Can We Keep Our Republic?

When Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberations at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he was asked  “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” to which he responded “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

These days it sometimes feels like we are in danger of becoming a autocracy.  In the book How Democracies Die, the authors list four key indicators of authoritarian behavior to test leaders.

  1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.
  2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents.
  3. Toleration or encouragement of violence.
  4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including the media.

They maintain a politician that meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern.  In the last century authoritarian leaders have come to power, changing the existing government into a autocracy by fooling the kings or the people into thinking only that leader can fix everything.

Democracy Index map
Democracy Index map

In 2022, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reported the United States of America (US) as a flawed democracy (overall score of 7.85 of 10), ranking 30 in a field of 167 countries analyzed in their report.  This is a decrease of four spots from 2021 report and kept the US in the flawed democracy group since 2016.  The report goes on to say:

The US’s overall score in the Democracy Index remains weighed down by the country’s intense levels of political and cultural polarisation. Pluralism and competing alternatives are essential for a functioning democracy, but differences of opinion in the US have hardened into political sectarianism and almost permanent institutional gridlock. This trend has long compromised the functioning of government, and the US score for this category remains at a low of 6.43 in 2022, unchanged from 2021….

Political culture is still the weakest category for the US, with a score of 6.25 in 2022, unchanged from 2021. Social cohesion and consensus have collapsed in recent years as disagreements over an expanding list of issues fuel the country’s “culture wars”….

These debates have extended beyond the usual set of actors (such as politicians and activists) and now implicate corporate executives as well as primary school teachers and librarians (over lesson plans and books discussing sexuality, gender and racial identity). A highly politicised media, including popular TV channels and social media platforms, continue to foment and amplify these divisions.

We must pull out of this democratic death spiral or we may end up with an autocracy!  “When American democracy has worked, it has relied upon two norms that we often take for granted—mutual tolerance and institutional forbearance.”1“How Democracies Die” pg 212 The political parties in the United States need to revive these norms and add new ones.  It cannot be done by one leader, it will take all of us! Get involved: vote; write letters to the editor; peacefully protest; contact your representatives; join with organizations like this one to amplify your voice. Do it today, before our democracy dies!

What Is It That We Want?

What Is It That We Want?

By Michael Copps, originally posted July 10,2023 on Benton Institute blog

Congress is dysfunctional. The courts are a bad and dangerous joke. Independent government agencies are on the cusp of being dismantled. The Administration’s agenda is largely blocked. Companies large and small have pillaged the economy and jacked up prices that impose real pain on American consumers, long after economic circumstances can justify it. The media, which have a solemn obligation to give us real news and information, choose instead to blanket us with infotainment and trifle that divert our attention from the real problems that are undermining our democracy. And we, the people, have let it happen.

“Boy, Copps has turned into an old crank,” some will say. Well, the above paragraph may paint with a somewhat broad brush, but there is enough truth there to justify a deeper look. Stay with me here.

A Dysfunctional Congress

We have a Congress brought low by money, ideology, partisan redistricting, filibusters, and precious little accountability. This is not entirely new—it’s just worse than ever before. Oh, I know—go back through our history and you’ll never find a perfect Congress. And, yes, some important legislation has been passed in the wake of COVID. But we’ve never had the amount of special interest money and high-paid lobbyists buying Capitol Hill votes and setting back democracy as we have right now. Money is poisoning democracy’s well, and if it isn’t curbed—really curbed and really soon—I don’t believe our democracy will survive.

Democracy has been undermined by Congressional redistricting for many years, but never like the ubiquitous and blatant partisan electoral maps as we have today. Whole blocs of citizens have seen their voting power diminished and often destroyed, thereby entirely losing their voices in charting our country’s path. Millions of Americans’ ballots are diluted to the point where they just don’t meaningfully count. Think about that! It could be your ballot I’m talking about.

Filibusters and other legislative end-runs are all the while dooming important legislative proposals and Presidential appointments. We are almost three-quarters through this Administration, and many of the President’s appointments to high office are stuck in the Senate confirmation hell-hole. How does it help our diplomacy when Senate rules allow one Senator to hold up confirmation of dozens of ambassadors and other officials? We have enormous global problems to resolve, but egregious partisanship keeps hundreds of diplomatic posts empty. The last time I checked, over one-fourth of U.S. ambassadorship positions lacked a Senate-confirmed appointee. Talk about dis-serving the national interest! How can government do its jobs without leaders at the helm?

An Out-Of-Whack Judiciary

If there is one branch of government where wisdom, historical knowledge, and beyond reproach integrity are supposed to reign, it is surely the judiciary. But, now more than ever, hyper-partisanship dictates who gets appointed to the Supreme Court. Special interests wield a lot more influence than the general public on who gets nominated. (Sometimes the Senate even finds ways to delay these important nominations until a different and more politically agreeable President takes office.) Increasingly, archaic ideology more than informed constitutionalism informs the dizzying array of decisions the high court pronounces. To make matters worse, our highest court operates without anything approaching a credible code of ethical behavior. Justices, and even their spouses, engage in money-making “jobs” and “opportunities” that cast grave suspicion on their integrity—their sense of what is right and what is wrong. These judges get away with behavior that not even a congressman can do!

