Past Time For These–And Other–Reforms

Americans shouldn’t allow Trump’s COVID diagnosis to become the ultimate distraction from the  electoral choices that face us, or the structural challenges we will face even in the best of electoral circumstances.

The bottom line is that, even If America rids itself of Trump and his GOP enablers, citizens will still have a lot of work to do. We can no longer pretend that our electoral and legal systems are working as intended– for that matter, several are not working at all.

The Democrats, at least, have noticed.

On September 23d, the Washington Post ran an opinion piece authored by several Congressional Democrats, including Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler. Noting that Trump was the first President to ignore the reforms passed in the wake of Watergate, they wrote that

With a lawless president in office who acts as if rules are for suckers, political norms for losers and governing for chumps, it is clear we need a new series of reforms to protect our democracy.

On Wednesday, we are introducing such reforms, which we began drafting more than a year ago not only to address the president’s unique abuses, but also to go beyond them to restore accountability, root out corruption and ensure transparency in government for future White House occupants.

The reforms these lawmakers are proposing include amending the pardon power to make it clear that a President cannot pardon himself or his immediate family, adding teeth to the emoluments clause by adding explicit enforcement provisions and enhanced penalties, and increasing financial disclosure rules.

The bill also addresses the need to strengthen accountability and transparency. The op-ed notes that Trump has “obstructed congressional oversight, targeted whistleblowers who speak out against him and fired officials whose responsibility is to objectively investigate wrongdoing in the federal government,” and states the obvious: that  Congress needs access to documents and  the ability to compel testimony from witnesses in order to conduct that oversight. Their bill strengthens Congress’ right to enforce its subpoenas in court, and has other provisions aimed at improving congress’ ability to discharge its duties as  a co-equal branch of government.

The bill also contains measures that are a direct response to Trump’s contempt for the rule of law and for democratic norms:

We must also reclaim Congress’s power of the purse from an overzealous executive branch, increase transparency around government spending and ensure there are consequences to deter the misuse of taxpayer funds. Our bill will prevent the executive branch from using nonpublic documents or secret legal opinions to circumvent Congress and unilaterally enact its agenda behind closed doors. Our bill will impose limits on presidential declarations of emergencies and any powers triggered by such declarations, unless extended by a congressional vote, and require the president to provide all documents regarding presidential emergency actions to Congress.

These and the other reforms enumerated in the bill are welcome and probably overdue. The ability to pass the measure rather obviously depends upon turning the Senate blue on November 3rd.

But here’s my problem.

So long as most Americans don’t understand the rules we already have, or the reasons we have them–so long as they fail to recognize the profound effect legal structure exerts on the mechanics of government, we are ignoring one of the most dangerous threats to ethical and constitutional governance: widespread civic ignorance.

Far too many Americans vote for presidents and governors and mayors without understanding either the skills required for those jobs or–even more importantly–the constraints applicable to those positions. They evidently assume that they are electing temporary kings and queens–people who will take office, issue decrees, and change reality. (Trump’s base, for example, evidently thinks his constant stream of “Executive Orders” all have legal effect, although few do.) Worse, they fail to recognize the ways in which structures that were useful (or at least, less harmful) in the past have distorted the exercise of the franchise and given us a system in which rural minorities and thinly populated states dominate an overwhelmingly urban country.

When you don’t understand how a system works–or why it is no longer working properly–your ability to make informed choices at the ballot box is impaired.

The reforms listed in the linked op-ed are among the many changes we need to make. But a thoughtful discussion of those needed reforms requires a voting public that understands why America’s systems aren’t functioning properly–and what “properly” looks like.

Tomorrow, I will address additional needed reforms.


  1. “Americans shouldn’t allow Trump’s COVID diagnosis to become the ultimate distraction from the electoral choices that face us, or the structural challenges we will face even in the best of electoral circumstances.”

    Trump’s Covid diagnosis, like everything else connected to this man, is filled with lies, distortions, possible “misspoken facts”, and adds to the chaotic conditions we are all trying to deal with at every level of our lives. The updates on his “condition” cannot be trusted; our primary concern needs to be a documented source tracing of positive diagnoses of other victims he and his entourage have been in direct contact with. And then an accounting of his direct victims’ contact tracing.

    When and IF he is ever ousted from the presidency will be a cleanup procedure comparable only with what is still problematic from Hurricane Maria and the following storms in Puerto Rico (where Trump supplied only rolls of paper towels) and a fully documented death count. Trump is probably correct in his comment regarding the current election, “there will be no transition”; it will be more like a “search and rescue” after a disaster in hopes there will be anything to be rescued. Any form of “reform” needs to contain protection from the current lack of governmental procedures ever happening again.

