Making America Great Again: A How-To Guide
There isn’t much I can say for the current US President. Other than the fact that we have the same birthday (for redemption value, so does Che Guevara), we have very little in common. We both oppose the TPP and think the FBI grossly abuses its powers (though I’m more pissed off about the FBI’s actual abuse of power (including but not limited to, oh, I don’t know, COINTELPRO?), not the Mueller investigation.)
But there is one other area where The Donald and I actually agree: America could be greater than it is, and if we want America to be great, we have to make it so.
Let’s look at some numbers, shall we?
The US ranks 20th in per capita GDP. Liechtenstein is 1st. We rank a shocking 110th in the world for income equality, with a Gini index of 45.0. Finland ranks 1st. For comparison, Canada ranks 38th and the European Union as a whole, 30th. The United States has greater income inequality than Iran, Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, Algeria, Sierra Leone, and the Occupied West Bank, to name only a few.
In terms of primary and secondary education, we’re 23rd in reading, 23rd in science, and 35th in math (according to the OECD’s PISA survey). Singapore ranks 1st in all three.
And as for America the Free™, we are, in fact, only the 17th freest country in the world. Switzerland has the crown. We’re an even more miserable 43rd in the world for press freedom. Norway ranks 1st.
On the US News & World Report’s vague and arbitrary ranking of “Best Countries,” we are a mere 8th. Switzerland, again, has the crown.
To quote Jeff Daniels in that one Aaron Sorkin show, “So when you ask what makes America the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Yosemite?”
(Side note: let’s not forget that the first European-Americans to “discover” Yosemite did so on a mission to drive the Ahwahnechee out of their native land so that more white settlers could flood to California during the Gold Rush.)
So. Where does the US lead the world? Let’s take a look:
Total incarcerated population. Per capita incarceration rate. Student loan debt. Obesity rate. Illegal drug use rate. Percentage of GDP spent on healthcare. Percentage of the population taking pharmaceutical drugs. And, of course, military spending. The US defense budget outstrips the next eight highest national defense budgets combined.
So if we really want to Make America Great Again, I’m pretty sure requesting $716 billion for national defense in 2019 isn’t the way to do it, Donald.
I was going to write a full list here of Ways to Make America Great Again (or… for the first time), but I have a few too many for one post. Instead, I’m going to divide up my ideas based on category. This week is:
Part I: Make elections free and fair.
- Reform campaign finance. A lot.
Money should have no voice in politics. Only people should.
Overturning Citizens United is only the beginning. On that note, come on. We know money is not the same as free political speech. We settled that in, like, 1828 when we dropped property ownership as a requirement for voting rights. The rule is one person, one vote. Money is not a vote.
And why should political campaigns be privatized at all? The ability of lobbyists, Super PACs, banks, and corporations to influence politicians through campaign contributions has been decried by Americans across the board. If we want to keep big money out of politics, then let’s eliminate the ability of money to sway political campaigns.
Don’t just outlaw Super PACs, outlaw all campaign contributions from any entity other than an individual person (including LLCs and non-profits.) Individual people should be the only ones contributing to political campaigns. Currently, individuals can only donate up to $2700 to federal political candidate campaigns, $10,000 for state and local campaigns. The amount PACs and party committees can donate is much higher, and in some cases, unlimited. Cut those numbers $10 across the board. Nobody’s voice should be amplified or forgotten due to their ability to pay for a campaign.
One person, one vote. Money is not a vote. That’s it.
How would we fund political campaigns without contributions? Easy. Nationalize campaign advertising. Every candidate gets an equal and allotted amount of air-time and money for campaign advertisement. All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, are randomly grouped for public debates. After each party’s voters (voters, not party leaders) have selected their candidate for president, all candidates participate in a series of debates.
- Abolish the Electoral College.
It is beyond fucked up that American voters don’t actually pick the president.
We vote for a defined number of electors based on our state’s representation in both houses of Congress (House of Representatives + Senate). So, California has 53 seats in the House and 2 senators, for a total number of 55 electors in the Electoral College. Those electors are selected by each party with a candidate on the ballot, and whichever party wins the most votes sends their electors to vote for the president. Unless you’re a party’s established elector, you don’t actually vote. The end.
