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.
Protecting American Democracy Against Internal and External Interference
There is increasing concern about foreign interference with our democracy but not with internal interference that has compromised the integrity and results of our elections for over two decades and has had a devastating impact on our nation.
Desperate to further their agenda at the turn of the century, Republicans began an assault on our system of democracy and adopted a win-at-any-cost strategy. They began to delegitimize and obstruct performance of Democratic presidents until voters would return their party to power. Meanwhile, Republicans began to rig our electoral system so it could take control of legislatures at all levels of government and, one day, the presidential contest itself.
Several Supreme Court decisions have also interfered with our democracy and allowed Republicans to take even more power than warranted. Now, our entire system of politics is under siege: the laws that govern it, the method of selecting candidates, the financing of campaigns, the right of people to vote and the electoral process itself. If this overall trend continues, the Republicans Party will have stolen enough power to call a national convention and amend the Constitution as it chooses.
We are now a divided country with leaders obsessed with political power rather than working together in the public interest. Our democracy is neither representative nor working the way it should. Limits are placed on voter participation and their votes are often rendered worthless by weirdly shaped voting districts. There is too much government control by big money interests and too little government accountability and free press to reveal it. The results of presidential elections are being rejected and are followed by attempts to remove a president from office or cause him to fail.
During the 2016 election we had an unraveling democracy, a broken two-party system, a Congress too divided to govern and public trust in government reaching an all time low. Millions of people had suffered economically, lost their dignity and become deeply frustrated with not having a voice. The democracy we were privileged to have during the last century, that made us so exceptional, has been abandoned. All this contributed to the election of an outsider president in 2016.
Ironically, the 2016 election put Republicans back in power with a President who had campaigned against them as the Washington establishment. At that point, Republicans had done nothing for over two decades to earn the rare privilege of serving our country again. As will be seen, if they had, we would be living in a new world today.
Both the external Russian and internal Republican interference endanger our democracy and have serious national security implications. Measures to restore our democracy and protect us from further interference, whether external or internal, conclude this article.
Delegitimizing, Obstructing the Presidency of Bill Clinton
Republicans owned the White House for 12 years before President Clinton's election and were outraged at the loss of the presidency. Although freely elected, he was seen as a usurper and his victory illegitimate. Republicans believed he had to be driven from office.
What followed was a lengthy right-wing conspiracy and attempted presidential coup to subvert our democratic form of government. First, Republicans launched a series of baseless, but lengthy, Congressional investigations of the President and First Lady. They included an Arkansas Whitewater land deal entered into almost two decades earlier and an alleged murder of a close White House aide who had actually committed suicide.
These investigations did not proceed as desired so Republicans replaced a highly reputable Independent Counsel, Robert Fiske, with an inexperienced one, Ken Starr. He became their designated point man in a strategy to destabilize the Clinton presidency. The investigations, costing well over 100 million taxpayer dollars turned up nothing but were not terminated. Starr resigned to accept another job and his best people began leaving him except “the unemployable and the obsessed”. After much Republican backlash, Starr decided to remain.
Frustrated because they had failed to incriminate the President, Republicans stumbled on a chance to manipulate our judicial system and ambush him for a personal indiscretion. They created a fictional sexual harassment suit from an article professed by its own author to be inaccurate and took it all the way to the Supreme Court to set up a perjury trap for President Clinton. The dean of American journalism, David Broder, reported at the time that the Supreme Court’s decision was “one of the great blunders of American history … When they decided that a president should have no immunity against civil suits while serving in office, they may have broken their own record for ignoring reality”.
In later court proceedings, the President denied the private affair under oath. Starr and his people then misled and intimidated the Attorney General to get control of the investigation, covered-up conflicts of interest and broke two federal laws in the process. When impeachment proceedings got underway, 400 historians and 430 law professors tried to reason with House leaders against violating their constitutional responsibilities. But, House leaders listened to no one, including the American people, who had just rejected impeachment by voting a stunning Republican setback at midterm elections.
Unfazed, House leaders blocked all efforts to censure the President, railroaded the impeachment in a lame duck House session and blackmailed their members to get the necessary votes. Senate conviction was out of the question, but the intent was to force the president to resign – an attempted coup. It did not work, but the resulting media frenzy laid the ground work for a Republican takeover of the White House in 2001. A U.S. impeachment of the president is reserved for grave breaches of official duty, such as treason and bribery. Our founders did not want a low standard because it would create a weak presidency serving at the pleasure of Congress.
This huge waste of taxpayer money on unwarranted investigations of the President and fraudulent misuse of our judicial system to set a perjury trap and plot his downfall were attempts to undo a free election by the American people. The President had simply made a serious mistake that had nothing to do with his performance in office which, against all odds, was exceptional.
He made the Democratic Party competitive again by moving it toward the center, brought the country into fiscal responsibility for the first time in decades, started paying down the national debt with huge surpluses, pushed the United States headlong into the global economy, presided over one of the most successful economies in history and became a respected world leader as he improved relations with other countries and acted as a global peacekeeper. President Clinton also became the first President to coordinate counterterrorism directly from the White House and have the chief coordinator personally report to him with a pipeline of daily reports. He responded to terror attacks by:
· More than doubling anti-terrorism budgets.
