It’s sad. Our elected representatives often seem more interested in hurting their political opposition than governing the country. Conspiracy theories and thinly veiled racism often dominate daily rhetoric. Virtually every issue has become weaponized. We are no longer sure if Republicans and Democrats could even agree on the time of day.
Our government is becoming dysfunctional. Responses to major issues like the recent pandemic and climate change are botched to a degree that threatens our well-being. It is easy to blame the members of Congress but, in the end, they are just a product of our political environment. If this government is truly ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ then it’s time for the people to regain control of the function of government.
Ultimately we have two choices, self-government or autocracy. Our Founders put their best foot forward and created a fantastic plan for self-government. In recent years events have shown a concerning drift toward autocracy. When 147 congressmen voted against certifying our most recent presidential election, those concerns were highlighted. 27% of our legislators voted against the voice of the people. That’s not consistent with the intentions of our Founders. Democracy is a fragile form of government. Its existence depends on effective checks and balances. (The word democracy is used in place of a more accurately called democratic republic or representative democracy)
Greed and lust for power are at the root of the dysfunctional nature of our government. That has not changed since George Washington warned of the dangers to our government in his farewell address. What has changed is the rise in the power of corporations. Corporate board rooms are filled with very intelligent people with limited moral restraint. They often believe in the Ayn Rand philosophy of self-reliance and success at any cost. Tax laws that favor their personal or corporate interests are a driving interest. And some congressional votes are determined by the highest bidder.
If we are to understand how to reform government we first must understand the current methods used by corporations to win votes for favorable tax laws. A small minority of voters actually favor giving tax breaks to large corporation so the smart people in the corporate board room use an end-run. It’s an elaborate smoke screen. In the voting booth, deliberate reasoning (often called voting one’s pocket book) is replaced with passion. Issues of passion such as abortion, racism, and gun rights are inflamed to the greatest extent. Support for conspiracy theories is also a major benefit to this faction because it weaponizes social media to increase the level of passion in the voting booth.
Major corporations like vulnerable people who are easily drawn in to issues of passion. Science denial is part of the strategy and the religious right has many followers that are most likely to believe what they are told rather than investigate the facts surrounding the issue.
Racism is the biggest tool to inflame voter’s passions. As a leftover from many generations ago, states still have the right to institutional racism. Therefore this power-hungry faction embraces state’s rights as a way to continue racist laws and the inflamed passion that they create.
The principles of the Declaration of Independence can be summarized as follows:
Maximize the efficiency of the engine that drives our economy while simultaneously maximizing the satisfaction of the constituents.
Greed and lust for power must be controlled in order to keep the economy running well. Dysfunctional government is not economically efficient. And that does not make us happy. Lower numbers of protesters in the street is a sign of satisfaction of the constituents. Allowing corporate interests to manipulate voters by inflaming passions, in order to control corporate tax laws, is not consistent with the Lawmaker’s Creed. The danger of this is well documented in Washington’s farewell address.
If we are to meet our current and future challenges we must replace passion in the voting booth with deliberate reasoning.
Current Landscape for Change
Private organizations have had little success in countering the major factional interests when it comes to major national issues. Our Congress is mostly unresponsive to grass roots efforts. The combination of factional interests and lack of oversight of our three branches of government threaten our democracy.
We have no oversight over a Congress that is persuaded to favor corporate interests over the will of the people. We have no oversight over biased decisions by the Supreme Court. And although Congress has oversight over the President with impeachment, a biased Congress may choose to treat the President as a king. Oversight can only be obtained by use of Article V of the Constitution. (At this time, violent overthrow of the government is not considered a viable option.)
New constitutional amendments can be initiated through Article V by Congress or by the states. An intransigent Congress has not and will not choose to create oversight over itself. One or more state-initiated constitutional amendments are the only reasonable option. But even that option has roadblocks.
If major factional interests continue to inflame passions related to racism, abortion, and gun control in state government, those governments may choose to avoid government reform and state-initiated constitutional amendments. In this case, at some point in future election cycles, we can expect to see more people protesting in the streets and an increased propensity to street violence. State lawmakers need to understand this risk. Additional oversight over the federal government is needed to avoid violence in the streets.
The Oversight Mechanism
An Article V convention is necessary. But that may only be the committee that drafts the final legislation. True oversight discussion will be debated in one or more pre-convention settings.
But the size, scope, and potential impact of these gatherings is not defined by precedent or constitutional design. It would be nice to have the results of a study by a blue ribbon panel or a think tank. But the country is left with the ideas of a few individuals and small private groups such as Path to Reform; pathtoreform.org. National leadership regarding the concept of government reform is sorely lacking. Conceptually, large corporations are always researching ways to improve their functionality. Our government is stuck with a structure that worked well in the past, but not necessarily today.
If the convention of states is to be successful in achieving government oversight, it must have the appropriate level of authority. Merely discussing one topic for a proposed constitutional amendment may not be enough. Even discussion of several ideas for amending the constitution leaves the gathering short of true oversight over each branch of government. The will of the people should be recognized for major policy issues as well as structural changes. All of the issues not discussed by this gathering can and will be weaponized and the passions created by that weaponization will find their way into the voting booth. And some of the deliberate reasoning by the voters will remain sidelined.
Giving power to the convention of states as a subservient part of Article I will require a constitutional amendment. And that power can allow the people, with a supermajority vote, to overturn a ruling by the Supreme Court. It could also pass policy legislation subject to a veto by Congress. A supermajority vote clearly demonstrates the will of the people. We have the opportunity to take the air out of the political footballs and reduce the level of passion in the voting booth.
Someone needs to take the lead. The future successes of our government are likely tied to leadership that includes attention to government reform.