WWith the Senate adjourned for the recess and Joe Biden’s Build Back Better social and climate package blocked, the president’s remaining agenda is at the mercy of the midterm election year 2022. So the practical question is the next one: What should be his top priority, and that of the Democrats, when Congress returns in January?
Biden obviously wants to pass his spending program. But swift action on voting rights is essential. Republican state legislatures will soon begin to chart partisan congressional maps that federal law would prohibit. Several states have already amended election laws to make it more difficult for members of minority communities to vote and to give Republican legislatures greater power over election results.
To be sure, any new national voting rights legislation depends on changing the Senate obstruction so that all 50 Democratic senators (plus the vice president) can pass it. (Senate Republicans will not agree.) Hence the urgency for Senate Democrats to agree to exclude voting rights from filibuster.
It is important to put this in a larger context. Saving American democracy requires stopping three powerful forces already on the verge of destroying it.
The first is Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen. This baseless claim is now accepted by some 60% of registered Republicans. The lie fits with the Republican Party’s understanding that demographic trends will work against it in future elections unless it shrinks the electorate.
The second is the great anger spread by the media, especially Fox News and Facebook. Great anger increases their ratings and income by inciting division, racism, panic and paranoia. Yet it undermines the trust on which democracy depends.
The third is the large sums of money, coming from large corporations and wealthy individuals. It’s flooding political campaigns, supporting one-sided ads, and bribing lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support measures that will further enrich businesses and the wealthy and block measures that will cost them.
The big lie, the big anger, and the big money are mutually reinforcing as they all depend on Americans believing democracy is rigged against them. And, to a shameful extent, it is. Urgent action must be taken against all three.
The first step is to establish national voting rights standards in light of Trump’s big lie. Senate Democrats are due to enact the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act in January, while they still have a chance to prevent much of the removal and removal. electoral manipulation of voters in the Republican state. If they don’t, they will be complicit with the Republican Party in using Trump’s big lie to shrink the electorate.
Trump and his Republican co-conspirators must also be held accountable for their attempted coup in the months following the 2020 election, leading to the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill. Hopefully the House committee investigating now (with the crucial and courageous participation of Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger) will report back on its findings early in the new year. Timing is essential. Republicans should not be allowed to delay committee business. If they take control of the House next year, they are sure to shut it down.
Once the committee reports on its findings, the Justice Department must take legal action against Trump and all lawmakers involved in the attempted coup.
The second step is to contain the great anger emanating from social media, Fox News and other media. There are two ways to do this without infringing on freedom of expression.
Revoke section 230 of the Communications Act, which now protects digital media providers from liability for content posted by their users, even if that content is harmful, hateful or deceptive. There is no continuing justification for this legal protection, especially at a time when the largest of these providers have become vast monopolies.
Create a new “fairness doctrine” requiring all broadcasters, including cable, to cover issues of public importance in a way that presents opposing perspectives. It will be difficult to enforce, of course, but it would at least confirm the nation’s commitment to keeping broadcasters at a higher standard than just making money.
The third step is to take a lot of money out of politics. The Supreme Court is unlikely to reverse its shameful decision in Citizens United v FEC and related cases, given the current makeup of the court. A constitutional amendment allowing the government to limit money spent on campaigns is extremely unlikely. But campaign finance reform is possible by matching small donations with public money. This was in the original For the People Act and should be added to the Freedom to Vote Act.
These are the minimum essentials to contain the Big Lie, the Big Anger, and the Money.
Biden, Democrats, and all remaining Principle Republicans – as well as leaders of nonprofits, universities, labor unions, local organizations, racial justice and environmental advocates, and business – must wage war to save American democracy. And this war must start as soon as possible.
Nothing else we do for America is so important. Nothing else to do in America is possible unless we do it.