We are in the midst of a national emergency, and the elections in November will signal whether America is still serious about being a democracy.
A President is actively attacking democratic structures and norms while intentionally stoking racial tensions. Civility itself is endangered. Our elections are not secure and voter suppression is on the rise. There is an active campaign by a foreign government to interfere directly in our discourse, sow chaos and impact our vote. Dark money is everywhere. And on top of all that, a good third or more of the country does not believe any of the above. And they will not believe it for the foreseeable future: right wing media will continue to spin lies and paint alternative realities, facilitating doubt and muddying facts.
In other words, the democracy is in peril. Our ship is sinking.
A Metaphor: Our Ship of State
America is a majestic ship - constructed in the late 1700’s; worn-in, but still seaworthy. We (the passengers) co-own the vessel and hire the crew. For the most part we agree on certain things: people should have a right to live peacefully; we should come together in times of distress and when our values are threatened; we should treat each other fairly and aspire to provide everyone with access to essential resources needed to exist free of suffering.
There are many destinations to sail toward, and we are generally split between a few options. We disagree - often passionately - about which island to head for.
But at the moment we have a bigger problem than arguing over where to steer. The crew – led by an unpredictable and arrogant Captain – has started sabotaging The USS America: disrupting the communication systems, drilling holes in the hull, hoarding rations for allies. They’ve started false rumors to pit groups of passengers against each other.
The ship is taking on water. Systems are in disarray. Communications are down. If we argue right now about which island to go to, we’ll be arguing as the ship sinks into the cold, dark waters of the night. We’ll never see any island.
So, we are left with a choice. Do we, the passengers and owners of the vessel, band together to save the ship, or do we keep arguing about which island to steer toward? Hopefully the answer is obvious.
We, the rational passengers, must see past our ideological differences and band together to see that our ship gets repaired. This will require replacing all of the sycophantic crew members with people who have the moral foundation and the guts to wrestle control of the ship's systems from the unprincipled Captain.
Operation "Rescue America"
First, we the passengers need to define a plan: a set of policies and principles that we expect the next Congress to take immediate and decisive action on, to ensure our vessel remains seaworthy.
Second, we need to replace all crew members who have aided and abetted the sabotaging of our democracy with honorable citizens who will commit to doing the repair work. The GOP in its current form simply cannot be trusted with legislative control or executive oversight. They must be replaced with Democrats in massive numbers.
As we vet candidates during this campaign season, we should ensure that they are ready to engage in the hard work ahead. Keeping in mind that the next Congress will have the unique historical role of shepherding our very democracy, here is a draft action plan for their repair work and the rhetorical/ethical postures they must take:
- Stand tall for the 1st Amendment and aggressively defend Constitutional protections for ALL. We need leaders who are vocal and unequivocal proponents of rights afforded by the Constitution for ALL our citizens, no matter their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability status or other life factor.
- Investigate and address corruption and abuses of power. Donald Trump has committed multiple impeachable offenses, and he continues to profit off this presidency. Investigations into his campaign, administration and finances must continue unimpeded, and the 116th Congress must impeach and try him for abuses of power if our system of checks and balances is to mean anything going forward. A broader anti-corruption agenda must be executed, yielding new laws and regulations that safeguard democracy from those who want to use political position for personal gain. We must return to and re-focus on ethics in government.
- Secure our ballots. Our elections and our ballots are not secure. There is no excuse for this. We must identify the most secure methodology for voting and do everything we can to push or require the use of this methodology. See Virginia. Why would we not secure our ballots?
- Fight voter suppression & make voting easier for citizens. Voter ID laws, voter intimidation and voter roll purging are all intended to depress the vote for specific communities, not secure it for all. These tactics are un-American and we demand that our leaders make it easier – not harder – for ALL American citizens to vote. Election Day should be a national holiday. Partisan gerrymandering must be curtailed.
- End foreign influence into our voting and discourse. Russia attacked our democracy, and the depth and breadth of the infiltration is still unknown, partly because Congress never passed legislation to establish an independent, 9/11-style, non-partisan commission to investigate the attack. We must pour resources and national attention into curtailing and ending foreign influence in our democratic process.
- Address campaign finance issues and the influence of dark money. The influence of donors and corporations on our politicians deserves fresh attention and requires the first major campaign finance reform push since McCain-Feingold to combat the effects of the Buckley vs. Valeo and Citizens United SCOTUS decisions.
- Lead with honesty, integrity and transparency. Donald Trump is a con man and a liar. The GOP has backed up his lies for political gain. The authoritarian strategy of offering alternative facts to counter actual facts and create a competing plausible narrative for public consumption is becoming more and more prevalent. This country, particularly our lawmaking processes and the execution of our laws via Federal agencies, must be fact-based. This includes an embrace of science.
- Return to civil, inclusive discourse and a fight against inequality. Governing in a diverse democracy like ours requires the ability to listen and empathize across geographies, races and classes. This is lost on the GOP. Our next Congress must set an example by actively seeking to act in defense of the marginalized in our society.
- Irrefutably rebuke the unacceptable re-normalization of white supremacist rhetoric. This is not who we are as a nation. Period. Congress must aggressively call out and censure elected officials who propagate hate speech or encourage racially-motivated violence.
- In the face of clear and present dangers to our Ship of State posed by this Congress and President, the 116th Congress must unite behind these 10 planks. Future Congresses must continue the fight until they are firmly in place for future generations.
The fact that the ship is taking on water has - at the very least - awoken the passengers to the reality that America can actually sink. Our appreciation for the builders' original vision has been renewed - but the sabotage wrought by Trump & the GOP has also exposed some long-concealed (or long-ignored) vulnerabilities.
What if American citizens of disparate ideology took a step back to survey our ship's damage and decided to come together and demand that our elected officials actually fix what needs fixing?
What if rational voters rallied around these ideas and measured 2018 candidates by their commitment to a platform of repair?
What if Americans of all political stripes embraced our joint responsibility to address the current crisis in our democracy, and mobilized to expel its saboteurs so that America could set course for a more noble future?
Let's make 2018 mean something. Commence Operation Rescue America. Remember: we own this ship. This is our ship. So let's fix it. Together.
Contributing Editor: Nick Knudsen
Nick is a workforce development professional and technical writer by day, an avid consumer of political news, and writer/thinker/agitator. He hails from the Bay Area, but has settled in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two children. He obtained his BS from Cornell University and MA from Stanford.
Nick can be found on twitter @DemWrite