Thursday, February 20, 2020

More Candidates or a Better Nominating Process?

In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, columnist David Leonhardt bemoaned the reluctance of many “potential candidates” to run for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. According to Leonhardt, they have been scared off by Joe Biden, just as others had been fearful of challenging Hillary Clinton in 2016. Leonhardt said the lesson to be learned from this history is obvious, “If you want to be president of the United States and have the opportunity to run, you should not let another candidate keep you from running in the primaries.”

Given the fact that during the past year and a half over three dozen individuals have declared their candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination without any clear choice yet arising, Leonhardt’ s advice may not be viewed as very helpful.

A nominating process that allows for a more meaningful discussion of key issues is what the country needs.

In January 2019, when the Democratic Party leadership announced plans for its 2020 presidential nominating process, I wrote a post critical of the over emphasis on primary debates “as the way to evaluate and filter potential candidates.” It would allow I declared “too much focus on personal charisma and rhetorical skills and only incidental discussion of issues…and how to resolve them.”

I also questioned the lack of sufficient criteria for judging who should participate in the debates. Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee chairman, had talked about using polls and “grassroots fundraising” capabilities. Now that the party has allowed billionaire Mike Bloomberg to take the debate stage in Nevada, there are two wealthy candidates who are self-funded.

What we have witnessed thus far in the Democratic debates has not been thoughtful discussion of public concerns, but a great deal of finger pointing and fearmongering. A good example of this is the debate over health care.

The United States has the most expensive health care system in the world and that system is by no means the most effective. Most observers would say that a significant majority of Americans today are worried about access to health care at more reasonable and stable costs.

Instead of addressing this concern in a reasonable manner, several candidates mischaracterize the public’s attitude towards private health insurance: “everyone loves their private health insurance.” More accurately, virtually every American lives in fear that their private health insurance will continue to be threatened by uncontrollable cost increases resulting from unfettered competition for health care dollars among health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, medical equipment providers and corporatized hospitals.

Maybe a single-payer, government-financed system is not the best way to deal with our problems, but outrageous claims that “Medicare for all” will cost trillions more than our current system are simply not believable. Other developed countries, with single-payer government-financed systems, are operating with less costs and more success than we are with our heavy reliance on private health insurance.  

Then there is the issue of our country’s growing inequality in income and opportunity. Some candidates are being castigating by others for suggesting that the wealthy in America can afford to pay a little more to support the creation of a more equal playing field. It is difficult to believe that candidates seeking to represent the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be more willing to weaken the country’s economic safety net rather than to consider imposing a wealth tax when there has been an explosion in the number of billionaires in America.

According to Forbes there are 621 billionaires in the US today with $2.9 trillion in wealth. This represents a better than 50 percent increase since 2010. In 2018, the US created over 600,000 new millionaires, more than half of all those created in the entire world. And Credit Suisse Research Institute suggests that financial inequality in the US is on the rise. Although the average wealth is $345,000 per person, the median wealth is only $30,000, marking a significant drop from last year and three times as low as other countries with similar average wealth.

There is similar bickering and personalized sniping relative to other significant issues, such as climate change and critical infrastructure needs. Crafting an appealing party platform is being sacrificed to the ambitions of the candidates, some of whom are clearly not qualified to be president.

Neither of the major political parties has paid enough attention in recent years to the actual task of governing a democratic society. Both have shown too much deference to corporate elites and other wealthy donors at the expense of the average American. Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was a result of that mistake.

Our presidential nominating process should encourage candidates with relevant experience to run. Candidates should have the opportunity to share their ideas with the voters, but it should be a conversation not an harangue.

As currently structured, presidential primary debates do not allow candidates to present detailed proposals to address the problems our nation faces. Nor is much attention given to the actual track record of the candidates that might offer evidence of how well they would respond to the challenges of presidential responsibilities.

And most important, the existing presidential nominating process does not adequately recognize that the chief executive cannot succeed without a reasonable supporting cast in the Congress.  Our system does not function well, if at all, when there is a sharp divide between the President and the Congress.    

