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Divided We Fall

Why Consensus Matters

By Alice M. Rivlin

Partisan warfare and gridlock in Washington threaten to squander America’s opportunity to show the world that democracy can solve serious economic problems and ensure widely shared prosperity. Instead of working together to meet the challenges ahead—an aging work force, exploding inequality, climate change, rising debt—our elected leaders are sabotaging our economic future by blaming and demonizing each other in hopes of winning big in the next election. They are weakening America’s capacity for world leadership and the case for democracy here and abroad.

Alice M. Rivlin, with decades of experience in economic policy making, argues that proven economic policies could lead to sustainable American prosperity and opportunity for all, but crafting them requires the tough, time-consuming work of consensus building and bipartisan negotiation. In a divided country with shifting majorities, major policies must have bipartisan buy-in and broad public support. Otherwise we will have either destabilizing swings in policy or total gridlock in the face of challenges looming at us.

Rivlin believes that Americans can and must save our hyper-partisan politicians from themselves. She makes the case that on many practical economic issues the public is far less divided than partisan politicians and sensationalist media would have us believe. She draws attention to numerous hopeful efforts to bridge partisan and ideological divides in Washington, in state capitols and city governments, and communities around the country, and advocates a major national effort to enable citizens and future leaders to learn and practice in the art of listening to each other and working together to find common ground.

This book is a practical guide for Americans across the political spectrum who are agonizing over partisan warfare, incivility, and policy gridlock and looking for ways they can help to get our democratic policy process back on a constructive track before it is too late.

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