· Beginning a global crackdown on terrorist funding involving some thirty industrial nations.
· Launching cruise missiles at al-Qaeda training camps.
· Trying diplomatically to have Bin Laden expelled from Afghanistan.
· Authorizing a CIA death warrant to covertly capture or kill Bin Laden and his chief lieutenants.
· Developing the improved Predator, an unmanned aircraft (now called “drones”) with video capable of spying on al-Qaeda training camps and recognizing Bin Laden
· Arming the unmanned aircraft with a hellfire missile so that Bin Laden could be found and killed in real time.
· Preparing an attack plan to kill or capture Bin Laden and dismantle his network as soon as the FBI determined responsibility for the October 2000 naval attack that almost sank the USS Cole and killed 17 servicemen.
Republican/Supreme Court interference with our democracy led to breach of national security
The Supreme Court elected President Clinton’s successor, 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.
During transition, the Bush/Cheney White House was fully informed 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 of the gravity of the domestic threat of the network headed by Osama Bin Laden who had already declared war on the United States. For example, in January 2001, at the outset of the new Bush administration, CIA Director George Tenet warned Congress in open testimony that "the threat from terrorism is real, it is immediate, and it is evolving." He said that Bin Laden and his global network remained the most immediate and serious threat to U.S interests and that Bin Laden had declared all U.S. citizens to be legitimate targets. He testified further that Bin Laden was capable of planning multiple attacks with little or no warning.
Notwithstanding expert advice from several well informed sources, the Bush/Cheney White House let the Clinton authorized death warrant on Bin Laden lapse, denied two CIA requests to resume it, demoted the chief of counterterrorism who no longer reported to the president and ignored Clinton’s bold attack plan to kill or capture Bin Laden and remove his al-Qaeda network from its sanctuary in Afghanistan.
One of these two national security commissions focused on our national security for the 21st century and the other on terrorism. The 21st century one urged creation of a new Department of Homeland Security. President Bush rejected the new department on the grounds that Vice-President Cheney would lead a national effort to respond to domestic attacks and that he would personally review progress. That effort never got off the ground.
Meanwhile, Bin Laden's plans had leaked out to other countries during the spring and summer. The information that follows was omitted from the 9/11 Commission report. The Bush/Cheney administration continued to receive advice on the gravity of the threat and repeated and unprecedented warnings from around the world. These early warnings came from friendly countries and three heads of state – twice by Prime Minister Blair of England, President Putin of Russia “in the strongest possible terms”, and twice by the King of Jordan -- once by the king’s men and, due to its importance, a second time through Germany. Germany had already sent its warning. Israel even listed some of the actual hijackers in our country.
The repeated warnings specified such things as multiple airplane hijackings, pilots in training for suicide missions, and plans to hijack commercial aircraft and use them as missiles. Added to one warning was the code for the 9/11 attacks: “The Big Wedding” and to another that Bin Laden was very disappointed that the 1993 World Trade Center attack had failed. When the warnings had reached a crescendo about two months before the attacks, CIA Director Tenet concluded that the threat could “not get any worse” He believed 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.”
The CIA Director then made an emergency and unannounced visit to the White House and presented his case for a military response at that “very moment”. Nevertheless, no serious precautions were 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 of all, no warnings to the public, as President Clinton had done on far lesser terrorism threats. The Defense Department’s top position on counterterrorism remained vacant and Federal agencies were not mobilized to respond to the threat. The U.S. Attorney General did charter private aircraft due to a “threat assessment.”
The President evaded any responsibility for the catastrophe and attempted for a year to block a review of what happened. When that didn’t work, the White House constantly stonewalled the congressionally created 9/11 Commission. Heading the 9/11 Commission investigation was Staff Director Phillip Zelikow. He had co-authored a book with White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and worked with her earlier during the transition to the Bush administration – a clear conflict of interest. After the 9/11 Commission investigation, he became her Counselor when she became Secretary of State.
In the words of 9/11 Commissioner, Ben-Veniste, Staff Director Zelikow had “blind spots” toward the Bush administration and was too dominant a personality to be placed in charge of the investigative staff. He also said a “blow torch and pliers” were required to extract information from the administration. During the investigation, there were lengthy delays, maddening restrictions and disputes over access to sensitive documents and witnesses.
Later, as revealed in Bob Woodward’s book, State of Denial, the CIA Director told him that he had “sounded the loudest warning he could; it was not heeded.” In a 2006 documentary, 9/11: Press for Truth, 9/11 Commissioner and former Senator Bob Kerry said:
"The promise I made to keep this out of the (presidential) campaign is over. Mr. President, you knew they were in the United States. You were warned by the CIA. You knew in July they were in the United States. You were told again in August that it was a dire threat. Didn’t do anything to harden our border security. Didn’t do anything to harden airport security. Didn’t do anything to engage local law enforcement ... and didn’t warn the American people. What did you do? Nothing as far as we can see.”