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Impeachment Is Politics

Responding to the Democrats efforts to impeach President Donald J. Trump, Missouri’s senior US Senator Roy Blunt has been dismissive. “There has never been a likelihood in a partisan impeachment that you would remove the president so you have to look at what else it might be about. And it is all about politics”

That is an interesting observation considering that it is coming from the chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, which is viewed as a legislative think tank charged with guiding his party’s discussion of major bills and issues. As chair, Blunt is the fourth-ranking Republican in the Senate.

What exactly does Blunt think “politics” is?

By common definition, politics is the manner in which people in groups make decisions regarding how authority and power will be distributed in the group. In a democracy politics encompasses not only the process by which leaders are elected, but it also refers to how governments make rules and laws and how leaders are allowed to exercise their authority.

In our American system we do not allow elected government leaders to dictate who will own land, who will be educated, who will have decent health care, or who will have wealth, but our elected government leaders do have much to say about all of these questions. As our economy has become more and more complex, their decisions have taken on greater importance.

The Framers of the US Constitution have been accused of not anticipating the rise of political parties. But as proof of their appreciation for how government should work, they were quite specific in allocating the powers of the government they created among the three branches.

To the legislative branch they gave the power to make laws affecting a wide range of governmental responsibilities. In order to insure careful consideration of all proposed legislation, the Framers created a bicameral Congress, requiring both to approve legislation.

Executive power was given to the President with a fixed term of office. He was also assigned the responsibility of Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy as well as the militia of the several states when called into service of the United States.  In the exercise of his powers, however, the US Constitution calls for the President to seek the advice and consent of the Senate when making key appointments or making treaties with foreign countries. He was not given independent sources of revenue.

A judiciary was established in the US Constitution with a significant degree of independence from the other branches so it could serve as an impartial arbiter regarding any legal conflicts that might arise. Interestingly, it does not assign to the judiciary a major role in the impeachment process.  

The Framers were quite deliberate in creating a process for the removal of a president rooted in the Congress.  To the House was given the “sole Power of Impeachment.” No super majority is required. To the Senate was given “the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” A two-thirds vote of the Senators present is required for conviction

Managing the processes set up by the US Constitution is what “politics” in America is all about. In the beginning of the nation, the Constitution laid out what was expected of each branch and the various states. Changes have been adopted over the years, primarily relating to expanding the right to participate to groups left out in the initial document. The essential expectations for government leaders have not changed.

Senator Blunt is not the only member of the US Senate to denigrate the concept of “politics.” Several of his colleagues have been equally disdainful and there is a tendency in the general public as well to reject the legitimate role of “politics” in normal course of public discussion.

In the current matter of the impeachment of Trump, politics is definitely involved. Impeachment is a political process laid out in the US Constitution and placed in the hands of the Congress.

Frequent references have been made to elections, 2016 and 2020. But the question of whether or not Trump should be impeached involves more than just the winning and losing of an election. A president also must be held accountable for the manner in which he exercises the power of his office, for that power is formidable.

Regardless of how you might feel about this specific impeachment, you should wish to see those responsible consider the issues seriously and weigh fully the consequence of their vote.

Politics is the process of determining how government should function in the public interest. Only by the exchange of views in a respectful and equitable manner can public policies be developed with broad popular support.

Perhaps if we can come to recognize that politics is not only to be expected, but is necessary to rational and fair government, it might reduce some of the hyperpartisanship that has stifled effective government in the United States for almost four decades now.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Getting the ERA Approved

The Virginia State Legislature last week approved the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), becoming the 38th state to ratify its inclusion in the US Constitution. Democrats, who took control of both houses of the Virginia assembly in November (55-45 in the House and 21-19 in the Senate) have received most of the credit for the victory. ERA advocates may be heartened by the fact the vote for the amendment was bipartisan, 59-41 in the House and 28-12 in the Senate.