The Electoral College skews the value of votes in each state because it isn’t based on population, it’s based on total representation in Congress.
So, a state like Wyoming which has an estimated population of 579,315, a whopping 0.18% of the US population, has 3 votes in the EC (0.56% of the total EC vote). This means that each actual vote in Wyoming is worth more than 3 TIMES its weight in the Electoral College.
On the flip side, Texas (population 28,304,596) gets 38 votes in the EC. Though Texans make up 8.68% of the total population, they receive only 7.06% of votes in the EC. The vote of each Texan is only worth 81% of its weight in the EC.
Don’t even get me started on the “winner take all” system. It’s absolutely ludicrous. A candidate could conceivably get 100% of the vote in some states and 49% in others, have a substantial lead in the popular vote, and still lose in the Electoral College. ‘Nuff said.
- Redraw congressional districts fairly, not considering state lines.
Congressional districts should be split evenly by population and appropriately by location. There’s no good reason for the House of Representatives to be divided by state.
The way we draw congressional districts is a travesty for democracy.
First, gerrymandering is endemic to numerous US states. Pennsylvania is the most recent example of horrifically obvious gerrymandering, but its problem is not new or unique. In 2012, Republicans won 49% of total statewide votes in Pennsylvania, but took 13 out of 18 seats in the House (72.2%). In Ohio in 2016, Republicans won only 51.3% of statewide votes, but took 12 out of 16 House seats (75%). Likewise, in North Carolina in 2016, Republicans won 49.8% of the votes, but took 10 out of 13 House seats (76.9%). It’s clear, we have a district drawing fairness problem (and yes, across the board, it favors Republicans).
Second, congressional districts are not split evenly by population. While most congressional districts average at about 700,000 people, there are some major outliers. Montana’s single at-large congressional district has a population of 998,554; the Rhode Island 2nd: 524,365. The problem is that different states have vastly different populations, and to maintain 435 members, the numbers get a bit fudged.
We already have a state legislature for every state. Congress is the national legislature. It doesn’t legislate on state laws. If we’re worried about state recognition at the national level, we have the Senate already. Why does the House of Representatives even need to consider states?
Why not split congressional districts evenly by population, regardless of state lines? A voter on the eastern border of Southern California will likely have more local interests in common with a voter on the western border of Arizona than they would with a voter in LA.
- Make congressional representation proportional. Proportional representation is more democratic. It opens the playing field to all kinds of third party options, and voters who don’t identify with Democrats or Republicans could vote for their preferred party without their vote being effectively “wasted.”
I’ve talked already about how House seats being linked to states doesn’t make much sense, and also makes districting hugely unequal. So here’s my idea: instead of 435 congressional districts, each with one representative, why not 87 districts with 5 representatives from each?
America’s first-past-the-post method of electing representatives (known as a “single member district” or SMD) is far less truly democratic than a proportional system. If one candidate gets 51% of the vote, the other 49% of voters are not represented in their district. Proportional representation (PR) also leads to much healthier and more diverse party competition. More on this in a bit.
PR systems are typically instituted nationally, rather than in sub-national districts, but if we’re wedded to the idea of the House representing the interests of specific local constituents, why not just create bigger districts with PR?
The quick and dirty on PR: If you’re not familiar with the concept, it means that each party has several candidates running in the district, you vote for the party itself, and the number of representatives from that party sent to the national legislature is determined proportionally to the percentage of votes received. Let’s say you have 100 seats in the legislature. Party A gets 50% of the vote, so they send 50 representatives. Party B gets 35%, so they send 35. Party C gets 15%, they send 15, et cetera.
So, in my American district-based example, each party on the ballot would choose its 5 representatives for each district, ranked by either the party or the party’s voters. If Democrats claim 40% of the vote in that district, they get 2 representatives. If Republicans claim another 40% of the vote, they get 2 representatives as well. And that last representative? They could be from (gasp) a third party.