  2. If House Bill HR1 isn’t enacted into law no other reforms matter. And if your suggested reforms don’t address this, I wouldn’t bother:

    Per@profgalloway and @barronsonmine:

    87% Share of stocks owned by the top 10% of Americans in Q1, up from 82.4% in 2009.

    20% Portion of Americans with children who say they can’t get enough food, up from 17% in early June.

    Last night I watched a documentary on Amazon Prime about Hoosier Socialist Eugene V. Debs of Terre Haute. He was calling for reforms to deal with the same problem 120 years ago. The only thing that’s changed since then is that the majority of blue-collar white workers have been recruited as cheerleaders for capitalism, warts and all, as the system that will guarantee their higher place in the social hierarchy relative to black people, no matter how bad off the former are.

  3. Well, thanks again Sheila!

    It seems like Trump and Trump’s team is shooting from the hip right now! Kind of like a Matt Dillon with blinders on, the draw is really really quick, but the aim is nonexistent.

    You watch Q anon start putting out conspiracies about Trump being infected at the debates, in an effort to bump him off and his entire family. Trying to make him the Trojan horse, LOL! Of course his whole entourage not accepting masks would put a hole in that argument, it’s never stopped them before! After all, we know that Dr. who was trying to hand them masks, was probably a spy, LOL, and those masks were probably laced with Novichok or something, LOL!

    After a short World War III or so, Papa Joe needs to write one massive executive order to resend all of DJTs
    executive orders! After all, if we are constantly bombarded with “time is of the essence” then act like it! Because if you’re going to let the start of this whole repair work be hamstrung by Republican operatives, then what’s the point?

    Getting a handle on emissions to slow down climate changes great, but damage has been done already, and it will be deadly for many many years or even a generation. So, there needs to be terraforming on this planet that we live on before we start trying to terraform other planets. Drought proofing the West and South is priority, because it would prevent fires from polluting the atmosphere and protect the breadbasket.

    You know something is going on with all of these weapons that the military has developed in the past couple of years without anyone’s knowledge. I’m sure the Republicans were aware of it, but it seems to have caught everyone else by surprise. And I’m sure there’s more in the pipeline! You see? Our tax dollars are hard at work, just not in the right places. Why has some of the rhetoric toned down from these countries that want to usurp the American, pax Americana? Because they’re caught by surprise also.

    When you have a brand-new fighter jet that nobody knew about that is able to sweep the skies clear of enemy air forces like a broom sweeping cobwebs, you know they’re nervous.

    Anyway, I digress.

    You can’t let the Republicans throw wrenches into the gearbox. Executive orders! And immediately make the court system block proof! Because, with FDR, just the threat of packing the court changed the Republican conduct in the court, but these are different times! And I don’t think they’d be afraid of being irrelevant, so, they’re there to do the bidding of those that sent them. Just like you drought proof the South and the East, you block proof the Supreme Court. And then, go through all of Trump’s appointees to federal benches, and make sure they are qualified, and if not impeach them.

    Rejoin the trade agreements, start building green energy manufacturing facilities in areas that are hardest hit by unemployment, building windmills and solar panels that we’ve abandoned and left to the Chinese. This new fusion reactor system that might be online in 5 years or so, would be able to produce power for free! And the new technology that allows electronics to run from limitless power using Graphene, no more batteries going dead on your cell phones or laptops. Or your watches would never have to be wound or batteries changed. On a larger scale, you could have Graphene cells powering homes, everything in the home would run on 12 or 24 V, with the assist of capacitors and solar cells, this should be an amazing leap forward.

    And of course the aforementioned Fusion reactors!

    Science is a good thing as long as it’s used to help humanity and save the planet, and not to destroy entire Continents or countries!

    It’s going to take some rapid, and unpopular by the Republicans anyway, action by Papa Joe and Mamala, to get things unstuck, and move it forward as rapidly as possible. Now, that’s a panacea vision, and I’m really not sure that would happen, I think Trump would try to burn it all down before he’d handed over.

    And lastly, these religious groups need to have the hammer dropped squarely on their noggins, they are responsible for most of this mess, and yet, like Pontius Pilate, they try to wash their hands of it! That doesn’t work, I think people are wise to their shenanigans. It’s time to move forward not backward.

    And, lastly, never let the Republicans use their sequestration tack ever again. It’s set making life better in this country back a long time. Of course sequestration was only good when a Democrat was in office, the Republicans act like they never heard of the word. And, all of the Republican knuckleheads blame Obama for the sequestration when it was actually Mitch McConnell’s baby!

