The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Civic Virtue

Saving Democracy: Elect the President by Popular Vote

(Saving Democracy Series:  this post focuses on how unfair, and undemocratic the minority vote of a President can be. Two ideas are summarized on how to reform the Electoral College which are most often proposed by scholars and political leaders, electors allocated by congressional districts or, The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact)

With the kickoff of 2020 presidential campaigns by 23 democratic candidates and one GOP president, we are reminded of how our democracy failed to elect the popularly voted candidate, Hillary Clinton in the last presidency contest.   The 2016 presidential election results were: Donald Trump receiving 290 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 228, yet she won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes.  That event continues to cause protests, fear, anxiety and sense of injustice across the country.  The Electoral College was developed by the foundering fathers as a way to make the Office of the President a powerful branch of government, not beholding to the majority of representatives in Congress. They developed a state based election system where presidential electors were allocated by state for each senator and congressional representative.  Including the 2016 election, there has been 6 times in U.S. history that a president was elected who did not receive the most popular votes.  A minority elected president is viewed by many people as illegitimate. While the minority candidate has been constitutionally elected, the candidate does not have the majority mandate necessary to execute the responsibilities of the office outlined in the Constitution.

This author asked his mother when he turned 18 years old, ‘how do you vote for President?’ she replied, ‘I think of the President like a child with a hammer, how much damage can he do, so I vote for the least damage.”  Our POTUS 45 must have listened to her as he is hammering away at a variety of democratic institutions, alliances and principles.

Why do we have the Electoral College anyway? The founding fathers had just come from a monarchy based government, so they did not want to repeat a system of a proclaimed leader (everyone wanted George Washington to be President at the time) with the leader appointing the next in succession.  Another approach under consideration was to have a national leader based on representational majority in Parliament.  Yet, they believed in balancing the powers of Congress and the Executive branch.  Plus, the founders were looking for a way to motivate the President for good behavior by allowing a second term.  If the President were elected by Congress it would have to be for one term, or he would become a tool of the majority in Congress. They did not want a direct popular vote because they were concerned that a national constituency could not be developed with so many regions and states likely to have favorite son candidates. James Madison, Constitution Convention recorder and leader, was looking for a compromise because southern states felt they would lose out in a national constituency with blacks being 3/5 of a citizen to vote.  So, a compromise was established to have a set of electors voted on by the people in each state based on popular vote. These electors that would then vote in a separate Electoral College vote in December with ballots read in a session of Congress.  If there was a tie 269 – 269 of electors between candidates, then Congress would vote on who would become President.  In our history there have been 5 Presidents who have not won the popular vote but have won by electors. 

Why is this a problem?  The popular will of the people is thwarted.   A major issue is that the Electoral College is not one person – one vote as identified in our Constitution for a representative democracy.  A vote in California with 55 electoral votes and 8,458,000 citizen votes means that one electoral vote represents 153,781 citizens.  In Wyoming, with 3 electoral votes and 230,197 citizen votes means that one electoral vote equals 76,732 citizen votes. A voter in Wyoming enjoys twice as powerful citizen/electoral vote than a citizen in California. The balance of power in the Electoral College swings to mostly sparsely populated inland states deciding who our president will be.  In the 2016 election inequitable voting power certainly is evident looking at an electoral map (right click on image to enlarge):

Source: Wikipedia – December – 2016

Voting power inequity creates great frustration and anger. In the days after the November 2016 election, there were protests in 37 cities across the country against the president elect due to the injustice of the non-popular vote. All our representative government functions are based on majority vote from local city councils to state legislatures and the US Congress.  It only makes sense to have a popular vote for president in the modern era. With growing economic inequality and divisive politics particularly between inland and coastal people a fair vote for president would go a long way toward building a united country.

Next steps:

Why not just have a direct popular vote?  This would be a good solution except that the Constitution needs to be changed in a two-step process by creating an amendment followed by ratification. The US Congress can create an amendment by a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate or two thirds of the state legislatures.  The proposed amendment then must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures in a time frame approved by Congress.  This is a long and difficult process as 11,539 amendments have been introduced in Congress since 1789 and 27 have become part of the US Constitution.

