Thomas W. Ross Delivers Keynote on Imminent Threats to Democracy

Thursday, August 8, 2019
Education NC

[This article is based on an excerpt from "Seeking Signs of Hope for a Fragile Democracy,"  originally published by Education NC.]

In an interview with Mebane Rash, president of the Governmental Research Association (GRA) at the GRA annual conference awards dinner in St. Petersburg, Florida, Thomas W. Ross, president of the Volcker Alliance, discussed the diminishing talent pipeline into government and the great danger it poses to our democracy. He also shared that the Alliance's research shows disaffection with state and local government does not reach the depths of discontent with gridlocked national affairs.

Still, Ross said, “Democracy is fragile right now, more fragile than when we went through civil rights, when we went through Watergate, when we went through impeachment.”

The decline in trust pre-dates the Trump presidency, but Ross said Trump is an expression of it. He pointed to the wealth divide and gerrymandering as factors in eroding common ground.

GRA organizations work to bring data-based analysis to public leaders and to promote effectiveness in the day-to-day workings of government. Ross urged more attention to the aging of the governmental workforce and the relative dearth of young professionals entering public service.

“If we can’t attract talent into public service,” he said, “then government will not only continue to lose trust, it will actually not function well.” Without talent, he said, “our civil society won’t survive.”

For his part, Ross expressed hope that Americans will not give up on the “general welfare” injunction of the Constitution. Americans, he said, would discover “a lot more common ground when we sit down and listen.”

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