November Elections Won’t Solve Our Problems | We Will
In 2020, it is clear Americans want progress. Patience with government is running out, at every level, for solutions to persistent societal and economic problems. Gridlock, polarization, or cultural divide are tired excuses that no longer resonate with a citizenry that has watched a nation fail to overcome important domestic and international challenges. Unfortunately, the solution will not be found solely in the upcoming general election. We need more innovative strategies to govern ourselves when our traditional means are inadequate.
Progress is made when a consensus becomes obvious to the majority of people in an electorate. America has seen a couple major examples play out in present time. Mass demonstrations in hundreds of cities call to attention the obvious persistence of racial inequality in America -- which polling indicates is a majority held opinion in the US. Another example is found in a landmark legal decision. A recent majority of the U.S. Supreme Court extended the protection of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. Why now? Why does it take so long to reach this level of awareness that a majority consensus exists to solve a significant national problem? A complete answer is obviously too complicated to be answered in a simple blog post. Yet there are relatively simple solutions that can be implemented to break gridlock and improve government responsiveness.
Elections are designed to “pick the players”, but they don’t do much for determining the rules of the game or even which game is being played. Our government is out of step with us because the rules of governance are designed by the participants in control of our government. Imagine a football game where the team with the lead can change the rules of the game whenever it suits them. Each team will quickly focus on obtaining and maintaining a lead so that they can control the rules. They will not focus on whether the game is enjoyable to play or enjoyable to watch. Even winning the game takes on less importance because the rule-makers can decide how long the game will be played. The purpose of playing the game is lost. Politicians – our selected representatives in government – are not interested in their purpose. They are interested in their positions. That’s because when they are in the majority, they focus on maintaining the majority, rather than on the pursuing the reasons their constituents extended to them the privilege of a majority. When politicians are in the minority party, their primary focus is obstructing progress by the majority party so that it improves their chances of regaining the “lead” in the next election. As a nation, we have the wrong focus. This is not news to anyone who is paying attention. Our debates and news reporting detail every aspect of the contest and the personalities seeking election. The serious work of good government and civic engagement is hard to sell to an easily distracted electorate. But, it is time to try to sell our citizens on the need to pay attention to rules of the game and create the local, state, and national will to take on the challenge of extremely difficult problems. Let’s focus on creating better rules of government and creating more opportunities for citizens to influence our representatives and force responsive representation. This is how we to continue to engage after the protests in streets subside.
Many outstanding ideas have been shared to improve Congress by former Members and Senators, scholars, staffers, think tanks, and media participants. Most of them focus on the reforms politicians need to implement to break the gridlock and create bipartisan support for solutions the country desperately needs. Their well-reasoned solutions run the gamut from eliminating gerrymandering, selecting a non-partisan Speaker of the House of Representatives, reform of political spending, and restructuring the rules of the House and Senate. Anyone who tracks politics at any level knows that their recommended changes would result in significant benefits to government. However, their focus is on the wrong group. These same commentators concede that is that it is extremely unlikely the politicians will change the rules and that is extremely difficult for the electorate to change the rules. But, it is time to embrace difficult. The only real solution must come from the electorate. Politicians have a very poor record of controlling . . . politicians. They are always eager to create rules which limit their opposition. They are similar resistant to any rules that constrain their own perceived advantages. The implementation of rules or legislation grounded in fundamental fairness and true respect for the opposition’s perspective are rare. That’s where electoral engagement and protest needs to focus. Focus on the rules of the game, not who is playing the game. Focus on solutions to problems. Stop providing your support to your team. Stop focusing on which team is winning.
The viewpoint of the “loyal opposition”, the minority political party, needs to again become a primary feature of legislation at all levels of government. Democracy practiced in a republic requires meaningful input from the majority and the minority for any substantive solution to be realized. The only way to create a sustainable, successful political union is to engage and understand all viewpoints and to ensure that individual rights are respected. A nation governed by the Rule of Law requires that the rules be created, implemented, and interpreted consistently. It requires decisions be made in the open by representatives who are accountable to their entire constituency.
The protests and legal challenges of 2020 have been effective. Unfortunately, the general elections of November 2020 will not be. Calls for reform and campaign promises will be popular for a while but will fail to be implemented. The loyal opposition will again be ignored. Americans whose views are not respected by the majority will feel marginalized or disenfranchised. Many voices that joined in the protests earlier in the year will become fatigued by the lack of tangible progress. The reason is clear. The inertia for the newly elected to focus on consolidating and maintaining power is too strong. Many complex problems require multiyear effort to resolve, crossing several election cycles only to have the solution dismantled by the opposition when it regains the majority. Our representatives will focus on retaining power and undoing perceived injuries previously enacted by the opposition. Substantial change in how the will of their constituencies is manifest will again be deferred until the next protests or the next election cycle. It looks hopeless, but it is not. A solution is also as clear as the problem. It is the same solution to which democratic republics always turn in the darkest times. The answer is found in redirecting the energy of the protests and creating a distributed democracy movement that is engaged in good governance all the time.
A motivated electorate can demand a more responsive republic. An engaged and informed citizenry can compel its representatives to implement change when there is an obvious consensus among the people. This year, spend more time supporting organizations and candidates looking to engage you and your neighbors. Support candidates and causes that want to improve government. Protest any candidate or cause that tries to suppress free and respectful political debate or engagement. Embrace your civic privileges between elections as well as in the voting booth in November. If we collectively raise our voices enough, they will hear us even through the partisan noise of our state and national capitals.
Copyright 2020 Jeffrey Scott Szorik
My name is Jeffrey Szorik. I am an average citizen with a lifelong interest in legislative politics. Like you, I would prefer our political representatives focus on the priorities & preferences of the majority of the electorate they are entrusted to represent. Restoring confidence in our political system depends on it. Join me, as together we explore how to restore 'government by the people and for the people.'