How about apportioning electors by congressional district?  We already portion congressional districts by population which is updated each decade by the Census Bureau.  The congressional district approach provides some equity for citizen to elector representation – though it will not fix the inequality completely due to the two senate electors. Maine and Nebraska apportion their electors by congressional districts today, with their two senatorial electors representing a statewide vote.  The congressional districting approach would be fair and take care of 80 % of the vote inequity issue. Plus, candidates would need to focus their campaigning on congressional districts not the whole state for a winner take all result. For example, California rarely sees presidential candidates from either party for the presidential race because it has gone for the Democratic candidate in the last 6 elections.  Candidates would benefit by campaigning in key congressional districts in even majority states to gain support of electors by congressional districts which may not vote with the majority of the voters on many issues or candidates.

The best approach would be to have congressional districts mapped by an independent commission as California does to ensure that the district is open to diverse political viewpoints. By establishing congressional districts as the key representative unit with fair boundaries for inclusion of multiple points of view we might see more dialog at the local level.  The increased dialog will induce more consensus building and possibly break the grasp of incumbents who are re-elected 93 % of the time.  State legislatures can decide on their manner of apportioning electors – so we could build a national census to have the states enact changes by the 2024 election.

Professors Akhil and Vikram Amar propose a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  Whereby, states legislatures would agree to vote their electors for the winner of the popular vote.  This compact would take effect when at least 270 electoral votes would be in the Compact.  To date fifteen state legislatures have ratified this Compact, swing and inland statues are reluctant to make the switch because they may lose some of their power in electing the next president. Yet, an analysis of advantages to either party are even when viewed over elections back to 1880. Both major parties back the Compact with former senators and congressman on a steering committee supporting the legislation in state houses. Both approaches: congressional district electors or the Popular Vote Interstate Compact are fair to both major parties and third party candidates.

Source: Wikipedia – April – 2019

A way to get the reform of the Electoral College off of dead inertia would be to file a suit in federal court seeking a finding that the present system violates one man – one vote provision of the Constitution, thereby forcing the states to redistribute their electors by another method preferably by congressional district with independent commission mapping or Compact.  Persuading additional states to pass the Compact law where legislation is pending like New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Maine would gain the necessary 270 electoral votes for the Compact to take legal effect.

Trust in the Federal Government at 20 Year Low

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: promarket.org

To build the common good, we need to have our citizens feel that their government is functioning well enough to handle domestic and international problems. A trust peak of 83 % was made in 2001 right before the 9/11 event where the public trusted the government a ‘fair amount’ to handle international problems slightly less for domestic.  Gallup reports that in January 2019, the figure for trust to handle international problems had sunk to 35 %, with domestic slightly higher at 41 %.

Sources: Gallup, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 2/

This is a crisis in public trust for sure.  Government took a big hit in trust with the Nixon Watergate scandal, the Bill Clinton impeachment and finally the 9/11 terrorist attack.  Do we feel our government can handle a fast moving international world that is increasingly dangerous to U.S. interests and people?  Domestically, the civic dialog has sunk to a new low in lack of civility and respect, largely due to the example of our President.

How do we restore the trust so our government can function the way it needs to in protecting our freedoms, ensuring domestic tranquility and equal opportunities?  Trust can be strengthened by government becoming more responsive and transparent in its functioning.  We need sunshine laws that require Congress disclose all appointments during the day, who they meet with and the interests or corporations they represent.  All senators and representatives need to hold regular Town Hall meetings to listen and understand the needs of their constituents while respecting differences.  On a national level we need a President who will show through his example how to listen to others, use inclusive processes, research and science in making policies.

