The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Civil Discourse

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.

Saving Democracy: Renewing Our Government Infrastructure v2.0P

Source: editorials.voa.gov

“We can’t have an economy that works for all if we don’t have a democracy that works for all.” TPE, Editor, Patrick Hill

By returning political power to the people then economic opportunities can be once again be made available to all.   Why is this reform and rebuilding effort important? Because the people don’t trust their government.  If citizens don’t trust their democratic institutions to do the right things for them, they will turn to demagogues who use hate, fear, divisiveness, pride, and power to weld control over the people to gain wealth and power for themselves. Here is a poll from NPR/Marist on the trust people have in various forms of U.S. government:

Sources: NPR, Marist – 1/17/18

Congress comes in dead last of all the major institutions, with the Military first and the Supreme Court second (though as the court becomes more politicized this level of trust may change). The Presidency under our present POTUS has not helped in terms of trust, since he was not elected by the majority of people falling almost 3 million votes short and then proceeded with policies that only appeal to his minority base. People inherently believe the majority person or policy should win. In our 2016 presidency election the majority candidate did not win, so the majority opinions are not represented in the Executive branch. The Executive branch starts out with a lack of support, trust or mandate to govern. Our government by the people for the people and of the people can only survive if people have trust in their government. What is even worse is the level of confidence Americans have in their government to handle international or domestic problems has dropped significantly:

Source: Gallup – 1/31/19

One month after the 9/11 tragedy the American public rallied around their government and leaders to provide protection and bring the perpetrators to justice.  Since 2001, the confidence the public has in their government to handle problems has declined to a 18 year low.

One reason trust is so low is the government actually does not represent the people when it comes to passing laws in accordance with citizen opinions, needs and condition.  Professors Martin Gilens, at Princeton, and Benjamin Page, at Northwestern examined thousands of opinion poll surveys from 1981 to 2002, and grouped them based on the top 10 % in income versus the bottom 90 %.  Then, they reviewed 1779 policy proposals versus the opinion surveys and found the elite saw 76 % of their opinions reflected while the general public only 3%.  Special interest groups gained 56 % of their positions reflected in policies. It is little wonder that the general public is frustrated with their federal government.

Democrats, Republicans, and Independents need to step back a moment, or a year and think about our democracy first and their policies second.  The most salient aspect of politics since the 1980s is the ascendency of corporations, the wealthy and special interest groups gaining and sustaining power in Washington supported by both major parties. At the same time wages for the working class and 80 % in income have basically stagnated on a real wage basis. Our government needs to work for everyone: conservative, liberal, immigrant, native born, poor or wealthy.  We need more government processes focused on building consensus rather than the predominant government, Internet and media processes fanning the flames of division. Division is freezing our ability to move ahead and even look ahead 10, 20 or 30 years to solve problems before they become too immense to solve without great loss of life or economic damage. The fact that we cannot seem to make the right legislative, corporate decisions or encourage environmental sound citizen behaviors to save our planet is evidence enough of the breakdown of our democracy to solve real problems. Are these problems solvable? Yes, but only if we work together bringing the genius of our diverse people to focus in effective ways to solve those existential issues we face. There are so many narratives that are disconnected, people talking past each other. We need to connect the narratives and arrive a one narrative that the majority of Americans can support on each major issue.

Our next post: will focus on voting, the heart of our democracy.

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.

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.

What Ever Happened to Integrity and Service In Our Leaders?

(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: wikipedia

Our 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush passed away quietly at his home in Houston this past evening. He was 94 years old. His legacy is multifaceted yet in contrast to today’s political discourse his integrity stands out. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s described Bush as “great in his character, leading with decency and integrity.”  Integrity defined by linguists focus on two character elements: adhering to a set of moral principles and character definition.  Integrity is seen in leaders who are humble enough to continuously learn from their mistakes, listen to others and are honest to themselves and others.

Former President Barack Obama noted about President Bush’s life that he was:

a patriot and humble servant with a legacy of service that may never be matched, even though he’d want all of us to try.”

“While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Not merely for the years he spent as our forty-first President, but for the more than 70 years he spent in devoted service to the country he loved.”

Bush demonstrated a level of dedicated service to his country that few have matched. He was the youngest Navy aviator to fly in WWII.  Shot down over the Pacific he was rescued. Later he continued a career of public service in the House of Representatives, Ambassador to the U.N., U.S. Envoy to China, Director of the CIA and Vice – President among many positions he held in 70 years of public service.

His service did not stop at his one term presidency.  One unusual partnership developed 20 years after his presidency with the man who pushed him out of office, Bill Clinton.  In 2004, Bush’s son George W. Bush asked his father and Clinton to tour the devastation after a huge tsunami hit Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand.  They discovered during the two week tour how much they had in common including an unlikely support of several education programs. After Hurricane Katrina in 2008 they two joined together in raising over $130 million in relief.  When the program eventually was not needed, the funds were distributed evenly to the two men who then gave them to charities in the U.S. Gulf coast region. Bush observed on his relationship with Clinton that “politics does not have to be mean and ugly”.  Seems like light years ago from our perspective today.

Reflecting on the recent death of another great Navy flyer, Senator John McCain, it seems impossible to miss that with the passing of these two men our country is losing not just the people but the values of service and integrity they exemplified.  We hope during this coming week of memorials and remembrances that George H.W. Bush’s character traits of selfless service, integrity, honor and a humble love of all people is reborn, not lost on this generation.

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.

Dignity of Presidency We Can Agree On

(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: YourLittlePlanet.jpg

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, showed that nearly 70 % of all Americans agreed that the dignity of the presidency had been damaged by  POTUS.  Even, GOP members agreed with this finding by 40 %.  Another point most Americans agree on is that the President should be more consistent with previous presidents by a wide margin of 69 %, the majority of GOP members agreed by 57 %.

We look to our Chief Executive to set the tone for national discourse on critical issues facing the country – not abusive language, mocking, and divisive rhetoric most of which is untrue.  It is heartening to see that most Americans see what is happening today as being out of bounds in the dignity and behavior of the present Chief Executive.  Americans still have respect, and support a President who is seen as fair, truthful and exemplifying dignity.

If we can’t get the building of civil national discourse going at the top – let’s start building from the grass roots up.  The following observations on building service in our lives is attributed to Mother Teresa:

“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway, What you spend years building, some could destroy overnight.  Build anyway.  The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.  Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you have got anyway. You see, in the final analysis it is between you and your God…anyway.”

Over 80 % of Americans believe in God or some higher spiritual force.  Maybe we start with the universal understanding that as spirit beings we need to be building our communities, families and relationships with each other.

Let’s start building regardless of whether we receive a positive response in return or our motives are suspected.  The world needs nothing less than the best we have to give today to bend the arc of universal justice toward equality and peace.

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