A public opinion survey found that 64% of Americans Agreed that our democracy is in crisis, and It is in risk of failing. Public awareness of the depth of our problems appears to be catching up with reality.
In February 2022, more than 30 of the world’s most thought-provoking politicians, policymakers, journalists, academics, and environmentalists participated in the second annual Denver Democratic Summit at the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. The panelists confronted democratic dilemmas, ranging from climate change to the detrimental effects of disinformation. The discussions identified these six factors that contribute to the dysfunction of democratic governments:
1. The Plague of Polarization
2. Whatever Happened to Civil Discourse?
3. Extremist Groups on the Rise
4. Waning Confidence in Election Results
5. Misinformation Abounds
6. The First Amendment Takes a Hit
We will analyze these six factors to determine whether government reforms could counteract their negative impacts. This will help us focus on the reform ideas that could do the most good.
A panelist pointed out that the key to democracy is not universal participation but universal respect, and he further stated that polarization is the principal threat to democracy. Today, however, a disparity in education exacerbates the divide in the country, and the panelist noted that elites look down on the lower classes, portraying them as proto-fascists, which they clearly are not.
The power of the hyper-partisan elites is enhanced because our current government structure fails to enforce the law against government officials, leaving them free to ignore laws, historical protocols, and civil behavior when it suits their purposes. It will require a drastic reform to fix this problem, but it can be fixed. We must create a new, non-partisan organizational unit under the control of the states to enforce the law against government officials; this unit should also have the power to modify rules of conduct for our officials. The key here is of course that the unit must be staffed by political centrists, not by partisans that are winners in an election.
This bold reform (we call it the Accountability Amendment) would transform the culture of Washington and provide motivation to tone down the rancor and partisan attacks. But if the motivation proved to be inadequate, the unit would have the authority to enforce its edicts. This new unit (tentatively called the States’ Compact) would become the watchdog of the federal government.
Our political discourse today is characterized by insults, name-calling, outright dismissal of opposing viewpoints, shouting down of speakers at public forums, and other evidence of a complete lack of civility. In our republic the people are sovereign, but a courteous exchange of ideas and information is essential for the government to function effectively. As a result of the total collapse of civil discourse, our government today is unable to function in a rational manner.
What caused this collapse? We don’t have to look far to see that hyper-partisanship is the culprit. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that the reform outlined above to strangle polarization can also restore our civil discourse. The new States’ Compact can specify the rules of conduct in Congress and could issue reprimands and penalties for transgressors.
The aggressiveness of extremist groups is also a by-product of political hyper-partisanship, so the remedy for this malady is again the Accountability Amendment. Ending hyper-partisanship in our politics will remove the driving force of extremist groups.
The linchpins of the republic are elections of the proxies that will represent us in the workings of the government, and these elections should be guarded jealously. But we allow special interests to freely roam the country, pouring billions of dollars into targeted races to promote the goals of special interest factions. Observers cite this, combined with money lavished on Congress and bureaucrats in lobbying efforts, as the “systemic corruption of Washington.”
The Accountability Amendment will have some beneficial impact on elections, but we suggest a much more targeted reform for election finances that will dramatically cripple the flow of money from special interests: it is our Election Finance Reform Amendment. It will provide the voters in an election district with the quiet enjoyment of their election campaigns without outside interference.
In the past 25 years, two developments have upended the way we had traditionally obtained the news:
The creation of the internet and its development, with easy access by the public, and
The rapid expansion of hyper-partisanship that permeates all aspects of our society.
The internet has spawned a potpourri of outlets that claim to be news that have none of the characteristics we expected from our traditional news sources: careful vetting of their sources and checking multiple sources for confirmation of facts presented. In short, the professional discipline of our news sources has disappeared.
The result is something we call “orderly chaos;” it is orderly because most of the active players are aligned with either the Democrat/Progressive or Republican/Conservative narratives, and chaotic as planned and programmed misinformation is spread widely. By now you know our solution: the Accountability Amendment will undercut partisanship, and build from there. It has leverage to use against the fourth estate: the First Amendment to the Constitution frees the press from government control or oversight, but that freedom carries with it a responsibility to act as a watchdog of the government. In that role, it is “missing in action.”
Protecting Our Rights
A panelist reminded the public that democracy is an important, ongoing, and difficult experiment in governance, and protecting it against its many threats starts with defending our rights at the grassroots level. We would add that the path to reform is provided for us in Article V of the Constitution, and we must urge our state legislators to call a convention of the states to consider amendments to the Constitution.
1 January 2022 NPR/IPSOS poll: https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/seven-ten-americans-say-country-crisis-risk-failing. The three principal groups (Independent, Democrat, and Republican) were all at percentages of 67% or higher. As reported in the Spring 2022 magazine of the University of Denver.