Letter from the President
Liberals embrace progress and love the new; conservatives hold to tradition and revere the old. But often the best way to move forward is not to tear down but to renew: giving new life to the best of what is old while rejecting and discarding the worst. It’s time to talk about that renewal.
Couples renew their vows to enter a new phase in their marriage. Nations can renew their ideals to enter a new phase in their history. George W. Bush made this point in 2017: “To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.” Barack Obama captured this same dynamic in his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, telling his audience: “We are called to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up to the legacy of our forebears and the promise of future generations.”
New America reaffirmed our own goals and values in 2017, adopting a mission and vision statement that clarifies what we seek, who we are, and how we work. We are dedicated to renewing America by continuing the quest to realize our nation's highest ideals, honestly confronting the challenges caused by rapid technological and social change, and seizing the opportunities those changes create. We are pursuing that mission as a new kind of think and action tank: a civic platform that brings thinkers and doers together, combining our traditional policy expertise with the insights and solutions provided by technologists, data scientists, and local problem-solvers. And we continue to attract and nurture the best storytellers anywhere, across multiple media.
2017 was a year in which we took important steps to realize our aspirations, beginning with the expansion of our national network. I have had the privilege of studying networks as a scholar for over twenty years. In The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World (Yale: 2017), I wrote about how to design networks to cross-fertilize ideas and catalyze action. New America is putting those ideas into practice, building a network of hubs, research partners, and organizations across the country, including, most recently, New America Indianapolis, which launched in October 2017 under the able leadership of Molly Martin. Our goal in each community is to surface, share, and scale solutions: to tap into and broadcast the processes of renewal already taking place from the ground up and the heartland out.
Our network includes relationships with a number of America’s public universities, many of which are growing and innovating to provide their students with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the new America. We have been close partners with Arizona State University (ASU) since 2010. This year, the ASU-New America Center on the Future of War launched a Master’s degree program in Global Security, developed with New America’s international security experts, allowing us to draw on the experience and insights of a talented group of former government officials, military officers, and defense practitioners. Building on the ASU model, in 2017 we launched a new partnership between Florida International University and our Cybersecurity Initiative, tapping into the extraordinary diversity and innovation of a major public research university in one of the nation’s most dynamic cities. Southern New Hampshire University also supports several of our national fellows and brings them to campus.
New technologies are driving the renewal of our economy and society, even as they help concentrate economic and political power and contribute to rising inequality. New America announced our first class of Public Interest Technology Fellows in June 2017. Their work spans immigration, foster care, criminal justice, financial inclusion, the opioid epidemic, and more. These fellows are applying not only their technological expertise, but also a broader “engineer’s mindset” to law, economics, and politics. Our goal is to develop public interest technology as a tool of social change just as public interest law is one tool in the toolbox available for solving public problems. Together with the Ford Foundation, Code for America, Mozilla, and Civic Hall, we are experimenting with how technologists can have maximum impact working with government and, particularly, civic organizations.
Finally, New America remains committed to transparency and editorial independence. We created a committee this past Fall to think about concrete ways to preserve the integrity and reputation of our work. After 19 years of growth, we are bigger now than we’ve ever been, facing new challenges, but also new opportunities to set high standards.
The committee was led by Kevin Carey and comprised five staff members, Board Member Zachary Karabell, and Ethan Zuckerman, director of the MIT Center for Civic Media. It recommended, and the board adopted, an industry-leading policy not only to be fully transparent about who our donors are (New America does not accept anonymous donations) but also about what programs their funds support. We have also adopted a very specific process for communicating our expectations of complete independence in our research and writing to our funders. Equally important, we are implementing several internal changes recommended by the committee to ensure that our standards of mutual respect and collegiality are enforced and risks to reputation are duly considered.
New America has never been stronger nor more influential. As Lenny Mendonca, who became our new board chair last November, has said, “By focusing on the biggest, most important ideas and ensuring that the impact of those ideas resonates nationally, policy entrepreneurs at New America—and in its extended network—can ensure that the United States meets this time of rapid change with success.” We have big ambitions, extraordinarily talented people, generous supporters, and national and global reach. We are excited to see what 2018 will bring.