For groups feeling left out of the economic mainstream; in our core inner cities, Midwest and rural areas of the South, government needs to be engaged in actively solving their problems. Government falls short by implementing band-aid programs that do not go to the heart of issues: like the opioid epidemic which strikes rural communities twice as hard as coastal areas. We have proposed a Heartland Venture Marshal Plan to invest in a variety of infrastructure needs in the Midwest including: healthcare, upgraded digital Internet access, job training, improved college access, apprenticeships and self-renewing economic systems similar to Silicon Valley’s innovative infrastructure. Internationally, our country needs to rejoin the democracies of the world by supporting the Paris Climate Accord, strengthening NATO, supporting the U.N., treaties with Russia on nuclear missiles and the Iran nuclear agreement. We need to overall treat our allies as partners and our adversaries warily. It is time to make the changes before a major crisis domestically or internationally forces our government processes to change possible in ways that a poorly designed and thought through.

Hundreds of Thousands Of Lives Disrupted Needlessly Because of Lack of Evidence Based Government

Image: civilserviceworld.com

Thirty five days ago the GOP held control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency and yet an ill-advised policy based on ignorance was allowed to hold 800,000 federal works hostage.  How did this happen?  Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer,  Speaker Ryan and Minority Leader Pelosi all agreed just before Christmas to extend a spending bill for a few weeks enabling the federal government to keep running while discussions were pursued on a Border Wall. POTUS went along with this plan and told Majority Leader McConnell he would sign the extension bill.  Yet, that evening POTUS started listening to commentators from his far right base – changed his mind and demanded funding of $5.7 billion for a wall or he would as he said a week earlier ‘take pride in shutting down the government’.  The Border Wall idea has no solid evidence to support that it would work to stem the tide of drugs of which 90 % come through ports of entry, drug leaders and gangs who fly over the border.  PBS sent a reporter to the border near Nogales, Arizona to gather real data on what was actually happening at the border.  He found that people on the border did not want a huge wall except for sections of see-through barriers in cities, yet wanted more border police, more access roads and surveillance technology. Speaker Pelosi made an excellent point in her press conference today, after POTUS caved when it was obvious the shutdown was causing real harm to many Americans, plus federal workers and their families.  She declared, ‘we support more border security measures, that are evidence based,’

Her focus on evidence based policy was music to our ears.  When was the last time during this GOP administration have we heard that policy would be ‘evidence based’ (with real facts not made up ‘alternative facts’)? The EPA has moved quickly to shift policy making processes to not use scientific based reports or data in making policy decisions. Immigration policy is based on scapegoating of Muslims, Mexicans, and Central Americans instead of the facts.  The facts are that new businesses are twice as likely to be started by immigrants, that when the Mexican economy thrived cross border immigration fell dramatically and that majority of immigrants fill jobs that most American workers don’t want to do.  Canada has looked at their trend of an aging population and declining workforce.  To build the size and skills of their labor force for the future they are welcoming immigrants – we should be doing the same thing. Our population is aging quickly, so without an immigrant influx of entrepreneurs and workforce we will be faced with a stagnant economy looking much like Japan’s.

The effectiveness of modern medicine was revolutionized when evidenced based medical practices and research was implemented as a standard clinical practice in the 1960s.  Businesses today use Big Data analysis, models, forecasting and innovate new products based on data, research and analysis before making investments. The dramatic increase in our standard of living is based on innovative processes in universities, businesses and financial services all insisting on ‘getting the data’ first before making proposals or investments.

We should accept nothing less than evidence based government. We are behind by 20 years on combating the effects of scientifically proven climate change. Our future will depend on making intelligent decisions based on evidence to implement sound policies and investments to ensure the existence of humanity.

Where Is the Common Good? Our Families is a Good Place to Start

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: takemyhandcoaching.com

Everyone has a mother and father (even if they are not living with them now).  Many of us have brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers.  How about looking at local, state and federal government policies and laws through the eyes of our families. Does this healthcare insurance make sense for families?  Does it provide for services, drugs and care from birth to death?  How can we build families as a unit of government services?

