A Deep Dive
If we want to know how to fix our current problems, we need to reflect on the past and learn how we got here.
When the American Experiment in democratic self-government was launched in 1789, there were naysayers predicting that it would fail, just as every previous attempt at self-government had failed before it. Perhaps the most succinct of these predictions came in 1787 and was attributed to Alexander Tytler, a professor of history at the University of Edinburgh and Judge Advocate for Scotland. It is reported that he wrote of a natural cycle that trapped mankind in an inexorable progression that started with a state of bondage and ended, full circle, back where we started. Here is how the phases of this progression are characterized:
Some observers believe that the history of our American Experiment fits neatly into Tytler’s cycle, and we are in the late stages of this phenomenon. Can it be stopped? Can we break free and achieve a stable government that preserves our freedom? The answer lies in how we answer these two revealing questions:
Can we accurately perceive and acknowledge the true state of our affairs?
If so, do we have the political will to take corrective action?
The political class in Washington, as a group, will not provide us the leadership to address these questions. They are fully engrossed in a perpetual campaign for power which limits their thinking to short-term strategies to win elections and so gain or retain power. As a result, their thinking and actions are shallow and short-sighted. And they have seduced other large segments of society and enlisted them in this battle for power: Academics and the press are fully engaged in the fight, making the task look extremely difficult, perhaps hopeless.
But shallow thinking won’t cut it; we need a deep dive to analyze our problems and seek effective solutions. So, what do we do? The first step to save the American Experiment from failure is to remind ourselves that the People are sovereign, that the states created the federal government, and that we have the tools to fix it. The next step is to ignore the daily news cycle delivered to us by the press and dig deep into the workings of the federal government, starting with thoughtful analysis of the way it functions (or doesn’t function!). This type of analysis will produce ideas for reform to improve the effectiveness of the government while preserving our freedoms. Our analyses and solutions must be non-partisan to gain a broad consensus in the country. That must be our goal if we want a strong and healthy government that the people trust.
Here are a few examples of problems that will only be solved by deep analysis and highly creative solutions:
Our republic is based on the rule of law, but the law is not enforced against federal officials. This results in months and years of partisan posturing, hiding the facts, and misleading the public when malfeasance by a federal official is discovered. The drive for political power overshadows, even smothers, attempts to find justice. We must find a way to enforce the law against federal officials and demand transparency of their actions. The current practice of appointing special counsels to investigate allegations of malfeasance is clearly ineffective and fraught with partisan bias. We must do better.
A linchpin of the republic is the election of officials that will carry our proxy to Washington and represent our interests in managing the affairs of the federal government. But our dramatic increases in affluence over the past 150 years have created pockets of wealth that are now devoted to influencing those elections and lobbying Congress to influence legislation and regulations. Staggering sums of money wash over the political landscape, targeting election races that are pivotal for a political party to gain or retain power and pressuring Congress to accommodate special interests. An indicator of the scale of this is seen in the experience of a Senator who, in his first year of lobbying after retirement earned over $4 million! In this process, the voice of the individual citizen-voter is overwhelmed by special interest money. In short, control of our government is now “for sale” to the highest bidder. The sacrosanct nature of our elections and their importance to the success of the republic must be honored, and ways must be found to balance lobbying activity with democratic principles.
The Constitution assures us of a number of “rights” that we each enjoy, including freedom of speech. But unseemly political actions will often brazenly suppress another’s right to express their contrary opinion or will allow a speaker to proclaim egregious falsehoods to be true. We need to find ways to reconcile our freedom of speech with a civil discourse on political issues. Difficult? Certainly, but critical for a government that enables its citizens to find the best solutions for problems.
Have we convinced you that shallow thinking won’t suffice? That nothing short of an “all hands” effort by the states will get the job done?
The states created the American Experiment in democratic self-government, and the states can take the lead in reforms that are critical to our survival as a free people. The founders foresaw the possibility that Congress would be unwilling or unable to act on reforms, so made provision for the states to do so by calling a convention of states to consider amendments to the Constitution. And that is exactly what we must do. We must call for an open (plenary) convention of states to consider all suggestions for reform. This gathering will enable us to apply our best thinking to our problems. It will be a glorious example of the strength of our republic; it will be a showcase for democracy, and could revive the flagging fortunes of people around the world that aspire for freedom. This leads us to rephrase the questions posed earlier:
Are we willing to do the hard work and take the deep dive to analyze the underlying causes of our problems, and find solutions for them?
And, do we have the political will to take action to implement the resulting reforms?
Whether or not we believe in the “Tytler Cycle” we can all agree that these are perilous days for the republic. State legislative leaders must take the lead and show us the way to demonstrate to the world that democratic self-rule is possible. To preserve our hard-won freedoms, We Must Act!