For over thirty years, World War II veteran and author Burt Hall assessed accountability in government and national security. Now, this seasoned, professional analyst delivers a tough account of what went wrong in our politics and system of government over the past two decades and what we can do about it.
The right wing (not to be confused with Conservatism) has hijacked the Republican Party and wrecked havoc on our nation. It exploited basic flaws in our system to gain power and a series of major setbacks and a weakened democracy have followed.
The Right-Wing Threat to Democracy lays out clearly what the basic flaws in our system are and how they can be fixed. The danger is that an ongoing shift of political power to the very wealthy and suppression of voting rights is silencing the voice of the average citizen.
If elected officials do not fix the basic flaws, the American people have alternatives in our democracy and must take matters into their own hands.
ANY HOPE OF REDEEMING OUR ERODING DEMOCRATIC FOUNDATIONS MUST BEGIN WITH A CLEAR RECOGNITION OF HOW BAD THINGS ARE
By Burt Hall
The American people are deeply frustrated with not being fairly represented in Congress and not having a voice in our democracy. They are demanding an end to our great political divide and a return to a working democracy. For years politicians have been well aware of these concerns and the need for the two parties to be civil and work together. And, they well know that trust in government has been at an all time low. But, the problem persists unabated.
The only sure way for change may be to confront politicians with the results of their mishandling of government affairs and insist on public accountability. Government mishandling for three decades and their adverse effects are described in this article. It concludes with how we can restore our democracy back to normal in partnership with the voting public.
Our great political divide began in a big way when, after owning the White House for 12 years, Republicans lost it to the Clinton presidency. They were outraged at the loss, considered his victory illegitimate and believed he had to be driven from office. The political environment that followed has continued to the present day and is best expressed by Republican George Voinovich. After serving as an outstanding mayor and governor, he worked across the aisle during two terms in the Senate (winning all 88 Ohio counties) and always had the ear of the president. He confessed at Senate retirement that the attitude of his colleagues was “We’re going to get what we want or the country can go to hell”.
To get what they wanted, Republicans dishonored the integrity of the American ballot with two strategies. First, they dramatically changed their response to presidential elections from honoring the “people have spoken” to one of no presumption of legitimacy of an elected president. Second, Republicans limited voter participation of groups likely to vote Democratic and then diluted the voting power of those who did vote.
The Republican no presumption of legitimacy strategy led to immediate refusals to accept presidential election results. In the case of President Clinton, baseless investigations and impeachment plagued his tenure and were employed in a failed coup to remove him from office. The vast majority of Americans, members of Congress, law professors and historians favored censuring Clinton for having lied under oath about a private affair -- a public reprimand.
However, obsessed with impeachment, House Republican leaders railroaded it in a lame duck House session by blackmailing their members to get the necessary votes. House leaders knew Senate conviction was out of the question; their intent was to simply force Clinton to resign, as Nixon had done. He did not. The impeachment had nothing to do with Clinton’s performance in office and it violated the U.S. Constitution (Protecting American Democracy Against Internal and External Interference, pp 2-3).
The Republican strategy of Limited voter participation led to control of legislatures across the nation and in Washington and gave Republicans the power to obstruct presidents, gridlock legislation and shutdown government. They did so relentlessly during the Obama presidency. He was delegitimized and ruthlessly obstructed nonstop during his tenure in an attempt to force his presidency to fail. It did not. Among the many legislative obstructions were refusals to consider rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and reforming our immigration system – matters that still are unresolved today.
Both Clinton and Obama had been duly elected for two terms and weathered the storm. Historians now rank them near the top ten of all U.S. presidents. Throughout their four terms, the American people suffered with a negative political environment during which much more could have been accomplished for them economically and otherwise. The first Republican administration to follow was the Bush/Cheney presidency and the second is the one we have now, the Trump presidency.
The attempts to nullify Clinton’s presidency and the related media frenzy led to the close presidential election that followed. The Supreme Court elected George W. Bush, by overstepping its judicial authority and stopping the Florida recount of the closest election in history. Soon afterwards, two independent media recounts showed that the Supreme Court had elected the wrong president.