In December 2018, we wrote about Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter’s effort to have South Carolina’s General Assembly take that crucial step. Minority leader in the Republican-dominated SC House, Cobb’s proposal appeared to attract some early bipartisan interest, but that soon dissipated.

We noted in our original post that given South Carolina’s wretched record for domestic violence, twenty years in the top ten worst states, it would be refreshing for the state to be the one to push the ERA over the top. Alas, that was not to be, but there is still the chance politicians in South Carolina, and North Carolina, can play a role in confirming ERA ratification, since Virginia’s action is not likely sufficient to clinch the deal.

According to law, the ratification process for a constitutional amendment starts and ends with the Archivist of the United States. Once the Congress has proposed an amendment, the Archivist officially notifies the governor of each state that an amendment has been proposed. When and if a state ratifies a proposed amendment, it sends a formal notice to the Archivist. Upon receiving the required 38 state ratifications, the Archivist issues a certificate of ratification and then publishes both the amendment and the certificate in the Federal Register and United States Statutes at Large. 

For the current Archivist, David S. Ferriero, who was once the Vice Provost for Library Affairs at Duke University, the process is going to be a bit more complicated.

He is already the defendant in a lawsuit filed in December in the Northern US District Court of Alabama. Attorneys general from Alabama, Louisiana and South Dakota claim their states will suffer “serious injury” if the ERA is added to the US Constitution, given the expired deadline and the rescinding of previous ratification by five states.

In addition, Ferriero received in early January a 38-page advisory opinion from the Trump Department of Justice asserting Congress cannot extend the deadline for approval of a proposed amendment after it has expired. Although he heads an independent agency, Ferriero is subject to removal by the current president, and so he has indicated he will abide by the DOJ opinion unless ordered to do otherwise by a court order.

This is where complications set in. Congress is under no obligation to accept the advisory opinion of DOJ. The Supreme Court in Coleman v. Miller (1939) interpreted Article V of the US Constitution as limiting the amending process to Congress and the state legislatures “with the ultimate authority in the Congress.” That decision, related to the Child Labor Amendment which was never passed, ruled the issue of timeliness of ratification is a political question, meaning the court is unlikely to overturn congressional action related to the matter.

Under this interpretation of Article V, Congress by a simple majority in both houses extended the original 1979 ratification deadline for the ERA to 1982. There appears to be no barrier to Congress now removing the 1982 cutoff date, the DOJ opinion to the contrary notwithstanding.

Another apparent precedent for definitive action by Congress is the acceptance in 1992 of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment. That amendment, which forbids congressional pay increases taking effect until a new congress has been elected, was proposed in 1788 without a ratification deadline.  It lay virtually dormant until the 1980s. But when Michigan became the 38th state to ratify the amendment in May 1992, the then Archivist Don Wilson certified the amendment even though there had been 203 years since its proposal.

Congress asserted its authority over the amendment process in that case by voiding the Archivist’s original certification, saying it lacked congressional approval. Almost immediately, Congress approved the amendment and ordered the Archivist to certify it in a joint resolution with almost unanimous support in both houses.

The attempt by five states to claim they have the right to rescind their earlier approval should also fail based on precedents. In the post-Civil War era, before the office of archivist existed, Congress certified both the 14th Amendment and the 15th Amendment even though some states tried to rescind their ratification.

Swift action by Congress to override the 1982 deadline and to instruct the Archivist to certify ratification of the ERA would be the best assurance of final passage. The court has indicated in the past an unwillingness to override congressional action with regards to the ratification process.

Based on the DOJ opinion, it can be assumed that the Trump administration will seek to derail ratification. That would also be consistent with Trump’s penchant for using the cultural wars for political gain. While there is already some bipartisan support in Congress for the necessary legislation to confirm the ERA, it is not likely to be easily accomplished.

