As most of you know, I have a real problem with President Trump, and with many of his followers. I think they are completely wrong about the vast majority of issues, and I think they are inflicting deep damage on our country and it’s democracy.
But they weren’t/aren’t wrong about everything.
Many of them were motivated to vote for Donald Trump because they saw deep dysfunction in our political system, and they wanted someone who would upset the status quo. They were not wrong in their perception of dysfunction, even if their solution to that problem would be almost comically misguided if it were not so tragic. To combat corruption they brought in the most ethically challenged president ever. To combat dishonesty in politics they brought in a man who is pathologically dishonest to an extent never reached by any politician before. That fateful, ridiculous, tragic choice is not the point of this post, however, except to say that Donald Trump is not now and never will be an answer to the dysfunction in our political system. In his first nine months in office he has done nothing significant to address it. Indeed, he has made it much, much worse by lowering the bar significantly for ethical behavior in our elected leaders.
However, the Democratic Party is also pretty much missing the boat as well by failing to make political reform the centerpiece of its campaign. The party leaders have created a fine, workmanlike platform full of good but not terribly exciting ideas, much like the platform in their failed 2016 campaign. Perhaps they believe that they can win in 2018 and 2020 by just running against Trump. Didn’t work last year, but I guess hope springs eternal. In my mind, to have a chance of changing minds and moving voters, the Democratic Party needs to firmly take over the mantle of political reform.
What we need is a real agenda for reform, and some politicians brave and selfless enough to champion it and enact it. I think that pursuit of that agenda would be a unifying cause that could heal some of the divisions in our country and be attractive to liberals, conservatives, moderates alike, as well as those who have no firm political identity. I think the realistic pursuit of such an agenda could even bring many back to the voting booths who have withdrawn in disgust or despair.
There are a lot of good ideas around for political reform, but I have zoomed in on four that I think have the greatest potential for cleaning up our political system, strengthening democracy and unifying our country. They form the core of what I call the Real Reform Agenda:
- Term Limits for Congress: While I recognize the dedicated service provided by many representatives and senators, and the experience and wisdom they bring to their roles, I also believe we are badly in need of new blood. New ideas. I think congresspeople, the longer they stay in office, inevitably become more estranged from the people they represent. I propose a maximum of twelve years, six terms for a representative or two for a senator, after which time a congressperson should be thanked for their service and get on with the rest of their life, clearing space for someone new to come in.
- Campaign Finance Reform: The influence of money is badly eroding our democracy, taking influence from the voters and placing it more and more in the hands of monied interests, be they corporations or interest groups or wealthy individuals. The amounts of money being spent on political campaigns now is truly staggering by historical standards, and has a real corrupting effect on our politicians, in addition to its immediate effect on the validity of our elections. Citizens United (2010) was one of the most damaging decisions ever reached by our Supreme Court, releasing a floodgate of political spending and related corruption. The current Court is unlikely to reverse that ruling, so new legislation is needed that will pass constitutional muster and place pressure on the Court.
- An End to Political Gerrymandering: Political gerrymandering, in essence the art of politicians picking their voters as opposed to the voters picking their representatives, has been around for a very long time and has always had a faintly disreputable smell to it. Both parties have engaged in it seeking political advantage, although the Republican Party has definitely benefited more from it in recent years, if for no other reason than they controlled most of the state legislatures that redrew the lines after the last census. In the digital age, with so much information now available to campaigns and political interests about individual voters and communities, it has become a distinct danger to the credibility of our elections and our democracy.
- Higher Ethical Standards for all Federally Elected Officials: To put it most simply, all federal elected officials need to be made subject to higher ethical rules, similar to those already in place for ordinary federal workers. The way funds are raised and what politicians can do with those funds, the revolving door between Congress and lobbying interests, and speaking fees, gifts and other income generating measures all beg for stronger controls and an independent watchdog organization which can enforce them. In addition, it needs to become law that all candidates for federal office release tax returns from the last ten years, so that the voters can see any real or possible conflicts of interest.