During our American Revolution George Washington was continually frustrated by the Continental Congress. The bickering between the representatives over competing state interests caused delays which hampered the war effort.
What Washington needed to win our independence was unity. He opposed factions which sought to destroy our national unity to further their own interests. When the weak confederation of states (so obsessed with keeping the national government weak lest it become a tyranny) proved incapable of carrying out important national functions, a Constitutional Convention was called. The Constitution they produced makes no mention of political parties.
But ironically, the first political parties arose over whether or not to ratify the proposed Constitution. The Federalist faction favored the adoption of the Constitution; the Anti-Federalists opposed its adoption fearing that it gave the national government too much power. The extreme partisanship we see today seems to bear out Washington’s worst fears about the effects of partisan factions on our national unity and purpose.
We live at a time when a perfect storm of Supreme Court decisions, technological developments, economic pressures, political tactics and cynicism are challenging the very ideals of our form of government.
Recent court decisions have greatly enhanced the ability of wealthy private individuals and businesses to influence state and federal law makers, legislation, taxes and elections for their personal benefit.
Why did we reduce government revenue and increase our national debt to eliminate inheritance taxes which only multi-millionaires and billionaires pay? Why can’t our government negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices or allow us to buy our medicines from cheaper foreign sources?
The development of the internet, while doing many good things, has promoted extreme gerrymandering by some states. Our own 42nd Assembly District exemplifies a voting district of irregular boundaries deliberately designed to avoid larger cities for political gain. Why can’t we develop a non-partisan redistricting board made up of professional demographers and citizens acceptable to both parties?
The internet has been used to gather information under a pretense of doing “academic research” on voters without their knowledge or consent for the purpose of manipulating the voters’ behavior. Cambridge Analytica was a data collection company which sold its information to conservative political clients with analysis of how to craft their messages to win elections.
The social media like Facebook and Twitter are being used by “trolls” ie., users who seek to “divide and conquer” the voters through the distribution of outrageous and false disinformation in order to heighten partisan and social tensions. Some of these trolls are agents of hostile foreign governments. A divided country is a weaker country.
Our country’s distribution of income and opportunity has become increasingly skewed in favor of a smaller and smaller class of the entrenched wealthy (aka, the “donor class”). They use their political donations to win favorable policies for themselves. It has reached the point that social mobility (the ability to move upward through economic and social classes) is higher in the socialist United Kingdom than it is in capitalist United States.
One factor that accounts for this is the high cost of student loans. Instead of forcing students to get their educational loans from banks who demand a profit, why not get the loan from the US Government for minimal interest and use the Government’s enforcement powers and bankruptcy law modifications to discourage defaulting on their loans. If we want our children to get the increasingly technical and scientific training that many jobs will demand, we should make sure they can afford to get it.
Another factor responsible for the poor distribution of American wealth is the deliberate destruction of public and private company labor unions. As the unions declined company pensions disappeared, replaced in some cases with 401K plans which led to the loss of trillions in middle class wealth with the collapse of the stock market in the 2008 Meltdown. Overtime bonus pay has become rarer. Automation has eliminated many jobs weakening union bargaining power. Right to Work laws have pitted workers against workers further weakening union power and court decisions have prevented the unions from collecting dues to support political activities.
But perhaps the most insidious threat to our democratic republic is the cynicism which has taken root in our government. Fair play seems to have become a forgotten ideal. “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Win by any means, fair or foul is the new mantra of our government. These cynics think if they get caught they can buy off the voters with a couple of tax cuts and rely on their donors to launch a media blitz of character assassination ads to win elections.
When all three branches of state and federal government are in control of one party and it is supported by entrenched wealthy special interests determined to not only hold on to their power but to enhance it, our democratic republic, our Constitution which has kept us free from tyranny for 229 years and our way of life are in jeopardy!
There is a movement among some so-called conservative groups like ALEC to get the States to call for a new Constitutional Convention (supposedly to insert a balanced budget amendment) But these groups know that you can’t constitutionally limit proposals at such a convention to a single topic. So all the parts of our current Constitution would be open for revision! We already have a way to amend the Constitution for a single issue which doesn’t put the whole Constitution at risk.
In 1787 when delegate Benjamin Franklin emerged from the Convention hall after the proposed Constitution was drafted, he was asked, ”What kind of government is it?” Franklin reflected for a moment and responded “A republic…if you can keep it.”
It is now our time to prove we can keep it by uniting, organizing and voting on Tuesday Nov. 6th!