Republicans Respond Recklessly -- Two Unnecessary Wars
After the 9/11 breach, Bush/Cheney responded aggressively. The administration hurriedly executed the Clinton attack plan it had ignored earlier. This plan called for CIA covert personnel, the U.S. military and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to put an end to the al-Qaeda network. The plan went well except that the administration allowed Bin Laden and members of his network to escape into Pakistan and did not pursue them. Disposing of him and his lieutenants should have ended the U.S. military intervention with a warning of what would happen if the country ever became a sanctuary for terrorist networks. Instead, we went from a conflict to a war without end.
As for the war in Iraq, the Director of Intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported to the Secretary of Defense that our intelligence is filled with uncertainties and lack of hard evidence. Also, 250 international inspectors on the ground in Iraq were reporting an inability to confirm U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, the Bush/Cheney White House:
· Urged our nation on to war by frightening the American public about Iraq’s doomsday weapons, while giving the CIA little time to estimate the threat for congressional review.
· Presented threat information to Congress and the American people as absolute fact, when such assessments are inherently uncertain.
· Dismissed the findings of international inspectors then on the ground in Iraq. These findings discounted our intelligence and could have prevented war.
A German foreign ministry member flew to Washington to meet with White House officials. He expressed the strong views of Germany, Russia and France that these inspectors be allowed to finish their job and predicted adverse foreign policy outcomes if we went to war. Their view was that the political costs of war were too high, the beneficiary would be Iran and war would precipitate a “terrorist backlash” and would further complicate reaching a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Soon afterwards, the American invasion forced the inspectors to leave and predictions of our European friends came true.
The truth about these events was kept from Congress and the public. There were unintended consequences.
· A huge loss of human life followed these two wars; millions of people had to relocate, Bin Laden was elevated to a world hero. The two wars expanded the sea of hatred and grew a deep-seated rage in the Muslim world. As a result, there was a massive increase in world-wide terrorism.
· The two wars and 9/11 were avoidable based on information known to top White House officials at the time. Without accountability, no course correction was possible and we reelected a failed presidency. It appointed two more right wing justices to the Supreme Court.
· The new Supreme Court membership used a narrow legal case to change our election laws and permit big money interests to influence election outcomes anywhere in the United States as well as the decisions that follow. The Supreme Court’s power to create new election finance law was seriously challenged by a minority of Justices and outside experts. Later, the new Court also gutted the Voting Rights Act.
· The administration had years earlier reversed Clinton’s tax policy by redistributing a trillion dollars to the wealthy “to create jobs”. The worst job record in 50 years followed and the wealthy are using this income to influence election outcomes and lobby members of Congress.
· Using a clever and well-organized attack machine, Republicans began shifting to the next president its responsibility for the nation’s steep decline and disarray in the Mideast, including the rise of Isis. Without the Iraq war, there would not have been an Islamic State.
Delegitimizing, Obstructing the Presidency of Barack Obama
In the case of President Obama, the Republican Party handed over to him a nation with a long-term structured rising debt, a housing market in crisis, a dying auto industry, monthly job losses of 800,000, a tumbling stock market and a decline in world leadership. The new party then forced him to govern alone, obstructed him, portrayed him as un-American, blocked any policy successes and passed anti-voting laws to prevent his reelection.
Ruthless obstruction returned big time. A new record was set for stalling tactics and filibustering in Congress and attempts were made to hold the government hostage with shutdowns and defunding previously approved actions. Throughout these years, the Republican Party caused a government shutdown at a cost to taxpayers of $24 billion, threatened not to raise debt limits on expenditures they had previously authorized and repeatedly opposed funding of the president’s proposals and newly enacted laws without workable alternatives. The end result was a dysfunctional governing body in Congress with the lowest approval rating in history.
Republican leaders also resurrected the McCarthy era, questioning the new president’s patriotism and accusing him of not being an American citizen. Their extremist behavior during this period demonstrated little respect for the office of the presidency and our democratic process and institutions.
The Republican controlled House refused to fund rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, a top priority of the Obama administration. Investing in our infrastructure, industries of the future and education of our workforce is crucial to a successful economy. For some five years, Republicans leaders refused to act, although it would have provided much needed jobs for those left out of our economy.
In addition to defeating job creation, Republicans would not raise the minimum wage although millions were barely surviving on poverty wages; would not pursue commonsense gun control although there are many more guns in the U.S. than there are Americans qualified to use them; would not act on climate change although rising sea levels will soon be flooding low lying areas in the U.S.; and would not update the new national health care law although any new complex legislation of this magnitude can and should be improved with experience. These repeated refusals to make progress for the American people created much public dissatisfaction and provided a path for an outsider president in 2016.
Republicans Interfere with Our Democracy to Rig Electoral System
A vote is the only power that average Americans have to change things for the better. The Republican Party used various means to (1) suppress participation of voting groups that generally vote Democratic and (2) then made the votes of those who do vote of little value or worthless.
Barriers erected to prevent or discourage tens of millions of people from voting.