Families are really the basic unit of our communities.   A household is in an apartment, or home with a set of family members – as those members define their household.  For many there are multiple generations in a household, aunts, uncles, grandpa and grandma.  Can we start with family as an economic unit too.  How do we support those who have jobs in the household?  Can we support multiple family members having jobs? For example with child care so that Moms can work if they want to.  Can we have more women friendly corporate policies such that a women can move from home to the work world and back without losing pay or career opportunities.  Why not have paid parental leave like most developed countries of the world?

Children in the household need an education in the household to survive in this world.  Why not make pre kinder programs available for all families not just wealthy ones.  Why not offer public education that is equal across communities not just rich ones getting the good teachers and supplies?  Why not offer a college education or high quality apprenticeship programs to all children regardless of community at no cost to the family or limited cost. When are we going to invest in our children to the level that we did in the 1970s when states spent 3 or 4 times what they spend now secondary and higher education. 

When a household job holder is out of work what happens?  How can we support that person get another job, offer health insurance when they need it between jobs as no additional cost. When will we make companies that layoff workers do so in an equitable way along with manager and executive layoffs?  How do we get equitable pay for employees that is at a livable wage instead of 300 % less than executive pay.  In the 1950s executive pay was 50 % higher than the average worker, it worked then why not now.  Instead of allowing corporations to take the money they make off the hard work of employees, and funded by customers to throw stock buyback money down the drain – take those funds and fund equal education for all or healthcare for all.

Family time together needs to be supported, in Europe they have the full month of August off to be together with their families or friends.  Instead, US workers work the most number of hours in a year of all workers in the world.  Germany does fine with an economy that provides a good standard of living for all workers and they have 5 weeks off each year.

Today we have the highest level of wealth concentration since 1929, we know what happened after that year, the stock market crashed, companies went of business, unemployment was over 20 %, many people starved.  Unless, we take dramatic steps to share the benefits of our economy for all, it will crash again, causing great pain and suffering to many for 5 to 10 years as the economy rebalances wealth and reverts to the mean of wealth for the past 88 years. Throughout history, societies become prosperous, the rich take control of government and resources and eventually those that are left out revolt or the economic model becomes too top heavy to work and deflation, depression and decline takes place.  Then, as wealth rebalances the industrious are rewarded again and the society begins to grow again on a solid foundation.  That foundation is the family. There is another benefit to putting families first. We are actually all part of the same family of humanity, maybe when we put the focus on families we will treat each other with respect, understanding and civility.

Voter Turnout Highest in 100 Years As Citizens Start to Care

Photo: daytondailynews.com

Last weeks’ midterm election had the highest level of eligible voters participating in 100 years.  We need to go back to 1914 to find a comparable time when almost 50 % of the eligible voters did vote.  The turnout was higher than the presidential election of 2016 by 13 %.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 11-12-18

The remarkable shift is in large part due to the Trump presidency making clear that nothing short of the character of our democracy is at stake when we make choices about who our House and Senate representatives will be.

Will we go back to policies borne out of the 1930s toward nationalism, isolationism and trade wars (which led to WWII)?  Or will we move ahead, building a global community, where nations focus policies on a partnership of win – win for all, in peace.

Yet, as the ballots have been counted (though some continuing to be counted and recounted in Florida and Georgia), the political rhetoric between the newly empowered Democratic House and POTUS has started.  Hurling charges and counter charges and threats of investigations right and left.

In spite of the unacceptable behavior our politicians in Washington citizens have turned out in mass to make their concerns known with an ever more diverse House and a few new leaders in the Senate. With a diverse electorate beginning to make its voice known we can begin to build a consensus around the common good.  It is clear that we can’t move our country ahead in many areas including an economy that works for all if we don’t have people engaged.

While campaigns are often heated, with more heat than light on both sides of an issue, at least we see that people care. When people care, and get out and vote they are staking a claim in the future of our country.  That is a good thing and makes us hopeful for the future, even as torturous as it maybe to get to a better place for all in our democracy.

Toward A Solutions Focused National Dialog

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: better-angels.org

On the right we have a president who mocks a woman who was sexually assaulted at a campaign rally, on the left protesters stalk legislators at restaurants and taunt them while they eat.

