Jacksonians And Jeffersonians

Our nation is changing, some feel for the better and others for the worse. Many cry out, “we are no longer a Christian nation.” Others say that we are quickly heading to hell. On an on it goes. Who is right? Or better yet is this a zero sum event, where one side is right and the other wrong? I don’t know, but it is an interesting road of thought to travel.

Has the United States changed? Absolutely! Has it become more diverse? Absolutely! Has our social mores changed? Absolutely! Has the general population become more affluent? Absolutely! Has technology changed to make our lives easier? Absolutely! Yes, the United States has changed immensely over my lifetime. Are the social, economic, and political changes that have occurred good? It depends on what you mean by the term good.

I ran across a term this morning that intrigued me, the term was Jacksonian. Jacksonians are people who, “are suspicious of federal power; skeptical about do-gooding at home and abroad; they oppose federal taxes but favor benefits such as Social Security and Medicare that they regard as earned. Jacksonians are anti-elitist; they believe that the political and moral instincts of ordinary people are usually wiser than those of the experts and while problems are completed, solutions are simple.” We see this typology in many of our heroes, the Lone Ranger, Dirty Harry, and even John Wayne. They are the strong and silent type always doing the right thing.

The article I was reading took this description and applied it to the Tea Party. The writer described the Tea Party “as Jacksonian America, aroused, angry, and above all fearful, in full revolt against the new elite – backed by the new American demography – that threatens its interests and scorns its values.” I think the operative word here is fearful. The Jacksonians see the world around them changing and they don’t like it. Is this bad? Evil? Bad for America? Absolutely not!

Another term in my reading was Jeffersonian. Jeffersonians believe in the “Republic, as a form of government, and equality of political opportunity, with a priority for the yeoman farmer, planters, and the plain-folk. They were antagonistic to the aristocratic elitism of merchants and manufacturers, distrusted factory workers, and were on the watch for supporters of the dreaded British system of government.” Jeffersonians advocated for a strong local government, instead of a big central government.

Obviously there are similarities within these two viewpoints and differences. However, things seemed to be simpler in the days of Jefferson and Jackson. We were a country that was growing. We were expanding our borders; we were dealing with growing pains; and learning how to run an expanding government. We had just finished fighting an oppressive regime while creating an entrepreneurial country. What occurs at the point of start up is much different than when a business is mature and heading into decline.

Our organization, country, is at a crisis point. It is a crisis of leadership. Mature organizations will often need to create new strategy to recover what has been lost. Mature organizations often have complacent leadership; leadership that has lost its edge.

In the words of Malcolm Gladwell, the above characteristics, such as complacent leadership, are associated with moving from being a David to being a Goliath. The drive and ingenuity that made David successful is lost, and by becoming a Goliath we think that because of our size and strength we are undefeatable. This leads to an affluency trap. The affluency trap is a mental-model that captures the organizations thinking leading to loss of effort, quality, and subsequent success.

This is what has happened to our country. We have been on the top of the heap for so long, that we now take for granted our success. We have lost our hunger and ability to adapt to changing environments. We want to keep what we have, but have lost the will to fight for it. Our ability to do the right thing has been overshadowed by our elitist mentality, expressed in the desire to maintain political power rather than making good decisions. Both Jackson and Jefferson are turning over in their graves right now.

We have put on so much armor we can’t even move to generate the right amount of energy to fight. We are vulnerable, and if we don’t change some David is going to come along and sling a rock at us at 150 mile-per-hour, hit us in the forehead, and take our head.

I hope our political leaders prove me wrong and actually accomplish something, but I am not holding my breath. The stone is on its way, and our armor is so heavy we cannot move quickly.

And that is my thought for the day!


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