Ensuring the rights of women are firmly embedded in the US Constitution has been too long in coming to fruition. US Representatives and Senators from the Carolinas should be urged to join in the effort to make that a reality.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

McConnell and Impeachment

Two major concerns of delegates to the Constitutional Convention in1787 were the threat of foreign influences and the authority of the new American presidency. The former were obvious. Determining how to structure the latter was a serious challenge without an existing model. 
Although there was broad sentiment for a strong executive capable of energetic leadership, the framers’ experience with royal governors left them leery of granting too much power to the president and thus enabling a despot.

To protect the public interest against the potential perfidy of an avaricious or overly ambitious president, provision for impeachment of the chief executive was included in the Constitution as well as for other civil officers. The process is structured in keeping with the overall system of checks and balances. Authority is divided; the House has sole power to impeach; the Senate, sole power to try and either convict or acquit.

Specifying that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court preside over the trial reinforces the significance of impeachment. It also recognizes the possible conflict of interest if the Vice President were allowed to officiate.

Much has been written about whether or not the framers anticipated the rise of political parties, but certainly they could not have envisioned the bitterness of the existing partisan divide.  Nor did they likely foresee close coordination between an impeached president and the Senate. In fact, Alexander Hamilton in essay #65 expressed great confidence in the autonomy of the upper house:

“Where else, than in the senate, could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an individual accused and the representative of the people, his accusers?”

The current Senate is not likely to be viewed as impartial. In part, this results from the hyperpartisanship characterizing our political landscape today.  No House Republican voted for impeaching Donald Trump despite the transcript of the president’s conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart and the testimony of several credible witnesses regarding Trump’s withholding of military aid from Ukraine in his quest for a 2020 electoral advantage. 

But perhaps more significant is the attitude of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has stated publicly he will run the expected Senate trial “in total coordination” with Trump’s White House. “I'm not an impartial juror," McConnell has said. "Impeachment is a political decision. The House made a partisan political decision to impeach….I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate. I'm not impartial about this at all."

McConnell’s comments are consistent with his words and actions for at least a decade now. He has openly disparaged President Barack Obama, abused the rules and customs of the Senate to further his legislative agenda and in general refused to entertain the normal give and take that allows the legislative process to function. Only 70 bills have become law this year as McConnell has prioritized approving Trump’s judicial appointees.

McConnell also has an obvious conflict of interest.

 Article I, sec. 6, of the US Constitution states that “…no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.” This provision is consistent with the separation of powers doctrine, and the framers’ disdain for a parliamentary system in which the legislative and executive branches are intertwined.

McConnell has violated the spirit of this provision if not the letter. His wife, Elaine Chao is the Secretary of Transportation in Trump’s cabinet. She was Secretary of Labor in George W. Bush’s cabinet from 2001 until 2009. 

While there is no mention in the Constitution of a legislator’s spouse serving in an office of the United States that evidently reflects the circumstances of the day. Only men, white men, could vote and serve in office at the time. Women of any color could not even vote. Is there any doubt that such a prohibition would be in place if the framers had had 20/20 foresight?

It is not a question of Chao’s credentials to serve, but of McConnell’s obligation to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Democracy requires more than elections. It also requires a political atmosphere in which trust exists among citizens and their representative. Personal convenience may sometime suffer.

In the short term, the proper thing for McConnell to do is to recuse himself from participation in the Trump impeachment trial. If he wishes to see his wife serve in the cabinet, McConnell should resign his senate seat. If he refuses to acknowledge his conflict, he and those Republican senators up for re-election in 2020 who support him as majority leader should be held accountable for ignoring the intent of the Constitution on a significant representational issue.   

Monday, November 18, 2019

Time to Dump the Two-Party System?

