The concerns about the health of our democracy seem to be pervasive, and growing stronger every day. There are many complaints but they mostly relate to a few things – (1) the government seems to be paralyzed and little is being accomplished in Washington, (2) what does get accomplished seems to benefit only a small segment of society, in particular corporate elite, political elite or financial elite, (3) our representatives seem to act with political party or personal career or political benefactors as the highest priority as opposed to the Nation or represented constituencies having highest priority, and (4) elections and voting rules seem to be rigged to favor the incumbent majority to ensure the maintenance of political power.
More people are beginning to talk about potential fixes to our unhealthy democracy. In particular, I ran across an article recently, “Trump isn’t our only problem: Here are 10 steps we need to take to save American democracy” from Raw Story. It is worth the time to read. The ’10 steps’ cited are hard to argue against. Here is a brief summary:
- Make voter registration automatic for all eligible voters, using information they’ve already provided the Department of Motor Vehicles or another government agency
- Pass a new Voting Rights Act, setting uniform national voting standards.
- Implement public financing of elections.
- Require public disclosure of the sources of all political donations.
- End the revolving door between serving in government and lobbying.
- Ban members of Congress from owning specific shares of stock while they’re in office.
- Require that all candidates running for Congress and the presidency release their tax returns.
- Eliminate gerrymandered districts by creating independent redistricting commissions.
- Make the Electoral College irrelevant.
- Fight for a Supreme Court that will reverse its Citizens United decision.
While I am in agreement with these 10 steps, I do not think that they address the root cause of the distress being felt by our democracy. These steps address the voting process, and this is indeed at the core of our democracy. All citizens must experience both a right and a duty to vote and it must be an unbiased and fair process, easily accessible, transparent, secure and open to audit. Each of these steps represents a major change to implement, but arguably the best place to start.
Even if we were successful, however, in implementing these 10 steps, we would not have addressed the root cause of the threat to our democracy – the extreme polarization of our citizenry, particularly the disparity of wealth distribution, which is leading to a class society of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. A basic requirement for a healthy democracy is a citizenry that shares common values AND experiences – not possible with a financial elite, ‘the 1%’, that has nothing in common with the vast majority and is motivated to grow their position at the expense of the majority. How to approach this is a topic for another day.