The targets in Republican-controlled states are population groups which generally vote Democratic: the young, people of color, the disabled, the elderly and low-income people. Suppression tactics include curtailing early voting, overly strict photo identification requirements, no same day registration, rejecting identifications issued by state colleges for out-of-state students, closing minority voting precincts thereby creating abnormally long voting lines. The rationale for these barriers is the statistically non-existent problem of voter fraud. The real problem with American voters is low turnout.
A New York Times editorial warned that “many voters won’t be able to participate in the democratic process any longer. Some won’t show up at the polls, unwilling to leap the hurdles placed before them, while others will try to vote and find their ballots rejected.”
We must return to a fair and balanced democracy where every voter is respected, allowed to vote and have their vote counted and counted equally. Australia is the model here. It’s easy to vote there and you are fined if you don’t. Corrective legislation proposed by Democrats has been languishing for years in the Congress due to Republican opposition. It would restore the Voting Rights Act and create a universal and modern system of automatic voter registration. It includes same day and portable registration, expanded early voting and sensible voter identification.
Republican-controlled states created the most distorted and partisan voting districts in modern times to favor their candidates using a high-tech computer-aided method.
This was done by redrawing election district boundaries to adjust population groups and district size to favor their own candidates. To illustrate, large groups of Democratic minded voters were stuffed into a few districts thus diluting their votes. The remaining Democrats were then spread thinly across the rest of the state so Republicans could assure enough safe seats to control state legislatures and the House of Representatives.
For example, at the state level, Wisconsin Republican candidates in the next election received less than half of the statewide vote but won 60 of the state’s 99 seats. At the congressional level, Michigan Democrats got 60,000 more votes but only 5 of the 14 seats in Congress. Democrats won the state of Pennsylvania by 300,000 votes, but Republicans picked up 13 House seats and Democrats only five. The same thing happened in other Republican-controlled states. Their elected representatives have a virtual monopoly and don’t have to be concerned about public opinion, seeking compromises with their colleagues, or working to earn reelection.
With a majority of states under Republican control, redistricting can only get worse. And, the next step in Republican-controlled states will be to have electoral votes for the presidency decided on the outcomes of these partisan-drawn districts rather than on the state’s popular vote, as we do today. In other words, Republican-controlled legislatures are trying to rig future presidential contests according to voting districts won, rather than popular votes won.
That would dramatically change the outcome of presidential elections; presidential nominee Milt Romney might have won in 2012. Several days after the 2014 midterms, a Michigan lawmaker proposed a bill to let the number of voting districts won determine how his state’s presidential electoral votes would be counted. Mitt Romney, who lost Michigan’s popular vote by 450,000, would have gotten 12 and Barack Obama only 6 electoral votes. Other Republican-controlled states have been trying to ram through similar bills. In 2017, the Virginia Republican-controlled legislature advanced such a bill and then abandoned it. However, it also abandoned reforms to keep politics out of mapping voting districts.
In July, 2015, a Florida Supreme Court ordered that eight congressional districts be redrawn on the grounds that Republican operatives and political consultants “did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process.” During the 2016 election, Florida added five Democrat seats by throwing out partisan stacking of election districts to permit real competition.
This kind of partisan redistricting determines the results of elections before any votes are cast, offers safe seats to new candidates, protects current office holders, prevents genuine competition, permits uncontested seats to be immune to public opinion, discourages other candidates from running because the deck is stacked against them and elects ideological candidates who would rather fight with the other party than govern. While both parties are guilty of unrepresentative redistricting, Republicans excel at it and hold enough governorships across the nation to maintain an unrepresentative democracy in America for the foreseeable future.
A few states have restored representative democracy to their voting districts – California through an independent commission, Arizona through an independent commission ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida after a nine-year battle dictated by a popular referendum and recently, Wisconsin dictated by a U.S. District Court. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Arizona case called it “direct democracy” and “the only means of policing the temptation of those in power to entrench themselves more securely in power.”
As a recent New York Times editorial pointed out, the solution is to remove the mapping of voting districts out of the hands of self-interested lawmakers and give it to state nonpartisan commissions. The problem is those who would have to authorize such nonpartisan commissions are the very same self-interested lawmakers – a catch-22. There is legislation in Congress to establish independent redistricting commissions, but the bills have no chance of passage again because of the “catch 22”problem, a rigged political system that empowers Republicans in the House to defeat any and all legislation not its own.
Republican politicians like to hold President Obama responsible for defeats in federal and state legislatures. Now we know why some of these defeats happen -- unethical and unconstitutional practices in prearranging the outcome of elections. Allowing this practice to continue only perpetuates those already in power and is undemocratic. The Supreme Court ought to call it what it is – fraudulent and unconstitutional -- and help restore our broken two-party system by requiring states to solve the redistricting problem with nonpartisan commissions. The recent Wisconsin case has been appealed to the Supreme Court and currently presents a unique opportunity to help restore our democracy.