In 2016 the presidential candidates nominated by both of the major political parties in the United States had negative approval ratings.  Given their dominance of the American political system since the 1850s, it is hard to fathom how both parties could be so inept at the same time.
Three years of the Trump presidency has left the impression that the two parties are no more successful at governing than they are at choosing effective presidential candidates. Granted Donald J. Trump’s leadership, or lack thereof, is a major factor in the current impasse, but he is more a symptom than the actual cause of the bipartisan ineffectiveness.
There has been little progress for more than three decades now on addressing several grave challenges facing the country. Immigration, health care, gun violence, income inequality, and responsible corporate governance are some of the most threatening that have been festering for years.
Internationally, America’s place in the world is under siege.  The quality and consistency of our leadership is in question.
A majority of Americans still generally identify with one of the two major parties. In recent years, however, more voters consider themselves Independents than those who identify with either of the major parties. A Gallup poll in September 2019, found that 31% of Americans identified as Democrat and 29%, Republican. But 38% claimed to be Independents.
Since 1991 Gallup has been regularly measuring the partisan leanings of Independents’ in an effort to get a clearer picture of the party divide. Democrats have typically maintained a slight advantage over Republicans here as well. Currently, the margin is 47% to 42%.
While Democrats usually hold a slim advantage in partisanship, Republicans vote at higher rates, which make U.S. elections competitive. Divided government has thus been the order of the day.
Republicans in recent years have appreciated better the state-based structure of our political system, paying more attention to state and local offices. This is reflected in their dominance in state legislatures who control reapportionment of Congressional seats.  The GOP’s broader geographic focus is also evident in the membership of the US Senate where they hold a 53-seat majority. Only 10 of 50 states have split senate representation and in two of those, the non-major party senator is an independent (VT and ME). 
The close partisan divide has been evident in recent presidential elections. In the last five contests beginning with 2000, the Democratic candidate has won the popular voter four times. Only twice has the Democratic candidate won the presidency. In both 2000 and 2016, a Republican achieved victory in the Electoral College despite having fewer popular votes than the Democratic opponent.
There has always been contention between the two major parties, but the intensity of the divide has increased exponentially in the past three decades. When LBJ in 1965 was pushing through Medicare, approximately half of Republicans in Congress voted for the legislation. Fast forward forty-five years and not a single member of the GOP in Congress voted for the Affordable Care Act. 
In any democratic system elections are important so it is natural for parties to focus on campaigns for public office.  But carrying out the essential functions of government in a fair and equitable manner is equally as important as elections. This has become increasingly problematic in recent years as sizeable elements in both parties have come to view the opposition as unfit to govern.
For example, in a September 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center 75% of Democrats viewed Republicans as “more close-minded” that other Americans, while 64% of Republicans questioned the open-mindedness of Democrats.   In another opinion survey a month later, 55% of Republicans described Democrats as “more immoral” when compared to other Americans. Among Democrats 47% said Republicans were “more immoral.”
The partisan hostility runs very deep. Nearly half of members in both parties say the other party has almost no good ideas. Majorities in both parties accuse those in the opposing party of not sharing their nonpolitical values and goals.
Most disturbing is the September survey in which 63% of Republicans claimed Democrats are unpatriotic. In maybe a glimmer of hope, only 23% of Democrats said the same of Republicans.
It appears that our two party system is no longer adequate for our political environment. Issues and challenges have become too complex to be resolved by just two points of view, and efforts at compromise between the two parties consistently flounder.
Perhaps the existence of two or three more viable political organizations would encourage a serious exploration of solutions to our problems. Many other democracies in the developed world have had multi-party systems for a long time.
Ironically, a major factor in the political standoff is that the parties are so evenly matched.  Consequently, there is a tendency for the loser to focus more on the next election rather than on trying to develop solutions to our challenges even if some degree of compromise is necessary.
Whether or not the addition of one, two or three additional political parties may be helpful in clearing  the logjam in American governance is uncertain, but the prolonged poor track record of the existing two major parties offers little reason to stay with the status quo.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Why Not Elect a Woman President?

The political pundits keep telling us we cannot, or will not elect a woman president of the United States. Since apparently there will be no contest for the Republican nomination, this message seems directed at the Democratic Party where a half dozen women have been in the race to become the party’s standard bearer.

