Democracy is Job One
The next President has only one priority — fix our democracy. Without democracy, we will not have a broad commitment to individual rights, an economy that works for all, and vigorous checks on government power. An agenda that reforms our elections, fights corruption, and restores civic responsibility could help mend the fractures in our democracy.
The first item is to pass comprehensive election reform. The goals of election reform are to ensure that every eligible American votes, eliminate barriers to voting, combat undue or corrupt influence, and uphold the value of one person one vote.
Congress could make voting mandatory. Currently, only 60% of Americans who are eligible actually vote in Presidential elections. According to the Pew Research Center, the top four reasons why Americans didn’t vote in 2016 were dislike of both candidates, a feeling that voting would not make a difference, they were too busy, or a health problem. Voting is one of our most sacred duties as citizens, so let’s mandate it.
Making voting mandatory would force us to eliminate barriers to voting. Congress could make voting a national holiday. States could ensure voting by mail-in ballot. We should ensure that those who have to work or travel on that day, those who have mobility issues, or those facing the Covid-19 global pandemic are not prevented from voting.
Congress should also take steps to ensure voting integrity. Our intelligence agencies have documented Russian hacking in the 2016 elections and have warned they and other malign actors will do so again. Countermeasures are essential. All voting systems should have paper ballot back-ups so that no electronic interference miscounts the votes. Voting machines should meet rigorous standards to ensure quality. Congress should set standards for ballot formats that are clear to the voter so that they know the vote being cast is for the person they intend.
Congress should reduce money in politics. Corporations, like individual voters, should be limited in the funds that can be spent on campaigns. While the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations have a first amendment right to participate in elections (spend money), that right is not unlimited. Campaign ads should indicate the funders. There should be penalties for ads that lie to the public. Elections should last no longer than six months from beginning to end. We want our elected officials to focus on the work of the people, not on endless fundraising cycles.
Congress should also focus on ensuring that every person’s vote counts. Replace gerrymandering with nonpartisan commissions that set Congressional boundaries based on accepted algorithms. Replace caucuses with primaries. Eliminate the outsized influence of Iowa and New Hampshire in selecting Presidential nominees. Set three Super Tuesdays for Presidential elections, divided equally by population so that the nominations do not drag out and that there is better cross-sectional representation in the voting. Set rules that ensure the electoral college reflects the majority vote in Presidential elections.
The President must initiate the election reforms at the outset of the new Administration before the next cycle of House elections gets underway, and those beholden to the way things are oppose the way things should be.
The second agenda item to restore our democracy is to fight corruption. Our government’s checks and balances are hanging by a thread. No President should be able to make a buck using his position in office, where taxpayers pay for golf trips to his own resorts, and foreign powers stay at his hotels. No President should be able to ask a foreign government to interfere in our elections. No President should be able to fire those investigating his wrongdoing, including, the FBI Director, Inspectors General, U.S. attorneys, whistleblowers, diplomats, and decorated officers. These are crimes.
The President has been impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of justice for just one incident involving his solicitation of Ukraine to interfere in the upcoming Presidential election by digging up dirt on his political opponent. He has not been charged with dozens of other crimes stemming from the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in our 2016 elections and what seems like a daily barrage of new criminal behavior.
Accountability will be essential moving forward. One of President Obama’s blunders was in not holding Bush Administration officials accountable for criminal torture. When one does not hold criminal behavior to account, it only encourages others to repeat the offense, or take the crime even farther. Those entrusted with investigations and prosecutions must, without fear or favor, investigate any allegations of corruption by those in the Administration and Congress and follow the facts where they lead.
Congress must also tighten its reins on abuse of power to restore faith in democracy. The President and members of his Administration should be required to comply with lawful subpoenas by special counsel or to testify before Congress and to produce documents and records necessary for Congressional oversight. The Senate should pass a rule that circumvents obstruction by a Majority leader that refuses to take up bipartisan legislation to check government overreach. The President should not be able to block oversight of aid distribution during the current recession. The President should not be allowed to go to war in Iran, or anywhere, without Congressional approval. Congress needs to find its voice and power to ensure appropriate checks on government abuse.
The final initiative the President must undertake for our democracy is to heal and unify the country. The nation is polarized. Part of the polarization is because Congress does not reflect the majority. Indeed, the Republicans in Congress have veered from Reagan centrist positions in the 1980’s to tea party, boogaloo fascism today. Election reform will help restore balance, but there needs to be more.
Part of the polarization is due to deliberate disinformation campaigns by right wing media. Congress should restore the Fairness Doctrine so that any media entity that airs opinion is required to offer an equal and opposite point of view so listeners can weigh the arguments. Congress should restore rules that regulated the number of media properties a corporation could hold, to prevent a monopoly on information. The FCC should also flex its muscle in revoking licenses, as it used to, when the media company overtly supported a particular political candidate, or repeatedly trafficked in lies. Our security agencies fight the disinformation campaigns by foreign adversaries. We cannot let fascism in U.S. political parties and social media platforms go unchecked.
Congress should pass a national service act that mandates one to two year’s service of every high school graduate. Service could include the military, Peace Corps, and Teach for America, or other new options including a Health Corps, or a renewed Public Works Administration for the Arts. Service would be rewarded with a modern GI Bill that provides a stipend for college, junior college or a technical school. Bringing Americans together from different backgrounds will help unify.
A new Administration should establish a National Healing and Reconciliation Commission that makes recommendations for additional steps necessary to move our nation forward. America must address the legacy of racial injustice that the current President inflames. The government must contain the growing list of white extremists, preppers, and armed militias that are ready to launch civil war.
The Administration should establish a National Director of Civil Rights and Democracy to coordinate efforts across agencies, in much the same way as the National Director of Intelligence collates and helps unify responses across all intelligence agencies.
Congress should promote civics education akin to Justice O’Connor’s efforts at iCivics. Congress should also set standards for textbooks to ensure that they accurately reflect the history and contributions of all Americans. Americans lack a basic understanding of our Constitution, our government and democracy. Perhaps we could deploy members of various Associations of historians, political scientists, lawyers and others to engage in their local communities. Civics is not a one-time tutorial; it should be integrated at every level of education.
Lastly, we should restore pride in country and respect for each other. A national golden rule campaign could inspire us to live by the core values of treating each other with the dignity and respect we deserve and expect. A pride in government campaign could highlight the heroic work of our civil servants. Americans hold in highest regard members of our armed forces, but we should also cherish our career diplomats, heath experts, emergency responders, economists, and others who work every day to make our lives better.
For our democracy to thrive, we need to believe in our democracy. To believe in our democracy, we need to fight the corrosion of the institutions and values that make democracy strong. America’s future remains hopeful and bright, but only if the next President makes it priority number one.