Retired Republican Justice Sandra Day O’Connor later acknowledged they should not have taken the case. This is not the only time that an overreaching and politicized Supreme Court has been no friend of our democracy. They also unleashed, with Citizens United, massive amounts of money into our system of elections – a form of legalized bribery -- and gutted the Voting Rights Act (ibid, pp 11-12).
The Bush/Cheney Republican presidency did not maintain President Clinton’s priorities on balanced budgets with surpluses or on responding to the gathering threat of international terrorism. Osama Bin Laden had already declared war on the United States and attacked us several times, including a1993 bombing of the World Trade Center that failed. The terrorist leader was captured, prosecuted and jailed. Clinton responded to the rising threat by appointing a chief of counterterrorism to the White House who reported directly to him. They developed a series of anti-terrorism capabilities and a bold plan of attack to destroy Osama Bin Laden’s network in Afghanistan. It was to be activated after the FBI confirmed responsibility for a 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer, USS Cole.
During transition, the Bush/Cheney White House was fully informed of the gravity of the terrorism threat and the network headed by Osama Bin Laden by President Clinton’s national security team, the CIA Director, the White House chief of counter-terrorism and two separate U.S. national security commissions, one on terrorism and the other on threats of the 21st century. Nevertheless, the Bush/Cheney White House (1) let a CIA death warrant on Bin Laden lapse and refused twice to renew it, (2) demoted the chief of counterterrorism who no longer reported to the president and (3) disregarded the Bin Laden attack plan despite his responsibility for the USS Cole attack.
During the spring and summer that followed, the U.S. received extraordinary warnings from heads of state of England (twice), Jordan (twice) Russia (“in strongest possible terms “) and from intelligence agencies of other countries, such as the top ones of Germany and Israel. Warnings included the hijacking of U.S. aircraft for use as missiles and that twenty al-Qaeda members had slipped into the U.S., four of whom were training to fly. Israel gave us a terrorist list of persons residing in the U.S. and four of them were the actual hijackers. Another warning reported the 9/11 code, “The Big Wedding”.
The CIA Director informed the White House that “attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning …This is going to be a big one … of catastrophic proportions.”
In July, when there was still no response, the CIA Director made an emergency unannounced visit to the White House to present his case for a military response at that “very moment”. Again there was no response -- no serious precautions taken, no rounding up of al-Qaeda agents reported to be in our country, no screening of flying schools and passenger lists, no locks put on cockpit doors and, most damaging, no warnings made to the American people as President Clinton had done with far lesser terrorism threats (ibid pp 3-5).
Following the 9/11 breach of national security, the White House recklessly responded with two unnecessary wars with no end in sight, while allowing Bin Laden to escape without pursuit. Neither of the wars were justified based on information known at that time. (ibid pp 5, 6). Cover-ups of these colossal errors in judgment followed and permitted reelection of the failed presidency for a second term. The Katrina disaster, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a plummeting stock market and huge job losses followed.
Why no accountability? Some possibilities are (1) the 9/11 Commission feared the White House and their supporters in the media and elsewhere would undermine recommendations in their report, (2) media management feared confronting a sitting president with something as charged as 9/11 and life-and-death accountability and (3) the Democratic Party has not been able or willing to defend against an overly aggressive Republican Party that was out to win at any cost. Had the shoe been on the other foot, Democrats would have been held accountable in spades (ibid pp 10, 12, 15).
The damage done by the Bush/Cheney presidency was astronomical in terms of total loss of life, injury, forced displacement of millions of innocent civilians and a massive worldwide increase in international terrorism. They also handed over to a new president a long-term federal debt of massive proportions structured for decades, an economy losing 800,000 jobs a month, a housing market in crisis, a dying auto industry, a tumbling stock market and a decline in world leadership. Future historians will find it difficult to estimate the devastation done.
As to limiting voter participation, the votes of Democrats and Independents willing to leap voting hurdles erected by Republicans were rendered worthless by legislative boundaries drawn to elect only members of one party. Voters could no longer choose their elected officials; party officials had already done it for them. In general, those who might vote against their candidate were exported and those who were likely to favor their candidate were imported. For example, legislative boundaries were drawn to pack African Americans in large voting districts and create many small white districts likely to vote Republican.