A poll conducted by Time magazine last September is instructive with regards to this question. In it fifty-six percent of American women said they did not believe a woman could be elected in 2020. In the same poll fifty-five percent of Hispanic women and half of black women said they think a woman is likely to be elected President in 2020, while just thirty-eight percent of white women said so. That translated into a fifty-three percent majority of Democratic women who believe a woman can be elected in 2020.  On the other hand, only thirty-five percent of Republican women think Americans are likely to elect a female Commander in Chief in 2020.

The skepticism of Republican women is understandable.  The GOP has an incumbent male president who is running for re-election. Women are also virtually absent from significant policy making position in the Trump Administration. When Kirstjen Neilson proved not tough enough on immigrants for Trump, he sacked her, leaving only two Cabinet officers headed by women, Betsy DeVos at Education and Elaine Chao at Transportation.

Although DeVos has no education credentials, her family has been generous in support of Republicans.  Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has been a member of the Cabinet under the last two GOP presidents.

The significant gains made by women in the 2018 congressional elections seem to belie the notion that a woman cannot win the presidency. One hundred and two women were elected to the US House, while there are now twenty-five women serving in the US Senate. Again, there is a stark partisan discrepancy. Women in the US House number eighty-nine Democrats to thirteen Republicans, while in the US Senate the split is seventeen Democrats and eight Republicans.

Still, overall women hold only approximately twenty-five percent of congressional offices.  A woman does occupy the speaker’s chair.  

In the business world American women have also made headway. Several major companies currently are led by female CEOs, including General Motors, International Business Machines, Lockheed Martin and Anthem. Women can be found at the helm of a number of smaller corporate enterprises as well and run a high percentage of small business operations.

However, among Fortune 500 corporations less than twenty-two percent of board directors are women.
Internationally, the United States looks misogynistic, ranking 51st overall in progress toward gender parity. The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report grades 149 countries in four categories, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.  In the last category, the United States ranks 98th, even though women make up more than half the nation’s population and earn more than half of the college degrees.

Around the world, women have assumed significant leadership roles. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has been the most visible and consequential, but Margrethe Vestager, the European Union competition czar has also had a substantial impact, especially on the world’s tech giants. She has fined Google more than $9 billion for monopolistic activities and required Apple to pay Ireland $14.5 billion in back taxes.

French attorney Christine Lagarde has just stepped down as managing director of the International Monetary Fund after eight years. She leaves to take over the presidency of the European Central Bank. The former defense minister of Germany, Ursula von der Leyen has just been elected head of the European Commission.

Looking at the roles women are assuming around the world as well as within the US, it is hard to accept that Americans really are that reluctant to elect a woman president.

Part of the impetus for this idea seems to be the failure of Hillary Clinton to win in 2016. From the outset she had appeared to be a certain winner, but she lost six of the key swing states that Obama had won in 2012 and did not match his total vote. The fact that she received nearly three million more popular votes than Donald Trump is an indication that gender was not the likely cause of her loss.

Her acceptance of large speaking fees from corporate donors in the early stages of her campaign undermined her credibility generally, and she failed to establish a strong connection with key elements of the Democratic base, including African Americans and working class voters. According to an analysis of polling data by RealClearPolitics, Clinton’s approval ratings never matched her disapproval ratings during the entire election year. She was viewed by a majority of voters as dishonest and untrustworthy.

The women running for the Democratic nomination in 2020 do not appear to carry as much negative baggage and three years of Donald Trump has left a plethora of issues around which to craft a winning campaign. That is the challenge---identifying the right issues to emphasize and packaging them in way that is understandable as well as appealing.

            A woman can do that just as well as a man, maybe better.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Don’t Focus on the “Accidental President”

Admittedly, it is difficult to ignore Donald Trump. His irresponsible rhetoric and irrational approach to policymaking feed social chaos and economic uncertainty.  But while Trump’s narcissistic performance is maddening, he is only a major symptom of a deeply rooted political disorder that threatens to destroy United States as a democratic society.

Trump became our “Accidental President” in a tumultuous contest in 2016.  He did not win because of the quirks of the Electoral College. That institution is well-known, having been around for 231 years and 57 presidential elections. Trying to blame the Electoral College for defeat simply indicates an ignorance of history or a refusal to accept reality.