Republicans Interfere with Our Democracy to Influence 2016 Presidential Election
House Republicans had blocked President Obama’s initiatives and accomplished little else on their own. They used their considerable free time to rig, at taxpayer expense, the political system for the 2016 presidential election by targeting the terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi and the private e-mail server of anticipated presidential nominee and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. As just noted, the electoral system itself had already been rigged years earlier.
Regarding Benghazi, there were two years of unrivaled House hearings and investigations intending to bring down the Democratic presidential nominee. The House Intelligence Committee, the official one, finally settled the matter. As Secretary of State, Clinton had instantly established a panel of top experts to investigate the attack, establish accountability, and recommend changes. The panel’s changes were adopted and, according to the House Intelligence Committee, nothing could have been done in time to save the four Americans who died. If you want some real perspective on how our two political parties handled a crisis, consider this contrast between handling of 9/11 and Benghazi.
On 9/11, the Bush/Cheney White House continually blocked any investigation for a year and then repeatedly stonewalled the 9/11 Commission’s investigation. The Commission report omitted the specific warnings of the upcoming attacks and other evidence of a breach of national security and failed to make an assessment of top level preparedness, as required by its statutory mandate. Neither responsibility nor accountability was ever established for 9/11 and the public was not informed.
On Benghazi, the State Department immediately set up a high level independent review panel and cooperated with the investigation. Responsibility was taken and accountability established. The public was informed.
Regarding Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server, the writer held the highest possible security classification in government and is conversant with how security classifications are handled. The FBI ruled none of the messages received or sent by Hillary Clinton had the required warnings at the top of the page alerting the reader to security classification. The FBI then overstated its case by noting that some of the information she sent or received was later reclassified. Barring some well known national top secret, the job of reclassification was certainly not in her domain. There was no evidence presented of secrets stolen or any harm done to the United States. Nevertheless, Clinton publically acknowledged that the private server should not have been used for government business.
The FBI Director reopened the case shortly before the presidential election under highly questionable circumstances and is under investigation by his Department’s Inspector General for violating a rule against influencing elections.
Big Business Interferes with Our Democracy by Not Paying Its Fair Share of Taxes
In this decade a number of large businesses have been paying partial or no taxes. Some had huge profits, such as General Electric of $26 billion over a five year period, and paid no taxes. Other companies, such as Exxon Mobile and Bank of America, did the same. The much debated tax rates are not paid in practice. Large businesses are not paying their fair share of the cost of running the country and for the many benefits they routinely receive from government to conduct their businesses.
-- Efficient roads, bridges, railways, seaports, airports and the interstate highway system to ship products.
-- A nationwide energy grid to power factories; communication towers and satellites to conduct online business.
-- An educated U.S. workforce to fill essential jobs.
-- Diplomatic embassies all over the word to assist with business and personal problems.
-- Scientific taxpaper research such as the DOD innovation that gave birth to the Internet and the NASA innovation that gave birth to the miniaturization of electronics
-- Most important of all, huge yearly defense and homeland security expenditures to protect all citizens (including non taxpaying ones) against all kinds of national security threats and all kinds of natural disasters and recovery from them.
The middle class and others have had to pick up the tab; while businesses and the wealthy evade their fair share of taxes and use the money to influence election outcomes and the decisions that follow. There is an easy solution if the government does not solve this problem -- boycotting of company products. Boycott companies that pay little or no taxes, boycott companies that shift their headquarters overseas to evade taxes and boycott companies that leave their huge profits overseas to avoid income taxes.
Supreme Court Interferes with Our Democracy by Overreaching and Politicizing its Decisions
Further undermining our democracy is the fact that Supreme Court Justices are accountable to no one, have overreached their powers and over time have lost touch with reality. They have gotten involved in political activities, accepted gifts from wealthy supporters and will hang around for years until presidents of their own party can replace them.
They have rendered overreached and politicized decisions (1) by allowing a presidency to be disrupted for several years by a mere civil suit, (2) by electing the wrong president as his successor, (3) by allowing corporate and wealthy interests in the Citizens United decision to unleash massive amounts of money into our system of elections -- a form of legalized bribery -- and (4) by gutting the Voting Rights Act that required the Justice Department to preclear voting changes of states known to suppress voting and still do.
Because impartial decision-making is so essential to success of the Supreme Court, it has been held that due process is violated when a judge participates in a case involving a party that helped him obtain his judgeship (Caperton v. A.T. Massey). Notwithstanding that decision, Justice Thomas sat in judgment of the controversial Citizens United case although that organization had spent at least $100,000 in support of his nomination to the Supreme Court.
It’s time to replace lifetime Supreme Court appointments with limited terms (say 16 or 20 years), ban overt activities in political affairs and adopt an ethical code of conduct for the U.S. Supreme Court similar to those of lower court U.S. Justices. The Supreme Court must totally remove itself from politics and focus more on ensuring that America has a representative democracy, as it did in the Arizona decision on redistricting.
