Can President Joe Biden rescue democracy? Does Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell care? Is rescuing democracy a partisan affair?
Perhaps the questions are overwrought, but the terrain is rough. We face a pandemic of distrust in both political institutions and processes.
Pew Research reports: “Anger and fear are widespread. Majorities of Democrats and Republicans say they feel both sentiments when thinking about the country, though these feelings are more prevalent among Democrats. And just 17% of Americans – including 25% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 10% of Democrats and Democratic leaners – say they feel proud when thinking about the state of the country.”
When was the last time you saw the Congress’s approval level rise above the teens? Since it is said that both Biden and McConnell are institutionalists—take pride in the role and history of the Congress—they should work to find some common causes.
Senator McConnell, in particular, needs to answer the George Will barb: “On January 3, the 117th Congress will convene. It is not clear why.”
News consumption, which arguably forms the basis for the public’s attitude about public affairs, is increasingly made up of echo chambers. We, those who inform government through our votes and various kinds of petitions, need to go beyond those with whom we agree.
An especially vivid moment in my early life was the first day of law school. The new class of law students was being given a tour of the law library. A revered professor, motioning to the stacks of law books in a four floor library said, “When you leave law school you will know only a small fraction of what is in those books, but if successful you will know what questions to ask and where to find the answers.”
Those who teach the humanities need to take a similar approach to life’s questions. Unfortunately students are more likely to be taught what to think, not how to think.
In all the layers of our national fabric we need to be open to inquiry that is formed around getting it right.
Executive Orders or Congress
Much of what President’s Obama and Trump did was through Executive Orders. Executive Orders are fragile. Courts can reverse them as unlawful or unconstitutional and they mostly don’t survive when the other Party wins the White House.
At this juncture President Biden has no alternative to attempting to form coalitions that cross partisan divides. If he wants to move climate change legislation, for example, he must pull together a coalition in Congress that considers the risk to the future to be greater than the political risk of the present. Reforming our contorted laws and allocations on health care poses a similar challenge.
A glimmer of hope emerged in the Gang of 8 who largely shaped the coronavirus legislation. I believe the President can find Gangs (not an especially constructive word) on several of the issues that warrant Congressional action.
There were Republicans re-elected in States that voted for Joe Biden and Democrats that were elected in States that voted for Donald Trump. Coalitions can be found that will actually support change that must be legislated.
And while I am on the subject of coalitions, the work of the last week by the Congress was a national embarrassment. There needs to be a large bipartisan coalition for orderly consideration and disposal of coherent legislation.
In the movies a bad script is rather quickly discarded or if it survives, is panned. The script in politics today is treacherous. It portends an even deeper division. And what is so maddening is its insincerity. Fear of political retribution writes only one script—false.
Theory on Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy theories whether, as they say on Wall Street, you are a buyer or seller, seem particularly seductive. Why not; they give the imaginative but powerless something to do and they give the anxious and pessimistic something to buy. Unfortunately they also give loudmouths and marginal media something to play with.
I am not a conspiracy theory historian so I’m not prepared to put my thumb on a generational scale. But it does seem to me that our societal distemper and the importance of the issues we are fighting about make this an especially dangerous time.
And when the most watched news media feature various theories over facts, well it is not hard to see the problem. Donald Trump was not a Russian agent, full stop. Joe Biden did not steal the 2020 election, full stop. A democracy depends on a critical mass of well-informed not easily manipulated electorate.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.