One of the ways that I try to keep abreast of how the people are thinking on the issues sitting in the publisher’s seat at the Sun Bay Paper, is to both read and listen avidly. Most days, I read literally a couple of hundred comments and letters. Some are directed at Sun Bay but far more comes from a wide array of news sources, ranging from the ultra-liberal Salon and Huffington Post to the populist conservative at the New York Post and many in between. In essence, I make it a point to get all viewpoints on an almost daily basis. The anger of Americans crosses all lines - conservatives and liberals equally speak to their frustrations with a dysfunctional political system they see as unresponsive to their needs and highly disconnected from their lives.
Increasingly voters say they want a political revolution. But it’s unlikely they will get the real change they seek until we implement true fundamental reforms at all three branches of our government. Either there will be peaceful change by a cooperative ruling class or the “Bastille” will be stormed. It seems such an easy choice but history teaches us people often refuse the easy way out, preferring social change by upheaval. But here are some steps that could avert an outright revolution, at least in my opinion.
In the Executive branch, we must move to direct, majority-based elections for our presidents. Many modern democracies already use this system. According to the Washington Post, “outside a handful of swing states, most voters don’t see themselves as having much influence on the outcome of the November election.”
One of the reasons for this is due to gerrymandering but the Electoral College also plays a role in maintaining a lack of voter confidence. Voter sentiment is based in fact and rings true. The Post claims “it’s basically impossible for Democrats to lose deep-blue states such as California or for Republicans to lose deep-red ones such as Idaho. It doesn’t help that a president can win with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, as has happened with 15 previous presidents, or by losing the popular vote altogether, as has happened four times.”
Not many realize America has handled a similar issue with indirect election of our representatives - that the enactment of the 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, stopped the election of senators by state legislators. Similarly, we need to abolish the Electoral College. Presidents in the USA should be elected by a simple majority of votes with a runoff election where two candidates fail to initially secure the majority vote.
Another very troublesome problem is entrenched incumbency. Though the Tea Party and several other groups have tried to usher in reform, congressional incumbents maintain a death grip on their seats. The Post reports that “ninety-five percent of sitting congressmen and 82 percent of senators up for reelection won in 2014.” This is because of their fundraising advantages – using their position to elicit funds – but more importantly they are protected by how district lines are drawn.
It would be wise to adopt a constitutional amendment barring gerrymandering of congressional districts. This amendment should require that districts be based solely on population numbers and geographic continuity. And to tighten the accountability to voters, the US should change elections to allow the top two vote-getters from the primaries to run against each other in the general election, even if they’re from the same party, from a third party or are independent. This would end the sham of choice and bring real choice back to the electorate. It would also bring a real check and balance to a two-party system that now seems to most voters as enfranchised fraud. Yes, voters in a predominately Republican area like Fort Myers Beach or Naples might still elect Republicans and voters in Detroit may still elect Democrats, they might elect different Republicans or Democrats. Perhaps equally as important, when choosing between candidates of an opposing party, voters from the minority party in that district might vote favor a more moderate, ultimately more representative choice.
It is also very important that we expand the Supreme Court, which concentrates too much power in the hands of too few justices. There has been too much concentration of power in a scary place, where one justice can have enormous influence on rulings and set the social course for America. Many arguments today in far too many important cases are, including last week’s Texas abortion case, are aimed at a single swing vote justice. This is also why confirmation hearing are so bitter and hotly contested as evidenced by the current political battle to replace the recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. Far too much power concentrated in too few hands.
Other countries where the rule of law works well already have larger Supreme Courts. (Germany’s high court has 16 members, Japan’s has 15, and Britain’s has 12.) U.S. Circuit Courts already have approximately 18-20 Justices. It makes no sense to keep the most important court at its current size. An expansion would both diminish the power of individual justices and increase the likelihood that the best legal minds could get confirmed.
“The current size of the U.S. Supreme Court is arbitrary, related to the number of federal circuits in the late 1800s. The Constitution leaves it to Congress to determine how many justices the court needs,” according to a recent Washington Post article.
This makes it easier to expand the Court’s Justices since it can be done legislatively rather than by the more cumbersome process of a constitutional amendment. By phasing in the increases over several administrations, we would prevent any single president from appointing more than two justices to the new seats. There also needs to be more accountability to the public about the operations of the Supreme Court. It is, after all, a public body. Some have suggested cameras should be used so the public can watch deliberations and others have proposed legislation that provides a method for taking Justices off the bench that demonstrate senility or incompetence. “Appointed for life” is sometimes just not practical as the effects of ageing leaves no one untouched and for someone in the ultimate decision seat, a meandering mind is not what the public needs to be confident in the outcome of critical cases. The cameras idea would give the public a way to see for themselves and make for more transparency and in the administration of justice this is critical for the perception of fundamental fairness.
While we have always had a percentage of eligible voters who do not avail themselves of their rights, in general, a sizeable number of Americans are neither irrational nor apathetic, they are just fed up and alienated by what they perceive as a rigged game. When they see all branches of their U.S. government as insulated themselves from the public; when they perceive “representatives as only representing narrow interests; when they see the huge flows of money from even narrower sources; then perhaps it’s time for a real change.
This is why men outside the Beltway, like Trump or Carson, has captured the attention of so many; it’s the perception that they are not in an entrenched cabal that uses antiquated political rule books to distort voter sentiment so that the people’s frustration grows as their perception of being irrelevant also grows. It is time to simplify the rules and make our leaders more directly accountable to the people they purport to serve.
One pundit has suggested that we must stop treating voters like “barbarians at the gate,” and suggests opening the gate to “allow them in to play a more direct and meaningful role.”
If those in power fail to take some serious steps soon; if the public perceives they are being thwarted by a handful of self-appointed tyrants or that they are being denied the fundamental right to choose who leads them through arcane chicanery, then there may be no need to open the gates, the people will overrun them and that will be the beginning of a not-so-peaceful revolution.
Carl Conley, Publisher