  4. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him think. In 1776 about one third of the country wanted revolution, one third to remain with England, and the final third didn’t care. Americans haven’t moved much from that position. About one third are Democrats, one third Republicans, and the final third doesn’t care and too many of them don’t vote.

    We need reform, regardless of that final third.

  5. Civic ignorance! Indeed! How sophisticated were those 92+ million voters who stayed home in 2016? How committed to our democracy were they? They didn’t like Hillary. Most of us here get that. So, what did they do? They stamped their feet, pouted and let the country have perhaps the worst, most dangerous person on the planet destroy the norms – and so many other things – and prove how incompetence kills. Well done, ignorant people!

    So, where does this ignorance stem? I think everyone has a stake in the blame game. Parents, school curriculums based in politics, churches and the media. All say they are teaching and informing, but clearly little of it sticks, especially for those misguided fools who embrace the Trump death cult beyond all reason.

    Part of that ignorance is the lack of ability to make reasoned choices. As George Will so eloquently stated, “The Democrats nominated the only biped on Earth who could lose an election to Donald Trump.” So, yes, Democrats share the mantle of civic ignorance, but at least they don’t lower the political blade and bulldoze our democracy into the sea.

  6. Reform #1 – “CommonSense” Curriculum for all students – civic ed or no Fed funds.

  7. “It seems like Trump and Trump’s team is shooting from the hip right now! Kind of like a Matt Dillon with blinders on, the draw is really really quick, but the aim is nonexistent.”

    Well, John Sorg, I don’t know what else we can expect from the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

  8. Right on, Patrick!

    Albert Einstein was telling Americans 70 years ago, both the root of the systemic problems and the solution. He called both Communism and Capitalism “evil.”

    I’m a little cynical of the tit for tat going on with our congressional overlords when they reach for the “accountability” staff and aim it at the executive branch. Who is going to hold the overlords accountable in the house and senate? The free press?

    While congress limiting Fascism is a good idea, where are the reforms limiting capitalism?

    Once again, we have two political parties captured by an Oligarchy amassing substantial financial wealth under capitalism and uses that wealth to corrupt most large institutions in this country without impunity because the same Oligarchy controls 85-90% of all media (f/k/a the free and independent press).

    All levers of checks and balances have been removed. Even what’s left of our unions are nothing but devices of the Oligarchy.

    So, who is holding the media accountable? Who is keeping our political class accountable? Who is holding the Oligarchy accountable?

    Who or what is checking the power of the Oligarchy and all it entails?

    You can blame voters or the electoral college all you want, but they are powerless over the rulemaking in this country. The people have no power in this country. The free press WAS the only opportunity to hold the ruling class accountable, but they’ve been acquired and neutered by guess who?

    By many definitions, we were a Fascist country long before Trump ran for office. Debs and Einstein saw the core of the problem from two entirely different perspectives. Maybe what they saw should be our starting point for discussing reformation. 😉

  9. America will get pushed into 2021 angry, punchdrunk, sick, divided, isolated from the sane world, broke, storm tossed and confused. None of those things have an instant cure yet we all have favorites among those conditions to attack first.

    Clearly the most urgent priority is the beat back the Trumpdamndemic by stopping Americans from making more coronavirus particles by ensuring that even college students and Republicans do what science knows to be the solution. We all have great expectations for enough safe and effective vaccine to confer herd immunity but it’s stupid to wait for a chemical miracle to do what we can do just by acting responsible for each other.

    To me the next priority is to act like it’s 2021 and rejoin the world of solutions. A necessary step in that is to let the great government institutions who had spent lifetimes building up their capability and credibility start earning back what the last for years stole from them. Credibility is slow to earn but easy to evaporate so recovery will be slow but essential.

    While also easy to say and critical to do, tearing down the walls between us is equally challenging with no quick and easy vaccine. They say time heals all but we will will wish it to move much faster than it can.

    Expect no miracles. Biden is not Obama, and Kamala will only be Vice President but hopefully the Executive and Legislative and Judicial will jointly agree that we are a wreck of a country and are dependent on them to accomplish rather than pontificate.

  10. What is Trump’s true condition – Who Knows??? As master of spin, illusion and out right lies to always burnish his own image and with a willing group of sycophants happy to echo to the Trump Cult, the nation and the world his every tweet we have few if any facts to go on.

    Like any dictator Trump must control the narrative. His sycophants know this and as a result must always defer to Trump for direction.

  11. I would object if you delegated a task to me but withheld the authority to do it.

    Maybe the Oaths of Office and Constitutional Duties for the President and members of Congress should be reworded. At the very least, we must be quite careful not to hamstring any of the three branches of government, or handicap one branch over another. I see no way to do that so long as their Oaths of Office are vague and open to wide interpretation or contain responsibilities for which we the People are loath to permit the necessary authority.

    Given even a small attempt to change those Duties and Powers, they should not go into effect until the People have properly voted them so.

  12. One of the reforms needed is to make sure that US never allows such a lawless, opportunistic person to run for Potus again. They should be required to be able to pass a legitimate security clearance!

  13. OMG, yep, without a doubt!

    between you and Patrick I learned something today.

    I saw a little while ago, a quote by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, above the quote, it showed a picture of Lady Justice holding the scales but she was blindfolded. In other words, Justice is not supposed to be prejudiced,.

    All too often Lady Justice is prejudiced by a person’s race color or creed!

  14. Peggy, “In 1776 about one third of the country wanted revolution, one third to remain with England, and the final third didn’t care. Americans haven’t moved much from that position.”

    I am quite certain that Americans HAVE MOVED a lot from that position, but not exactly in the terms you use. Here’s the way I would say it:

    In 1776 about one third of the country wanted revolution, one third to remain with England, and the final third didn’t care. Today, about two-thirds of the country wants Royalty of some sort (Authoritarianism with sparkle)but doesn’t realize they want it, and the remaining third of the country is split about equally between Liberalism, Regressivism, and WhoCaresism.

  15. We’ll get no significant reforms unless all our politicians’ campaigns are publicly funded.

  16. Tom,
    Everyone should be on the same footing, that’s why Citizens United needs to go! No more PACs or super PACs?

  17. Patrick,
    An acquaintance who thought he was a friend of mine back in the Bush Two regime told me he hoped the economy crashed to where everyone had to get by on half of what they were used to. Quoting now: “I can live on fifty percent of my wages, but minorities can’t live on fifty percent. Live is the operative word, Bud. Ha-ha-ha.”

  18. John, “…Citizens United needs to go! No more PACs or super PACs”

    Right on! If Dems win Presidency and Senate and keep the House, I hope we hold them to that. If they don’t rid us of those scorges, maybe Todd is right about them.

  19. Sheila’s point made today suggests one of the most significant reforms we must make if we are to keep what is left of our democracy together, but it is not just the current exective power grabs that have brought us to the edge of dictatorship. It is the wholesale congressional delegation of powers to the executive. I have written elsewhere (inflamed by Trump’s tariff’s wars) that we need to establish a commission to determine and review every congressional delegation of power to the executive from George Washington until today with a view toward reining in the powers of the executive via amendment, repeal etc., and to the complaint that Congress is ill-equipped to carry out its constitutional grant of power to regulate trade, for instance, the Congress can re-delegate the newly limited trade powers to the executive or appoint commissions to do the work or oversee that of the executive etc.

    The foregoing reform, one of many, was not deemed so necessary when we had an executive who conformed to the spirit if not the letter of the enabling delegation(s), but with a power hungry president at the helm today who openly defies the law and Constitution these delegations of power for specific purposes have come into sharp relief. The Congress giveth and the Congress (can) taketh away (or amend) such delegations, delegations which may have seemed to make for good policy at the time made, but whose spirit and letter have been distorted and abused by Trump in wholesale fashion since.

    One could argue that such a cleaning house of delegated powers need not be pursued with (hopefully) only a few months to go in the current madhouse administration, but Trump could still win (by hook or crook if not by vote), or there may be another Trump down the road ready to expand his/her executive power, and I for one am of the view that it is never too early or too late to save, strengthen and expand our democracy – our most precious asset held in common – and that we can throw such a bill into the hopper now, knowing (with Mitch) it will not see the light of day until (hopefully) we have Democratic president and both houses of Congress, at which time we can run such a reform through the legislative mill. From such a learning experience we can establish a new credo > Don’t give powers to (potential) dictators and then complain whey they use them.

  20. I think the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 thing has some validity, but we need to put some serious regulation on the social media platforms. Otherwise as soon as the first change is proposed, the social media misinformation machine is going start announcing that the one side or the other is eating babies.

    At that point we get politicians frothing at the mouth with no possibility of reasonable discussion and things grind to a halt in political circles.

    Yes, it is obvious now that there are things that need to be fixed, and hopefully we will see some meaningful changes in the new year.

  21. Let’s hope so Larry!

    I agree, once all this is over with, either we’re going to be in flames, or we’re going to be in the middle of a sea change! Hopefully a sea change for the good.

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