13.  American Democracy

The 2016 presidential election in the USA provided a retrospect presentation by the departing President, including an overview over the functioning of our democracy.

Here is a proposal for what this overview should have included.

What are key points to improve our democracy?

Is there a basic problem with the structure of our government?

How can improvement of our government be accomplished?

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© H. Schwab, Princeton, NJ, USA

 

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Key points to improve our democracy:

1.           Drafting better candidates for the presidency and motivating their candidacy

2.           The media to be restrained or motivated not to instigate trouble, but to be balanced and to find solutions

3.           Solely destructive “opposition” to be prohibited, “improvements” or “alternative ideas” to be demanded.

4.           Big financial donations to be avoided or balanced, since they necessarily influence politicians

 

1.           Drafting of better candidates for the Presidency and motivating their candidacy:

The 2016 presidential election in the United States offered 3 candidates on the side of the Democrats and a considerably larger number of candidates on the side of the Republicans.

 

Considering the fact that the population of the United States is presently approximately 330 million, including many citizens of great talent and accomplishments, the selection on the side of the

Democrats was too small and the selection on the side of the Republicans lacked more candidates of convincing vision, strength, or capabilities.  There was nothing the voter could do about this – and there was nothing the two parties did about it.  One had to choose from what was offered. 

Debates among candidates provided the means of selection from the available candidates.

 

The establishment of the new president’s cabinet and governing team offered an interesting alternative.  Searches were quite actively done everywhere in the country by the new President and a few of his advisors for the most capable candidates for each function.  The one considered of best qualification received a call to serve – then to be democratically questioned and confirmed by the US congress or senate – with loud agreeing or disagreeing voices to be heard in the media.   

 

A combination of the two methods may be desirable – a search and draft of outstanding candidates by each party, also for the job of President.  Then, some limited and moderate presentation of their diverse ideas, followed by some form of democratic selection of the final candidate by each party – to be followed by the usual presidential election – but within a rather short time!

 

 

2.   The media to be restrained or motivated not to instigate trouble

      but to be balanced and to find solutions

 

As the debates among the competing candidates during the recent presidential election began, it became apparent that the media, controlling the function of questioning during the debates, instigated dramatic fighting among competitors by asking them irritating questions and prompting irritation among the debaters.

                It quickly became apparent that there was a simple business model behind such behavior.  The more dramatic such debates were, the higher moved the viewer count – and with a higher viewer count, the media channels could demand a higher price from the advertisers switched in during those times.  If there was no excitement, viewers switched off and advertisement became unattractive. 

         This business model of the media – to instigate constant fighting among the candidates instead of serious discussions of political alternatives – is not in the interest of our political process and optimal presidential elections.  

The media should support possible clarification of the candidate’s ideas and assist in finding the best political concepts for this country!

 

3.           Simply destructive “opposition” to be prohibited, only “improving” or “alternative” ideas to be demanded.

Prior of the last election campaign, the Democrats had been in control of the government.  The greatest desire of the Republicans was to not only control the House of Representatives and the Senate, but also the Presidency.

         At that time, it was primarily the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, to activate a rather destructive democratic fighting strategy to regain control of government.  From then on, whatever former President Obama proposed, McConnell attacked, ridiculed, distorted, or whatever to let it appear as undesirable, even foolish – without ever presenting any of his own ideas to solve the respective problem.

         It worked.

         Even “Obamacare” was presented as a dangerous and useless policy – while actually all other civilized countries had somewhat similar health insurance coverage for their low-income citizens.     

         Now, the new Republican government failed to arrive at an alternative solution that does not immediately appear as merely a variant of Obamacare.

         Mitch McConnell would have done better for the country if he had immediately proposed some changes or possible further improvements to such healthcare in the name of his party and for the benefit of the country.

         In other words, any democracy should consider not talking about the ruling party and the “opposition”, but only about the “alternative” party!

         It should not be allowed in the political process to criticize any policy proposal without suggesting significant improvements to the policy or an equally elaborate, alternative policy proposal!   

 

4.           Big financial donations to be avoided or balanced, since they necessarily influence politicians

For some time, it has been evident that the Supreme Court’s decision to permit large, anonymous financial contributions to politicians, supposedly permissible in following the Constitution, is destructive and working against “democracy”.

By now, the Court should have seen that this was a foolish decision.

Could there be permissible alternatives?

         The fact is, that in our modern times any nationwide political campaign must utilize television and occasional large meetings in the major cities or with targeted subgroups. All of that is very expensive.  Competing candidates try to out-do each other in those programs.  Do we want only the very richest candidates to succeed?  Do we find some of the best candidates also among those of lesser means?  How can they be provided with the funds to run competitive campaigns?

