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Tom Ridge served as the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and was the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania. He also served six terms in the U. House of Representatives. View the discussion thread.

Skip to main content. America has a broken political system our leaders need to fix By Former Rep. Tom Ridge R-Pa. Tom Daschle D-S. Don't miss a brief. Sign up for our daily email. Your Email. American politics is in an iconoclastic phase, and the icons being targeted are the moral foundations of our democracy.

Can America Fix Its Political System?

It is a recipe for political disaster that our system has largely brought on itself. First came the failures of omission. Our institutions and political system stood by during the last three decades as the economy made huge gains but most Americans benefited only a little or not at all. The inaction of those with the power to make the gains shared more equally started chipping away at the foundations of a political system based on the belief that a rising tide should lift all boats.

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Then came the failures of commission. It nonetheless was jarring that in the midst of the severest recession since the Great Depression, the government sprang into action to save auto manufacturers and big banks which were almost certainly the right moves to prevent the recession from metamorphosing into a depression , but did not deem it necessary to bring help to millions of households suffering joblessness, foreclosures, and debilitating uncertainty which was as surely the wrong move both economically and, in hindsight, politically.


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Building on the shoulders of other political sinners, who have similarly polarized society and debased the public discourse, Trump has managed to tear down the last vestiges of respect for American democratic institutions and an inclusive spirit in public life.

He exploded the fissures of our economic, political, and social life with the curious force and strange attraction of his iconoclastic personality and the toxic energy of right-wing populist movements he courted. We are now in the midst of the resulting whirlwind, which has been knocking down the unwritten laws of U. The presidential campaign has seen Trump demonize his opponents, flaunt his rampant tax avoidance, make almost-overt calls to violent action, and relentlessly question the motives of institutions, such as the judiciary and the media, meant to keep unscrupulous businessmen and politicians, such as Trump himself, on the straight and narrow.

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He has declared that he would see his opponent jailed if elected. He has even pronounced that he may not recognize an electoral defeat. To top it off, Trump has trampled on the norms protecting the disadvantaged: women, ethnic minorities, religious minorities and the disabled. He has done all this — and still been accepted as a legitimate candidate by the Grand Old Party.

The Best Way to Fix The American Political System

They come with inherent checks on power and an openness that makes it difficult for them to be hijacked. Trump, however, has brought us to the brink of destroying the two political norms on which this system of inclusivity depends. That Trump has demonstrated a flagrant disrespect for the law is clear.

How could we expect, without this openness, people to continue to make demands for justice from politicians and businessmen more powerful than themselves? Without these demands, how can our institutions continue to evolve to accommodate changing needs, rather than collapsing? Perhaps unwittingly, Donald Trump has thus created a critical test for our political system.

Michael Tomasky: How to Fix Political Polarization in America

However, there is nothing wrong with strengthening America's democratic institutions — making it simpler and easier for all Americans to vote and obtain political representation — in part because it would provide a partisan benefit. To wit:. Make Puerto Rico and Washington, D. This step would both address the greatest structural violation of democratic liberties in American society and provide the largest tangible partisan benefit to Democrats. It is obvious that the Republican government's ongoing failure to rebuild the island after it was flattened by Hurricane Maria much less address its ongoing debt crisis has a great deal to do with the fact that they have no congressional representation.

Instead of futilely appealing to Paul Ryan's nonexistent conscience, actual Puerto Rican senators and representatives could vote, grab the ear of national media, trade favors, argue with other national politicians, and credibly threaten to gum up the wheels of Congress if their state was not fixed. In other words, they would have power.

Abolish the filibuster. Many big and controversial bills will need to be passed very quickly. This should be done at the earliest possible moment. Resurrect and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. Republican vote suppression and district boundary cheating has become their ace in the political hole, hugely enabled by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' decision gutting the Voting Rights Act. Roberts' decision struck down the preclearance portion of the VRA — which forbade certain jurisdictions from making any changes to their voting procedure without first getting federal certification that they would not disenfranchise minorities — on the grounds that Jim Crow was a long time ago and so it was an unfair burden.

That obstacle removed, Republicans immediately set about disenfranchising as many minorities as possible.

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Roberts' "reasoning" was obviously percent partisan pretext. But one solution that fits with his logic is to extend preclearance to the entire country. In keeping with Article Four, Section Four , an inalienable right to vote for all citizens and legal residents should be established, including for ex-cons and current prisoners, and all jurisdictions should be required to submit a plan to the federal government ensuring easy and universal access to the franchise.

This can be made easier by establishing a federal template for all levels of government, which would include universal mail-in voting, if people would rather not bother. Any changes will have to be pre-cleared. Election Day itself should also be moved to a Friday and made a national holiday. Incidentally, this will have the salutary effect of sharply improving the voting rights in many blue states like New York, where the corrupt Democratic regime is none too eager to have millions of poor people casting ballots.

How Democrats can wipe out the GOP and fix America

Finally, as part of the voting rights package, both national and state-level district boundaries should be taken out of the hands of partisan legislatures, and put under control of nonpartisan committees required to draw maps which produce a legislature whose partisan composition at least approximates the raw vote totals. All this aligns high moral principle with grubby partisan motives. It would mean probably four more Democratic senators and several representatives, and sharply improve Democratic prospects in several states with preposterously unfair gerrymandering or where a huge proportion of minorities have been permanently disenfranchised.

However, that is no reason to get squeamish about it. On the contrary, the likeliest way that D. Climate change. This is one area where politics absolutely must take a back seat to principle. If Democrats believe what they're saying about climate science, and they accumulate some political capital with the above program, this is where it must be spent first.


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As I've argued before , this is by far the most important problem facing American society, because it is a serious emergency that will require a top-to-bottom overhaul of society. Trump's climate denier presidency almost could not have come at a worse time. The next administration will have to cut emissions as fast as it possibly can, both to slow climate change and to avoid the risk of tripping feedback loops that could push warming into an uncontrollable self-sustaining spiral. People can and do argue all day about precisely the best way forward on climate, but one simple way of thinking about it is to take what China is doing with decarbonization, energy efficiency, and renewables, and aim to beat them by 50 percent.

That both gets in the right ballpark of what needs to happen China's climate policy is extremely aggressive , though still not good enough , and indicates the international nature of the issue. Such a "competition" — in reality, a mutually-beneficial international coordination — would be both excellent policy and a worthy national project. If we're lucky, it might even inspire China to up their game even more as well. Health-care reform. This has been the main policy axis of mobilization for lefties during the Trump presidency, and it's not hard to see why.