Editor’s note: This commentary is by David Russell, of Perkinsville, who is retired renewable energy and securities consultant and whose writing appears in venues including the The Hill and Huffington Post.
For those dwindling numbers of Americans who support Donald Trump there are many things to cheer about. For those who do not support him, there is nothing. The good news is that there really is at least one good thing about his presidency that has been a benefit and can be looked upon as good news. Our president has managed to get everyone’s attention and in a democracy, especially our representative form of democracy, that is actually a positive.
For those of us who have been screaming for the past 45 years it means something. We have warned continuously about low voter turnout, and ill-informed or uninformed electorate, failures in the educational system, the rise of corporate lobbying, the enactment of preferential tax treatments, the decline of corporate stewardship, the restriction of civil liberties, the suppression of voting access, gerrymandering, campaign finance abuses, the disconnect between elected officials and public opinion, growing economic disparities, demagogy and misinformation. All of this hand-wringing has transpired with the backdrop and knowledge that our form of government only works with an informed electorate.
We have watched as increasing numbers of Americans have rightly surmised that their vote mattered little, that government was unresponsive, that wealthy elites had sway in legislative matters, that demagogic appeals to patriotism allowed for bad decisions in both domestic and foreign policy and that the idea of government as a servant of the public interest and the vehicle for aggregation and redistribution of wealth were no longer the operating guidelines for policy making. Or, if they remained as guidelines, they were in need of balance against the intrusion of individual and corporate greed, religious conviction or naïve concepts of civil liberties.
But Donald Trump has scared even the most indifferent citizen into understanding that an authoritarian regime could be a possibility. In the hands of a more adroit actor than this president it has become apparent that our democratic apparatus could actually vote itself out of existence. While we are not facing that outcome it is not because it could not happen, it is because the character in the White House is sufficiently inept and corrupt that institutional safeguards will, likely as not, take him down.
It is truly unfortunate that the body politic requires a shock to the system in order that some form of redress is brought to bear. While the public will remain captivated by the turmoil in the executive branch, the ruminations of the committees of inquiry and the wholesale assaults by the Fourth Estate upon the lies and deceptions, there is much afoot and much that needs to be done.
Activists inside and outside the Democratic Party have started to seriously recruit and muster a meaningful effort to reclaim the loss of thousands of elected political positions at all levels of local, state and federal government. The party is in deep debate over its message and the approach needed to reestablish public confidence in its ability to deliver on promises.
However, so much is required and so little focus is on the real fundamental issues. Just to mention two: Democrats have to address the need to reform America’s orientation toward work. The public has to be prepared for the world to come where labor is not the basis for resource distribution. There is a need to introduce the idea of guaranteed income so that job loss and job insecurity are removed as issues. In a world where human labor will diminish and automation or artificial intelligence will replace the need for workers, some political entity has to offer solutions. There are many ways to accomplish this but it has to be a part of the public dialogue.
Second, and equally important, we have to devise an institutional response to non-participation, ignorance and lack of a sense of civic responsibility. The answer is not just in voter registration drives, it is in a wholesale reorientation toward participatory democratic behavior. Citizenship and political awareness have to be reintroduced into educational training, election days have to become paid national holidays, better, more secure forms of voting and voter tabulation are needed, election cycles curtailed, constraints on funding implemented and fact based assessment be made easily accessible.
Most of all, civic pride and a sense of citizenship duty has to be augmented. The best idea offered as a means of accomplishing that is universal national service. The specific terms of service can certainly be debated but it is an exhilarating idea that every young person be exposed to: the need to support our form of government, provide productive service and work and promote and inculcate tolerance and acceptance of the cultural diversity of the population.
Donald Trump’s presidency has scared the bejesus out of a very large portion of the population and it has had the beneficial effect of galvanizing the electorate to pay more attention to the politics of the nation. While the benefits of this shock to the system are beginning to take form they continue to lack the focus and attention on the fundamentals of our divisive politics.
It would be nice to think that our political representatives have an intelligent design for addressing the fundamentals of ignorance and non-participation. To do so, a wider scope of options is needed to actually cure the problem and protect the delicate hold that democracy has had on the history of political institutions.