Americans in 2020 have a chance to relearn an important lesson about how our democracy works: If we want government that serves us, the people, we need strong laws and processes to keep government on track.
We learned that lesson in the 1970s, and need to relearn it now.
If Americans today have any associations with the word “Watergate” they probably have to do with political scandal and trouble at the highest levels. But there is another side to this dark period when President Nixon’s actions broke people’s trust in government: It sparked a healthy wave of historic reforms that have been in effect ever since, and have been at least somewhat helpful in keeping government on track, serving the people.
The 1970s saw sweeping reforms like the creation of the Federal Election Commission and campaign finance limits, the Sunshine Act to make government meetings open to the public, the Privacy Act to restrict government’s use of personal information, limits on the ability of intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, and the establishment of inspectors general to hold federal agencies accountable to the people. These are just a few of the many reforms sparked by Watergate that helped our democracy better serve the people.
Whether you are in the majority of Americans who believe the Trump Administration has been rife with corruption, or in the minority who believe Donald Trump has reduced it, now is the time for seminal reforms. It is time for we-the-people to rise above party labels and insist on reforms that get and keep government on track to work for the people. The question this election year is not “Democrat or Republican?” Rather, it is “who will strengthen and build pro-public institutions and laws to guide government in the right directions, and who will undermine them?”
The answer to that question is clear. The answer lies not in what candidates say, but in what they do. Words are cheap, and in recent years words have seemed fairly meaningless as the public increasingly wonders who to believe.
Trust in actions. Like it or not, Democrats up and down the ballot have taken, and are taking steps to strengthen our institutions and protect people’s power to have a say while Republican leaders undermine them.
In March 2019, House Democrats approved rules to force disclosure of presidential candidates’ tax returns, so we-the-people can see their financial relationships and incentives. It was blocked by Senate Republicans.
The same agreement would have made it harder to move voting district boundaries to suit one party or another — again, blocked by Senate Republicans.
In December 2019, House Democrats voted to restore the Voting Rights Act to make sure each and every one of us has the opportunity to vote for our leaders. It was blocked by Senate Republicans.
Now, House Democrats are introducing more reforms to hold all presidents of both parties accountable, and make it harder for any leader to put personal or party needs above the public’s interests. The reforms would ban a president from pardoning oneself or one’s family and associates, make the emoluments clause enforceable to prevent self-enrichment from the president’s office, strengthen oversight, protect whistleblowers and much, much more. Undoubtedly, Senate Republicans will block these common sense measures as well.
Shockingly, the Trump Administration’s attempts to get rid of systems that protect the public’s right to have a say is extending to the state level, making it even more necessary to enact sweeping reforms to protect the people’s power.
As reported in the Atlantic:
State by state, they [Republican leaders] have sought — with some success — to purge voter rolls, tighten rules on provisional votes, uphold voter-identification requirements, ban the use of ballot drop boxes, reduce eligibility to vote by mail, discard mail-in ballots with technical flaws, and outlaw the counting of ballots that are postmarked by Election Day but arrive afterward. The intent and effect is to throw away votes in large numbers.
Only a commanding electoral victory will put a stop to these threats to the people’s voice. Democratic leaders at local, state and federal levels stand ready to put forward a range of significant solutions, including protecting the right to vote, eliminating private financing of campaigns, re-establishing merit-based contracting, banning lobbying by foreign governments, and much more.