Rethinking America

Rethinking America: Polishing a Rare Gem

The U.S’s dire need of significant reforms of its voting, media, education and justice system.

Credit: Joseph Sohm Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • The US's dire need of significant reforms of its voting, media, education and justice system.
  • Fixing the shortcomings in the US voting system is hard to do because the US Constitution vests much of the authority to formulate election laws to the states.
  • The US still shows scars from its previous cleavages -- slavery, the Civil War, the Great Depression, Jim Crow, the McCarthy era and the Vietnam War just to name a few.
  • Joe Biden must first identify the points of cleavage which Trump has exploited for commercial and political gain. Only then can he begin to repair Trump’s damage.
  • Only if Democrats and Republicans are able to work together on important issues, it is probable that American democracy will shine once again.
  • The US Department of Justice and the court system must be depoliticized -- so that they only serve the best interests of the US.

In a well-known parable, a group of blind men try to describe an elephant. Each touch a different part of the elephant, and their descriptions are very different.

But they have something in common — each is right from his perspective. So it is with Alon Ben-Meir and Stephan Richter who have each put their hands on a part of America in their Globalist columns on “Rethinking America.”

Their conclusions are right. Trump is indeed a virile “huckster and hustler” who has nearly shattered the American dream. Trump is also “cunning, cruel and corrupt…” as well as “a narcissist, white supremacist and racist….”

Trump the diamond cutter

He is all of these things and more. Yet, we must also acknowledge that Trump is a skilled diamond cutter; he has found the existing points of cleavage in American society. And he has deftly used these points to fracture the United States — and reassemble a constituency for himself from the pieces he has split apart.

In doing so, he has unfortunately reduced the value of the gem he split. As history shows, divide and conquer often works, but in the long run this strategy has negative consequences.

Trump’s divisiveness almost won him a second term. The portions of the electorate that he cleaved off remain loyal to him. Other portions of the electorate will never overcome their hostility.

The U.S. has been broken before

Once a diamond is split, it can never be reassembled. This is not the goal. Instead, it can only be polished, hopefully into something brighter and perhaps more beautiful.

The United States still shows scars from its previous cleavages: Slavery, the Civil War, the Great Depression, Jim Crow, the McCarthy era and the Vietnam War — just to name a few.

However, in each of these cases, the United States rebuilt itself into something more beautiful — even if remaining somewhat flawed. Our country must do the same in the post-Trump era.

The U.S. remains a diamond in the rough

The United States is far from achieving the democratic vision inspired by its Founding Fathers (reinterpreted in a modern light) where everyone is “created equal” and where laws are justly and equally administered.

In order to progress further, the Biden administration must first identify the points of cleavage which Trump has exploited for commercial and political gain. Only then can Biden begin to repair Trump’s damage.

Exit polls reveal that Trump supporters are more likely to be white, non-college educated, evangelical, from rural regions and often male. If the Biden administration is going to succeed, it must cement some of these splintered groups into the Democratic Party.

At the same time, Joe Biden must satisfy the needs of his supporters. As Lincoln rightly said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” If Mr. Biden does not manage to bring the United States together, he will be opposed by 72 million Republican voters and, very likely, a Republican-controlled Senate.

Fixing a broken jewel

Fixing the United States is more easily said than done. Like the work of a stone cutter, it will require enormous precision.

The underpinnings of every democracy are inherently fragile, and democracy itself is susceptible to chipping and cracking.

Fixing the United States will require repairing its democracy by addressing broader issues such as shortcomings in the voting system, modern media and the justice system.

It will also require addressing more specific problems that affect both rural and urban Americans, such as education and infrastructure.

Election reform is necessary, but hard to do

Turning first to the broader issues, beginning with the year 2000 Bush v. Gore balloting, U.S. elections have become increasingly divisive. The system is in need of repair.

This will be a difficult task, not only because the U.S. Constitution vests much of the authority to formulate election laws in the states, but also because tampering with the system will alter the status quo and upset existing beneficiaries.

Gerrymandering and voter suppression should be eliminated where both still remain. Voting should be meaningful, painless, easy, secure, and quick for all voters, regardless of age, race, economic or employment status.

This means increasing the number of polling stations and ballot boxes so that no one must wait long in line. Things can also improve by institutionalizing early, weekend or mail-in voting for all, so that the aged, handicapped and employed can participate more easily.

It will also require increasing civics education so that voters better understand the Constitution, state election laws and the rights and responsibilities that citizenship in a democracy entails.

Finally, it will require greater confidence in the overall voting and tabulation process.

Media reform is necessary

Partisan media outlets have contributed to the divide in U.S. society. They often serve the interests of those capable of using these outlets to their political and economic advantage.

Just as freedom of speech does not include the right to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater, it also does not include the right to yell “fraud” on television or radio, or on the internet without adequate evidence.

Voters must learn to distinguish between news and propaganda. Media outlets must assume greater responsibility if they are to better serve the public interest.

If media outlets and internet companies do not voluntarily assume this responsibility, legislative action may prove inevitable.

Reform of the Justice System is necessary

Reform of the justice system is also necessary to repair a broken United States.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the court system must be depoliticized — so that they only serve the best interests of the United States, and not those of a particular administration or political party.

Democracy is undermined when the judiciary is perceived as favouring a political party. Democracy is also undermined when policing and prison sentences are not racially neutral.

No one should be above the law and no community should live in fear of the police or the justice system.

Education and infrastructure need improvement

Turning to the narrower issues that are fracturing the United States, there is a need to address the root causes of its economic imbalance and the urban-rural divide. This is a complicated problem that will take years to resolve.

Rural America needs better access to quality education. The United States lags behind many other developed countries in K-12 education.

Good teachers play a critical role in our society, more important than professional entertainers and athletes, and their professional accomplishments should be recognized accordingly.

The United States’ vocational training is also inferior to vocational training in many other countries, in particular Germany and Switzerland.

Recognizing everyone’s value

Not everyone in the United States is destined or even wants to go to university. The United States needs highly skilled technicians, mechanics, tradesmen, farmers and other workers. The United States should train them accordingly and recognize their value to society.

The Biden administration should assume the role of a catalyst and stimulate private sector investment and economic development in rural regions.

Better job opportunities will come when government pays more attention to social needs in rural regions, such as education, infrastructure, affordable healthcare, reliable internet, improved electrical grids and improved transport options.

For example, sun and wind are plentiful in many portions of rural America. The United States’ transition to renewable energy will produce a construction boom in the renewable energy sector, bringing jobs to well-trained engineers, architects, electricians and construction workers.

The Biden administration must make this transition politically and economically feasible to help bridge the urban-rural divide that was evident in the last election.

Conclusion

Although the Trump administration fractured U.S. democracy during the last four years, it remains a jewel whose luster will return with protection and polish.

Only if Democrats and Republicans are able to work together on the important issues outlined above, it is probable that American democracy will shine once again.

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About Arthur E. Appleton

Arthur Appleton is an Adjunct Professor of International Law at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS-Europe).

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