In the United States, the 2016 election and its aftermath have exposed the persistence of significant fault-lines in American society and forced recognition of the extent to which a longtime, steady erosion of the country’s democratic norms has hollowed out and corrupted this country’s governing institutions.That erosion is one of a number of unprecedented social and economic challenges made more daunting by a splintered and constantly changing media landscape. Changes to journalism driven by the Internet have dramatically exacerbated the problems inherent in democratic decision-making. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United increased public recognition of—and cynicism about– the disproportionate power wielded by corporate America through lobbying, political contributions and influence-peddling. Together with the enormous and widening gap between the rich and the rest, recognition of the outsized influence of money in America’s political system feeds suspicion of all government decision-making.The fundamental democratic idea is a fair fight, a contest of competing ideas, with the winners legitimized and authorized to carry out their agendas. Increasingly, however, those democratic contests have been marred by disinformation, as well as by bare-knuckled power plays and numerous mechanisms—including gerrymandering and vote suppression—through which partisans game the system. As a result, citizens’ trust in government and other social institutions has dangerously diminished. Without that trust—without a widespread belief in an American “we,” an overarching polity to which all citizens belong and in which all citizens are valued—tribalism thrives. Especially in times of rapid social change, racial resentments grow. The divide between urban and rural Americans widens, as does the gap between various “elites” and others. Economic insecurity and social dysfunction are exacerbated by the absence of an adequate social safety net, adding to resentment of both government and the “Other.”Making matters worse, in the midst of these wrenching changes, Americans (accidentally, to be sure) elected a President incapable of recognizing, understanding or dealing with them.Citizens in 21st Century America are facing a globalized, technocratic, increasingly complex world that poses unprecedented challenges to the goal of e pluribus unum (not to mention human understanding and survival). The existential question we face is: Can government policies create a genuine “us” out of so many different/diverse “I’s” and “we’s”? Can policymakers use law and legislative processes to create a supportive, nourishing culture that remains true to the Enlightenment’s essential insights, while modifying or discarding those that are no longer so essential? If so, how? How does this nation overcome the escalating assaults on science, reality and the rule of law and create a functioning, trustworthy democratic system?This book was written to suggest that we can answer those questions in the affirmative, if we can muster the political will, and to suggest policies that would allow that to be accomplished.
About the Book
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