Re-Inventing Democracy: A U.S. Blueprint
Nancy Bordier, Ph.D.
Table of Contents
One of the major crises facing people around the world, including Americans, is the erosion of their basic rights to control elections and legislation in democratic governments. This erosion is the result of deliberate actions to suppress votes and subvert elections taken by politicians, political parties, special interests, and even judges. They are acting within nation-state boundaries and across these boundaries to engender authoritarian rule.
Twice as many countries became more authoritarian in 2021 than those that became more democratic, according to the Global State of Democracy 2022 report of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
“'Authoritarian regimes have deepened their repression, with 2021 being the worst year on record.' Time travel back to 1990. The statistics show that the world is back where it was at the end of the Cold War, with more or less the identical number of democracies and authoritarian regimes as in 1990."
This blueprint for re-inventing democracy distils critical thinking and contemporary research about the causes for the faltering of democracies around the world, exemplified by the U.S. It examines their life-threatening repercussions, and, most importantly, what can be done to halt this faltering in the near term, commencing with the U.S.
In anticipation of Parts I and II below, key causes of faltering democracies include the disconnect between elected lawmakers and the constituents they are supposed to serve. Research has identified a significant gap between constituents' needs and priorities compared to the priorities and laws enacted by elected representatives.
Key repercussions include the loss of control over their lives felt by people worldwide, and widespread loss of public trust in government (Pew Research Center 2022).
First, a few facts, focused on the U.S. While its democratic form of government has been among the most revered, its is also one of the most complex. Although the remarkable U.S. Constitution gave immense and unprecedented powers "to the people", it also weakened their exercise of them. It did so by diverting significant powers to institutions, processes, and government officials over whom citizens and voters exercise scant control. In terms of governance, critics cite "minority rule" instead of "majority rule" as one of the negative repercussions of this arrangement .
These critics argue that minority rule by lawmakers in U.S. legislative bodies, who do not represent a majority of voters or the population at large, has caused several particularly harmful impacts. For example, despite the abundance of natural and financial resources in the U.S., the actions of lawmakers have denied countless millions of people access to basic necessities of life, such as clean drinkable water, soil, and air, and a fair share of wealth and income.
So severe are these repercussions that a respected UN expert designated the U.S. as one of the most unequal societies in the world, with 40 million Americans living in poverty. Nearly 100 million are chronically threatened by the risk of being unable to pay for basic necessities. He attributes these dire conditions and deprivations to the high levels of wealth and income inequality between the richest 1% and the poorest 50% of Americans.
This inequality is caused in large part by detrimental U.S. governmental policies, such as those leveling unfair tax rates on various socio-economic groups. They also include policies that deny working Americans the financial security derived from living wages, affordable healthcare and housing, as well as access to social services and benefits that governments of similarly wealthy and industrialized countries provide their populations.
The UN expert, Australian Philip Alston, identified several of the governmental roots of these conditions and deprivations in the faltering U.S. democracy, which he asserted was steadily being undermined:
"There is covert disenfranchisement, which includes the dramatic gerrymandering of electoral districts to privilege particular groups of voters, the imposition of artificial and unnecessary voter ID requirements, the blatant manipulation of polling station locations, the relocating of DMVs to make it more difficult for certain groups to obtain IDs, and the general ramping up of obstacles to voting especially by those without resources."
Among the most serious repercussions of detrimental government policies is the vulnerability of Americans to unnecessary loss of life, limbs, and livelihoods. These include policies that have led to unchecked carbon emissions and climate catastrophes occurring throughout the country, and the global spread of infectious diseases and pandemics such as Covid-19.
Government policies have also rendered Americans vulnerable to acts of political violence and oppression. This vulnerability is exemplified by continuous mass murders throughout the country perpetrated by wielders of upwards of 20 million military assault weapons legally authorized by U.S. lawmakers. Even though a majority of voters demand they ban these weapons, lawmakers refuse to do so .
Americans are also exposed to an unrelenting flow of falsehoods, accusations, intimidations, and threats posed by unscrupulous politicians, political parties, and their adherents seeking to polarize the electorate with extremist rhetoric. Many use social media algorithms to instantly disseminate their propaganda to tens of millions of "persuadable" recipients. Many of them have been identified previously by surreptitious social-psychological research into their personal information and communications.
The result is that large segments of the mainstream public are inescapably caught in the cross-fires of hostile political protagonists and groups seeking to inflame voters' passions in order to drive them to the polls and win elections. One notable repercussion is that the once vaunted American "melting pot" of diverse groups has been degraded and divided into combative and uncompromising arenas by politicians, political parties and special interests, and even violence-prone militias.
One serious repercussion of this degradation is that "domestic terrorism" has been designated by the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI as the most likely source of violence on American soil in coming years.
A Thumbnail Sketch of a Faltering Democracy
For admirers of the U.S. democracy, the foregoing criticisms paint a painful picture, offset of course by the many aspects of its current functioning that merit high praise. Yet the criticisms highlight the need to pay close attention to increasing political dangers and risks that have emerged in the past decade, especially with respect to erosion of Americans' constitutionally designated rights to elect governments "of, by, and for the people."
These dangers and risks are reflected in the continuing diminution of the political influence of the population at large, accompanied by increasing anti-government antagonism and grievances. They are also reflected in the increasing concentration of political power at higher level arenas dominated by the two major U.S. political parties, their candidates and incumbents, and the special interest that finance them.
This shift is highlighted by cross-national research showing the continued decline in the standing of the U.S. when measured by the key indicator of "citizen control". U.S. research corroborates this finding of loss of control, highlighting limitations in the ability of average Americans to influence legislation. These Americans, even when represented by large civic and interest groups, have negligible influence in shaping public policy, according to the classic investigation by university scholars Gilens and Page:
"Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."
The result is not only a serious policy-based "disconnect" between citizens and lawmakers, but growing popular antagonism towards elected representatives and government as a whole. For example, several decades of longitudinal public opinion surveys show that a majority of adult Americans do not think lawmakers care what they think. According to Pew Research:
"Americans feel increasingly estranged from their government. Barely a third (34%) agree with the statement, 'most elected officials care what people like me think,' nearly matching the 20-year low of 33% recorded in 1994 and a 10-point drop since 2002."
They do not trust the government to do the right thing, and believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. According to a poll conducted prior to the 2022 mid-term elections, they hold the two major U.S. political parties in such low regard that they think neither party deserves to govern:
"While likely voters were split on which party they planned to vote for, they largely felt that neither party had earned the right to govern after November. Overall, 51 percent of likely [Democratic] voters said Democrats hadn’t earned another two years controlling the federal government, while 39 percent said they had. Among independents, 50 percent said Democrats didn’t deserve another two years and 34 percent said they did. . . Yet things were no better for the GOP, as 55 percent of likely [Republican] voters also said Republicans had not made a good case for why they should be given control of Congress for the next two years."
The views of independent voters included in the poll (but not cited above) are significant, due to the fact that more voters tend to register as independents or unaffiliated than register in either of the two major U.S parties, the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. Unfortunately, their views can be ignored by both parties. Despite the expressed demand of a majority of voters to have more choices beyond the two parties, the parties' dominance of electoral laws, in the states where they hold legislative majorites, enable them to prevent third parties from running candidates who have a fair chance to defeat major party candidates.
The two major parties not only skew election district boundaries to ensure the election of their candidates, through gerrymandering. But they also further diminish voters' political influence by excluding them from active participation in yet another significant sphere essential to fully functioning democracies: setting legislative priorities and agendas. This sphere is so critical that The Encyclopedia Britannica lists "citizen control of the agenda" among the ideal features of democracy:
"The dēmos [population], and only the dēmos, decides what matters are placed on the decision-making agenda and how they are placed there. Thus, the democratic process is “open” in the sense that the dēmos can change the policies of the association at any time."
Remarkably, the U.S. population and electorate do not control legislative agenda setting. The two major political parties and their electoral candidates adopt their platforms, set their legislative agendas, and implement them legislatively with scant input or control by voters. Officially registered Americans who cast votes in local, state, and federal elections have virtually no other option except to "choose" between the agendas promulgated by the two major parties, their candidates, and special interest donors -- or "waste" their votes on third party agendas and candidates likely to be defeated. (Certain states enable voters to write in the names of other candidates, but encumbering rules and lack of name recognition make it unlikely these candidates can win.)
This deliberate relegation of voters at the grassroots to passive roles in elections increases the comparative influence of politicians, parties, and special interests that can assume dominant roles in the processes that take place in each election cycle. A primary threat is posed by the parties' structural facilitation of the efforts of unscrupulous politicians to use party networks to build electoral bases by riling up voters. The U.S. presidential elections of 2016 and 2020 showed how an unscrupulous politician seeking the presidency can create such an electoral base of aggrieved voters by contriving extremist issues and even spreading outright lies. With the assistance of social media platforms and algorithms, they can instantly mobilize millions of persuadable voters on the basis of falsified information. They can instigate deluded and aggression-prone followers to scapegoat individuals and groups, as well as intimidate and threaten the members of groups they oppose -- including elected officials and religious and ethnic minorities.
Reliable sources such as Washington Post estimate the 45th president made more than 30,000 false statements between 2015 and 2020, many designed to pit targeted groups of Americans against other groups. They appealed to already angry voters, especially those antagonized by prior government actions, by claiming they had been victimized by unfair treatment by other groups, government officials, and various types of elites.
According to the BBC, the 45th president's support came from:
"working-class white people, particularly ones without college education - men and women - [who] deserted the [Democratic] party in droves. Rural voters turned out in high numbers, as the Americans who felt overlooked by the establishment and left behind by the coastal elite made their voices heard".
Once in office in 2016 backed by an electoral base of 63 million voters, the 45th president proceeded to disregard and knowingly overturn many of the laws that protected the livelihoods and well-being of Americans as a whole. He was able to use his base to gain control of the Republican Party by using the voters in it to win primary elections on behalf of candidates he chose because they backed him. One in control of the party, he could use it as a key lever for exerting a dominating influence over all three branches of the federal government.
For example, by threatening to conduct primaries against party candidates who did not support his actions and agenda, he gained decisive influence over the legislative branch of the federal government -- both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
He gained a decisive influence over the judiciary branch by a) appointing hundreds of judges, and members of the U.S. Supreme Court; b) appointing and replacing Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney generals (AGs); c) ordering the appointment and replacement of FBI officials.
He exercised presidential authority over the executive branch, including appointing and replacing officials heading federal agences; and especially by appointing and replacing the secretaries of the Department of Defense (DOD).
