November 2020

The First Reform

The United States needs peace. Not just world. It needs intramural peace: Peace between the colors of the states; among the colors of its people. It needs peace with all its citizens. It needs peace with itself. Clearly this past election heralds just such an opportunity: a return to comity and normalcy. A return to plain decency.

Today, both relief and desperation are in the air. After four years of Trump—four years of limitless lies, of constitutional chaos, of fraudulent facts, we remain a divided nation. So how do we bridge the gap? How do we make the fundamental principle of democracy—of majority rule—work for everyone?

The president of the United States is often referred to as the most powerful person in the world. He (or she) is leader of the world’s largest economy and controls the nuclear codes of the world’s most powerful nation. Often overlooked are two people of almost equal, certainly competing, power. In truth, they do not have a bully pulpit; they cannot send soldiers to battle; nor issue executive orders. But they, too, are powerful. And that power needs a correction. I am, of course, referring to the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate. These two, more than any other elected official, determine what laws get made. In the case of the senate leader, he also determines what presidential appointees get confirmed. For that matter, whether or not said appointees even get a hearing or a vote.

It is important for whichever party controls the houses of Congress, that their respective leaders exercise influence over the members of their own party as they shepherd bills through the legislative process. But it is even more important that these two leaders not impede the process and progress of true democracy.

Since we live in a representative democracy, we entrust our elected officials to enact legislation that reflects the will of the majority and hopefully advances the common good. That is how members of Congress secure our rights, strengthen our economy and most of all, heal a divided nation. It is not necessary for the leaders of the two houses to agree with each other, though that would be a bonus. But is essential that they allow the legislative process ample room to work as it was intended.

When legislation originates in one of the two houses, it is perfectly within the scope of the leader’s authority to determine which bills reach the floor and, in the process to marshal the support of their members. But currently the leader of one house can sit on bills that emerge from the other, thus stalling most meaningful legislation. Such intransigence also serves as a means of freezing a president’s agenda in order to weaken him and score political points.

Come this January, the first order of business in both Houses of Congress is to make one procedural change: When a bill arrives from one house it must be given a vote in the other. This will not diminish the role or power of the two leaders. They can still arm twist and in various other ways pressure their members to vote as a block. But vote they must.

This rule change will allow for each member of Congress to go on record for their votes—on every issue. It will make them more accountable to their constituents. And for those of us who still believe in what Congress should stand for, it might just free up some of them to vote their own conscience or at least put the country before party.

The Score Stands at 1 - 1

Forget about the multitude of World Cups in sports. Forget about the numerous World Championships in international athletic competitions. Forget about the different World Series events. As exciting as they all are, not one of them matters in the greater scheme of life. None of them makes a significant difference on world history; on how we live our lives; on whether or not we survive. Only one major competition truly matters. Call it the World Cup, or World Championship, or World Series of GOVERNANCE. The current score is Vladimir Putin 1, Democracy 1.

Putin inherited the Russian State while it was still a fledgling democracy and immediately began to morph it into an autocracy. His rallying cry was rooted in a forlorn despondency as he openly lamented the demise of the Soviet Union. In 2005 he stated that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

Deep in what passes for his soul, Putin knew that he could not reclaim Russia’s former status without dismantling liberal democracy around the globe. Although he attempted to achieve his aims in some of the former Soviet satellite states, his most brazen venture was the disruption of the American democratic process in 2016. The result was that he took an early lead: 1 - 0. He proudly told his own people that liberal democracy did not work and was on the decline.

In one sense Putin chose the perfect candidate to foist upon an unsuspecting American public: Donald Trump. This was a man not only deeply indebted to Russian oligarchs. Trump was also a person for whom democracy meant nothing. He lived by the mantra of Lord Voldemort: “There is no good or evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.” But the deceptive reality remains. Voldemort’s mantra is itself the definition of evil.

Many bottles of expensive vodka were consumed as Putin watched Trump seek to demolish the United States Constitution. If he had succeeded, democracies the world over would have fallen. As insurance, Putin’s forces began to interfere with elections throughout Europe. But his eyes were always on the prize: The USA.

Putin interfered again in 2020. But this time he failed. As Biden repeated many times, this election was a battle for the soul of the nation. As true and critical as that statement was, something even more foundational was at stake.

Over four years Trump, systematically sought to emasculate the Constitution. He employed executive orders, relying on an acquiescent and sycophantic Republican congress, and a court system corrupted by numerous unqualified, but Republican-confirmed judges.

Give Trump credit. He telegraphed his intentions by claiming that the second article of the Constitution gave him authority “to do whatever” he wanted. Even to point of wrecking that same constitution. He saw no need to respond to Congressional inquiries or even subpoenas. He declined to turn over documents; he regularly refused to allow members of his administration to appear before congressional committees. With the Republican Party willingly enabling Trump, Putin sat back and drank—every sip of vodka better than the one before.

But Putin did not learn the lesson of history. 2020 would see the giant awake again. Although not as cinematically dramatic as Pearl Harbor, the United States once again woke from its slumber. Americans were not about to allow their democracy to be destroyed. More citizens voted in 2020 than in any other election in U.S. history. At this writing, Biden’s count of the vote was more than any person who ever ran for office—four million plus votes over Trump’s tally. As Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted, “Welcome back America!”

The United States is not the only victor in the 2020 election. The entire world has exhaled a sigh of relief. First, because the tense, fraught and exhausting last four years are approaching an end. Secondly, because the cause of democracy has been strengthened. For now.

It is also important to recognize that the contest is not over. Putin’s powerful army of GRU internet operatives are constantly at work. For the rest of the world, there is no going it alone. Democratic governments must stand together and support one another. The alliances that have maintained freedom for more than seventy years must be reinforced.

For now the score is Putin 1, Democracy 1.

But the world of Putin, Trump and Voldemort is driven by power. And it remains an evil world. My bet is on democracy. Its foundation is not power. It is truth. As it turns out, Voldemort was wrong. There is good and evil. Or, as it is phrased in American lore, “Truth, Justice and the American way.” Trump is gone and Putin has no chance.