The United States of America began as a radical experiment to demonstrate that a representative democracy built on a written Constitution was actually possible. With a Declaration of Independence premised on the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and a Constitution that opens with the remarkable phrase, “We the people,” our core values – liberty, equality, and self-government – were, from our founding, aspirational and unequally applied. We have learned that though democracy is indeed possible, it is far from inevitable. Throughout our history, many have fought to realize the promise of democracy, moving us on our journey through acts of service, struggle, and self-sacrifice.
America’s recent pain and polarization are reminders that our imperfect union still falls far short in delivering on its promise to all citizens. We now also face a new challenge – democracy in America is in danger. As we approach the 250th anniversary of our independence in 2026, we see our democratic values, norms and systems being challenged in new ways. Fractured social bonds, loss of trust in elections, candidates signaling they may not accept the peaceful transfer of power, faltering faith in institutions, distrust of facts and information, and increased violence pose deep threats to our democratic system. Democracy is fragile absent an active commitment to nurture and protect it.
We must learn from the past and redouble our efforts to secure a democratic future for the next 250 years, a future grounded in greater racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious pluralism. Our democracy must be resilient, self-sustaining and engaging as our country becomes more diverse; demonstrate its ability to responsibly and equitably address our society’s most pressing challenges; empower individuals and institutions to engage in shaping solutions; and build a generation of responsible leaders who can work together to solve public challenges across differences. Our democracy must be bound by a commitment to free and fair elections and to the rule of law, showing respect for majority rule and minority dissent. Our democracy must enable a competition of ideas based on trusted news and information. Our system must function with accountability, transparency, and responsiveness, upholding the dignity and equality of every individual. And, it must make a place for all to serve and participate.
More Perfect is an alliance of 12 Presidential Centers, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Karsh Institute for Democracy at the University of Virginia, and more than 100 organizations that have freely chosen to unite around a big idea – the advancement of Sustainable Democracy Goals.
Our five Sustainable Democracy Goals are designed to drive collective action for democratic change, just as the Millennium Development Goals and the subsequent Sustainable Development Goals transformed a highly fragmented approach to major global challenges into a more integrated strategy across sectors, stakeholders, and countries.
Our Sustainable Democracy Goals were inspired by evidence-based reports over many years, including most recently by the recommendations of the 2020 report, Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century, produced by the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Over a two-year period, this bipartisan Commission of top leaders and experts conducted nearly 50 listening sessions in cities and towns around the country and solicited the stories and experiences of hundreds of Americans from different demographic and political backgrounds. This represents a ground-up effort.
Inspired by the Our Common Purpose report and wide-ranging consultations, we identified five fundamental Sustainable Democracy Goals to protect and renew our democracy:
While there are other worthy goals, we believe these five goals collectively reflect the key cornerstones of a sustainable and vigorous democracy.
We previewed the goals at a convening with key philanthropic leaders and practitioners in the fall of 2022 sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. We also undertook focus groups and a nationally representative survey of the American people to understand how they view democracy today, what binds us together, what is worth preserving, and how they view the five Sustainable Democracy Goals. These discussions and reviews improved our work significantly.
While each of the five Sustainable Democracy Goals can stand alone, they are designed to be mutually re-enforcing. Indeed, they have an underlying logic in presentation – starting with civic learning among young people, a rite of passage through national service and volunteering, cultivating the skills of bridge building, participating in a system that is fair and representative, and every step of the way depending on some sense of shared truth. In each case, the goals work to strengthen the foundations of our democracy, preserve liberty, foster equality, and create a more perfect union.
In short, we believe the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and More Perfect will be advancing the Sustainable Democracy Goals as a framework for collective action across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to support and renew our democracy.
As we seek to mobilize action with the Sustainable Democracy Goals, we are reaching out to more than 100 experts and organizations across America to develop simple, actionable, and measurable targets for each goal – and plans to meet them – which, if realized, would drive progress between now and 2026, the 250th anniversary of American independence, and beyond.
As part of this process, we have engaged General Stanley McChrystal and the McChrystal Group to work with More Perfect and core teams representing each of the five Sustainable Democracy Goals to develop “investible” action plans to achieve the relevant targets, ensure coordination across teams, and foster accountability for progress.
The Sustainable Democracy Goals are intended to unleash innovation among leaders, institutions, and Americans across politics, sectors, backgrounds, and beliefs to help achieve them. Although our plans provide a variety of ways to advance these goals, we know that other approaches will be pursued and efforts will unfold at the local, state, and national levels that we have not contemplated. We also recognize that not everyone will agree with each of the various approaches to achieve the goals, but we hope that More Perfect will inspire Americans across their differences to make common cause. After all, it’s our democracy.