Friday, September 01, 2017

The Time Is Now

Since the election there has been a lot of talk about the trump administration, and the ramifications of his positions for the American populace. There have been exhortations from the right to “just get over it” and accept the results of the election, even though they are tinged by a cloud of possible corruption by a foreign government, and there have also been just as vocal opinions on the left that it is only through citizen action such as protests, flooding legislators with phone calls and emails, etc. that we can slow the right-wing agenda.

Neither of these is going to work. The country is too polarized, trump is too divisive a figure, and the Republican stranglehold on power (through gerrymandering and voter suppression) is too great. Above all, however, there is one very important fact that rarely gets mentioned in the media:

Legislators don’t really give a damn what you think, and the unfortunate reality is they don't have to.

In 2014, Martin Gilens (a Professor of Politics at Princeton University) and Benjamin I. Page (a Gordon S. Fulcher Professor of Decision Making at Northwestern University) published a study of political inequality in America, called “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” The central finding was this: economic elites and interest groups can shape U.S. government policy — but Americans who are less well off have essentially no influence over what their government does.

The paper referred to over 20 years worth of data, measuring the involvement of the “upper class elites” (defined as the top 10% of earners) and the middle class as two separate groups, and tracking the passage and rejection of legislation based on involvement of these two groups. What they found was that, when the elites support legislation, it stands about a 45% chance of being enacted. When they oppose it, that chance drops to 18%.

However, when the impact of middle class voters are calculated, it turns out that legislation has about a 30% chance of being passed -- regardless of how vocal the middle class is about it -- basically, it doesn’t move the needle much at all. So while the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration may have made some legislators uncomfortable, for the most part the voices of the people are just so much white noise on Capitol Hill, drowned out by the sound of money pouring in the door from big donors.

That’s who REALLY makes policy in Washington these days. For example, the carried interest deduction, useless to most middle-class taxpayers because they do not have enough wealth for it to kick in, is a favorite of the top 10% because it slashes their tax bill to nearly nothing. Tax reform proponents have been agitating for this deduction to be removed from the tax code for years, but all it took was a call from one guy -- Mitt Romney -- to stop this movement dead in its tracks in 2012. And what does Mitt Romney have (besides elevators for his cars) that most people don’t?

If you said “eight figure bank accounts,” then you’d be correct.

Many people think that reversing Citizens United will solve the problem. It won’t. It will simply mean that big donors and special interests are going to have to be more creative in finding ways to influence policy behind the scenes. Which they will do, because they have the resources to mobilize whole teams of lawyers to find these ways.

Unfortunately, I fear, the only way we will be able to remove the stink of corruption and the greasy film of undue influence from big donors and special interest groups from American politics is to drop back ten and punt. I am not calling for a violent overthrow of the United States government, far from it. I believe we do have a basic framework in place that can be quite effective and beneficial for almost everyone in this country.

What I am calling for is a Constitutional Convention. I am calling for citizen representatives from every state and territory in the nation to convene in Philadelphia to discuss and ratify a new Constitution for the United States of America.

This is not a Democrat/Republican thing, or a liberal/conservative thing, or a Clinton/Trump thing. It has very little to do with the election of 2016 (although, to be fair, that did serve as a catalyst). This has to do with the 90% of Americans who, essentially, have no representation in our government because they simply can’t afford the cover charge. From the most conservative, red-meat, middle-America Trump voter to the most diehard liberal Bernie Sanders supporter, we all have to wake up to the realization that we just don’t matter in today’s America.

We must make ourselves matter. Nobody is going to do it for us. We have to stand up and make ourselves important, make ourselves be considered a part of the country instead of subjects of it, to realize the dream of a true small-R “republican” form of representative government.

In the history of every civilization, there comes an inflection point, a moment in time when the trajectory changes and society moves in a completely new direction. We are now at such a point in our history. In an effort to preserve the greatest political experiment in human history, we, the people of the United States of America, make this declaration that we will, from this point forth, be free from the tyranny of greed, corruption, and partisanship that has poisoned the well of society, and that all people are entitled to unassailable rights of life, health, equality of opportunity, liberty, and freedom from discrimination in all endeavors.

This is the beginning of our new Declaration of Independence. Like the founding fathers, we are standing up against tyranny, against having the will of the few imposed on the many, against the systemic corruption and favoritism that has turned America into nothing more than a branch office of huge companies and special interest groups.

The campaign of donald trump centered around the slogan “Make America Great Again.” To many people it represented returning to an earlier, simpler time and traditional values (with the word "traditional" having different meanings for different people). For a ugly, detestable few of his supporters it was license to unleash latent hatred -- against minorities, immigrants, Muslims. However, it centered around the idea that America had lost its greatness, that it was no longer the beacon of hope it had been the world over.

It's a rather depressing outlook, in my view, which is why I would like to launch an effort to "Make America Greater." After all, this is a pretty good place to be already ... consider that I have been calling trump out for being a traffic-cone-colored nightmare, a dumpster fire in the flesh, the personification of venereal disease, etc., pretty much with impunity, thanks to the First Amendment. There aren't too many other places on this ball of mud we call Earth that would let me get away with that kind of thing.

I usually sign off with "I gotta lie down." In this case, though, lying down is not an option. If this is going to happen it's going to take work, and dedication, and some talents that I do have and many I do not. Therefore, today my sign off is this:

We have work to do.

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