Trump won because of social and economic circumstances created over the past forty years by our country’s political and economic elites. Both major political parties have been complicit in letting the American people down. They have chosen to emphasize short term political gains instead of addressing serious issues that have persisted for too long.

Income inequity did not develop overnight and it has not occurred in some secret manner.  The Trump tax cuts are just the latest reiteration of policy preferences for the rich both parties have supported since the Reagan years. The capital gains discount and the carried interest travesty have allowed the wealthy to continue amassing great fortunes at the expense of the average American worker who is saddled with more and more regressive sales taxes.

All those jobs that were supposed to result from slashing taxes for already flush corporations, they have not appeared.  Some corporate elites were even rewarded for tax avoidance, but most of their tainted windfall went for stock buybacks, fattening even more their bulging wallets.

Neither party has been willing to take the steps necessary to restore reasonable balance between capital and labor. The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2009 and some states, like South Carolina, still refuse to even institute one. Although a majority of Americans support the existence of labor unions, collective bargaining continues to be undermined at both the state and federal level.

Trade problems also have not just suddenly surfaced.  They have been festering for some time, intensified by the foolish decisions on the part of many corporations to create supply chains in other countries outside the legal jurisdiction of the United States. Their shortsighted quest for the lowest labor costs not only has impoverished American workers, but it has exposed the companies themselves to greater risk of intellectual property losses.

Globalization is a reality. But if US companies continue to insist that the interests of their shareholders must take priority over the welfare of the average American worker, they may wake up someday and find there is no one with the will or capacity to defend them.

Healthcare remains an unresolved problem. Obamacare was designed to address access to health insurance, but it primarily has reaffirmed the stranglehold various elements of the industry have on both major political parties. The corrupt behavior of the pharmaceutical companies in the opioid crisis is clear evidence that relying on the market will not produce safe and economical healthcare.

And the idea that most Americans “love” their private health insurance is a myth fed by the industry’s multibillion dollar lobby machine. Our current system of healthcare is the most expensive in the world today, yet it fails to serve the needs of millions of Americans, including nearly four million children. A carefully planned and adequately financed transition to a single-payer universal system will be welcomed by all but the most skeptical ideologues.

Restoring education to its rightful place at the heart of the American dream is should also be an important goal.  Both parties have been guilty of moving education from being viewed as a public good to being considered a private benefit with the resulting decline in priority. A college education does not need to be free, but it should be accessible at a reasonable cost--- one that is not a lifelong burden.

The country needs an educated and appropriately skilled workforce. In the period between World War II and about 1970, the US appeared to be on the right track in achieving this objective, but politicians in both parties started tinkering with the system without regard for the professionals involved.  Reinvigorating our education system is not going to happen overnight, but again the market has proven it cannot be depended upon to do the job.

Another area of concern has been the international arena. The end of the Cold War was supposed to bring the end of conflicts among nations and a “peace dividend.” Instead, the US has been continuously embroiled in foreign quarrels in which we have only a passing interest and little prospect for resolving.

The fear of terrorism, which has historically been a weapon of the weak, has been used effectively by the threat-industrial complex to justify enormous defense expenditures. In the name of seeking peace and secuity the US has become the world’s greatest supplier of military weaponry and is now feared more than respected.

Finally, much of what ails America today is the result of the demise of the fourth estate within our country. Free speech and a free press are basic American values and critical to maintaining a democratic government, but neither truly exists today in the mass media nor in social media.

Money rules in both. Commercials have pushed aside time and resources for legitimate news coverage on networks and cable. The business model of social media with its urgent demand for clicks has led to a focus on conflict that is counterproductive to representative government.  Some restoration of the fairness doctrine that ruled television from the 1940s until the 1980s is desperately needed.

If neither political party recognizes the real stakes in the 2020 election, the re-election of Donald Trump may be the least of our worries. And an election centered on him, similar to what happened in 2016, could very well create a situation in which his demagoguery proves effective again.