By Larry J. Schweiger
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
In a time of deep despair and angst, let us not forget that in a functioning democracy, adversity can have a greater purpose.
The outrageous scandals of the turn-of-century monopolies created the political space for Teddy Roosevelt to advance antitrust laws, to create the US Forest Service thwarting deforestation and to create many monuments and National Parks to protect the best of nature for future generations.
When the self-serving fiscal policies of the “Roaring Twenties” culminated in the Great Depression, FDR called for the enactment of many infrastructure programs to restart the economy and he created the Social Security system.
Watergate triggered a long list of legislative reforms intent on healing the vulnerabilities exposed by Nixon. Reforms created a more transparent government and placed some limits on abuses of presidential power. Post-Watergate, disgusted voters looking for integrity turned to a little-known moral Georgian Governor. Jimmy Carter issued warnings about climate change, and urged Americans to change energy habits. At the same time, he put solar panels on the White House. He protected more public lands than any other President when the Alaska lands legislation passed.
We now face our darkest hours as a Nation with a blatantly corrupt President who operates the government like a crime syndicate. Trump divides Americans, degrades women, and minorities, imprisons immigrant children, insults our best allies in the world, and cozies up to tyrants. He has dismantled protections for air and water, and reversed climate actions.
Too many morally stained cowards populate the Republican ranks in the House and Senate. They failed to remove Trump in the face of irrefutable evidence. Republicans are under the polluters’ influence by denying the climate crisis. They ignore alarming Russian influence in elections and load the courts with an unprecedented number of Trump-appointed unqualified judges.
We now have a grossly partisan Supreme Court enjoying junkets paid for by outside influencers often with interests before the court while operating without a code of ethics. The Supreme Court has unleashed toxic money. They have unfettered high-tech gerrymandering by declaring the practice beyond their jurisdiction. They gutted key provisions of the Voter Rights Act unleashing voter suppression and an unjust purging of voter rolls.
The 2020 elections are fast approaching. The good news is that voters were activated in the 2018 midterms flipping the House by adding forty Democratic members to Congress and electing seven Democratic governors. This surge in voter participation must be enlarged, particularly in swing states. Trump will be here often because Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania voters are critical to electing a President who will clean house and appoint responsible judges at all levels. Many changes are needed, here are some high on my wish-list for post-Trump reforms.
* Address the Climate Crisis with a set of durable solutions. America must lead the world in climate action. We can create millions of good jobs by building a clean energy system in every state. We must unwind every bad decision by Trump’s EPA, Energy, and Interior Departments. We must embrace an energy efficiency strategy, solar, wind, electric cars and high-speed rail aimed at eliminating carbon dioxide and methane emissions. Farmers must rebuild soils as carbon stores, and millions of trees must be planted.
* End the legal myths that money equals Free Speech and Corporations are People
In Citizens United v. FEC, the majority of the Supreme Court opened the door for Russian and other dirty money to flow through front groups to buy elections. Republicans in Congress have failed to establish tighter rules to force timely disclosures of toxic money sources. According to Federal Election Commission data, the top 10 PAC’s in the 1979-80 cycle spent $30 million. An analysis of 2016 elections found that 2,393 super PACs had spent a whopping $1,066,914,448 in undisclosed money. In a lesser-known American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock case, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to strike down a Montana ban on corporate contributions, thus extending Citizens United to state and local elections.
Democracy is a fragile thing, and rebuilding after the U.S. Supreme Court has done so much damage will be arduous and uncertain. Court appointments by the next President will be critical to restore the integrity of our legal system.
* Establish Fair Minimum Wages, Restoration of Progressive Taxation and Restoring Safety Nets: A 20-page U.N. warned: “The United States has the highest income inequality in the Western world, and this can only be made worse by the massive new tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy.” The report cited vast numbers of middle-class Americans “perched on edge,” with 40 percent of the adult population saying they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense. It’s time to ask billionaires to contribute their fair share.
Labor Law Reform:
Organized labor has long been an engine for social change and fair labor practices.
Labor’s influence has been systematically undermined as a result of crippling court decisions and the “right to work” laws in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Arizona went so far as to embed the so-called right to work into their Constitution. Labor laws must be reformed so organized labor can once again be a stronger voice for all American workers.
Voter Friendly Measures:
- R. 1, (116th Congress) must be enacted to expand access to the ballot box, eliminate the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules. In every state, authorize same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and secure voting machines with paper backups.
Key needed changes include:
- Restore Voter Rights and stamp out voter suppression including voter purges, the closing or moving of minority voting places, and eliminate rules impacting tribal communities;
- Establish fair districts through nonpartisan, independent commissions with clear guidance on how to create compact yet competitive districts;
- Abolish the electoral college a leftover from slavery, and move to a direct election democracy;
- Allow early voting to enable hard-working people greater access. Workers who must work two jobs need more flexibility in voting schedules. Long lines are a form of voter suppression for minorities and voters with demanding work schedules;
- Low-income workers often avoid registering to vote because they can’t afford to miss work if called for jury duty. Allow low-income voters to file for a hardship exemption from jury duty or pay them the same wage they would receive while working if called;
- Make it easier for college students to vote either on campus or to vote absentee at home;
- Washington DC and Puerto Rico should be granted statehood extending to all American citizens the full rights granted under our Constitution, and by doing so, the U.S. Senate will be more balanced legislative body.
Voters face an unprecedented opportunity to overturn the most corrupt administration in American history. Change at scale is still possible with a high voter turnout. Restoring democracy with sound measures and ending the existential climate crisis by legislating real solutions must be top priorities. We must use the adversity we face to achieve a purpose more significant than all of us. By confronting the climate crisis, we can protect the world and our children’s future.