With the People: An Introduction to an Idea

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In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, and he spoke of an ideal of government, one that is of, by, and for the people. Do Americans today think our government is really “of” the people? That’s debatable. “By” the people? Doubtful. “For” the people? Perhaps for some, sometimes.

This Cousins Research Group Report, based on a forthcoming book by David Mathews, suggests trying another preposition—government with the people. It offers a strategy for bridging some of the divide separating the people of the United States from their government and from the country’s major institutions. It envisions a form of collaboration that would have institutions working with citizens, not just for them. Such a “with strategy” sees people as creators and producers rather than consumers or clients. It encourages collaboration through mutually reinforcing efforts between the citizenry and the government, and that could have a cumulative effect on the troubles that our democracy faces.

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