alberta’s political evolution.  We are out-of-balance and living in a rapidly changing high-speed world disorder that is out of control, thanks in part, but not exclusively, due to COVID.  How can we shift away from the democratic debilitating limits of Left or Right ideological options?  How can we define, design, and deploy some adaptive and even lofty ideals in the name of renewal without a revolution?  That is amongst the core questions of effective citizenship and central to the beating heart of the spirit of Reboot Alberta.

So stay tuned, stay attuned, and do not tune out.

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