In his 2020 re-election bid, he received 10 million more votes than in 2015, but 7 million fewer votes than his opponent. It is reported that when he was told months before the election was held that he was going to lose, he began planning how he could remain in office despite losing the elections. According to the findings of U.S. House of Representation Select Committee investigation, “President Trump oversaw a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the 2020 election and prevent the transition of presidential power." According to the Committee:
"1. President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to the American public claiming the 2020 election was stolen from him.
"2. President Trump corruptly planned to replace the Acting Attorney General, so that the Department of Justice would support his fake election claims.
"3. President Trump corruptly pressured Vice President Pence to refuse to count certified electoral votes in violation of the US Constitution and the law.
"4. President Trump corruptly pressured state election officials, and state legislators, to change election results.
"5. President Trump’s legal team and other Trump associates instructed Republicans in multiple states to create false electoral slates and transmit those slates to Congress and the National Archives.
"6. President Trump summoned and assembled a violent mob in Washington and directed them to march on the US Capitol.
"7. As the violence was underway, President Trump ignored multiple pleas for assistance and failed to take immediate action to stop the violence and instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol."
In the aftermath of the violence that ensued, which caused injuries and deaths of Capitol police, the Department of Justice (DOJ) arrested, indicted, and prosecuted hundreds individuals who had come to Washington, D.C. from states throughout the country. While the charges vary, among the most serious are the charges that led to the conviction of Stewart Rhodes, the founder of a paramilitary group, the Oath Keepers. According to the DOJ, Case Number: 1:22-cr-15, Rhodes was "Found guilty by jury on 11/29/22 of seditious conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, and tampering with documents and proceedings." Further reporting states:
"Under his leadership in 2013, the Oath Keepers instructed its members to form 'Citizen Preservation' teams, which included militias, to operate in communities across the US meant to defend citizens against the government".
Although multiple criminal investigations against the 45th president are underway, he has announced his intention to run for a second term as president in 2024. He is also calling for suspension of parts of the U.S. Constitution, to enable him to discredit the results of the 2020 election, according to the Washington Post. Simultaneously, it is reported that he is working to bolster his electoral base by aligning himself with white nationalists, Holocaust deniers, and antisemites. According to Times of Israel, one of these individuals,
"was involved in the 2017 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville where American neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and far-right militias marched in the street and where a counter-protester was run over and killed by a self-identified white supremacist who rammed his vehicle into a crowd of people."
"After the FBI raided Donald Trump’s Florida home, Twitter references to 'civil war' jumped 3,000%. Trump supporters immediately went online, tweeting threats that a civil war would start if Trump was indicted. . . Perhaps most troubling, Americans on both sides of the political divide increasingly state that violence is justified. In January 2022, 34% of Americans surveyed said that it was sometimes OK to use violence against the government. Seven months later, more than 40% said that they believed civil war was at least somewhat likely in the next 10 years. Two years ago, no one was talking about a second American civil war. Today it is common."
While these assaults against U.S. democratic institutions and processes have been underway, and are now being investigated and adjudicated at the same time that many of them are strengthening, they continue to erode average Americans' feelings of control of their lives, their livelihoods, and quality of life. With 240 million guns and 20 million military assault rifles in the hands of political extremists and disturbed individuals, most Americans, especially school children, dread falling victim to mass murders. They have been occurring for decades, and even when members of Congress are shot, lawmakers refuse to enact bans of assault weapons and meaningful gun control. Increasing numbers of states are passing "open carry" laws enabling residents to openly carry guns in public.
Whatever labels one attaches to the faltering U.S. democracy in 2022, certain traditional labels and concepts can no longer be applied -- especially government "of, by, and for" the people. Average Americans cannot depend on any of the three branches of government, or set of lawmakers, to protect them from the numerous imminent dangers surrounding them that may end their lives.
Nor can they rely on elections or political parties to elect candidates of their choice to protect them and pass laws that meet their needs, priorities, and demands. Surely the time has come to re-invent democracy to empower voters to increase their control over their lives by taking control of elections and legislation. Part I and II provide detailed explanations of why and how.
The list below amplifies the causes of faltering democracies described above, which can be attributed to actions by governments, lawmakers, political parties and politicians in democracies, including the U.S. They comprise undermining popular sovereignty and the voting rights of the people they should be serving, to preclude their control of elections and legislation to ensure their needs and demands are met.
1. Structural deadlocking of democracy in the U.S. due to the constitutional division of governmental powers into three separate branches of government.
In 1963, American college professor James McGregor Burns published a book entitled Deadlock of Democracy (Prentice-Hall). The book was reviewed by Yale University scholar C. Van Woodward whose commentaries ring true today. He asserts "the word 'breakdown' could easily be substituted for the word 'deadlock' in the title of Burns’s book'". Excerpts include the following:
"Fragmentation of Power"
“'We have lost control of our politics.' The loss of control is attributed to the crippling fragmentation of power among three branches of government, and the disastrous effects of the checks and balances enabling each branch to countermand the actions of the other branches."
“We occasionally choose bold and courageous leaders, but we withhold from them the power to govern. We have lost our sense of purpose, our power to act in the face of crisis; power itself is so fragmented and splintered that it cannot be marshaled for effective use.”
“But an even greater strain on credulity is any expectation of peacefully wresting from the powerful lords of Senate and House the institutional buttresses of their power, including the seniority system, the Rules Committee veto, unlimited filibuster, malapportionment of representation, and the one-party districts.”
“In Mr. Burns’s view—and the historian will not accept this without qualifications—the congressional parties have a common ideology. It is generally conservative, isolationist, and intrinsically negative. It . . . rests on states’ rights, local elections, rural over-representation, restricted franchise, powerful congressional committees, the seniority system, and the filibuster.”
Observers of the interactions among the three branches of government typically find their officials and their actions in conflict with each other. These conflicts are often triggered by the constant jockeying for electoral, legislative and judicial influence by the two major U.S. political parties and party-backed lawmakers. What is notable about this jockeying is the virtual absence of consultation, input, or feedback from average Americans, while the parties engage in their chronically conflict-ridden negotiations. These arenas are far removed from the grassroots, and the issues contested are often far removed from the needs and priorities of the people that officials are supposed to serve.
These continuing conflicts in 2022 support Woodward's observations regarding the dysfunctional characteristics of the separation of powers. The highly visible inability of U.S. federal and state governments to adopt coherent and effective programs to prevent crises and emergencies, such as curbing the Covid-19 pandemic, has caused more deaths per capita in the U.S. than other wealthy countries.
Primary roots of this institutionalized incapacity stem from the chronic internecine conflicts between the two major U.S. political parties, and the branches of government they attempt to control. In jockeying for power, they are typically at loggerheads and deadlocked about what policies should be implemented. The greatest number of fatalities caused by the pandemic are inflicted on average Americans, rather than government officials and wealthy individuals who can procure preventives and treatments not widely available to the public.
Further evidence of a fundamental democracy deadlock that overlooks the public interest can be discerned in the decisions of a majority of judges on the U.S. Supreme Court. Their impartiality has been called into question by research indicating the preponderant influence played by special interests in determining which nominees for judgeships will or will not be approved by the party-backed lawmakers in the U.S. Senate.
The views of Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Newhouse are reflected in the following:
"For the ninth time this year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse gave a speech this week blasting right-wing anonymous donors whom he believes have 'captured' the Supreme Court and 'built' its current 6-3 conservative majority."
"Our Supreme Court is awash in dark money influence. . .[He] calls it a three-fold "scheme" — private groups use anonymous donations to groom Supreme Court candidates, promote and defend these nominees with political ad campaigns, and later try to influence these justices in legal briefs filed without any financial disclosures.
"If it's the same people who paid for all of it, particularly if they're the same people who are funding politicians, then it becomes not just a problem, but potentially toxic."
Irrespective of the allegedly partisan influences that determined the appointment of the 2022 roster of Supreme Court judges, recent decisions are opposed by majorities of Americans. They include the overturning of prior decisions of the court, handed down 50 years ago, including one decision that affirmed women's reproductive rights.
What makes this retrograde turn of events so remarkable is that it goes in the opposite direction of laws being made in many nations around the world that protect women’s rights to decide if and when to have children. This includes nations that are far less developed industrially than the U.S., whose democracies do not receive the accolades that are typically bestowed on the faltering U.S. democracy.
2. Governmental failure to act effectively to prevent global and local catastrophes.
The increase of carbon dioxide emissions that governments are failing to prevent is causing such extreme global warning that the sustainability of life on the planet is in jeopardy. However, even when confronted by this life-threatening danger, Western governments continue to subsidize fossil fuel companies that increase carbon dioxide emissions, instead of using government policies and resources to rapidly convert their countries to renewable sources of energy. The result is extreme weather and rising temperatures that are increasing sea levels; decreasing water and food resources; polluting the air, water, and soil; and causing avoidable sickness and fatalities of thirsty and hungry people, animals, and insects.
According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), over 1 billion people today have no access to safe water. . . Nearly 50 million boys and girls have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced within their own countries."
Numerous investigations have identified widespread water pollution in the U.S. caused by government policies, an extraordinary crisis in one of the richest countries in the world with plentiful resources -- including water.
An example is Flint, Michigan. "The Water in Flint, Michigan, Gives People Lead Poisoning," according to CNN:
"A city of 100,000 people, about half of which live below the poverty line and are African-American, has been in a financial free-fall since General Motors began downsizing in the area in the 1980s. Because of these financial woes, in 2014 city officials switched Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which is a body of water whose water purity has been in question since the 1970s. Unfortunately, this river water wasn’t treated with an anti-corrosive agent, which caused lead in aging pipes to flow into the tap water of Flint’s residents."
"Consequently, thousands of Flint's residents have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead, leading to numerous deleterious health effects such as impaired cognition, behavioral disorders, reduced fetal growth, kidney damage, and many other health problems. In addition, once lead gets into one’s system, it cannot be flushed out, and the level of danger for even small amounts of lead can be dangerous."
More recently, in November 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice ordered the City of Jackson, Mississippi to agree to federal oversight of its failing water system:
"The justice department filed a complaint on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against the city, for failing to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. In a statement, the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, said he was 'taking action in federal court to address longstanding failures in the city of Jackson’s public drinking water system.'"
