If it feels like elections do not matter as much as they used to, you are not alone. While we hear about the president every day, it can be difficult to know what our congressmen and senators are up to. We often hear more about the elections than the policies these public officials actually enact and implement. So all we see is partisan deadlock.
Whole Presidencies fall prey to this inertia now. After 2010, the Obama administration ran into a brick wall anytime it tried passing something through the Republican-controlled legislature. Now the Trump administration is facing similar roadblocks from the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives. Gridlock in DC has been a punchline for years but after the last decade, it’s never felt more unavoidable.
This lack of feedback the deadlock creates is partially due to how divided the whole nation is. Separate news tailored to separate beliefs reinforcing entrenched divisions will naturally create a system averse to change. Maybe that’s why Axios has been saying, “CEOs are the new politicians”. Because as gridlocked as Washington is, the market economy is as responsive as ever. It has to be.
While politicians can forsake their constituents in favor of deep-pocket donors, CEOs have no such luxury. They provide what their customers want, when they want it, or someone else will. Market competition ensures this, keeping corporate leaders responsive to their consumer base.
For example, activists and talking heads have pleaded with Facebook for years to do something about misleading political ads. All that hot air did nothing meaningful but a few weeks of advertisers boycotting the site and the company is considering a ban on all political ads this election season.
Similarly, the Washington Redskins have resisted decades of pleas to change their name. After investors pressured some of the teams biggest advertisers to divest, a name change suddenly became inevitable.
The pattern here is that, as soon as revenue was threatened, the gridlock ended. The credible threat of lost profit spurred action in a way voters alone couldn’t because money has the voice that voters should have, but don’t.
The reporting from Axios mentioned earlier also alludes to another trend: In their elevation of the economy above almost every other issue, politicians have ceded much of their social leadership to the heads of the private sector. New trends in climate interaction, egalitarianism, and even traditionally political aspects of life like free speech are now driven by CEO announcements and corporate policy, leaving politicians to react from the sidelines.
While this is a problem for our democracy, it does not mean all hope is lost. We just have to recognize the harsh truth that we’re sometimes more powerful as consumers than as voters. And while it is critical to keep electing politicians with integrity and vision, we also need to vote with our wallets every single day.