Thank you for your ongoing interest in and support of New America.
President and CEO
Letter from the Chairman of the Board
Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
Markets are soaring, and wealth is growing—but most of the gains flow to the people at the top. Rapid technological advances are transforming daily life and creating new industries, but they have also fostered enormous anxiety about the loss of jobs and entire occupations. People are also increasingly angry at what they see as the monopolistic power of giant corporations. And while cities are thriving as magnets for the wealthy and the ambitious, rural Americans often feel left behind. Hostility toward immigrants has become intense, and sometimes violent. Women are asserting their rights and challenging male-dominated power structures. Corruption in government has fueled widespread fury, with many citizens convinced that monied interests have seized control of their democratic institutions. Trust in both political parties is at new lows. Amid all the dismay and dysfunction, new plutocrats have had to step up as philanthropists to underwrite social reform.
My guess is that these conditions sound familiar to you. More than that, if you were to skim through news headlines, I bet that they’d even sound exhaustingly contemporary. But they actually describe conditions that also prevailed at the turn of the twentieth century, during the Progressive Era.
I’m delighted to chair New America, as we seek to define and advance a new era of renewal for the United States that will, by necessity, rival the original Progressive Era for dramatic change. It’s an era I’ve come to call Progressive Federalism. Maybe you’re thinking: Why the name? In the first Progressive Era, some of the critically important policies we look back on—from the Square Deal to the New Deal—came at the federal level, while wage and hour regulation, and most other social programs, originated from the states. This approach to federalism need not be stubbornly conservative or progressive; yet this alchemy of federal and state policy-making may be exactly what’s needed, regardless of political bent, to renew our country today. The promise that an era of Progressive Federalism holds is the very reason I’m so excited about the role New America is playing to help shape American renewal.
My friend Anne-Marie Slaughter joined the New America board in 2003, and I followed in 2004. That was a time when Congress could still pass bills co-authored by both parties, and when former President Barack Obama took the national stage to give his famous Democratic Convention speech, in which he described the United States’ political landscape not as red or blue but as something more akin to purple: where people “worship an awesome God in the blue states” and where people have even “got some gay friends in the red states.” New America played an essential role then in carving out a space for scholars and journalists to think outside traditional partisan boxes, and put forward big, new policy ideas. Those ideas are even more essential today, but the venue has changed. As Anne-Marie says in her letter, New America’s new mission builds off that heritage, but in an era of major technological and social change, it’s also expanded the medium and methodology to become a national civic problem-solving platform—enabled by technology, storytelling, and local problem-solvers.
I’ve seen the power of that kind of platform play out in California, where I live. While California has many challenges, it’s undergone a dramatic transformation in the last 20 years. Three powerful forces—technology, a very diverse citizenry, and a globally connected economy—have forced the state, and its government, to wrestle with the challenges facing the country sooner than other states have had to do. On top of that, California has adapted its governing to reflect those changes. From pursuing an aggressive carbon-reduction program to adopting political reforms—including citizen-based redistricting, an open-primary system, and a rainy-day fund—California is testing new models for change. In many ways, Progressive Federalism is incubating, and thriving, in California.
One of the steepest challenges to renewal in the United States is ensuring that ideas nurtured and grown in, say, California, scale across the country. New America intends to play a crucial role in that process. By focusing on the biggest, most important ideas and ensuring that the impact of those ideas spreads nationally, policy entrepreneurs at New America—and in its extended network—can ensure that the United States meets this time of rapid change with success.
The task is huge, but it’s not any more daunting than the challenges faced by reformers in the Progressive Era. Fortified by ingenuity, determination, and creative collaboration, our nation has never backed down from a challenge. I’m excited to collaborate with Anne-Marie, her colleagues, and our amazing board on this journey. I hope you will join us.
Chairman, New America Board of Directors