These distorted and discriminatory voting districts contributed to landslides in 9 out of every 10 House races in 2016. In 2017, they contributed to two special election Republican wins. For example, not even a strong Democrat candidate with a $39 million war chest could overcome the GOP engineered map for Georgia’s sixth district. It has been safe for 21 straight elections (The Secret Behind Latest Democratic losses, Hedrick Smith). Among other things, this unconstitutional practice offers candidates safe seats and freedom to be totally partisan. And, it discourages competition from worthy candidates of the other party. While both parties do this, Republicans did it four times as much as Democrats using a very effective high-tech computer-aided method.
It is clearly unconstitutional to rig voting systems for personal and partisan gain of the political party in power. At the state level, illegal districts with legislative majorities permit passage of unconstitutional bills, such as voter suppression and discriminatory bills that hurt everyday Americans. At the federal level, illegal districts permit obstruction of a president of the other party or, when their party owns the White House, the passage of bad legislation, such as the recent healthcare bills. If there were any justice, guilty legislatures would be barred from passing new laws, other than essential government functions, until their districts were redrawn and new elections held.
The courts are taking an eternity to deal with problems of voters’ rights, rigged partisan voting maps and big money influence over elections while legislation languished in Congress that could have corrected these problems long ago.
Now, our two-party system is broken and too divided for any president to govern and we are living in an entirely different world today because of it. Our worldwide admired democracy has been abandoned. And, unless civility returns to our politics, we are heading for a national crisis of unknown proportions.
Is it OK for Republicans to interfere for decades with our electoral system, but wrong for Russia to do it in the 2016 election? Is Russian hacking worst than voter suppression and partisan drawn maps diluting power of those who do vote? Do Americans have some special privilege to interfere with their elections that outsiders don’t have? Do we need protection from both? A cartoon in the Richmond Times Dispatch said “What makes you think the Russians can do a better job of undermining our democracy than we can?”
Trump is just a symptom of our unraveling democracy. We must deal with the underlying problems or symptoms will surface again in different ways in future elections. Any hope of restoring our democracy and revitalizing the Democratic Party must begin with a clear recognition of how bad things are today and holding public officials accountable for their mishandling of government affairs. Only when confronted with these facts will Republicans reform their win–at-any-cost political strategies and regain the trust of the American people. And, as their own Republican governor John Kasich recently said, “No one will ever remember you if you don’t put the country first.”
Overall, the mission of the Democratic Party should be to turn our politics around to the better days of the last century when our country was mostly unified and exceptional (ibid, pp 13 and 16-19). Developing a way to do that will be difficult. One way is to conduct a week-long session, when Congress is on recess, to brainstorm a message and a strategy for its execution that is in the public interest. During these deliberations the Democratic Party must figure out what it stands for in our democracy. Otherwise, it can’t win anything. The week-long session should include the best thinkers and leaders of the Democratic Party, including past presidents and vice-presidents.
The ultimate aim of the Democratic message should be to address reforms of our electoral system so that future members of Congress will (1) be elected to provide fair representation in accordance with our Constitution, (2) accept how their actions affect the country at large and (3) protect the public against interference with our political system, whether foreign or domestic. The Democratic message must close the gap between rural and urban communities with policies and an economy that are fair to both. The message must change the culture in Congress to the successful bipartisan one of earlier decades, promote youthful Democratic leadership and encourage return of disappearing Republican moderates who contributed so much to our exceptionalism of the past century (ibid, pp 13, 14). Ideally, the message would be led by a persuader-in-chief with potential of becoming the next president.
Encouraging a participatory democracy of ideas and feedback as our democracy is restored will lead to overwhelming grass roots support and resources to assist in coming elections. Relying on an anti-Trump strategy would be unwise and detrimental to the future of the Democratic Party. History will simply repeat itself. In the end, Democrats must correct the corrupt political system that stole their power and Supreme Court seat and hold public officials accountable for inexcusable mishandling of government affairs. Until Republicans begin to accept responsibility for their misconduct, they will not be either ready or entitled to serve in office.