What’s happened to our national dialog?  Why can’t we talk to each other in a way that sets up a supportive communication channel leading to solutions?  Abraham Lincoln saw the need for civil dialog to bring a divided nation together in his first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Recently, volunteers from the left, right and political persuasions across the board were represented at a conversation day hosted by Better Angels in Washington D.C.  The host group takes its name from the Lincoln quote focusing not on changing people’s minds but instead on just helping people to understand and respect each other – on common ground.  The founder, David Blankenhorn, started the group in Ohio after he had become friends with a gay man and changed his position on same sex marriage as a result.  Blankenhorn has developed seven habits of good discourse to keep the dialog on a positive level even in fierce disagreement.  He sees deep polarization due to multiple factors: “The intellectual habits of polarization include binary (Manichaean) thinking, absolutizing one’s preferred values, viewing uncertainty as a weakness, privileging deductive thinking, assuming that one’s opponents are motivated by bad faith, and hesitating to agree on basic facts and the meaning of evidence.”

We underline the last point, agreement on basic facts is missing from much of our dialog today.  As most Americans get their news from non-journalist sources: Facebook, Google, and Twitter.  These social media outlets sprung onto the news stage from opinion based businesses, run by entrepreneurs who are more programmers whose interest is in creating opinion platforms not fact based platforms.  Facebook, Google and Twitter are now scrambling to find journalists and news professionals to rein in the runaway opinions and falsehoods that proliferate on their sites.

As a society we are left with only a few major national newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post for thoughtful in depth analysis, Major television news organizations are more focused on sound bites than drilling into issues in any depth.  The PBS News Hours does bring in experts from multiple points of view on an issues to create context and deeper understanding of the topic.  Yet, the audience of social media is in the tens of millions while PBS News Hour is seen by a far smaller audience.

Where do we go today? Better Angels, Spaceship Media and Institute for Civil Discourse all host conversations across the political divide.  Yet, it is a huge cultural issue tearing apart the fabric of our democracy.  To repair our democracy and return our federal government to the people requires seeking the common good over all our basic positions – or we can never reach enough consensus to move ahead as a unified society.

Civic Service Sustains the Common Good

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: wikipedia.org

Benjamin Franklin was asked by a woman as he walked out from a hundred days writing the Constitution, “Doctor, do we have a Monarchy, or a Republic?”  He warned, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”  Franklin’s point was to ensure the new American government would endure, citizens had to get involved, participate in civic pursuits and be concerned about their government.

From Aristotle’s time when civic virtue was proclaimed as an attribute of the good citizen to today’s activists all civic participation is rooted in service.   How do we foster ‘otherness’ in our citizenry?  Starting from birth, a child receives support and love from its mother and father.  Closer to the mother at first, experiencing the nurturing and selflessness of the mother in the home.  Families provide a way for children to learn to support their siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents.  They learn to do chores that support the family, certainly this was a requirement in farm based families.

Today, most families are in urban centers with the mother and father likely to be both working, and chores are less clear with household machines and the Internet.  Kids spend more time on electronic devices than talking with family members. So, how do children learn to be selfless?  Volunteering at school, participating in local charities, with their mother and father taking the lead in initiating family service are all good ways to learn service.

Yet, what about our urban core areas or poor areas where families are just trying to survive day to day, do they have time for service?  Or where there is only one head of house to provide or raise the children? They need support, plus as a society we are so segregated by income and residence there is rarely a mixing of classes, ethnicities or cultures.

Domestic service, sponsored by the federal government for all young people 18 – 24 years of age for two years in programs patterned after Americorp is a good start.  Americans from all walks of life have an opportunity to serve their communities, states or travel to other areas of the country to provide necessary support services in areas they would otherwise never live.

We have fewer life experiences where we work with mixed classes working toward a share goal, resulting in a highly divisive and abusive civil discourse.  If we start working together to support our communities, our states, and our country maybe we can discover that we have more in common and build on those common interests in our civic affairs.

 

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén