Some liberals think increasing government power will repair our broken civic life. But it would destroy the tattered remnants of federal legitimacy.
Responding to the anniversary of Donald Trump's election, The Washington Post Magazine presented "38 ideas for repairing our badly broken civic life." Post Magazine editor Richard Just explained that "all of us ... should be able to agree that some future-pondering about the state of our democracy is in order."
Many — if not most — of the Post's recommendations from experts, artists, and writers are insipid or authoritarian. But they provide an excellent snapshot of progressive thinking after nearly one year of Trump era tumult.
-Author Kristin Henderson proposes conscripting all young people for three years in military or government civilian work such as AmeriCorps. Forcing adults to "spend time in compulsory service to our country" would be the same as going back to "kindergarten and relearn how to cooperate and share our toys." But the Founding Fathers never intended to treat personal freedom as a political toy.
-The best fix for American democracy is to "outlaw private education" to banish inequity, according to novelist Ann Patchett. In the name of equality, parents must be prohibited any choice or effective role in their children's schooling. Patchett also rhapsodized about confiscating Ivy League endowments to redistribute to state schools. Artist George Lois supplemented Patchett's point with a poster proclaiming "There's an OUCH in every Voucher." But the pain is suffered by teacher unions, not by parents desperate to find escapes from educational hell holes.
-According to basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, "The solution is to teach mandatory critical thinking in every year of public school from first through 12th grade." He predicts that "Breitbart, Fox News and Donald Trump would melt under the scrutiny of logic." But is it rational to expect schools that dismally fail to teach reading will miraculously transform kids into great thinkers?
-American University professor Ibram X. Kendi called for an "Anti?Bigotry Amendment that would constitutionalize a critical principle: Group inequity is evidence of discrimination. The amendment would make group inequity illegal and ban the incitement of bigotry... Claims that inequity is evidence of a group's dysfunction or inferiority would be outlawed." Kendi's fix, which parallels "antifa's" (antifacist) demands, would torpedo the First Amendment by criminalizing practically any criticism of racial and ethnic groups.
-Domingo Martinez, a Texas novelist, portrays "gun addiction" as a national "demon" and advocates forcing gun owners to buy insurance (presumably at prohibitive rates) to deter firearm ownership. If gun insurance rates were set based on homicide rates (the same way that auto insurance rates are set in part based on local collision data) — residents of East St. Louis, Illinois might be charged 70 times higher rates than New Hampshire residents. In Maryland, firearm insurance rates could be more than five times higher in Baltimore than in Allegheny County in the western part of the state, based on the vast difference in homicide rates. But such disparities would violate the Anti-Bigotry Amendment championed by Professor Kendi.
-Harvard professor Dani Rodrik proposes to boost democracy by vastly expanding government economic intervention, empowering government to become "co?owner of the new generation of technologies and machines" to create the "innovation state." However, the crony capitalism debacles of recent years (such as the Obama administration's Solyndra scandal) should have stifled any such suggestion.
-Carl Gershman, the president-for-life of the federal National Endowment for Democracy, calls for cultivating Americans' "sense of gratitude" by forging "more links between Americans and people in other countries who are fighting for the basic freedoms that we enjoy." So the "links" from deploying American troops in 172 nations are not sufficient? It is considered bad taste in Washington to recognize foreigners' gratitude when the U.S. does not meddle in their nations or elections.
-"Celebrate government" is the solution proffered by University of California law professor Joan Williams. She urged Americans to use the hashtag #GovernmentStillWorksForUs and make videos thanking government for the water from their faucets and the safe milk for their breakfast cereal. Anything government does should be considered manna from heaven, regardless of the $3 trillion in taxes the feds commandeer from citizens each year.
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
Some of these "democracy fixes" would destroy the tattered remnants of federal legitimacy. Sending in federal marshals or the National Guard to shut down private schools would be far more explosive than when Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to de-segregate Little Rock, Ark. Sending federal agents door-to-door to seize uninsured firearms would produce endless havoc and bloodshed. Forcing all young people to forfeit several years of their lives to AmeriCorps or the military would spur mass bitterness and pervasive resistance. Giving politicians and bureaucrats new pretexts (such as equalizing income between groups) to confiscate and redistribute paychecks would severely discourage "labor force participation" — i.e., working for a living.
There are plenty of other perilous reform proposals floating around nowadays – including banning negative campaign ads (to assure that voters think well of their future rulers), shutting down the Electoral College (thereby practically awarding California the prerogative to select the next president), banning contributions to political candidates (thereby guaranteeing an even higher rate of incumbent reelection), forcing television networks to provide free time for political advertisements (as if viewers were not suffering enough), and creating a new federal oversight agency to replace the utterly dysfunctional Federal Election Commission. Unfortunately, almost no one is proposing reforms that would compel politicians and federal agencies to obey the Constitution — one reform that could do more than any other to put a damper on mass cynicism.
Do some reformers still see average Americans as a "basket of deplorables" who need to be muzzled, disarmed, regimented and force-fed correct opinions? The Washington Post's new motto is "Democracy Dies in Darkness." But democracy also dies from too many Iron Fists. At a time when only 20% of Americans trust the feds to do the right thing, any reforms that sharply increase coercion will make "consent of the governed" an even more distant mirage.