Jul 29, 2016 - 9:00am

Dear 45: Get Back to the Basics with Free Speech and Free Enterprise

President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

To: The 45th President of the United States
From: Thomas J. Donohue

Dear 45,

You will be taking the oath of office after what’s sure to be one of the most contentious and hard fought elections in U.S. history. No matter who wins, the electorate will remain divided and achieving consensus will be difficult. And yet, Americans will demand progress on the economy and other pressing issues. Challenges won’t disappear if we ignore them – and there will be a price to pay if you don’t deliver.

Restoring civility to our political process will be key to progress and getting things done. Incivility has long been a problem in America, but the imperative to address it has never been more urgent. When politicians posture, insult, and demagogue, what happens? Americans tune out. Problems fester. Challenges go unmet. And our legacy as a can-do nation that embraces exciting ideas and bold solutions diminishes.

To govern, we must restore civility, and to restore civility we need to get back to the basics, including reaffirming and strengthening two fundamental values — our right to free speech and our system of free enterprise. They are by no means cure-alls. But I’m convinced affirming these values will not only help restore civility in our country but also restore opportunity and freedom. In other words, the American Dream.

You can’t rebuild civility without first recognizing and respecting everyone’s right to speak. And free speech is more than just the right to say something — it’s the right to speak with democratic influence, by which I mean the right to fully participate in the public and political affairs of our communities and our nation.

Intentionally or unintentionally, for good motives and bad, a lot of people are trying to over-regulate speech; to constrain our ability to petition the government; to impose overly-restrictive speech codes on our campuses and other institutions; and to even use powerful arms of the government, such as the IRS, to discriminate against speech.

You must show leadership in vigilantly opposing and guarding against attacks on free speech. There’s a reason why the right to free speech is the First Amendment to the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers understood its fundamental importance.

We also can help restore civility by reaffirming our commitment to free enterprise and the growth, jobs, and opportunities that it can deliver. There’s nothing like a booming economy to make most people feel good and play nice.

It’s not perfect, but free enterprise is the best and, I would argue, the fairest and most civilized economic system ever devised. It offers more opportunity, more personal dignity, more freedom, and more broadly-shared prosperity than any other system.

Preserving and strengthening our free enterprise system is a serious matter for our society. It’s about more than just providing our citizens with a regular paycheck — it’s about human dignity, being fully engaged in society, and being involved in something larger than yourself. A robust, growing economy, powered by free enterprise will not solve all of our problems, but it will lift our spirits and our sights. It can fund improvements to our schools, help us care for the elderly, provide more resources for our national defense, and reduce the inequality of income and of hope.

Every president faces a multitude of difficult and pressing challenges. As you address them, don’t forget to take care of the two fundamental building blocks of American society —free speech and free enterprise. And don’t forget that it’s always right to speak civilly, reach out to and listen to those who disagree with you, and to seek common ground.

The U.S. Chamber and the business community believe in these values. We are problem solvers and consensus seekers. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work to continue to make America the most prosperous, can-do nation on earth.


Thomas J. Donohue
President and CEO
U.S. Chamber of Commerce

About the Author

About the Author

Thomas J. Donahue
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.