Congress isn’t failing to solve the country’s problems because of party polarization or gridlock. It’s failing because it’s not in its own best interest to do so. Our legislators uniformly rely on big money to keep them in power.
This is the final column of the three part series on “Fixing America.” Previously, I’d discussed ways to improve our approaches to business and education. And while these are critical, the issues related to each are merely symptoms of the root cause of our problems.
That root cause is why Donald Trump was elected president. Not to build a wall, or drain the swamp, or even to make America great again. The cause is a justified frustration with Washington. The strategy was right. Sadly, the execution was lacking.
Immigration, the high cost of health care, jobs for the displaced, income inequality … insert your favorite cause. The origin of those problems remains singular in nature. And that cause is the system itself.
In magician-like fashion, Washington is masterful at diverting our attention. For decades both parties have proclaimed that they are the solution. And despite virtually no evidence to support their claims, we continue to believe them.
The Founding Fathers were brilliant in devising a revolutionary system of government. Nonetheless, not even the most brilliant among them could have imagined today’s world. Our founders were all well-to-do white men whose world consisted of 13 states, all of which had similar — and by today’s standards — simplistic economic profiles. And, oh yes, the world view at the time was that women and minorities had no rights.
The Constitution has been amended 27 times in 243 years. The first 10 amendments, or the Bill of Rights, were passed in 1791 as part of the normal tweaking process that occurs with any new process or procedure. The final amendment — congressional compensation — passed 193 years after it was proposed.
The 13th amendment abolishing slavery took 74 years to enact. Fifty-five years later, the 19th amendment afforded women a privilege that they should have had on day one: the right to vote. Throw out the 18th and 23rd amendments as they initiated and ended the failed social experiment of prohibition. Over the last 68 years, six amendments have passed, but only one addressed a major systemic issue — the 22nd amendment which limited the presidency to two terms.
The country was on to something there. Unfortunately, we neglected to apply the principle of term limits to the branch of government most in need of being throttled: the legislative one. You know, the ones that actually make the laws.
Think about the Constitution from this standpoint: What would you trust to use in your life that was 243 years old? Is there any tool manufactured two centuries ago that you would consider using today with little or no modification? More to the point answer this question: If a lawyer who practiced in 1776 did a Rip Van Winkle and awoke in today’s world, would you seek his advice?
Seriously. We don’t even use phones that were designed two years ago no less 200 years ago. Yet we seem to think that it’s no problem to function under a system of government that was devised before our parents, their parents’ parents or even their parents’ parents’ parents were born.
The root cause of every problem from Social Security to health care can be found in a flawed and distorted decision-making process. Money and special interests have hijacked our system of government. And regrettably, it doesn’t appear that the third branch of government will stem the tide. In its infinite wisdom, the Supreme Court opened the flood gates to even more abuse by deciding that corporations have the same rights as humans and that rigging elections — aka gerrymandering — was perfectly fine under the Constitution.
Democratic presidential candidate, Tom Steyer, may be a bit loopy, but among the gaggle of hypocrites and liars that are running for the presidency, he is at least on the right track.
Congress isn’t failing to solve the country’s problems because of party polarization or gridlock. It’s failing because it’s not in its own best interest to do so. Our legislators uniformly rely on big money to keep them in power. And enacting legislation that will solve a problem five or 10 years down the road won’t win them reelection.
How else do you explain Purdue Pharma getting away with the unfettered introduction of one of the most addictive narcotics ever as a legitimate pain killer? What other cause could account for the country lacking a significant energy policy despite having suffered through a crippling oil embargo 46 years ago?
It’s time to stop being fooled by our elected representatives pointing their fingers to the other side of the aisle and/or to external forces. Congress itself is the epicenter of what ails this nation. Decisions are made for all the wrong reasons. Until we correct that systemic problem, there is no reason to believe better outcomes will occur in our future.
So here are a few “simple” steps we could take to greatly improve our chances — most of which would require constitutional amendments:
Eliminate the quest for power by term-limiting the Congress and the Senate.
Eliminate money’s influence by publicly funding all federal elections.
Treat non-humans as non-humans by stripping the right to donate to any political campaign from corporations. They can encourage their employees to do so but should not be permitted to contribute directly.
Focus on the issues by enacting campaign rules that limit the length of presidential campaigns and prohibit candidates from negative ad strategies. In other words, devise rules to force candidates to talk about what they will do versus their opponents’ failings.
Make public service “Public Service” again by creating strict ethics/conflicts of interest laws that prohibit elected officials from taking $1 million jobs with the very people that they were chartered to oversee when in office.
These measures would undoubtedly increase the probability that decisions would be made for the right reasons. They might also result in getting more honorable people interested in public service.