Significantly, five years ago, severe U.S. water problems were investigated and publicized by United Nations expert Phillip Alson, according to his report on poverty in the U.S.:
"A United Nations official who tours the globe investigating extreme poverty said that areas of Alabama's Black Belt are suffering the most dire sewage disposal crisis of any place he has visited in a developed country."
"'I think it's very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I'd have to say that I haven't seen this,' Philip Alston, the UN's Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said as he toured a Butler County community [in Alabama] where raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits."
"Everyone gets sick"
"Alston visited communities in the Black Belt's Butler and Lowndes counties, where residents often fall ill with ailments like E. Coli and hookworm - a disease of extreme poverty long eradicated in most parts of the U.S. - in part because they do not have consistently reliable access to clean drinking water that has not been tainted by raw sewage and other contaminants."
Due to governmental failures to protect their populations, countless numbers of adults and children in the U.S. and worldwide grow up in such dire straits -- especially due to global pandemics and climate catastrophes -- that many people find themselves unable to cope with the crises and emergencies jeopardizing their health and lives. They can become mentally ill as well as homeless.
In wealthy America, even the nation's largest cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, governmental inaction causes tens of thousands of people to live in the streets, scavenging and begging for food, and engaging in socially deviant acts. Notoriously, even world-renowned metropolises, such as New York, do not have effective "safety nets" to help these people. A New York City employed paramedic wrote the following in a recent New York Times article:
"During the last week of November, 911 dispatchers received on average 425 calls a day for “emotionally disturbed persons,” or E.D.P.s. . . I’m not opposed to taking mentally ill people in distress to the hospital; our ambulances do this all the time. But I know it’s unlikely to solve their problems. Hospitals are overwhelmed, so they sometimes try to shuffle patients to other facilities. . . the systems responsible for this care — sheltered housing, access to outpatient psychiatric care, social workers, a path to reintegration into society — are horribly inadequate. There aren’t enough shelters, there aren’t enough social workers, there aren’t enough outpatient facilities. So people who no longer know how to care for themselves, who need their hands held through a complex process, are alone on the street once again. We must heavily invest in social services, housing and mental health care if we want to avoid this ongoing tragedy. We need this kind of investment across the United States, where there has been a serious mental health crisis since the pandemic began."
The fault lies with ongoing and prior government failures, spanning decades, to adequately fund and operate social services in the U.S. capable of caring for the people whose lives their inequality-generating policies have jeopardized. To view these failures first-hand, one needs only walk down the streets of wealthy cities to view the devastated victims.
3. Minority rule subverting majority rule by governments "of, by, and for" the people.
If one counts the number of people represented by the elected lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate authorized to enact laws on the population as a whole, they typically represent a minority of the entire population. The voters who actually cast votes for them might also represent a minority of all people who voted, and an even smaller minority of all eligible U.S. voters as a whole.
The legislative priorities of these lawmakers, if they could accurately be identified, are also likely to diverge from those of a majority of adult Americans who lack effective mechanisms for defining and transmitting them. Critics on both sides of the aisle, liberals and conservatives, condemn this minority rule as a violation of the constitutional principle requiring "equal protection of the law. " To the extent that small numbers of lawmakers representing a minority of the people enact laws enforceable on the population as a whole, such minority rule contradicts the centuries' old adage and promise of "government of, by, and for the people."
There are many causes of minority rule in key U.S. policy-making bodies. Several pivotal causes date back to provisions in the U.S. Constitution adopted in 1776, such as the creation of the Electoral College. Others are more recent, such as the Senate's complex and anti-democratic "filibuster" practice, which enables a single Senator to block discussion, debate, and voting on a proposal. Given the Senate's constitutionally required representation of states whose populations vary widely from a few million to tens of millions, its fundamentally anti-democratic structure is one of the key underpinnings of minority rule in American government.
Criticism of minority rule imposed by the Senate's structure, and Senate use of its "filibuster" practice, has been voiced by the respected American Center for Progress in Washington, D.C., as follows:
"A basic fact of modern American lawmaking at the federal level is that most bills can only pass if they have 60 or more votes in the Senate [which comprises 100 votes at 2 per state]—unless the bill is subject to special procedures. Without 60 votes, any senator can block most bills using a procedure known as the filibuster."
"At its core, the filibuster is a rule that makes it harder for Congress to pass laws. For senators in the minority, this is an advantage; they can prevent their opponents from passing bills that they do not like or force the majority to negotiate changes."
There is a 60-vote threshold to overcome the filibuster and pass legislation in the Senate. While the filibuster is widely criticized, inside and outside the House and Senate, there are strong and numerous adherents opposing its removal, as well as favoring its retention. Given this stalemate, the filibuster and the Senate that created it may remain core underpinnings of minority rule -- along with the constitutionally established Electoral College, which epitomizes and provides a major bulwark of minority rule via presidential elections.
Anti-majoritarian laws and rules, such as the minority electoral base of the Senate and its filibuster, stem from anti-democratic peculiarities of U.S. electoral and legislative institutions and processes. They threaten the legitimacy of the entire system, according to Harvard University scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. (See "End Minority Rule.” The New York Times. (June 11, 2022).)
Repercussions of minority rule in the faltering U.S. democracy, as described above, include increasing inequality of wealth and income, and dissatisfaction of large segments of the population with U.S. lawmakers. They include millions of anti-government individuals and groups that harbor a multiplicity of grievances. Recent elections show that many of them can be electorally mobilized by politicians and electoral candidates who take advantage of their grievances to build winning electoral bases. They use social media isinformation and outright lies to rile up voters to vote for them in massive numbers.
These dynamics are well understood by critical thinkers on both side of the aisle. For example, Max Booth writes the following in the Washington Post:
"How did we get here? There are, of course, many reasons. But the central facilitating factor is surely the way that U.S. politics has, over the past few decades, increasingly empowered the extremes of political parties at the expense of the mainstream."
"The primary system American parties use to choose their candidates is extremely unusual; no other major democracy has one quite like it. Primaries ensure that the candidates chosen are selected by slivers of the parties — around 20 percent of all eligible voters. And this selection is not at all representative — these are the most intense, agitated activists, often far more extreme in their views than run-of-the-mill registered Republicans or Democrats. Add to this decades of sophisticated, computer-enabled gerrymandering, and you get extreme candidates who run in safe districts where the only threat to them is a primary candidate who is even more extreme."
These political party machinations seriously compromise authentic democratic processes. They compound the difficulties and even impossibilities voters face when their party-backed elected representatives enact legislation they oppose. For voters have no way of removing them from minority-ruled legislative bodies even when glaring gaps emerge between voters' priorities and lawmakers' priorities and legislative enactments. They transform elections from expressing "the will of the people" into its antithesis -- voters transferring their political sovereignty to virtually unaccountable lawmakers.
4. Governmental failure to halt increasing inequality.
According to the United Nations World Social Report 2020:
"'Income inequality has increased in most developed countries, and some middle-income countries - including China, which has the world’s fastest growing economy.' The challenges are underscored by UN chief António Guterres: the world is confronting 'the harsh realities of a deeply unequal global landscape', in which economic woes, inequalities and job insecurity have led to mass protests in both developed and developing countries. 'Income disparities and a lack of opportunities. . . are creating a vicious cycle of inequality, frustration and discontent across generations.”
Inequality in the U.S. exceeds that of similarly industrialized nations, even though its natural and financial resources are unequaled. According to Pew Research:
"Income inequality in the U.S. is the highest of all the G7 nations, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. . . The wealth gap between America’s richest and poorer families more than doubled from 1989 to 2016." [G7 countries include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.]
U.S. lawmakers contribute to these inequalities in countless ways, for example by refusing to raise the minimum wage, levying unfair tax rates on different socio-economic groups, and using regressive sales taxes to increase revenues. These policies further jeopardize the financial security of working Americans, and contribute to the "frustration and discontent across generations" cited by the UN Secretary General. They set the stage for the emergence of angry and aggrieved voters who can be mobilized to protest government policies.
According to a the U.S. House of Representatives:
"Income inequality has worsened since the 1980’s and 90’s. 'Today . . . income and wealth inequality is higher in the U.S. than nearly any other developed nation, and it’s getting worse.' The report add that 'disturbingly, the ability to climb the economic ladder — so central to the American Dream — has all but disappeared. … [A]s wages for most workers stagnated, the costs of housing, health care, child care, and higher education have soared.'”
"American workers’ paychecks grew as productivity increased in the decades after World War II. But after 1980 productivity began to rise much faster than wages. The difference in average pay for CEOs and their employees at large corporations was 20:1 in 1965, the report notes; last year, it was nearly 400:1."
5. Political parties' and lawmakers' supplanting of voters rights to determine legislative priorities.
It is difficult to argue U.S. government is "of, by, and for the people" when political parties and their candidates rather than voters determine legislative priorities and decide which to enact. They do not provide voters effective mechanisms for defining their legislative priorities across the board, transmitting their priorities to parties, candidates, and incumbent lawmakers, and overseeing the legislative implementation of their priorities.
An example of this role reversal is provided by the Political Science Review in an article entitled "Importance of Political Parties in Democracy," as follows:
"Political parties have particular importance in democracy because during the elections [sic]. They create consciousness among the voters. They keep the national alive, politically. They create the interest of the voters in politics and attract them toward fundamental problems. For this purpose, the political parties deliver many lectures and distribute political literature. They publish election manifestos to place their performance and policy before the people. A few weeks or days before the polling, they carry on propaganda on a large scale, and their workers go from door to door to canvass among the voters and acquaint them with their viewpoint. When the polling takes place, they persuade the voters to go to the polling booths and advise them on casting their votes."
The passage above does not indicate why voters are deemed to lack "consciousness", why parties have to "create the interest of voters in politics," and "attract them toward fundamental problems." How is it that parties can presume to know what are the "fundamental problems" but voters do not, even though voter experience first-hand the day-to-day problems of making a living and caring for themselves and their families?
It is possible political parties themselves are standing in the way of voters conscientious defining of their needs and problems by denying them effective ways of doing so. It is possible the virtual monopoly that party officials exercise over the processes involved in setting party platforms cut voters out of a critical step in democratic elections, and supplant rights that inherently belong to grassroots supporters and voters.
It is also possible that this deliberate "disconnect" is one of the root causes of the faltering of democracy in the U.S. Part II below, which describes 10 ways for re-inventing democracy, will identify tools and technologies that empower voters to remove this disconnect.
6. Failure to provide American voters Equal Protection of the Law as required by the U.S. Constitution, as well as vote suppression and election subversion of voters' efforts to register to vote, cast votes, and have their votes counted.
