Americans must get mad enough to reclaim our democracy
America today celebrates its 243rd birthday and, sadly, there isn’t much to celebrate. We can take some solace from the fact that we remain the world’s longest continuously operating democracy and have almost made it to a quarter of a millennium. But as patriotic songs play and fireworks explode, the truth is that our democracy may be threatened to an extent we have seen few times during its existence.
It is threatened because the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision opened the floodgates for enormous sums of dark money to flow to campaigns, diluting the influence of ordinary citizens.
Threatened because the Supreme Court basically has said that the most partisan acts of gerrymandering — which erode the power of our votes — are legal. Remember that the court approved North Carolina’s gerrymandering even in the face of a candid mission by a Republican legislator claiming that the 10-to-3 congressional map was drawn that way because they couldn’t figure out how to give Republicans 11 seats and Democrats only 2.
Threatened by a deliberate, premeditated assault on the most cherished of our democratic ideals — the right to vote. In state after state, legislators, with the aid of some governors, are making it harder to vote, not easier.
Threatened because of clear and resounding evidence that maybe more than one foreign power has attempted to disrupt our democratic process and they are determined to do so again.
Threatened by misinformation spread via the internet — not just by foreign powers, but by domestic forces and horrible campaign practices. Take, for example, the fake website for former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Threatened because the leader of the greatest democracy the world has ever known is infatuated with the values and practices of foreign dictators and tyrants and disregards our alliances with other countries that prize democracy.
Threatened by the increasing level of income inequality that is plaguing our nation. Notwithstanding the good economy, that disparity only increases. For example, with the ballyhooed 2017 tax reform, the top 1 percent will receive 83 percent of the gains as time goes on.
And lastly, and perhaps the most dangerous of all, it is threatened by the continual lack of courage shown by our elected officials in state capitals and Washington, D.C. The people who represent us are so scared about losing their jobs that they simply ignore our wishes, even when our wishes clearly are the right path to follow.
There is no better example of this than the tragic and consequential issue of gun violence. We almost have become immune to the horror of mass shootings. When one occurs, our elected officials trip over themselves trying to send their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families — but “thoughts and prayers” are all they have the guts to send. Far be it from us to send forth any meaningful legislation in the names of the victims.
This cowardice was shown by Congress’s refusal to extend background checks for firearms purchases and make them universal. Many politicians, mostly Republicans but even a few Democrats, ignored the wishes of most people of their states and voted no on this measure, even when polling showed that 80 to 95 percent of constituents wanted this to pass. They don’t even have the courage to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that have no purpose but to kill many people at once.
This lack of courage isn’t confined to just curbing gun violence. It raises its head in so many different ways: the failure to increase the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1994; the failure to acknowledge that climate change, caused in great part by man-made activity, is real must be addressed before it’s too late; the failure to impose any real punishment on the Russians for what they did and tried to do during the 2016 election; and there are many more examples.
There are two ways for us to combat this all-out assault on our democracy. One is for a leader to come along who can inspire other elected officials to put aside partisanship, overcome cowardice and do the right thing. However, if you believe that’s just a pipe dream — and I don’t — there is the second way. The American people must get fed up enough to put aside their differences and act decisively to reclaim our democracy. As Howard Beale extorted his audience to do in the 1976 film “Network,” we citizens have to literally and figuratively rise up and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
So, let’s all celebrate July Fourth by vowing to do just that. Remember, when asked by a woman what sort of government the Founding Fathers had given us, Benjamin Franklin replied, “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.” It’s up to us to tell our leaders that democracy is what America is all about — and we not only want to keep it, but we want to reclaim it and work hard to make it stronger.
Edward G. Rendell was the 45th governor of Pennsylvania. He is a former mayor of Philadelphia and former district attorney in that city. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election. He is now co-chairman of the Immigration Task Force at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Follow him on Twitter @GovEdRendell.