No democracy is perfect. Some democracies work better than others. Swiss democracy works well. Canada’s democracy works pretty well. American democracy has fallen on hard times.
The Economist Intelligence Unit each year publishes the Democracy Index.[i] The index distinguishes four categories of democracy: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes. The five leading full democracies are Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Denmark (scores above 9.22). Here are the standings of some other countries: Canada 6, Germany 13, UK 14, Spain 19, U.S. 21, India 41. The U.S. falls into the class of flawed democracies.
The slipped standing of the U.S. is confirmed by another source, Freedom House. Here are their key findings:[ii]
- Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets –including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—came under attack around the world.
- Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive decline in global freedom.
- The U.S. retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy amid an accelerating decline in American political rights and civil liberties.
In 2016, I published Democracy in Decline in which I cite many problems and solutions.[iii] We have voter suppression and low voter turnout. We have gerrymandering where our incumbent politicians choose their voters by designing their district. This gerrymandering results in 80-to-90 percent of incumbents being reelected. Furthermore, our candidates need to raise millions of dollars from donors to even run for election. The rich minority exercise a great influence on who the candidates are and on how many votes they get.
One of the worst features is our two party system where the two parties won’t work with each other. Each party enforces uniform voting by its Congressional members. Bipartisanship and compromise are lost. The result is that little or nothing gets done to meet the problems of the country. We don’t solve the problems of the poor, we don’t improve our infrastructure, we don’t agree on what to do about immigrants, and we don’t reduce our prison population.
Our democracy depends on having three healthy branches of government: our Congress, our Executive, and our Supreme Court. Our Founding Fathers drafted a Constitution based on a check-and-balance system. It worked well in the past but it is failing us now.
I asked different experts and friends to propose possible improvements in our democracy. They came up with many suggestions. We are aware that each proposal requires finer description and analysis. We are aware that many would require Constitutional Amendments. We are aware that the very Congress that needs to debate and pass them won’t do this because each amendment would reduce its power. The chance of passing many or any of them is slim.
In addition to the proposals advanced in Sarasota Institute’s Whitepaper #1, The Big Issues, here are ideas for consideration and discussion. Please suggest further proposals that I overlooked.
- The President is not allowed to shutdown government services.
- The President cannot get money from other funds for an action that Congress doesn’t approve.
- The President cannot pardon anyone who has committed a crime.
- The President needs Congressional approval on imposing tariffs.
- Representatives are limited to five terms.
- Senators are limited to three terms.
- Small states with less than 2 million voters can elect only one Senator: (Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Rhode Island, Montana, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Idaho, West Virginia, Nebraska).
- Members of Congress collect a salary while in office and receive no pay when they are out of office. Members of Congress must purchase their own pension and retirement plan.
- Members of Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
- Members of Congress lose their current health care system and participate in the same health care system as the American people.
- Members of Congress must abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
- Members of Congress cannot become lobbyists for two years after leaving Congress.
- Members of Congress participate in Social Security like all citizens.
- Supreme Courts Justices have terms, possibly longer than that of elected officials, unless there is mental or health impairment.
- Supreme Court justices are selected by the dominant political party from a list of twenty of the most respected and qualified lawyers prepared by the Bar Association.
- The Electoral College should be eliminated or the “winner take all” policy used by some states should be eliminated. The new President should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes.
- Political candidates need to take a Constitution test before they can run for office. Their score is published.
- Any candidate for office has to show his/her tax returns, and if elected, must put aside his/her business interests to be managed by a blind trust.
- Political candidates running for Congress are to receive public campaign funds. Donor gifts are limited to $500 a candidate.
- Election campaigning should be limited to 60 days.
- Voters pay a fine if they don’t vote.
- Citizens are automatically registered to vote at age 18.
- Voting day is changed to Sunday and voting is made easier by early online voting.
- Voters can vote “no vote” instead of one of the two opposing Presidential candidates
- The losing Presidential candidate automatically becomes the Vice President under the winning Presidential candidate
I acknowledge that some proposals are extreme. Here is an example of an extreme proposal. “Only women can run for President or Congress for the next 8 years.” We could learn a lot from this experiment. The aim is to open up citizens’ minds as to what is possible in comparison to what we have today.
[i] The Democracy Index is an index compiled by the UK-based company the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) that intends to measure the state of democracy in 167 countries, of which 166 are sovereign states and 164 are UN member states. The Democracy Index is based on five categories: 1. electoral process and pluralism; 2. civil liberties; 3. the functioning of government; 4. political participation; and 5. political culture.
[ii] “Freedom in the World 2018. Democracy in Crisis,” fredomhouse.org, 2018.
[iii] Philip Kotler, Democracy in Decline, Sage, 2016.