It is noteworthy that banks are able to provide bank accounts to tens of millions of account holders worldwide, and use commercially available technology to enable them to transact business virtually around the clock no matter where they are. In sharp contrast, U.S. election authorities do not use effective electronic technology to enable eligible voters to easily verify their identities, register to vote, cast votes from outside their districts, and have their votes tallied just as quickly and accurately as banking customers conduct financial transactions.
It is also noteworthy that the two major U.S. political parties do not treat all voters fairly and equally, according to the requirements of equal protection laws and principles. The party that controls a majority of seats in a state legislature can create one-party districts by using the levers of the state legislative to draw election district boundaries to exclude voters likely to vote against major party electoral candidates. The parties divide up and separate voters likely to oppose their candidates into smaller clusters in districts where they are too few to elect their preferred candidates.
According to Yale University legal experts, "the intended effect is. . . to minimize the political strength of, and the likelihood of electoral success by, only those candidates affiliated with out-of-power parties."
Both of the two major U.S. political parties have used gerrymandering of election district boundaries for decades to ensure their candidates win the large majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The lawmakers elected under this skewed gerrymandered system are unlikely to fairly and equitably represent all the voters in their state, or enact laws that fairly and equitably meet their needs and priorities. Yet they typically remain in office for multiple terms and even decades.
Additional undemocratic practices at the election district level further favor certain voters while disenfranchising other voters. Lawmakers and election officials in many states routinely expunge registered voters from current rosters of eligible voters without just cause or notification; require voters to provide difficult to obtain identification documents; reject registrations without just cause; fail to provide requested absentee ballots or record those submitted; and give incorrect information about times and places for casting votes.
To make matters worse, many states are currently enacting laws and regulations to deliberately impede the casting of votes, including moving and eliminating polling stations, compelling voters to stand in line for many hours, e.g. six to ten hours; and prohibiting the provision of water or food to awaiting voters. States also suppress votes by failing to provide alternative means for registering to vote and casting votes, such as by mail and through drop boxes. In 2020, the head of the U.S. Postal Service, in order to boost the election chances of a presidential candidate he supported, is reported to have removed hundreds of letter-collection boxes and high-speed mail sorting machines, and had them stripped for parts.
Emerging methods of suppressing votes and subverting elections include the following:
i. State legislatures claiming they have the right to declare winners, without reference to actual votes cast. (See CNN Politics,“The Case in Front of the Supreme Court Wednesday Could Upend Electoral Politics.")
ii. Threats made to the lives of election officials and their families to persuade them to resign.
iii. Intimidating groups and individuals dressed in military garb gathering at the entrances of polling stations to discourage people from voting, and inside official election district offices to "monitor" the counting of votes by election officials.
iv. Arrests by state officials charging individuals for casting votes that officials claimed they were ineligible to cast.
v. Lawsuits filed to contest election results now numbering in the thousands, leaving actual governance in limbo.
In light of these developments, the emergence of widespread distrust of elections and obsolete, defect-ridden voting technology is understandable. For they can cause countless snafus, mistakes, and opportunities for falsification, threats and intimidation. Claims of "stolen elections" have proliferated on the part of unscrupulous politicians, candidates, and special interests that take advantage of these defects. It has become commonplace for losing candidates to assert that official election results are inaccurate, and the declared winners have not actually won. These challenges could easily be prevented if lawmakers enacted laws funding effective, tamper-proof upgrades of voting technology. But few lawmakers introduce, support, and vote for such laws, possibly because many of them take advantage of the uncertainties and loopholes created by defective technology and falsification opportunities to increase their electoral prospects.
7. Legalized bribery of lawmakers through laws and court decisions authorizing campaign funding by special interests, often inducing elected representatives to enact their legislative priorities.
"Independent expenditure-only political committees that may receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, labor unions and other political action committees for the purpose of financing independent expenditures and other independent political activity."
The decision has opened the floodgates for the infusion into elections of vast amounts of private money, much of which does not come to the attention of the public on a timely basis due to special reporting requirements. These funds contribute to increased inequality of political influence between average Americans and wealthy individuals and corporations.
There are significant differences between a Super PAC and a regular PAC in terms of the source and amount of money allowed to flow through them in support of campaigns, according to the article below.
Per the article below:
"The most important difference between a super PAC and a traditional candidate PAC is in who can contribute and how much they can give.
"Candidates and traditional candidate committees can accept $2,800 from individuals per election cycle. There are two election cycles a year: one for the primary and one for the general election in November. That means they can take in a maximum of $5,600 a year, split equally between the primary and general election."
"Candidates and traditional candidate political action committees are prohibited from accepting money from corporations, unions, and associations. Federal election code prohibits those entities from contributing directly to candidates or candidate committees."
"Super PACs, on the other hand, do not have contribution or spending limits. They can raise as much money from corporations, unions, and associations as they please and spend unlimited amounts on advocating for the election and/or defeat of the candidates they choose."
"Another difference is that some of the money that flows into super PACs is untraceable. This is often referred to as dark money. Individuals can mask their identities and their contributions to super PACs by giving funds to outside groups which then give the money to a super PAC, a process that is essentially laundering. These groups include nonprofit 501[c] groups and social welfare organizations."
In the 2020 election cycle, Super PACs raised nearly $3.5 billion, according to Open Secrets. Nearly 60% was spent on groups with conservative viewpoints.
Both of the two major U.S. political parties and their elected representatives form PACs and Super PACs. They spend much of their time raising money from special interests to fund them, and spending the money on candidates and issues of their choice.
One of the best indicators revealing why elected representatives vote is the source and amount of donations to their electoral campaigns, directly or indirectly. Open Secrets provides this information in its database of Candidates and Office Holders, which can be searched by name to find out which candidates and office holders received money, how much and from whom.
The harsh, anti-democratic repercussions of special interest financing of electoral campaigns can be discerned by comparing lawmakers' failures to enact legislation addressing the needs, interests, and demands of average Americans, to the legislation lawmakers enact favoring special interest priorities.
For example, such divergence is reflected in the refusal of elected lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to enact life-saving legislation long demanded by a majority of Americans for "single payer government-sponsored health care." It is also reflected in lawmakers' refusal to enact life-sving gun control legislation, especially legislation banning military assault weapons, also favored by a majority of Americans.
The repercussions are preventable injuries, sickness, and deaths. Homicide deaths by guns is now at the highest level it has been in 30 years, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
"The authors of the analysis write that while they cannot explain the cause of the increases, systemic inequalities—including unequal economic, housing, and employment opportunities—and structural racism have exacerbated disparities, and the COVID-19 pandemic may have made things worse. Their findings 'underscore the urgent need for prevention efforts,' they write, including outreach, hospital-based interventions, and reducing access to firearms among people at risk of harming themselves or someone else."
8. Elected lawmakers' failures to enact legislation meeting the needs and demands of the majority of Americans.
Since parties and candidates determine legislative priorities, not voters, glaring gaps have arisen between the needs and demands of voters and the population at large, and the legislation lawmakers enact. Once party candidates are elected, they typically enact legislation they prefer, and largely disregard their constituents' needs.
The can flagrantly disregard their needs, for example by resorting to rules they have created to hide their votes. These rules enable them to use "voice votes" instead of "roll call votes", which record the names of lawmakers and how they voted on specific legislation. The "voice votes" prevent voters from knowing how their elected representatives voted on specific legislation unless they or their representatives are present when the votes are voiced. They avoid "roll call" votes that would enable their constituents to see how they voted.
Moreover, regardless of which type of voting they choose, lawmakers typically decide how to vote on specific pieces of legislation without eliciting the preferences of their constituents prior to officially voting one way or another.
The significance of these "disconnects" is that they reflect and reinforce inequalities of political influence, in which average Americans exert less influence -- and often no influence -- compared to the influence of "economic elites" and organized business groups. University scholars Gilens and Page investigated this disparity to find out:
"Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semi-sovereign, or largely powerless".
Their conclusions include the following:
"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."
"Our evidence indicates that the responsiveness of the U.S. political system when the general public wants government action is severely limited. Because of the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the U.S. political system—federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism—together with further impediments due to anti-majoritarian congressional rules and procedures, the system has a substantial status quo bias."
"Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened."
9. Failure of quarreling government lawmakers and political parties to utilize effective mechanisms for building consensus across ideological and partisan lines.
Definitions of political sovereignty vary, as do assertions regarding how and by whom it is exercised in particular instances. It is a premise of this essay that the people are the primary possessors of political sovereignty, which they can exercise unilaterally as well as in concert with other institutions.
For an authentic democracy to flourish, the people must be able to learn about each other's views and priorities, investigate their veracity (no small feat in this era of social media), and discuss and debate them without partisan and ideological constraints interjected by political parties. If this vital process is distorted, undermined, or scuttled, legislative options and laws will not only be unnecessarily constrained, but may lack legitimacy for failing to reflect any semblance of a "popular will."
Unfortunately, the two major U.S. political parties are typically locked in conflict and at loggerheads about major and minor issue, to the point of causing confusion and legislative stalemates. Their chronic quarreling and refusal to compromise significantly interferes with the exercise of political sovereignty by the American people and voters by immersing them in non-stop virtual shouting matches, including threats of violence.
They not only lack consensus building mechanisms, but show no signs of seeking effective ways and means of resolving their differences, either within and between themselves or their deliberately polarized supporters.
One of many reasons for their recalcitrance, besides attempting to gin up winning electoral bases of roiled up voters, is the size of the constituencies of U.S. electoral candidates. They are so large and diverse -- often comprising tens of millions of voters -- that parties and candidates fear that if they earnestly gathered voters' priorities across the board, they would be unable to reconcile them to reconcile the divergence and conflicts that emerge. Most parties not only lack the mechanisms needed to survey most voters views and priorities. They also lack effective mechanisms for building consensus across partisan and ideological lines among such large numbers of voters. Part II describes how such mechanisms can be created and deployed irrespective of political parties' capabilities and willingness to use them.
10. Increasing authoritarian populism and autocracy within faltering democracies, such as the U.S.
History is marked by struggles between those seeking to increase individual freedom and those seeking to limit it -- and even suppress it altogether. The latter group compised European monarchs who reigned centuries ago, as well as those outside Europe, several of whom control whole countries even in the 21st century.