Cover-ups Preclude Public Accountability of Political Officials
There was no accountability for the unwarranted investigations and conspiracy to remove President Clinton from office and for the violation of our Constitution that followed. There was no accountability for 9/11 and the two reckless wars, all three of which were avoidable based on conclusive information known at the time. There was no accountability for a political party that twice rejected the people’s choice of president and obstructed any policy successes. Both Democratic presidents that Republicans rejected had been freely elected for two terms. We will never know how much more they could have accomplished had the two political parties worked together in the public interest.
Each time we lost accountability, something bad happened, sometimes worse than the original sin. The problem is that when there is no real accountability we will continue to make the same kinds of mistakes and elect or reelect the same kinds of people. Without accountability and lessons learned, corrective measures cannot be taken by elected officials or by the citizens that put them in office. A two-party system cannot govern the nation well when one party in office misgoverns and, when out of office, obstructs the other party.
What’s tragic is that the enormous catastrophes we suffered had long-term consequences and were avoidable based on information known by Republican leaders who, at the time, should not have been in office. Instead of accepting responsibility, Republicans passed the blame to the next president for the disastrous aftermath. This raises serious questions about the reliability and trustworthiness of the Republican Party and presents a real challenge to outsider President Trump who now leads that party.
Moderate Republican Statesmen Made Our Democracy Work
Since the 90’s, the right wing has controlled the Republican Party, purged its moderates and moved it away from the mainstream. The few remaining moderates have little voice. Rather than abide by decisions of the electorate, the Republican Party will not work across party lines, or respect the office of the presidency, or let it govern with any success. Meanwhile, it rigs our political system to achieve at every level a transfer of power back to itself. Any relationship between the GOP of yesterday and the right-wing controlled Republican Party of today is purely coincidental. The bottom line is: you can have either right-wing control of the Republican Party or a working democracy. You cannot have both.
The great Republican moderates of yesterday include presidents like Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. They include moderate Republican Senators and statesmen like Arthur Vandenberg, George Aiken, Wayne Morse, Howard Baker, Edward Brooke, Margaret Chase Smith, John Sherman Cooper, Dan Coats, Everett Dirksen, Charles Percy, Jacob Javits, Charles Mathis, Larry Pressler, Bob Dole, John Warner, William Cohen, Dick Lugar, George Voinovich, Chuck Hagel, Olympia Snowe and former Republican House leaders, Gerald Ford, Bob Michel and John Kasich. Their pictures now decorate the halls of Congress.
As mayor, moderate Republican George Voinovich saved Cleveland from default, as governor he made Ohio number one in the nation and then served two terms in the Senate. He broke all voting records in Ohio and won all 88 of its counties. During a Senate retirement speech in 2010, he warned his party that, when we diminish our president in the eyes of the world, we damage his credibility on foreign policy and lessen our own national security. After retirement he said his party’s current attitude is, “We’re going to get what we want or the country can go to hell.”
Moderate Republican House Minority Leader, Bob Michel, was noted for his ability to strike bargains, “We have an obligation to the American people” to be “responsible participants in the process.” Moderate Republican Senator Charles Mathias was called the “conscience of the Senate” by the Democratic Party leader. William Cohen was an outstanding Republican House member and Senator. President Clinton chose him to run the defense department. A moderate House congressional leader, John Kasich, left Congress for the private sector and then became an outstanding governor of Ohio. The Republicans in Congress today are not in the same league with their predecessors.
Some former and current Republican members of Congress are opposed to what is happening today and have made their views a matter of record. They include eight-year term congressman Mickey Edwards, Senator Olympia Snowe, Senator Susan Collins, Senator George Voinovich and a high-level staffer, Mike Lofgren who had served three decades in the House and Senate and lost faith in his party. In addition, there is a Reformer Caucus, composed of over 100 concerned high-level politicians with the objective of improving our political system. Some objections of Republicans to their own party are revealing.
· “I have seen the United State Congress as it actually functions, not a gathering of America’s chosen leaders to confront, together, the problems we face, but as competing armies – on the floor, in committees, in subcommittees – determined to dominate or destroy.
Former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards
· “Even If Washington leads the nation in incivility, it is not likely to change until those outside of Washington demand it. What gets rewarded gets done, and for those of us in Congress, reelection is the ultimate reward. Vote out of office – or not elect in the first place – those who put partisanship over progress...”
Republican Senator Susan Collins
· “This is not a battle between Republicans and Democrats … it is between the ultra right-wing element, who want to mold us in their image only, and those of us who want to preserve an open, free nation with real possibilities for the future for our children and grandchildren.”
Former Republican Investment Executive Jill Buzzeo
· “Is increasingly hostile to the democratic values of reason, compromise and conciliation and instead uses the principal campaign strategy of “conflict and the crushing of opposition;” During future electoral success the GOP will unleash major policy disasters which means twilight for both the democratic process and America’s status as the world’s leading power.
Former high level House and Senate Republican staffer Mike Lofgren
What If Our Democracy Had Been Protected from Interference?
The most precious thing we have in our democracy is the right to choose our local and national leaders, including the President of the United States. Subversive politics challenged that right, disrupted our nation and weakened both our presidency and national security when there was an escalating threat of international terrorism leading to 9/11.
