We need good rules and politicians who follow them.
CFFAD believes that good citizenship is necessary but not sufficient to put America back on a better path. Frustration and burnout are inevitable so long as fundamental problems in the rules of our democracy go unaddressed. Here are some of the main issues that cause many people to doubt and distrust our system of government:
- Lack of representation. Many of today’s voters (37 percent in early 2019) feel neither of the major parties represents them well. Of these, almost half do not lean towards either of the two major parties. What politician speaks for them?
- Eroded minority rights. You might think the USA is, or should be, a color-blind society in which all people succeed or fail solely on the content of their character. In fact, we aren’t there yet: there are big differences in access and outcomes, and there appears to be a steady erosion of the corrections put in place since the 1950s and 1960s. On a related note, many citizens see our some of our new immigration procedures as unnecessarily cruel and discriminatory.
- Party leaders (of both major parties) now believe winning is more important than problem-solving and playing fair. In the US system, divided party control between the House and Senate is very common. In addition, in recent years, the margin of majority control over the House and the Senate has often been pretty small. These two things meant party leaders who wanted to solve our nations’ problems had to negotiate solutions acceptable to both parties. Not so much lately: political wins have become more important than problem-solving, and this has motivated majority party leaders to bend the rules repeatedly. Our Republic gets a bit weaker each time they do that, and it’s been going on for several years now. Moreover, rule-bending divides Americans against each other: you might be thrilled when your party bends the rules, but the other side becomes deeply angry. Rule-bending is short-sighted too – the other side will be eager to do worse when their party returns to power. It’s time to return to regular order.
- Presidential end-runs past checks & balances. You might like to see your favorite president fully empowered, especially when Congress is uncooperative. But what happens when the other party takes the presidency? Presidents have been making increasing use of legal loopholes to get what they want, despite Congressional intent or inaction. These include signing statements to justify departures from the law, executive orders, and emergency decrees. These techniques divide Americans against each other, cheering supporters of the president’s party and frustrating those in the opposition party. A related problem is that some of the powers Constitutionally assigned to Congress have been gradually shifted to the Office of the President from Congress. (Taxation in the form of tariffs and war powers are among these.) This combined effect of these two trends makes choosing a president far more consequential – and therefore polarizing – than ever before.
- Over-reliance on the courts. Frustrated politicians and presidents often prefer to turn to the court system and, ultimately, the Supreme Court when they fail to get what they want from Congress and the voters. The courts may decide, but they cannot build the consensus that our politicians should have built up around a solution. In the end, court-driven policy solutions only divide and frustrate us.
- Mass media and social media are more excited by political fights than problem-solving. It is tough to find anyone in the popular press offering a good pro and con analysis of a policy choice. Instead, we see increasingly partisan opinion makers who tell us how bad the other side is, serving only to raise our blood pressure, confirm our biases, and increase their profit margin. In some parts of the country, it is hard to find any news at all – due to media concentration and cost-cutting by media outlets owned by investment firms.
Each of these problems can tempt people to follow populist leaders from both parties who will promise to crush the other side by any means they can away with – further weakening our Republic, eroding our democracy, and further dividing American against American. Some might even be tempted by anti-establishment leaders who promise to bring the whole system down.
There are solutions to each of these problems, even if they are not easy and will take some time. CFFAD encourages you to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of our system and opportunities to help defend, protect, and improve it.