Recently added to their rank are actual and aspiring freedom-opposing autocrats of various stripes seeking to use elections to ensconce themselves atop governmental power pyramids. What is relatively new, at least in the 20th century, are their efforts to seize power by mobilizing civilians to vote for them in elections. In the U.S., this potent combination appears to have been strengthened recently by social media disinformation that politicians and party-backed lawmakers use to sway votes by distorting civilians' perceptions of what is actually happening and what other people are doing.
Once in office, if past history is a guide, they may well exhibit a propensity to take actions that decrease the influence and abrogate the rights of the people who voted for them! These autocrats overturn the rule of laws that were originally enacted to empower people to use electoral and legislative institutions and processes to meet their needs and demands.
These dynamics of what is called "ginning up" electoral support have been labelled "authoritarian populism". It is variously defined by university scholars as instigating voters to accept "populist" stances, including
"An anti-establishment impulse: a belief that political power should reside not with economic, intellectual, or political elites, but with the people."
The resulting "populists" and authoritarian politicians and political parties aligned with them are likely to include aggrieved voters angered by lawmakers' priorities and actions that do not jibe with their own. Although the term "authoritarian populism" is most widely used, the primary source of authoritarian attitudes and dispositions appears to be not "populist" civilians, but politicians and political parties they use to gain power.
This recent U.S. presidential history illustrates the undemocratic, anti-majoritarian influence that can be conjointly exercised by ambitious politicians, political parties, and legislative bodies they control to support efforts to institute "authoritarian populism" using persuadable, angered, and aggrieved voters as their electoral launching pad.
These events, however, must be viewed in the larger global context of similar power grabs occurring throughout the world. Harvard University scholar Pippa Norris emphasizes that politicians engendering "authoritarian populism" have been operating for decades, and even centuries if the definition is broadened:
"Populist authoritarian leaders—appealing to nationalism and tradition, preaching hostility toward outsiders and elites. . . attracted swelling support across Europe and the Americas, winning legislative seats and ministerial offices, gaining government power. Trump was a part of the wave."
In the 20th century, Mussolini came to power in Italy by mobilizing civilians, as did Hitler in Germany. They used their civilian supporters as part of their strategies and tactics for taking power away from authorities in existing institutions, such as parliaments and judiciaries. They also used their popular support electorally to give an aura of legitimacy to the control they seized -- control they would later use to curtail the voting rights and individual freedom of the civilians who originally voted them into office.
Curiously, according to former U.S. Secretary of State, Madelyn Albright (1937-2022), their attempts to gain power were driven not by ideologies. Instead, they were methods for acquiring political and governmental power. As Albright states in her 2018 book, Fascism: A Warning, "twentieth-century Fascism began with a magnetic leader exploiting widespread dissatisfaction by promising all things."
Albright was born in Czechoslovakia into a distinguished family of government officials and diplomats. They became political refugees as the result of political revolutions that regressively transformed her home country and many Eastern and Western European governments into autocracies. They include the rise of Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and earlier in the 20s, Stalin in the former Soviet Union, whose reign continued until the 1950s.
Albright describes these transformations as sharing common characteristics, especially the proclivity of their leaders and followers to engage in oppressive, violent, and even murderous actions. One primary characteristic of their methods, according to Albright, is that they were not on the "right" or "left" of the political spectrum. Instead, the goals of their methods were to concentrate power in the hands of their perpetrators. They tended to be charismatic politicians who exploited the grievances of ordinary people that had been caused by a variety of personal and national defeats and deprivations. These ambitious individuals and politicians promised to improve their disappointed followers' lot in life, and blamed scapegoats for the problems that led to their grievances. Although these politicians gave the appearance of supporting downtrodden groups, they were often supported financially by wealthy people.
Their scapegoated targets included not only minority groups and outsiders, such as immigrants, but also unpopular political elites and office holders, including parliamentarians and judges. While many of the leaders did not initially or visibly use force to gain power, they incited many of their followers to arm themselves. Separately and collectively, they threatened to use force, and actually committed acts of political violence. They intimidated potential opposition, neutralized law enforcement, and overturned the rule of law.
These European patterns of using aggrieved groups as integral part of plots to seize power can be discerned in the tactics of armed groups in the U.S. engaged in a variety of public acts, demonstrations, and even a plot to kidnap and kill a state governor. They included a protest march in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 by individuals and groups using Nazi slogans and symbols, which resulted in the killing of an unarmed counter-protester.
Five years later, a New York judge recognized in 2022 the parallels between political revolutions occurring in Europe in the mid-20th century, and political upheavals occurring in the U.S. in the 21st century. In a decision, he wrote the justification below of the harsh sentences he imposed against armed protesters.
“I know enough about history to know what happened in Europe in the ’30s when political street brawls were allowed to go ahead without any type of check from the criminal justice system.”
Remarkably, there is an even closer historical connection between political revolutions in Europe in the 1940s and attempted upheavals in the U.S. at the same time, involving U.S. lawmakers, citizen groups and organizations, and even religious leaders. They are described by Rhodes Scholar Rachel Maddow, an MSNBC newscaster and political commentator, in her podcast series ULTRA.
Maddow and her team collaborated with American historians to obtain documents revealing how the Nazi regime in Germany installed representatives in the U.S. to spread Nazi propaganda through a variety of means, including paying U.S. members of Congress to disseminate the propaganda to their constituents and the public at large.
Using official records, judicial hearings initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and first hand testimonials, Maddows identifies proponents of fascist doctrines and regimes in U.S. political history. They included dozens of elected lawmakers in Washington, D.C. who collaborated with Nazi government officials to distribute Nazi propaganda, as well as famous American citizens such as Charles Lindberg. The podcast series cites evidence of ultra-right violent groups "planning violence, up to and including the overthrow of the U.S. government".
Most notably, the information identifies historical antecedents of electioneering slogans recently used by American politicians. They include "America First", as well as divisive references to "Christian nationalism" and antisemitism, which echo the use of similar terms in the 1940s. Maddow states the following in podcast #9 :
"One of the uncomfortable truths that you find in the dark corners of our history is that fascism happens, recurrently. Movements, and demagogues, and media figures and elected officials promote elements of fascism, antisemitism, hatred of minority groups and immigrants, worship of strongman leaders, wishing for the end to elections, the end to rule by law -- it comes up, repeatedly. It has a certain appeal to a certain percentage of the country, in a fairly dependable way."
Maddow's observations, fears, and warnings were shared by Madeleine Albright, who was well aware of such threats to democracy in the U.S. She did not mince words in warning about the threats posed by U.S. president Trump. While he was still in office in 2018, she wrote a prophetic article entitled, “Opinion | Will We Stop Trump Before It’s Too Late?”, in which she boldly states:
"Mr. Trump has attacked the judiciary, ridiculed the media, defended torture, condoned police brutality, urged supporters to rough up hecklers and — jokingly or not — equated mere policy disagreements with treason. He tried to undermine faith in America’s electoral process. . . He routinely vilifies federal law enforcement institutions. He libels immigrants and the countries from which they come. His words . . . are in fact calculated to exacerbate religious, social and racial divisions. . . If one were to draft a script chronicling fascism’s resurrection, the abdication of America’s moral leadership would make a credible first scene."
While there are complex issues and questions regarding how the electoral ascendancy of the former president came about, major challenges to understanding them concern why and how so many millions of American civilians could be persuaded to accept blatant distortions of the truth and outright lies. Reliable sources such as the Washington Post estimate the 45th president made more than 30,000 false statements between 2015 and 2020.
What is reassuring, however, is solid academic research, such as that conducted at Stanford University by scholar Fiorina and elsewhere which shows that mainstream Americans, on the whole, do not harbor the extreme "left wing" and "right wing" views of activists and donors of the two major U.S. political parties.
"The nation is no more politically divided than it was in the 1970s, despite how things might appear in the news. Instead, the political parties have sorted into narrow groups that don’t represent a heterogeneous country."
"In 2016, more Americans classified themselves as moderates than as liberals or conservatives; moreover, the numbers are virtually identical to those registered in 1976. The distribution of partisan identification flatly contradicts the polarization narrative: self-classified Republicans are no larger a proportion of the public than in the Eisenhower era, while self-identified Democrats are a significantly smaller proportion than in the 1960s. Forty percent of today’s public declines to identify with either party."
2022 university research indicates that in settings conducive to consensus building, mainstream voters can be open to compromise across partisan lines. The results of the 2022 mid-term elections show that despite the onslaught of lies and disinformation, mainstream voters prevailed in determining electoral results in the large majority of states.
Nonetheless, extremist views are still being stoked and expanded in various states and localities where voters' are ill-informed. Voter disenfranchisement continues apace through vote suppression laws, such as gerrymandering, and by election subversion, including technologies that miscalculate and falsify vote tallies. A number of lawmakers in state legislatures are attempting to overturn valid election results. by passing laws that give state legislators the right to determine which candidates win elections without verifying and auditing votes cast.
Given minority rule by key legislative bodies, the votes of majorities of voters may not determine who holds office or what laws are passed. Elections may not only fail to register the "voice of the people", but legitimize the transfer of voters' political sovereignty to virtually unaccountable elected representatives. So the vicious circles and cycles through which unscrupulous politicians, elected representatives, and political parties conspire to further "authoritarian populism" and autocratic rule may well remain a threat for the foreseeable future.
To meet these challenges, it is necessary to re-invent faltering democracies to empower mainstream Americans and voters at the grassroots to control government officials, elections, and legislation, by means of the 10 ways described in Part II below. This re-invention of democracy will enable voters at the grassroots to prevent the imposition of an elected autocracy by trifectas of unscrupulous politicians, disenfranchising political parties, and elected lawmakers corrupted by special interests donors.
These 10 ways will also enable voters to prevent the outbreak of a curious 21st century form of a civil war, according to warnings by experts. They are pointing to the stridency and aggressiveness characterizing the actions of large numbers of hostile, anti-government individuals and groups, many of whom are armed and poised, according to the FBI, to commit acts of "domestic terrorism". These cumulative acts have the potential to lead to what university scholar Barbara F. Walter refers to as "civil war" in her book, How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them.
"If a second civil war breaks out in the US, it will be a guerrilla war fought by multiple small militias spread around the country. Their targets will be civilians – mainly minority groups, opposition leaders and federal employees. Judges will be assassinated, Democrats and moderate Republicans will be jailed on bogus charges, black churches and synagogues bombed, pedestrians picked off by snipers in city streets, and federal agents threatened with death should they enforce federal law. The goal will be to reduce the strength of the federal government and those who support it, while also intimidating minority groups and political opponents into submission."
