By Martin Kuz | Story and photographs
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who is also a former Director of the National Security Agency and a retired four-star Air Force general, was so worried about America’s future that he and businessman Ken Powley decided to do something to protect U.S. democracy.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said he’s concerned that American democracy is in peril as political and cultural divisions continue to grow.
Hayden spoke with Postindustrial about his uncertainty as to whether America can survive the partisanship that has become a hallmark of its politics in recent years.
“It’s up to us. And I’m sorry, I’ll be very careful about this,” said Hayden, when speaking of the fragility of our democratic way of life. “I don’t know that we’re going to do it [preserve democracy]. “That’s how bad I think it is.”
That doesn’t mean that he’s resigned to simply allowing the American Experiment to falter.
Hayden, who is also a former Director of the National Security Agency and a retired four-star Air Force general, was so worried about America’s future that he and businessman Ken Powley, whose daughter is married to Hayden’s son, decided to do something to protect U.S. democracy.
They are leading Team Democracy, a nonprofit aimed at preserving democratic principles — such as free and fair elections — that asks those who join their ranks to sign a public pledge to help protect these principles. Powley and former IBM manager Chris Newlon are co-founders; Hayden chairs the board.
Team Democracy, a nonprofit aimed at preserving democratic principles — such as free and fair elections — asks those who join their ranks to sign a public pledge to help protect these principles. The Safe and Fair Election Pledge asks elected officials to “pledge themselves to democracy, safe and fair elections, and the rule of law.” Citizens and organizations can take the pledge.
The Safe and Fair Election Pledge asks elected officials to “pledge themselves to democracy, safe and fair elections, and the rule of law.”
Citizens and organizations can take the pledge. Just a few days after they began asking, more than 70 have done so. By 2024, they want to ask state candidates to take the pledge, too — and hope to develop a grassroots movement.
“Other failed democracies didn’t [necessarily] have a team working to save it. This is less about a pledge, but finding common ground across the aisle. Safe and fair elections. Peaceful transfer of power,” Powley said.
“The goal is for Team Democracy to become a broad citizen grassroots movement.”
Citizens can take the pledge and then reach out to their elected officials to do the same.
“You can touch those candidates once a month. You can literally have impact,” Powley said.
Powley was moved to action after becoming first mesmerized and then horrified at seeing the Capitol taken over by Donald Trump’s supporters in the Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt.
Like millions of people, he could only watch the mob try to stop certification of the 2020 presidential election results. In the aftermath, he began scribbling ideas on a piece of paper. That led, eventually, to Team Democracy.
“I’m not a political person at all, but things happen. I went from paying no attention to it [onJan. 6] to being transfixed by it, to being really disturbed by it,” said Powley, who stepped away from his decades-old, whitewater rafting business, to focus on Team Democracy.
Ken Powley was moved to action after becoming first mesmerized and then horrified at seeing the Capitol taken over by Donald Trump’s supporters in the Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt.
The effort is bipartisan: Powley is a longtime Republican. Hayden is an independent — though he has been outspoken in his disdain for former president Trump.
Hayden draws on the successes and failures he has witnessed around the world in his long career in national security, serving under presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“There are three things going on in American history: the Revolution, the Civil War and Reconstruction. And now this. … And I’m worried about this. It’s ‘post-truth,’” Hayden said.
Jeanine Hayden, his wife, is also involved in promoting Team Democracy’s message.
“I think Mike and some others in the national security community certainly gained the knowledge of what dangers there are to democracy. And so when we see those things happening in our country, it becomes important to do something about that,” she said.
Powley agrees, noting how the breakdown of democracy often stems from citizens forgetting its most basic tenet: “Democracies are about managing our differences in responsible ways,” he noted.
“If we give up on elections that are fair and representative, if we give up on peaceful transfer of power, we’re done.”
To take the Team Democracy pledge, click here.
Postindustrial founder Carmen Gentile has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan. He is a board member of Team Zubair. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Palmiero is CEO & Editor-in-Chief of Postindustrial Media. She previously served as a managing editor for Trib Total Media in Pennsylvania. Prior to Postindustrial, she provided consulting for media outlets to develop growth strategies. She is a past president and current board member of the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania, a board member of Team Zubair, and a member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Reach her at email@example.com.
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