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From The Vaults

What Best Describes The American System: Democracy, Republic, Oligarchy, Plutocracy or Theocracy?

Gerry Myers in her post — What is America? A Republic? A Democracy? An Oligarchy? A Plutocracy? A Theocracy? — says America is not a democracy and not a republic either. She writes:  

“A Republic is a form of government in which power resides with the people, and the government is ruled by elected leaders who govern according to laws designed to help citizens. If we believe this definition, then we are not a Republic because our elected leaders no longer rule by law or by what their constituents want. Instead, our officials rule by the wishes of corporations and billionaires.”

She thinks the case can be that America is governed by an oligarchy. She writes:

“After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, the United States became a country where money replaced free speech and corporations replaced people. Today, average people have less rights and less control over their government. While big corporations and wealthy donors, along with Wall Street, are free to influence elections, write legislation and destroy our country for their own selfish and greedy interests.”

Though Myers doesn’t think America is a theocracy, but she is troubled by efforts to impose religious beliefs on the system. She writes:

“Our country was based on freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. … The Koch Brothers and others are funding local elections to school boards in order to establish a creationism curriculum vs. an evolution or scientific explanation. They want their religious beliefs to be the basis for our laws and government.”

I guess I overall agree with her conclusion: America is ruled by the wealthiest — we are a plutocracy. You’d think this conclusion might have something to do with the phenomena of Donald Trump filling his cabinet with billionaires and mega-millionaires, but the article was written two years ago.

Myers observes:  “The Supreme Court has allowed a flood of money to buy our elections, rather than the will of the people.”

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If We Listen To Founding Fathers — We Need Fifteen-Fold Increase In Membership Of U. S. House of Representatives

The current size of the U.S. House of Representatives is much smaller than that envisioned by our founding fathers, who felt each member of the House should represent no more than 50,000 citizens. Now each member represents about 750,000 citizens. If the ratio recommended by the writers of the constitution was in force today, the House of Representative would have fifteen times as many members as it presently has — 6525 members. Ohio would have 240 members.

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If we followed the Founder’s wishes, the OH-10 region that now has one vote in the House — Representative Mike Turner — would instead have fifteen votes. OH-10 would be divided into regions of about 35 precincts each and each region would elect a representative. With such few precincts composing a region, efforts to gerrymander would have marginal impact. The influence of special interests would be diluted. There would be much more opportunity to elect representatives reflecting the diversity of points of view and backgrounds in the region. More minor political parties would have an opportunity to be represented.

If we followed the Founder’s wishes, the House would be closer to being the “People’s House.” It would come closer to fulfilling the ideal described by John Adams: “It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason and act like them.”

A fifteen-fold increase in the number of representative would not mean a fifteen-fold increase in expense since at present a representative with 750,000 constituents employs multiple helpers and such a multitude would not be needed for a constituency that is fifteen times smaller. The elected representative of a miniaturized district would do the work now assigned to staff in the current huge district.

A fifteen-fold increase in the U. S. House of Representatives would require new rules for how the House operates — bringing the operation of our republic into the 21st century. These new rules would allow most debate and votes to occur online, with members empowered as participants in an online deliberative democracy, and with constituents invited to observe and to give input in ways not now possible.

Changing the size of the membership of the House of Representatives can be done as an act of Congress. We need to ask House candidates to commit to working in Congress to greatly increase the size of House membership.

Here is some history:

For the first 130 years, the House of Representatives grew every decennial census (with one exception in 1840), in accordance with the Framers’ intent as seen in Federalist No 57. (1:50,000 ratio) In 1910, the House grew to its present size of 435 members. In 1920, due to a political stalemate, no reapportionment took place (a clear violation of the Constitution).

The Reapportionment Act of 1929 permanently froze the size of the House of Representatives at 435 members. While clearly out of step with the Framers’ intent, the Constitution did not prohibit Congress from placing this ceiling on the House size.

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Making Plans For A  “Small Group Of Thoughtful Committed Citizens” To Change OH-10

In response to my article outlining my Bock Scale of Republic Robustness (BSRR), Chet Bauch wrote an encouraging reply which started with this comment: “Hi MIKE: Your BSRR is dead nuts on. Problem: realistically people don’t have the time to participate in these activities, with the exception of a few.” This is my reply:

Chet, a small group — “the exception of a few” that you refer to — would make a huge impact if they were united in purpose and determination. The wise words attributed to Margret Mead comes to mind: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The DaytonOS masthead hasn’t changed in eight years. It includes this question: “How to make a better world?”  Mead gives an answer — become a member of a group of thoughtful committed citizens.