Now we are entering an era when judges at local and lesser levels are increasingly selected through expensive electioneering. These contests go largely unreported, but sometimes cost millions of dollars. Those dollars come frequently from wealthy special interests. Judgeships for sale to the highest bidder! Is this how justice is served?

Special interests also know how to court-shop. They find ways to present their lawsuits to judges who are known for their friendly political leanings, i.e., their ideologies. Then a case will often go to a court of appeals whose majority may have opposite leanings, and the initial decision may be overturned. This yo-yo process can continue all the way to the Supreme Court. Is it any wonder, then, that the judiciary is rapidly falling into public disrepute?

Justice is not politics. This is serious business that goes to the people’s faith in securing justice through our legal system. Our democracy cannot allow these abuses to continue. Judicial reform is essential reform—and its time is now. Out-of-touch judges need to understand what their behavior is endangering. And we the people need to insist upon it.

Corporate Responsibility for Inflation and the Economy

Surely there are multiple causes for the inflation that has stalked our economy for so many months. COVID and the costs of alleviating the suffering it brought clogged supply lines around the globe, created huge spikes in energy prices, and wreaked havoc on the world economy. But there was a huge amount of profiteering involved, too, from businesses large and, yes, sometimes small. Airlines, energy producers and distributors, financial services, telecom, meat and food processors jacked up prices, and their quarterly profits zoomed skyward—into the tens of billions—while consumers paid the price. Seeing the big guys profiteer, plenty of smaller enterprises followed suit and took advantage of their opportunity to gouge consumers over and above legitimate price increases. I’m not saying “all”, but I did say “plenty”. A walk down many store aisles is still shocking today. You can’t convince me all those price hikes are justified. Nor are all those shrinking cartons and containers that force us to pay more for less. It’s a far cry from pulling together to overcome a serious problem.

Media That Falls Short

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that I hold media accountable for much of our diminishing democracy. Large corporate media would rather focus on entertaining viewers and listeners instead of informing them of what is actually going on. Instead, we are bombarded with the spitballs Trump and DeSantis hurl at each other every night on the network news. Local news is a shell of its former self because the big guys have swallowed up hundreds of community stations, vastly diminishing local and regional news and important beats at the local and state levels. How can we have better news when we have seen over one-third of newsroom jobs cut in recent years? “If it bleeds, it leads” coverage, weather and sports seem the totality of too many outlets across the country. There are still independent and high-performing community stations around, don’t get me wrong, but it is every day more difficult for them to survive in such a consolidated media environment.

What About Us?

I remarked at the outset that we, the people, have let much of this happen. That’s harsh, I know, but we each must do a better job of fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens. This country of ours, despite its many daunting challenges, remains the world’s best hope—if we do our part. That means voting, yes, but it means insisting on media and reporting that dig for facts, cover all beats, and provide us with fact-based information that enables us to vote intelligently. It means getting involved before and after we vote, holding elected and appointed officials responsible for good and intelligent behavior, pushing them to redeem their electoral promises, and organizing with like-minded fellow citizens to make sure political promises are kept. True reform seldom comes as a gift from beneficent lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It comes when they feel pressure from back home. That means pressure from you and me. It’s hard but necessary work. Without it, we get the mess we have. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It is a participatory obligation. Harsh as this piece may seem, I still believe we can stop our democracy’s slide and redeem the promise of America—if that’s what we really want.

About the Author

Michael Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC’s Acting Chairman from January to June 2009. His years at the Commission have been highlighted by his strong defense of “the public interest”; outreach to what he calls “non-traditional stakeholders” in the decisions of the FCC, particularly minorities, Native Americans and the various disabilities communities; and actions to stem the tide of what he regards as excessive consolidation in the nation’s media and telecommunications industries. In 2012, former Commissioner Copps joined Common Cause to lead its Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest. Learn more about Commissioner Copps in The Media Democracy Agenda: The Strategy and Legacy of FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps

United States gets a B for Freedom!

The Freedom in the World 2022 report from Freedom House gives the U.S. a grade of 83.  The U.S. has been in decline for the last 10 years.

This was a decline from the 2019 score of 86, mostly the result of the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capital by Trump supporters and continued threats and intimidation of politicians and election officials throughout the country.

In a national poll conducted in 2018 by Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center, 68 percent of Americans agree that America’s system of democracy these days as getting weaker.

Can We Keep Our Republic?

The famous warning by Ben Franklin seems appropriate today as it was in the beginning of our country.  Just how do we keep this Republic strong?  This is my take on what is needed now:

  • Educating the citizenry about principles and concepts of democracy;
  • Taking the time to understand the issues and apply critical thinking to avoid disinformation;
  • Voting and protecting that right for all U.S. citizens;
  • Standing up for what is right regardless of party policies or objectives.

In my lifetime, I have seen my rights and freedoms slowly eroded away without knowing what to do about it.  I personally plan to take this organization to the next level to accomplish some of the thing listed above so we can keep our republic!