Canadian analyst Stephen Marche concurs with Walter, as he states in a recent article in The Guardian entitled, “The next US Civil War Is Already Here – We Just Refuse to See It”:
"The legal system grows less legitimate by the day. Trust in government at all levels is in freefall, or, like Congress, with approval ratings hovering around 20%, cannot fall any lower. Right now, elected sheriffs openly promote resistance to federal authority. Right now, militias train and arm themselves in preparation for the fall of the Republic. Right now, doctrines of a radical, unachievable, messianic freedom spread across the internet, on talk radio, on cable television, in the malls."
"The consequences of the breakdown of the American system is only now beginning to be felt. January 6 wasn’t a wake-up call; it was a rallying cry. The Capitol police have seen threats against members of Congress increase by 107%."
"The United States needs to recover its revolutionary spirit, and I don’t mean that as some kind of inspirational quote. I mean that, if it is to survive, the United States will have to recover its revolutionary spirit. The crises the United States now faces in its basic governmental functions are so profound that they require starting over. . ."
"Does the country have the humility to acknowledge that its old orders no longer work? Does it have the courage to begin again? As it managed so spectacularly at the birth of its nationhood, the United States requires the boldness to invent a new politics for a new era. It is entirely possible that it might do so. America is, after all, a country devoted to reinvention."
"Once again, as before, the hope for America is Americans. But it is time to face what the Americans of the 1850s found so difficult to face: The system is broken, all along the line. The situation is clear and the choice is basic: reinvention or fall."
University of California/Berkeley Professor Keltner, after conducting extensive research, concluded that fundamental human traits, evolving for centuries, comprise kindness, compassion, sympathy, altruism, and cooperation. These traits are reflected in mutually beneficial behaviors and interactions among individuals and groups within communities and societies throughout the world. (See Survival of the Kindest (2015)).
Kelner's research also shows how this progress can be impeded and counteracted by political institutions permitting individuals and groups to exercise unbridled power. (See The Power Paradox of the 21st Century (2016)). He describes how this exercise of power typically leads to inequality, "self-serving impulsivity", "incivility and disrespect", and "narratives of exceptionalism." He makes the following assertion regarding its exercise in contemporary America:
"United States politics is almost exclusively run by the very wealthy, who, succumbing to the power paradox, may be the very people most blind to the problems of powerlessness, poverty, and inequality."
Keltner's insights also indicate how the exercise of unbridled power by lawmakers in U.S. electoral, legislative, and judicial institutions has contributed to life-threatening and fatality-causing decisions at federal, state, and local levels.
A devastating example is the injuries and deaths caused by lawmakers' and judges' disregard of the needs and demands of a majority of Americans for gun control laws. (See "In America, a Child Is Shot Every Hour.") These demands include banning the 20 million military assault rifles among the 400 million guns that U.S. lawmakers have permitted civilians to purchase and shoot to kill more than 1 million Americans of all age groups, including school children in their classrooms.
The result is more per capita gun deaths in the U.S. than in equally industrialized countries with democratic institutions and processes. According to Johns Hopkins University statistics, the refusal of lawmakers to pass effective gun control legislation has led to the following:
For over four decades, people have suffered from persistently high gun death rates. Over this time, 1,357,000 people have died from gun violence. This is more than the number of Americans who have died in wars fought throughout U.S. history."
According to Wikipedia:
"Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the U.S. gun-related homicide rate is 25 times higher. Although it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, among those 22 nations studied, the U.S. had 82 percent of gun deaths, 90 percent of all women killed with guns, 91 percent of children under 14 and 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed with guns, with guns being the leading cause of death for children."
More recent evidence of this government-caused worsening death spiral is provided by the following:
"In 2020, gun deaths in the U.S. reached the highest level ever recorded—driven by a dramatic rise in gun homicides. In 2020, more than 45,000 people died from gun violence. The increase coincided with a number of unique factors, including . . . record increases in gun sales, widespread social unrest . . . and deep political divisions further exacerbated by attempts to overturn an election."
Few if any lawmakers in legislative bodies of democratic governments outside the U.S. have knowingly and repeatedly permitted the infliction of deadly harm on so many people they were elected to serve and protect. This flagrant example of unbridled power provides compelling evidence the American people will only be protected if lawmakers' and political parties' disenfranchisement of voters, and control of U.S. political institutions, are brought to an end. Mainstream Americans at the grassroots must be empowered to use their mutually beneficial capacities to cooperate, as illuminated by Keltner, to transform and re-invent the faltering U.S. democracy.
Fortunately, state-of-the-art technologies are emerging that enable them to do so. They include user-friendly digital tools that can empower voters to supplant self-serving political parties. They can use the tools to create their own online political parties, build consensus to set common legislative agendas across partisan lines, and elect lawmakers to enact their agendas.
These technologies and tools are powerful enough to offset the power of politicians and parties using social media to spread disinformation. By incorporating them into the global social network described below, mainstream voters will be able to seek and find common ground with the so-called "persuadable" voters whose perceptions and political views have been distorted and polarized by political actors spreading disinformation to win elections.
Research indicates these "persuadable" voters are a minority of voters. However, when politicians and parties mobilize these voters by means of social media-disseminated misinformation, they can win primaries and general elections by running candidates espousing extremist agendas. Even though the large majority of mainstream voters outnumber the minority of "persuadable" voters, their votes may not be fully counted due to gerrymandering, vote suppression, and election subversion.
What is at stake is not merely which party and candidates win elections. The danger is their continuing efforts to increase their influence by deliberately stoking political conflicts -- violent as well as non-violent, as evidenced by the insurrection of January 6, 2022. These conflicts can involve a broad spectrum of miscreants, including lone wolves, organized militias, and even members of law enforcement agencies who have decided political violence -- actual and threatened -- provides effective levers for changing the status quo. New non-violent options are needed that have the potential to bring together all members of society to devise mutually acceptable solutions to the problems, crises, and emergencies facing all members of society in the second decade of the 21st century.
Unfortunately, the barrage of impediments that political parties, lawmakers and special interests have inserted into electoral and legislative processes to prevent voters from exercising their political sovereignty are so extensive that reform measures would take years, and possibly decades, to enact and implement. These measures would be opposed by the political actors that inserted these impediments in the pursuit of virtually unbridled political power and unaccountable control of all three branches of government.
To overcome these obstacles, it is a core premise of this U.S. Blueprint for re-inventing democracy that the technological empowerment of voters to control elections and legislation is the only way to halt the faltering of democracy in the U.S. and abroad.
One of the most effective technologies for voter empowerment is the autonomous global social network described below. It comprises an unprecedented repertory of digital tools that voters can use for agenda setting, political organizing, and consensus building.
They can create their own voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions, and build consensus across partisan lines to set common legislative agendas, and run and elect candidates of their choice to enact their agendas.
The network and tools will empower voters to exercise their political sovereignty without interference by conflict-generating political parties, lawmakers, and special interests. They will be able to forge winning, cross-partisan electoral bases to nominate and elect candidates of their choice in primary and general elections, By so doing, they will be able to gain control of lawmaking bodies, and put an end to the virtually unbridled exercise of political power by self-serving political parties and lawmakers.
They will be able to fundamentally transform the faltering U.S. democracy by instituting majority rule to replace the minority rule that is now governing America -- which Harvard professors Levitsky and Ziblatt deem a threat to the legitimacy of government in the U.S. (See How Democracies Die: What History Reveals about Our Future). Penguin, 2019.
Ten ways for empowering voters to attain these objectives are described below.
1. Individual Legislative Agenda Setting: Digital tools for defining, sharing, updating, and storing priorities and legislative agendas for enactment by lawmakers.
A curious contradiction in U.S. politics are the claims of elected lawmakers they speak for "the American people". In contrast, Americans claim lawmakers do not represent them, or care what they think, even after elections. According to Pew Research, cited above:
"Americans feel increasingly estranged from their government. Barely a third (34%) agree with the statement, 'most elected officials care what people like me think,' nearly matching the 20-year low of 33% recorded in 1994 and a 10-point drop since 2002."
Immediately following the 2018 U.S. mid-term elections, half of registered voters expressed the view that the newly elected Congress did not represent their views, including Democrats, Independents and Republicans. (See Edwards-Levy (2018), Most Americans Don’t Feel Well-Represented By Congress.)
Recent research conducted by university scholars support the perceptions of these Americans, as reported in Opinion | Politicians Don’t Actually Care What Voters Want.
"Over the past two years, we conducted a study to find out. We provided state legislators in the United States with access to highly detailed public opinion survey data — more detailed than almost all available opinion polls — about their constituents’ attitudes on gun control, infrastructure spending, abortion and many other policy issues. Afterward, we gauged the willingness of representatives to look at the data as well as how the data affected their perceptions of their constituents’ opinions."
"What we found should alarm all Americans. An overwhelming majority of legislators were uninterested in learning about their constituents’ views. Perhaps more worrisome, however, was that when the legislators who did view the data were surveyed afterward, they were no better at understanding what their constituents wanted than legislators who had not looked at the data. For most politicians, voters’ views seemed almost irrelevant."
Among the obvious reasons for this "disconnect" is the lack of effective mechanisms enabling voters to define in writing and share their needs, priorities, and legislative demands with lawmakers, electoral candidates, or political parties. Voters have few ways of pressuring unresponsive lawmakers to enact them. The result of that small numbers of elected lawmakers can pass laws enforceable on 340 million Americans without comprehensive information about what their constituents need and demand.
The author of this U.S. Blueprint experienced this disconnect first-hand when she ran for elective office and later participated in federal electoral campaigns of other candidates. What she discovered is that candidates typically alter their priorities in mid-stream to correspond to those of their special interest contributors, although these alterations are not always visible. Once they are in office, elected representatives, such as U.S. senators, will remain in office for six years and pass whatever legislation they choose. But when they enact laws their constituents oppose, there will be no way for their constituents to use the divergence to oust them from office.
To remedy this glaring "democratic deficit", she invented the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), (USPTO 7,953,628 B2) to provide voters digital tools for defining their legislative priorities, individually and collectively, and transmitting them to elected representatives. With digital devices, such as a smartphone and desktop computer, they can access a computer-based network, verify their identify, receive authorization to create their own profiles, and use network tools and communication capabilities to connect with other voters.