As for the recent 2016 election, House Republicans had a plan afoot to again reject and obstruct the peoples’ choice of president if that person had been the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, as they had expected. If our two-party system had been working in the way it did during the last century, we would be living in an entirely different world today. There would have been:
· No repeated exploitation and weakening of our Democratic electoral system for political gain.
· No outright rejections of duly elected presidents.
· No unworthy investigations and an impeachment.
· No 9/11 and the reckless two-war response, no millions of lives lost and injuries worldwide, no veterans returning with loss of limbs and psychological problems, and no trillions of dollars wasted and still rising.
· No massive worldwide increase in international terrorism.
· No financial crisis and jobs loss at the rate of 800,000 a month.
· No $ 10 trillion loss in the stock market.
· No spiraling uncontrollable deficits rather than balanced budgets.
· No congressional members using the peoples’ House and taxpayer money to rig the next presidential election.
Outsider Enters Our Interfered/Unprotected Democracy
When the two-party system failed, tens of millions, who were left out of our economy, lost confidence in government and in their own destiny. They demanded an outsider president that would give them a voice in government. The outsider, Donald Trump, had switched parties a number of times and now was a Republican. His timing was perfect; his party had broken our two-party system, was divided, and lacked real leadership.
As the 2016 presidential election began, the Republican Party was achieving little except obstructing the other party and undermining its future presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. If an outsider had not entered the fray, any of the other 16 Republican candidates would most likely have lost in a landside to that nominee whether Russia had influenced the election or not.
Protecting Democracy by Fighting Fire with Fire
The tendency of the Democratic Party is to work with the other party, when possible. That is certainly commendable and required for a successful democracy. Unfortunately, during the unraveling of both our country and democracy, Democrats were not willing to hold the other party truly accountable. They did not disclose cover-ups of the 9/11 catastrophe and two unjustified wars and that they all were easily avoidable at the time.
Republicans have shifted blame to the Obama administration for decline in foreign policy and enormous increases in federal debt, much of which was actually due to their avoidable disasters, mismanagement of government and national emergency recovery expenditures. Imagine, if you can, if the shoe had been on the other foot. Democrats would have never heard the end of it. There would have been another impeachment (deserved this time) and Democrats would have lost the presidency for at least three or four terms.
Over the years, Democrats have made many of the right moves to keep America great. They just have not been able or willing to defend themselves against an overly aggressive Republican Party that will do anything to have its way -- even sacrifice the welfare of the country and its citizens.
It’s time for the Democratic Party to stand up against further encroachments by the other party on its constitutional rights. This will make its supporters more proud to be Democrats and they will become more involved in elections. Otherwise, Democrats face bad news in the 2018 and 2020 elections and beyond because the current political system is simply rigged against them and will remain so barring an extraordinary response.
Former President Obama spoke of encouraging young people during his retirement to enter the Democratic Party and become the next generation leaders. If he would help create a fair and balanced political system and a working democracy, young people will be more attracted to enter the political process and serve. But, if he does not, our young leaders will be terribly disappointed. Young people and future leaders will not be drawn to the Democratic Party until it stands it ground, gets the truth out to the American people and restores our democracy and its electoral system so that young people can really make a difference.
What a Real Democracy Looks Like and Ways to Restore and Protect It
Hostility toward the democratic values of reason, compromise and conciliation must be eradicated so that Republicans and Democrats can work together in enacting meaningful legislation. The culture in Congress must be changed. In the long run, a stronger more competitive Republican Party is best for our country and will keep the Democratic Party on its toes. As retired moderate Republican Senator John Warner said, "The strength of America's political system rests in the strength of having two viable, strong parties in stiff competition."
The basic concept of our democracy is that each of us should have a voice in decisions that affect our lives. We live in a representative democracy and must abide by its decisions. Free elections of our leaders provide legitimacy to the winner and the right to govern. Our country was built on the basic principle that, when a particular political party is defeated at the ballot box, it must pay a price for the public good. Once intense campaigning and political infighting are over, our democracy demands that we pull together and support a newly-elected president from either party.
We have only one president at a time, and he or she is speaking for all the people. The losing party becomes the loyal opposition, not the enemy, and the president represents all the people, not just his own party. Minority leaders in Congress are expected to become team players.
The endgame for the future is two healthy political parties able to compete in a political system that favors neither party nor its candidates, and demands that both parties govern together in America’s interest, not in their own self-interest. They should rely on a grassroots democracy to guide their agendas. There would still be fierce battles, but also willingness to find common ground. Moderate Republican statesmen must be allowed to renter their party in leadership roles because their priority has always been putting country first.
The solution is for an educated electorate and eligible voters to show up at the voting booth in primaries when selecting candidates and in general elections when choosing their representatives. They would (1) reward those politicians who work together to find common ground and solve major problems and (2) reject those politicians who choose party over country and the public good. No one other than the American people can achieve this and remove the cancer from our politics.
