The United States is losing its influence in the world. As a Canadian politician recently said to me, "The U.S. has malaise." Other nations are losing their respect for us, too, given our budget woes, dysfunctional government and the recent revelations that we have been spying on our friends. Even worse, we are losing respect for ourselves. Look no further than the level of discourse in the elections that wrapped up around the nation this week, particularly in Virginia, where I spend a good deal of my time. Voters were pulled into bitter, partisan and disturbing bickering rather than elevated, positive debate about extremely important issues facing the commonwealth.
The Virginia race exemplifies the state of politics around the country. Facing a tough economy and difficult political issues, our leaders consistently refuse to cooperate with one another. Ordinary citizens are turning on each other over petty disagreements. Meanwhile, our nation's biggest challenges go unresolved.
For years, the U.S. has been the most optimistic nation on Earth. Sadly, political squabbling and refusal to compromise has many of us wondering if we will ever solve the problems facing our nation. Too often, our political leaders refuse even to address the issues, preferring to stave off big decisions until later. Meanwhile, our nation has become more polarized than it has been any time since the Civil War.
After the September 11 attacks, Americans rallied together to face a common enemy. Now, perhaps because we don't face an imminent external enemy, our political leaders instead divide the American people. Tea party members attack those who view government as a solution to the problems of the less fortunate. Too many progressives attack the successful and the business community as evil and greedy. All of this is encouraged by politicians who prey on the prejudices of their constituents to gain political points.
The increasing hostility and lack of civility and respect for those who serve in government and for each other doesn't just divide us as Americans. It also has economic consequences. Our flat economy and the actual decline in the percentage of Americans with jobs can be directly attributed to our political leadership, or lack of it. The sluggish economic recovery leaves us in a state of limbo which with Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests will take another three years to stabilize.
Meanwhile, business owners and executives can't overcome economic disincentives for hiring because they have a real sense of being under attack by our political leadership. Businesses struggle under huge, incomprehensible laws and regulations. They have to deal with millions of lawyers bolstered by a legal system that encourages litigation. We already have dozens of laws on the books that push jobs and investment overseas. And as we have seen recently with Congress' refusal to compromise when we were faced with a government shutdown, even those who claim to think business is good have an agenda. They are less focused on jobs and more focused on forcing their view on everyone else.
Until recently the world viewed the U.S. as the gold standard. Other nations tried to emulate our ideal and practice of democracy. We worked through problems and compromised to make rational decisions for the good of our nation.
Sadly, we are devolving from the great nation we were into a society of quarreling children. Many of us seek to restore our nation as the "shining city" it used to be. We want to return to a strong economy and foster world stability. Instead of working toward these goals, our elected representatives argue and take uncompromising positions to gain political advantage. Rather than addressing our problems, they kick the can down the road, extending them to future generations.
Enough already. It's time for average Americans -- people who care less about party labels and more about a strong nation -- to stand up. We need to demand that our elected leaders work together for the benefit of all Americans. A good start would be to sign on with the fast-growing No Labels organization and make our voices heard in Congress. This movement includes Democrats, Republicans and Independents who agree to put the nation before their party label. No Labels holds Congress accountable for enacting real solutions by working together across party lines.
It's up to the American people to stand up and fight for the changes we so desperately need in our nation. If they don't, our kids will pay the price and we will be weaker as a nation. A simple agreement to try to work together regardless of party affiliation may be our only hope to get ourselves back on track before it's too late.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.