Not only does PR allow voters in the minority of their district to have their interests actually represented in the national legislature, it opens up competition to more viable parties. Having more viable parties means more viewpoints can actually be represented, and voters aren’t stuck with having to determine “the lesser of two evils.”
The two-party system is a deeply flawed (and undemocratic) way of doing politics. With only two parties, far too many diverse viewpoints are lumped under one party. One’s views on tax rates have nothing intrinsically to do with one’s views on abortion. America has a widespread and long-standing problem of people voting against their own interests.
The oft-cited example is that of rural, working-class white Americans voting for Republicans whose policies often decimate their own economic situations. Explanations on this phenomenon are diverse, such as focusing on the superficial qualities of candidates, not understanding the broader system, or prioritizing certain issues over others. Those voters may want better healthcare or social welfare, but they also might be religious and would never support a candidate who is pro-choice.
The second issue with two-party systems is that both parties drive towards the center on issues of actual politics and economics, and diverge extremely on arbitrary social issues. Both Democrats and Republicans represent fundamentally similar ways of doing politics. They may differ in terms of tax rates, government regulation and budget allocation, but both parties tend to support capitalist representative democracy with a small welfare state, a strong private sector, and a strong military.
Some Americans are communists, but there is no viable communist party. Some are libertarians, without a libertarian party. Some are socialists, some support green politics, some want a decidedly Christian government, or complete abolition of the military, et cetera. Voters whose views do not align with the general philosophies underpinning the views of Democrats and Republicans are not represented by either party.
- Shut up about voter fraud. It isn’t a thing. Tackle systemic disenfranchisement. Voter fraud isn’t a real problem, but it’s being used as the excuse to create one: disenfranchising voters through strict “voter ID” laws that disproportionately (and likely, intentionally) inhibit poor people of color from voting.
In 2014, The Washington Post published a comprehensive study of voter fraud instances for all elections between 2000 and 2012. In more than one billion ballots cast, do you know how many instances of voter fraud the study found? 31. Not thousand, not million. Thirty-one, total. The Brennan Center for Justice has a much longer list of studies debunking the voter fraud myth, and notes that most instances of “voter fraud” are just the result of clerical error.
Numerous states have considered or implemented so-called “voter ID” laws. The basic gist of the law is that, because voter fraud is such a serious issue, voters must present IDs in order to vote. Except, voter fraud isn’t even remotely a serious issue, and voters presenting IDs would do nothing to combat the main threat of clerical error.
So why on earth would anyone push for a voter ID law?
Prior to 2006, there were no ID presentation requirements for voting in America. As of 2017, 33 states have some kind of voter ID laws. There is ample evidence to show that people of racial and ethnic minorities in the US have less access to photo IDs. These same populations tend to vote more for liberal or Democrat candidates. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of voter ID laws have been pushed by Republican state legislatures? Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) openly stated in 2016 that Wisconsin’s voter ID laws were likely to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances.
And Grothman is, on the whole, correct. A 2017 study of turnout changes under voter ID laws concluded that in states with strict voter ID laws, the gap in turnout between white and Latino voters increased from 4.9% to 13.2%. For Asian voters, 6.5% to 11.5%. For black voters, 2.9% to 5.1%.
And, unsurprisingly, the changes in turnout boost Republicans. “All else equal,” write the authors of the aforementioned study, “when strict ID laws are instituted, the turnout gap between Republicans and Democrats in primary contests more than doubles from 4.3 points to 9.8 points. Likewise, the turnout gap between conservative and liberal voters more than doubles from 7.7 to 20.4 points.”
Voter fraud isn’t really a thing. But voter fraud is being used to disenfranchise people of color so they don’t vote for liberals. Sound fair to you?
In conclusion, the American election system is remarkably screwed. It is unequal, often rigged, and extremely open to corruption. The ethos of the “one person, one vote” is extraordinarily untrue in our current electoral system. It’s time for an overhaul.
So, that’s all for this week folks. Tune in next week for Part II: Make education actually public.