How can we change the culture in Congress so that our lawmakers will seek and take pride in a successful presidency for America, no matter which party governs, and with respect for the interests of all Americans, not just special interests? The Congress should develop special criteria for selecting and voting on its leaders. The criteria should include a demonstrated skill to (1) recognize when elections are over and it’s time to get down to business, (2) work across the aisle with members of the other party, (3) put America first over party and (4) negotiate and make bargains with the other party to reach consensus, as we did in the last century. Some reasons why leaders of both parties might one day agree to put Washington back to work again for the American people are:
· The U.S. would once again be a world model of democracy.
· Both parties would become healthier, stronger and more competitive and be able to attract more talented and young people to their party than today.
· There would be much greater participation in our democracy by having worthy candidates rely on partial public matching of small donors to help win elections.
· Would permit big business to go back to what it does best – providing goods and services, earning profits in a competitive environment and taking pride in paying their fair share of the costs of running their land of opportunity.
· Would remove the U.S. negative image of undoing a democracy and perpetuating government paralysis.
· Would save hundreds of billions of dollars by not constantly fighting for political advantage, not doing unnecessary investigations of the other party and not having to invest exorbitant sums in financing elections.
· Would promote the concept of all eligible voters using their voting rights and remove any obstacles to doing so.
· Would restore our democracy, end excessive partisanship and unite the country.
There are several bills languishing in Congress for years that would do much to restore our democracy if the Republican-led Congress pass them. The bills include (1) creating a modern voting system with universal automatic registration, (2) requiring states to use independent commissions to map out their voting districts in a fair and nonpartisan way, (3) maintaining our constitutional right to vote and (4) getting big money out of politics that dilutes the vote of average Americans and buys inordinate access and influence.
Unless the President steps in and supports major reform, the only alternative for coping with Republican opposition is to think outside the box for an extraordinary strategy. Otherwise, it will take at least a couple decades; and the two-party system and this country may not be recognizable by then. And, Osama Bin Laden’s dream of a war between the Muslim world and Western democracies may one day come true. The key parts of one such strategy would be for Democrats to boycott actions in Congress until Republicans agree to:
(1) Bring to the floor, debate and pass the four crucial bills cited above to restore our democracy.
(2) Return to Democrats the Supreme Court seat stolen in 2016 and establish Senate procedures that would preclude this kind of illegitimate power grab in the future.
(3) Continue working toward achieving the universally accepted goals for saving our planet from climate change.
(4) Develop broad bipartisan consensus and among experts in the field that new health care legislation is substantially better than the existing law.
The boycott could include all congressional actions, other than a national security matters, regardless of importance. One way for Democrats to achieve that is to have one of its 48 Senators constantly on the floor withholding consent to any legislation of the other party. The Republicans have played hardball repeatedly for over two decades; it’s time for Democrats to respond. .
A final step is that the U.S. must, in concert with the UN, (1) use sanctions or other means to require all countries to refrain from interfering with democracies, (2) urge all Muslim countries to restore faith in their religion and preclude immigration bans by declaring war against international terrorism, with military support and intelligence from Western countries, as needed, and (3) ask all countries to isolate and not do business with Israel and Palestine until they end their 50-year old differences and agree on a sensible two-state solution.
In the long run, Israel would be safer from its neighbors and one day be proud of helping the Palestine State to succeed. The farsighted Israel Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, knew this but was assassinated for being ahead of his time. The shortsighted Prime Minister Netanyahu is replaceable if Israelites demand change. Unfortunately, continued differences between these two countries have for decades contributed to U.S. involvement in widespread international terrorism and this involvement will continue unless the threat is deterred.
The Republican Party got control of government not through its performance, but by shutting down the performance of the other party and misleading the American people about why Washington was not working for them. The danger is that the Democratic Party will retaliate in kind. This will only exacerbate the situation and further harm and inflame the American people. A boycott of Republican control of government is one way to initiate change. Those Democrats in Congress who reject this solution should have a workable alternative.
Congress is too divided to govern and both Congress and the Executive Branch are conflicted with sell interest and may not be up to the task of restoring our democracy. An alternative is to fully inform the public on the major setbacks suffered from both internal and external interferences with our democracy. This can be done by forming a panel of highly distinguished statesmen to conduct open public hearings and make recommendations for consideration now and during the next election. The independent panel could be organized and funded by either the private sector or the media. The last two presidents say they inherited a mess and Barack Obama said in his final news conference he would back an effort to strengthen our democracy. Any past president might want to participate in these hearings
In the last century, when moderates of both parties actively governed together, we won the greatest war in world history, created the most admired middle class, guaranteed a safety net and civil rights for our citizens, became a leader in space, accepted immigrants who became leaders in industry and innovation, grew a fabulous gross national product, became the number one economy, won the cold war and maintained values we can all be proud of. It’s time to reclaim that period and the American dream.
We are learning the hard way that we can’t fix our national problems until we fix and protect our democracy against interference. Voters must be wary in the future of giving the rare privilege of running this country back again to a Republican Party until it accepts responsibility for abusing our democracy, reopens its party to moderates and begins to promote our democracy rather than dismantle it.