By Mac Regan
Democracy is at risk when we fail to fulfill basic citizenship responsibilities.
Consider the evidence.
Approximately 40% of eligible voters didn’t vote in the 2016 President Election. Even fewer voted in the last round of Congressional elections.
Only immigrants receive formal citizenship training and are required to pass a test that the majority of our citizens would fail.
The vast majority of citizens don’t communicate with their Congressional representatives. Most cannot even name their representative.
Engaged and informed citizens are a necessary condition for effective democracy.
It’s time for a Bill of Responsibilities to re-establish the requirements of citizenship. During his first 100 days, Trump should form a non-partisan panel of citizens (who would be compensated for their work) to develop a citizen Bill of Responsibilities before the end of 2017.
This panel should, at a minimum, provide four sets of recommendations to the President, Congress, and all citizens, that:
- Require eligible voters to vote in presidential and congressional elections. Other countries do this. We should too.
- Develop common voter rules that will simplify voter registration and voting, provide adequate anti-fraud protections, and unify disparate state by state approaches
- Identify primary and secondary school curricula additions that ensure all high school graduates understand citizen responsibilities, engage early on in policy debates, and develop the critical thinking skills to make informed voting choices.
- Provide a system of rewards and penalties to encourage citizens to fulfill their responsibilities. Citizenship should be earned. This type of citizen-driven project has immense importance. It can be a foundation for increased public trust in the Trump administration (perhaps turning protesters into focused reformers) and serve notice to Congress that “we the people” demand a more representative, inclusive, and accountable democracy. Congressional representatives would oppose these recommendations at their own peril.
However, in a representative democracy, citizens are only half of the equation.
Elected representatives also need to do their jobs.
Congressional approval levels are at their lowest levels in memory.
Most agree it’s time to “drain the swamp.” Trump must demand these game changing reforms:
Get special interest money out of elections and re-elections. In the first 100 days, form a non-partisan citizen task force to develop options to eliminate campaign contributions from businesses, unions, super PACs or any other organization while limiting contributions by individuals. Canada puts strict limits on campaign contributions while providing generous public funding for candidates. We can do the same.
Reduce partisan gerrymandering. Establish state-by-state non-partisan reviews of voting districts and restore fair representation and competitive congressional elections
Redefine the mission of political parties. Parties need to stand for something other than winning elections at any cost. They will better serve our democracy if they develop and articulate realistic, affordable and clearly differentiated platforms.
Establish congressional term limits. Ensure congressional accountability. Establish national goals with two-way citizen input. Enact a congressional compensation system to attract talented representatives. Provide market-based compensation to reduce the incentive to take outside money.
A Historic Opportunity
President Trump has had a rocky start.
However, as someone who has bucked convention throughout his campaign, he is in a unique position to reform a system that is badly out of step with the needs of its citizens.
Empowering citizen-driven, non-partisan reviews of the responsibilities of citizens and elected representatives will be the most viewed reality television of our time.
These debates and ensuing reforms are necessary to the successful evolution of America’s system of constitutional values, democracy and capitalism.
There is much at stake. This is Trump’s (and America’s) opportunity.
Mac Regan is the author of Global Citizen Patriots.
Cover Photo Credit: Tim Evanson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)