American Democracy — Screaming for Iteration and Leadership

240 years of independence, 400+ years of [racial] inequity, a federal political system devoid of suitable leadership

As a country, a majority, a prospectively aligned populous, we represent a growth stage enterprise that has lost its way and must iterate. As a Nation, we no longer aim for a higher purpose; we do not know or laud what is important for the evolution of democratic civilization. We take opposing positions and throw words, bricks, and worse at each other. We see only what we perceive as truth. We chase page views and popularity over data driven outcomes. Allow me to explain.

The United States of America is a capitalist, albeit democratic economy governed by a political system stemming from and representing a salad bowl of religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds. But the term United should be preceded with the adverb Loosely — or Phonily — or Parsimoniously.

Source: National Archives

Consider the third to last paragraph of the United States of America’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence:

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

The founders and authors of the Declaration of Independence delineated 27 complaints against King George III. These founders were the colony’s aristocracy; they were not what one might deem the oppressed masses. However, they rightly believed that “a [Prince] whose character is thus makes by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Consider the current elected leader of USA, Donald Trump. Further consider President Trump’s PolitiFact Scorecard below:

The above statistics from a Pulitzer prize winning organization avail that President Trump speaks an untruth over 75% of the time. Maybe, just maybe, this is the kind of tone required to get things done in American politics. Or just maybe this is how you get short term deals done (read: elected alongside a manipulation of mainstream media). But is this how you unify a divided country? Is this how you serve ALL or even most of the people?

Let’s recall the abhorrent activity in Charlottesville, Virginia over the last few days. The neo-Nazi, white supremacist people who marched with torches, injured and took lives through their march are, as a former New York Senator stated, deplorable. To shame, cast down, or suppress a law-abiding human (or living species) because they look, sound, or act differently is indecent. It is ignorance, abuse, racism, prejudice, fixed mindset and often narcissism; they all go hand in hand. It makes you wonder how many of these folks have high EQ. But each human is mortal and judgement day comes to all. Then, I believe, there is clarity. The goal, however, is to minimize the carnage along the way.

Image Credit: Vox, NPR, Brandon Brooks, and Womens March.

I lived, taught, and coached middle and high school adolescents for three years in Charlottesville in the mid-1990s. I will admit that the rural effect was prevalent in Cville but that the intelligent, progressively-tilted culture therein outweighed all others. I must also state that, although it was a federal holiday, MLK Day was not formally observed by Virginia in the mid-1990s. I’m sure there was good reason. I am also sure that there are Virginians alive today who rue the day that General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, that everyone north of the Potomac is a damn Yankee, and that everyone south of Blacksburg is a NRA card-carrying redneck.

So, what happened in Charlottesville, you ask? Democracy run amok. Democracy languishing behind lackluster leadership. Democracy screaming for iteration and leadership.

Allow me to diverge slightly. Remember Walter Scott, the black man who was gunned down from behind in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015? Check out at least the first couple of minutes of a documentary by a young white Toronto man’s foray into the treatment of Walter Scott.

In a different century, a very different Walter Scott, this one a white Scotsman, novelist, poet, playwright, once quipped:

“We build statues out of snow and weep to see them melt.”

Much of what drove the white nationalists to legally protest in Charlottesville over the weekend was the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. Yes, it’s more than that but fear of the elimination of a history held dear must be one’s right. Until this fear meets rancor — and triggers violence.

Image Credit:

Okay, so what’s this really about? Fear? Change? Control? Fixed versus growth mindset? James Baldwin posited an astute thesis in a 1965 debate with William Buckley.

“What we are not facing is the results of what we’ve done. What one begs the American people to do for ALL our sakes is simply to accept our history. Until the moment comes when we the American, we the American people, we are trying to forge a new identity for which we need each other. Until this moment, there is scarcely any hope for the ‘American dream’ because the people who are denied their participation in it by there very presence will wreck it.”

If you are curious about and like objective data, you can track the 1,000+ biased events in the month following the last presidential election here. The Southern Poverty Law Center is a great resource for data dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.

I am an imperfect citizen, a person in middle age with increasingly transparent prejudices. I do not do enough to right the wrong, but I likely do more than the average. I am Baltimore born, where race, equity, and education are complicated. The intractable poverty, the drugs and associated homicide rate, an inconsistent, inequitable education system are all impediments to success. But, you laud the wins. I graduated high school in very different circumstances at the same time as the best boys high school basketball team this country has likely ever known. In the early 1980s, Baltimore’s Dunbar High School became a national powerhouse, where a selfless coach and administration supported a way for a least a handful of students to find a way up and out — largely up and to the right. Quite a few of the young men on an indelibly remarkable Baltimore high school basketball team found a way forward, on to college, on to careers that they would otherwise not have accomplished. If you’re not familiar with the story, I suggest you watch ESPN’s documentary entitled Baltimore Boys.

Today’s Baltimore is portrayed in the lower part of the above image. In it resides an opportunity for Baltimore’s black male youth to significantly outweigh the current probability of success. If you don’t know the successes of Baltimore Collegiate, you soon will. But there are not enough stories such as this. The media prefers the unjust stories and hate crimes of Charlottesville, Freddie Gray (Baltimore, MD), and Walter Scott (Charleston, SC), Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO), Tamir Rice (Cleveland, OH), and Portland (OR), and on and on and on. These acts of hate, bigotry, and oppression exist in a complex citizenry but can be diminished and muted with the right, courageous leadership. We do NOT have this leadership in 2017.

Democracy is tough. It is volatile. It requires thick skin. It only works with a growth mindset, with the belief that to succeed there is purpose where, when unified, we are stronger than when divided. Failure moreover learning is a part of the journey.

Midday yesterday availed an example of active, certainly communicative leadership, the kind of leadership we must have at the helm of this country. Thank you Towson University President Schatzel for crisp, clear thoughts on an otherwise very upsetting Sunday, for calling out the incidents in Charlottesville for exactly what they are. TU, Baltimore, and Maryland are fortunate to have you.

Frank Bonsal III is an education innovation leader, investor and lifelong advocate of education equity. His email is

Teacher-Coach turned Investor-Coach focused on the future of learning and work. ✊