One unique attribute about the IVCS tool is how it differs from single-issue polls and multi-issue polls and surveys conducted by commercial entities to find out how popular or unpopular political and legislative issues are -- typically to help the political actors already in power in government to get more power! In contrast, the IVCS tool is designed to shift power to the grassroots. It enables voters to take the first step in gaining control of elections and legislation, by defining and continually updating their needs, priorities, and legislative agendas so they can collectively become the bedrock of electoral and legislative decision-making.
2. Voter-Driven Consensus Building: Digital tools connecting mainstream voters to discuss, debate, and build consensus across partisan lines around shared legislative priorities.
A false narrative widely accepted in the U.S. is that Americans are evenly divided into two large, hostile political camps, which are sharply polarized and hold virtually irreconcilable views and priorities. One basis for this belief is the notion that the division of votes cast in presidential elections actually represent voters' needs and priorities.
For example, the 2020 U.S. presidential election, in which 74 million voters cast votes for one of the two candidates, and 70 million cast votes for the other is interpreted to signify that Americans are divided into two opposing political camps, , according to Pew Research.
But this surface conclusion is only part of the story. The obvious interpretation of the meaning of the electoral results must be evaluated in larger contexts:
2.1 The first is that the results are based on votes that the large majority of voters are induced to cast for one of the candidates on the two major U.S. political parties' ballots, since most voters do not want to "waste" their votes voting for candidates who are likely to lose because they are running on the ballot lines of far smaller third party candidates .
If there were three of more parties running candidates with equal chances to win, and voters could chose between all three, it would not appear that voters were just about evenly divided.
Moreover, this allegedly even division would also largely disappear in presidential elections if there were no state-based winner-take-all rules. These rules governing how the Electoral College works give all the electoral votes in the state to the candidate who receives the most votes, but the candidate with fewer votes is not given any electoral votes for the votes he/she received.
2.2 False narratives about asserted polarization of Americans can be also generated when major party-controlled, gerrymandered election districts obfuscate voters' priorities, by dividing up voters opposed to their candidates into districts where their numbers are too small to defeat major party candidates.
2.3. The third context that casts doubt on polarization narratives is that eligible Americans who cast votes in 2020 represented only 2/3 of American citizens, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The reportedly 144 million Americans who cast votes for president represented only about 2/3 of all eligible voters, while the priorities of the remaining third remain virtually unknown.
2.4. The fourth context is that the needs and priorities of individual voters are likely to vary significantly within and between the 50 states. These variations undoubtedly reflect many weighty personal, familial, and situational factors that are not revealed in how they vote in elections, in which they are induced to choose between the candidates of the two major U.S. political parties that dominate U.S. elections.
When viewed in these larger contexts, it cannot be assumed that the priorities of American voters are reflected in past elections, and that their votes can be used to support the assertion they are divided into two highly polarized camps and hold views and priorities that are likely to be irreconcilable.
In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. This evidence indicates that mainstream Americans are not hopelessly divided, but are in fact open to compromise -- including compromise across the rigid partisan lines erected by established political parties and elected lawmakers affiliated to the parties.
Research conducted at Stanford University by Morris Fiorina and elsewhere provides this evidence, indicating that mainstream Americans, on the whole, do not harbor the extreme "left wing" and "right wing" views of party activists and special interest donors to the two major U.S. political parties, their candidates, and their PACs and SubPACs.
"The nation is no more politically divided than it was in the 1970s, despite how things might appear in the news. Instead, the political parties have sorted into narrow groups that don’t represent a heterogeneous country."
"In 2016, more Americans classified themselves as moderates than as liberals or conservatives; moreover, the numbers are virtually identical to those registered in 1976. The distribution of partisan identification flatly contradicts the polarization narrative: self-classified Republicans are no larger a proportion of the public than in the Eisenhower era, while self-identified Democrats are a significantly smaller proportion than in the 1960s. Forty percent of today’s public declines to identify with either party."
While in the past two presidential elections, one candidate and factions within his political party have mobilized "persuadable" voters comprising a minority of U.S. eligible voters, the large majority of mainstream voters do not appear to have been similarly polarized. What has interfered with their use of elections to define their priorities is the injection of disenfranchising impediments that prevent them from fully exercising their voting rights, starting with defining their legislative priorities and and determining who runs for office, who gets elected, and what laws are passed.
Accordingly, enabling voters to autonomously define their priorities and connect with each other online to build consensus to harmonize their priorities and set common legislative agendas that cross partisan lines is an indispensable second step to empowering voters to gain control of elections and legislation.
Emerging technologies and digital tools make this feasible. The first, the Interactive Voter Choice System, was described above. The second is the Decision-Assisting Artificial Intelligence Based System for Electoral and Legislative Consensus Building. (USPTO 8313383-B-1). It is summarized in the following abstract:
"A computer-implemented system and methods for electoral and legislative consensus building via a social network provide decision support to assist network users define their legislative priorities and set common legislative agendas. Users include individuals intending to vote (“voters”), lawmakers, electoral candidates, political parties, and others. Decision-assisting Artificial Intelligence, machine learning technology, a corpus of data in the domain of elections and legislation, and database of user stories, generate legislative priorities for user fact-checking, evaluating, debating, and voting to include in common agendas. The network connects voters within and across election districts and national boundaries to build consensus around legislative agendas with cross national scope. The network assists voters form online voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions to elect lawmakers to enact their agendas, by attracting electoral support from voters across partisan lines. Users can provide legislative mandates to lawmakers by conducting petition drives, referendums, initiatives, and informal recall votes."
These technologies and digital tools enable mainstream voters, who are open to compromise across partisan lines, to build consensus among themselves -- in contrast to voters outside the mainstream whose views have been skewed by polarizing social media algorithms.
They create intra-group dynamics that cause their members to "go to extremes", as explained by Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, according to this summary of his views:
"In Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide, Cass Sunstein reviews the social scientific research documenting how people polarize and become increasingly extreme in their views. The process of polarization is often triggered when people are in groups of like-minded others and have little exposure to alternative views. When these groups are isolated from mainstream society and feel marginalized, they tend to share grievances, leading to further radicalization. It is when these conditions are met that polarization can take a dangerous, sometimes lethal, turn. Sunstein argues that one way to reduce this most extreme, dangerous form of polarization is by providing a “safe space” where people feel comfortable discussing their views that is not insulated from divergent perspectives."
A recent multi-university research application of Sunstein's work, led by U.S. scholar Sievers and his teams Dartmouth College and Harvard University, demonstrates how settings can be created that are conducive to consensus building among diverse groups of people who did not previously know each other. (See How consensus-building conversation changes our minds and aligns our brains.) These settings are virtual opposites of the closed settings contrived technologically by politicians and parties political seeking to induce voters to accept their priorities rather than determine their own.
According to this description of the research:
"A few years ago, Dr. Sievers devised a study to improve understanding of how exactly a group of people achieves a consensus and how their individual brains change after such discussions. The results . . . showed that a robust conversation that results in consensus synchronizes the talkers’ brains — not only when thinking about the topic that was explicitly discussed, but related situations that were not. . . The study also revealed at least one factor that makes it harder to reach accord: a group member whose strident opinions drown out everyone else." . . . . "The groups with blowhards were less neurally aligned than were those with mediators, the study found. Perhaps more surprising, the mediators drove consensus not by pushing their own interpretations, but by encouraging others to take the stage and then adjusting their own beliefs — and brain patterns — to match the group. . . Being willing to change your own mind, then, seems key to getting everyone on the same page.”
Needless to say, the setting described above is more likely to build a consensus to resolve political and legislative conflicts than those contrived by political parties to gain influence by fuelling disagreements and conflicts. In contrast, the social network described in #3 below creates such a setting by providing self-selecting, self-organizing groups of voters with technologies and tools for building consensus to discuss, debate, and build consensus across partisan lines around shared legislative priorities.
3. Voter-Controlled Voting Blocs, Political Parties, and Electoral Coalitions: A global social network and digital tools enabling mainstream voters to build and manage online blocs, parties, and coalitions operating within and across election districts, and nation-state boundaries.
The political landscape of elections in the U.S. is littered with impediments placed by political parties to prevent voters from setting legislative priorities, deciding which candidates should run on official ballot lines, and electing candidates of their choice. Voters are corralled into election districts whose boundaries are manipulated and gerrymandered by the two major U.S. political parties to ensure their candidates are elected and re-elected, term after term, and even decade after decade.
Despite the false narrative portraying political parties as enabling the voices of the people to be heard, in far too many ways they prevent them from being heard. What will end their anti-democratic reign is an autonomous online platform where voters can congregate to do all the things that political parties do -- without their interference. This platform can free voters and elections from the partisan and ideological contraints of party organizational hierarchies whose officials substitute their decisions and legislative priorities for those voters can and should formulate.
This third way for re-inventing democracy makes it possible for voters to democratically take control of elections and legislation without implementing reforms of the institutions and processes that are causing democracies to falter, as is occurring in the U.S.
It is a social network open to all individuals intending to vote, a platform where they can congregate online to build voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions that operate within and across election districts and nation-state boundaries. They can use the network and its digital tools to collectively solve common problems arising at any level -- local, state, regional, and cross-national.
Established political parties, instead of uniting voters to solve common problems are more typically in the business of dividing voters from each other and separating them into hostile camps. Parties fail to use modern networking technology to electronically connect their supporters and voters to each other, to enable them to share needs, find common grouns, and develop consensus among themselves regarding legislative priorities. Since the parties, their candidates and elected representatives spend most of their time opposing each other, rather than connecting with their constituents, and raising funds year round from outside contributors, they have little time left for devising solutions to crises and emergencies threatening the lives of their constituents, such as global pandemics and climate catastrophes.
The social network's digital tools enable voters to build voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions with cross-partisan electoral bases large enough to elect representatives of their choice. While the members of blocs, parties, and coalitions will reside in numerous election districts, voters residing in districts in which they are eligible to vote, which have pending primary and general elections can officially register to vote. They can register as Independents or unaffiliated voters, join officially registered parties, or create new ones in order to place candidates of their choice on official ballot lines. In the U.S., running winning candidates in primary elections is an indispensable step to getting chosen candidates on the general election ballot.
By using network digital tools to build broad-based consensus across partisan and ideological lines, as described in #4 below, the blocs, parties, and coalitions can supplant the influence of established parties by defeating their candidates and electing their own. In this way, the social network enables voters to take control of elections and legislation without the implementation of reforms.
Below is an infographic of the functionality such a network can provide voters:
4. Voter-Driven Legislative Agenda Setting: Artificial Intelligence-based technologies and digital tools accessible via the social network, enabling voters' online voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions to gather information, discuss, debate, and vote on which priorities to include in their common legislative agendas.