 

 

 

What can be seen as our most pressing problems and what kind of democracy could best contribute to solving these problems?

The behavior of our political system leading up to the last presidential election in 2016, the actual elections, and the new president’s and his team’s leadership indicate deep and fundamental problems with the structure of our government.

Have other countries now or in their history found any better form of democracy from which to learn?

 

On the most general level, what is the situation our country finds itself in at this time?

Church attendance declines, addictive drug usage has reached dangerous levels, our youngsters prefer spending time watching the screen of a digital device, Wall Street investors make billions of dollars while too many of our citizens still live in poverty, big money buys politicians through PACs.  This would be called corruption in other countries.  Our two political parties hurl vitriol at each other while their candidates are both of limited attractiveness to the citizens.

A first priority of any president now should be to lead our country toward a greater view of its spirit, its values, the meaning of life as a citizen and enthusiasm for our lives.  Are “E Pluribus Unum” or “In God We Trust” or “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” still adequate formulations for the meaning of life in our nation? 

We live in a world of evolution.  Where do we stand with the goals of our nation now?  President Thomas Jefferson already demanded a review of our constitution from time to time!  For me, the themes of “Growth, Service, Culture” have meaning in my life – also the Reduction of Suffering and the creation of Increased Opportunities Fairly for All – see the essays on these subjects on this website. 

Should one form a commission of the most outstanding individuals in our country to work on this task of redefining the spirit we want our nation to implement – to let our youth, all those in the most active phase of their lives, and our maturing seniors enthusiastically fulfill their lives in our country?

 

 

On a more specific level of concerns for our nation, we have to address:

·              Our international, national, and local security

·              The economy and opportunities for a fair well-being of all in a balanced society

·              Health care – specifically in support of the suffering who are in financial need

·              Education – from earliest age through our professional life and old age – and its cost

·              Our “Culture”, immigration and the change of our national identity and “American culture”

·              The functioning of our government in Washington, DC

·              The Federal Budget – its yearly definition and long-term goal

The management of these seven themes alone requires the building of an excellent national management team in Washington – this being the greatest and ongoing priority.  (For a more detailed discussion of these priorities see the essay “A Presidential Candidate’s Introduction” on the website www.schwab-writings.com.

 

An interesting alternative to a democratic government can be found in the structure of the Swiss government.  At its highest level is a Federal Council of 7 elected members of equal rank– each managing one of the 7 federal departments – as the “cabinet” of the American President does.  In a rotating way, one member of the Council is the President of the council and the country for one year only.

It was found that there is less infighting and more searching for mutually acceptable solutions for the benefit of the country!

One could also consider the early historic experience of ancient Athens with various constitutions, described in the collection of Athenian constitutions established by Aristotle.  Most famous became the constitutional change accomplished for Athens at about 600 B.C. by Solon – parts of which could still be applicable to the American form of government today!

 

 

How could the American democracy be changed?

President Trump’s recent failure to change Obama’s Affordable Care Act shows that any change in principle has become almost impossible in divisive and selfish Washington, DC.

The same problem was encountered when the Roman emperor Constantin wanted to unify various Christian subgroups that had developed during the first centuries after Jesus.  Constantin wanted to accomplish this by way of a common Christian declaration of faith of all participants in Nicaea, in the year 325 AD and in Constantinople in 381 AD. 

A similar problem was encountered when too many delegates attempted to draft the constitution of the new United States – solved only after a year of discussion by having a small group (the Committee of 11) work on this task, then present the result to the overall group for acceptance.

This problem also occurred after World War I, at Versailles, when Woodrow Wilson attempted to direct the draft of a general peace treaty with Germany.  The original “Council of Ten” deliberated unsuccessfully for three month in 1919, until Woodrow Wilson established the “Council of Four” at his residence in Paris and succeeded in arriving at a draft of the peace treaty in a short time. 

If we cannot find a modern Solon for America, could it be possible to assemble a small group of outstanding US citizens to draft a new structure for the American government – one might say a group of “wise old (experienced) men and women”?  (Members of the group could include Ms. Madeleine Albright, former President Carter, even former President Clinton, some former secretaries of state, some outstanding governors or other people of culture and science.) 

This group would have to address the above four points of weakness of our present American democracy, as well as the problems with the last presidential election and with the new presidential team under Trump.

 

May a better structure of government become available, for the benefit of the USA and the entire world.

Other struggling countries in the world might then also become inspired!

 

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