It’s a tall order, because I’ve not given up on the dream.
In the early morning hours, past midnight, I watched the GOP’s third attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act get panned in the Senate but also saw their tax bill pass. After the first, I was relieved—feeling that our system of governance can hold despite orchestrated attempts to dismantle its procedures in pursuit of a one-sided agenda. But with the outcome of the second late night vote, I felt something precious had been stolen: the American experiment with power sharing more than two centuries in the making, the democratic process that’s supposed to protect and defend the dream.
So my wish for 2018 is that we get our democracy back.
Congressional Rules, Procedures and Campaigns
535 people are elected to make policy and funding decisions for 323 million Americans. At no time should half of our elected leaders be effectively disenfranchised. Yet in a hyper-partisan, two-party Congress where the majority party controls all key positions, partisan takeovers can happen. Congressional rules and procedures, and exceptions that allow this disempowerment, must change.
We need multiple viable political parties, not just two. Two parties offer little choice for voters and clearly can devolve into single party control. Besides, American society has become more diverse such that two parties no longer reflect the more complex sets of values and priorities that need to be considered.
I’ve said in another post that we need publicly funded campaigns and shorter ones. Campaign finance reform, overturning Citizens United is paramount. When a single Senate seat can consume $17 million, as was spent on the recent Alabama Senate race, not only is it a waste of money that can be better spent elsewhere, but it leaves no room for people who are closer to the majority of Americans in their understanding of day-to-day life and priorities, to run for national, or even state, office. Mega-donors now see their funding not as a contribution, but as a purchase and demand that their priorities become law. But government isn’t a business, and policymaking isn’t a competition—or a football game, as some have referred to the current Congress’ moves. In a democracy, Congress members must be public servants, making laws and solving problems for the greater public good, not for the special interests of a few.
Restore checks and balances. Not just within government but between the major institutions.
We must put laws and practices into place that clearly separate government, business, religion and the press. Each has its own purpose and territory. When one bleeds too far into the other, there’s trouble. For example, government is supposed to protect Americans from over-zealous profit-making attempts that put our health and safety at risk or rob us. But the revolving door between government and big business, and the massive amounts of money involved in campaign contributions and lobbying, often leave Americans vulnerable and exploited. The role of the press is to speak truth to power. But when media are taken over by corporations that exert editorial control or journalists become so enamored with being close to power that they don’t want to ask tough questions, the press foregoes its watchdog role and Americans lose. American democracy was set up with separation of church and state for a reason: to make sure that no religion dominates and people are free to live according to their own moral values. Religions aren’t supposed to make laws for everyone—which is why they’re tax exempt.
With so much economic and societal change in the last half century, many Americans have been left behind and many more struggle to stay afloat. We now have a generation of young people who are the first to be worse off financially than their parents. Life expectancy has declined for the last two years. We see domestic violence, mass shootings and an opioid epidemic. Congress needs to recognize these major economic and social changes and intentionally deal with them.
Government has a responsibility to implement policy and funding to mitigate the effects of such massive changes on individuals. Corporations, while developing products and services for profit, must also recognize the social effects of their decisions and accept responsibility for mitigating adverse effects when they occur. The press must remember its watchdog role. It must track, report and investigate social and economic changes, as well as government and corporate responses to those changes. This sharing of power and responsibility fosters a stable society and democracy.
Restoring our democracy will be a massive undertaking. There’s much to do, for all of us. It’s been heartening to see so many people speaking out in 2017. All of us, together, focusing on places where we can have some influence, applying our knowledge and skills, is what it will take to revive the dream. We need Congress, corporations, the press and religious institutions to do their part.