The group of “thoughtful committed citizens” that I’m imagining is: “The Fellowship Of Those Who Dare To Understand (TWDU).”

I like the notion of fellowship, friendship. Polarized partisans can still enjoy friendship and fellowship when they are united by a connector of more importance than politics. A commitment to family or to religion usually takes precedence over politics.  My thought is that TWDU fellowship would be a diverse group representing all points of view. The connector for the diverse members of TWDU would be a commitment to change the world by increasing theirs and the public’s understanding of the world in which they live. Part of each member’s commitment would be to do the work needed to understand each other and each other’s point of view.

My thought is that the initial goal of TWDU should be to change our congressional district, OH-10. If enough citizens in OH-10 could act as group, a deliberative democracy, to bring about a big boost in theirs and the public’s understanding of issues and politics, then OH-10 would be changed. It’s all about motivation. A big goal — if it seems feasible — can be very motivating.  The notion of changing OH-10 would be very motivating to a lot of citizens, particularly if there is shown a positive vision of what such change would look like.

A good question: To change OH-10, what would it take? How many citizens would be required? My conclusion is that 1% would be more than enough, and with the right plan, engaging 1% in a close-knit group is feasible. In OH-10, 1% of registered voters amounts to 5000 citizens — about 10 in each precinct. The idea would be for this group to use the latest technology to act as an online deliberative democracy — deciding the priorities and actions of the group. The notion of networking large numbers of individuals as voting members in a direct democracy would be motivating.

Thanks for your encouragement. Several months ago, I declared that I was putting together a plan and I’ve yet to deliver. It’s been a challenge but I’m still thinking through a five year project — based on generating the motivation and the leadership needed to establish a network of TWDU fellowships throughout OH-10.

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The Fellowship Of Those Who Dare To Know, Dare To Understand

I like the old gospel song that begins, “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms …”   I remember the congregation enthusiastically singing those words in the church of my youth — a congregation where there was a wonderful spirit of togetherness and fellowship. This is my dictionary’s definition of “fellowship” :

A community bound together in fellowship: companionship, companionability, sociability, comradeship, camaraderie, friendship, mutual support; togetherness, solidarity.

We are in an era of intense partisanship. One benefit of partisanship is fellowship — a solidarity, a companionship — with other like-minded individuals, just as members of opposing armies enjoy companionship and troop camaraderie. The problem is, our emphasis on partisanship is failing to produce the thoughtful and energetic government that we must have — if our republic is to survive the huge challenges coming our way.

We must move beyond partisanship. It is clear that a long-term answer to fixing our system will require a big increase in nonpartisanship — cooperation and unity within the system — it will require more peace, love, and understanding. I’m thinking it will require a big increase in the fellowship of those who dare to understand. Such a fellowship would be focused on understanding:

  • the social, economic, and political world in which we live,
  • the challenges of the future
  • competing points of view of others.

The “Dare to Understand” is a reference to Immanuel Kant’s famous essay, “What is Enlightenment?” The opening paragraph:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

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Suppose Gort — From Outer Space — Returns And Demands A Big Increase In Public Virtue, Or Else!

Suppose Gort — the big alien — demanded a huge increase in public virtue.

Suppose Gort — the big alien — demanded a huge increase in public virtue.

Ronald Reagan’s favorite movie was, “When The Earth Stood Still,” and in a speech at the UN Reagan mused about what would happen if, as in that movie, an alien force of insurmountable power demanded that the world work together peacefully.  Reagan said, “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

Gort — the big alien shown in the movie ad — gives this warning, “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration”

I’ve been reading a little of John Adams and I’d like to see a remake of that movie where Gort makes a more specific demand:  “Your choice is simple — within five years show a big increase in public virtue— or else!”

Public virtue! You can imagine the committees of experts who would scurry about trying to decide how to respond. First, they would try to understand what exactly public virtue is.

Our founding fathers emphasized that for a republic to survive and flourish, it must have a citizenry that is virtuous. Virtue, they noted, has two aspects: private and public. Private virtue is demonstrated in character traits like frugality, honesty, temperance, personal responsibility, etc. Religion was seen as having an important role to play in developing those traits, as was education.

Public virtue was defined as actions motivated by a desire to advance the public good. These are the words of John Adams:

Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics. There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honor, power and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty: and this public passion must be superior to all private passions. (John Adams, letter to Mercy Warren, April 16, 1776)

What would a society look like that took Adams’ warning to heart — that public virtue in the essential foundation needed for republics? What would its educational system look like if one of its big goals was to establish in the minds of youth a positive passion for the public good? What would its TV programs look like?

 

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