There are billions of individuals worldwide who may intend to vote and be eligible to vote now or in the future. These billions of individuals are governed by lawmakers who comprise a fraction of their number. They undoubtedly comprise many individuals whose expertise, knowledge, and problem-solving know-how exceeds that of the comparatively small number of governmental officials who make laws and enforce them.
Overcoming this mal-apportionment of know-how to increase the desperately needed, problem-solving input of the world's population requires mechanisms that do not now exist. In order for the planet to be able to build solutions to life-threatening crises, emergencies, and conflicts, these mechanisms must be created as soon as possible.
Fortunately, AI-based tools and technologies make it possible to create such mechanisms, commencing with the global social network described in #3 above, because they enable virtually unlimited numbers of individuals and groups worldwide to connect and engage in joint problem-solving and legislative agenda setting to resolve life-threatening challenges.
The network’s decision-assisting Artificial Intelligence (AI) and question-answering "Machine Learning" digital technology and digital tools make it possible for increasingly large numbers of voters, lawmakers, electoral candidates, political parties and others to connect directly with each other to collective meet these challenges.
They enable voters, lawmakers, electoral candidates, political parties, and other groups, such as civil society organizations, to collaborate to collectively devise mutually acceptable legislative solutions to problems, crises, and emergencies that cross election district and national boundaries. They include the climate catastrophes and global pandemics that require cross-national cooperation, which pose life-threatening risks that governments and multi-national efforts have failed to overcome. Voters in the U.S. and worldwide can use network technology and digital tools to devise legislative solutions to these threats, within and across their home countries.
The effectiveness of their solutions will be greatly increased by the capabilities of Machine Learning (ML) technology to process, store, and retrieve voluminous amounts of information, in order to answer the queries of individuals and groups, and increase the utility of the answers in response to successive rounds of questions posed in natural language. The massive data processing capabilities of ML technology can provide users a broader range of legislative priorities than they might otherwise consider, and facilitate evaluation of more numerous alternatives by voters, lawmakers, electoral candidates, political parties, and others who request such information.
As described in #7 below, they can use the network's digital tools to take advantage of the capabilities of this technology to fact-check information and eliminate disinformation and falsehoods disseminated by political partisans via social media, which can exacerbate the divisive impact of partisan conflicts among political parties, electoral candidates, and lawmakers. Together, they can confuse undiscerning, "persuadable" voters to espouse priorities that can jeopardize their well-being. (See Why Americans Vote ‘Against Their Interest’: Partisanship.)
A key contribution to digitally-enabled consensus building stems from the recent technological evolution of decision-assisting AI designed to amplify human intelligence, rather than replace human intelligence, by assisting real people make decisions. This evolved AI technology is reflected in the path-breaking Project Debater invention. Its ML technology assists people make well-informed decisions by “debating” with Debater's AI-based argumentation tool, which uses natural language to “argue” on behalf of fact-checked arguments against non-fact-based arguments. It absorbs massive, diverse sets of information, and is reputed to be reportedthe “first AI system that can debate humans on complex topics.”
The technological feasibility of developing large scale question-answering systems and databases was publicly demonstrated in 2011 by IBM’s Watson Technology. One of the first iterations of this novel technology won the quiz game of Jeopardy in 2011, it is described as a question-answering computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language, and “learning” during successive rounds of Q&A to provide increasingly useful answers as the result of interactions with humans posing questions.
Such technological breakthroughs have the potential to master the challenges posed by the urgent need to reconcile the divergent viewpoints and priorities of billions of voters, government officials, and political parties around the world. The U.S. provides an example of the challenges that must be overcome to reconcile the disparate views of voters who are corralled within the major U.S. political parties. A Pew Research surveys summarize the broad spectrum of disparate priorities held by supporters of these parties, using the questionable narrative of intense polarization:
The findings of the Center's survey, entitled "Political Typology: Beyond Red vs. Blue", describe the division of voters' views into an eight part typology required to reflect this diversity:
"Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today. But beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else. . . " [italics added]
"Even so, most Americans do not view politics through uniformly liberal or conservative lenses, and more tend to stand apart from partisan antipathy than engage in it. But the typology shows that the center is hardly unified. Rather, it is a combination of groups, each with their own mix of political values, often held just as strongly as those on the left and the right, but just not organized in consistently liberal or conservative terms. Taken together, this “center” looks like it is halfway between the partisan wings. But when disaggregated, it becomes clear that there are many distinct voices in the center, often with as little in common with each other as with those who are on the left and the right."
This complex, eight part typology illustrates the urgent need to enable voters to break out of partisan and ideological constraints imposed by political parties. They can do so by using the proposed global social network to build their own parties, if they cannot work effectively within existing parties, so they can autonomously set and build consensus around their own legislative priorities and agendas.
5. Voter-Driven Selection of Electoral Candidates: Network digital tools, including its online voting utility, enabling voters' online blocs, parties, and coalitions to gather information, discuss, debate, and vote on which electoral candidates to nominate and place on the ballot.
U.S. voters have long been demanding additional choices of electoral candidates and political parties beyond those of the two major U.S. parties that dominate elections and largely control electoral laws. But these two parties maintain their grip on both electoral processes and legislative decision-making through the candidates running on their ballot lines that get elected. These candidates either announce their intention to run, or are encouraged by the parties to do so. Voters play virtually no role in making these decisions, after which voters are induced to choose among the already announced candidates of the two parties, or risk "wasting" their votes on third party candidates too small to win elections.
As a recent electoral contest in New York State for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives shows, major party candidates often provide vague, misleading, or untruthful information about their backgrounds, qualifications, or priorities, and rely on the party's ability to "pull" a winning vote from its pool of registered voters. It is reported that most of the information he gave about his background is either demonstrably false or cannot be verified, including education and prior employment.
Yet despite a string of apparent falsehoods, and by running on the official ballot line of one of the two major U.S. political parties long accustomed to winning county elections, he won the election, garnering 146,000 votes against his opponent's 125,o00 votes. Notably, despite numerous reports raising doubts about the information he had given about himself, a Washington Post columnist argued that he should be seated anyway (See Opinion George Santos may be unfit for Congress. But he should still be seated.) The columnist provided the following justification to support his point of view:
"Democracy means nothing if the people themselves do not rule. That means submitting to their decision even if we are convinced they have decided badly. No one doubts that Santos was legitimately elected in November. . . "
New reports also indicate that he is ignoring the negative coverage of his run and intends to take his seat in the House of Representatives, with scant opposition voiced by fellow party members holding seats in the House.
A flawed electoral process and outcome, such as that described above, accentuates the need for voters to exert far greater influence in determining who runs for office and who gets elected. Fortunately, they will be able to attain this influence through the voting blocs, parties, and coalitions they can build and manage on the global social network described above. By using the network's digital tools and voting utility, they can investigate and verify information regarding candidates they are considering, as well as candidates they plan to oppose.
They can also request prospective candidates to use the network's agenda setting tools to define their own legislative priorities, and then compare them with the priorities of voters' blocs, parties, and coalitions. These two sets of priorities can serve as an informal contract between voters and candidates who are elected with their votes. Since both sets of priorities will be in writing, voters can later use the candidate's list of priorities to compare their legislative actions with their electoral promises.
After the blocs, parties, and coalitions complete their pre-election investigative work, they can then use intra-network communications tools to ensure that sufficient numbers of their members register to vote in primary and general elections in election districts in which they are eligible. This step will enable them to vote for their own candidates running on written legislative agendas that reflect voters' agendas using their own ballot lines, if they have create official ballot lines. Or they can vote for candidates running on the lines of other parties if their agendas converge. If they need to increase the voting strength of their electoral base, they can reach out across partisan lines to prospective voters who may not be members of their blocs, parties, and coalitions, and ask for their votes for the candidates they consider qualified and trustworthy.
6. Online Fund Raising to Finance Voters' Electoral Campaigns: Network administrative services and digital tools enabling voters to raise funds online to support the electoral campaigns of their blocs, parties, and coalitions.
Exclusive public financing would provide the fairest most democratic way to finance electoral campaigns. Instead of allowing millionaires and billionaires to infuse virtually unlimited and untraceable amounts of money into campaigns of their choice, public financing would give candidates equitable amounts of money to publicize their campaigns and legislative priorities, and "get out the vote" to elect them.
But in the U.S., lawmakers and judges have not enacted public financing laws that level the playing field for all candidates. Instead, they have authorized wealthy special interests and even corporations to use various means of financially supporting the campaigns of candidates they prefer -- even in districts in which they do not reside and cannot vote.
A major repercussion of their actions is that outside special interests, typically comprising wealthy individuals, corporations, and lobbyists, can legally create organizational entities known as Political Action Committees (PACs) and SuperPACs that can make such large financial contributions to support a campaign that they dwarf the small donations of individuals and voters who live in the state and are entitled to vote.
This gives candidates and their surrogates receiving special interest donations significant advantages in buying advertising services to reach far more voters than the donors of smaller amounts.
According to Open Secrets, expenditures for the 2020 election totaled $14.4 billion. It is reported that special interest donations amounting to tens of millions of dollars may have been made by people and governments outside the U.S. to increase the electoral prospects of candidates they anticipated would help them reach their foreign policy goals expenditures.
Unfortunately, appointed and civil service-based U.S. government regulatory commissions and agencies mandated to monitor and control the expenditures of money to influence campaigns often lack quorums needed to make decisions, and are underfunded and inadequately staffed. This dire situation, which is undermining the integrity of elections and the legitimacy of their outcomes, can be turned around using the ways and means to empower voters to re-invent democracy described in #3 above, Voter-Controlled Voting Blocs, Political Parties, and Electoral Coalitions: A social network, and # 5. above, Voter-Driven Selection of Electoral Candidates.
Voter created online blocs, parties, and coalitions will forge their own electoral bases, manage them on the global social network described above, and reach out to their members electronically via email to encourage them to register to vote for candidates of their choice. This personal inter-connectivity and network-based outreach capabilities will minimize the need to raise money to "get-out-the-vote". For these voters will already be familiar with the candidates' legislative priorities, having matched their legislative agendas using the network's digital tools, and will therefore need far less financing to get out their vote.
If they do require financing, they can use network administrative services and digital tools to raise money from other network users, as well as external individuals, groups, and organizations. Importantly, they can share their priorities and written legislative agendas with prospective contributors, and also invite them to provide written descriptions of their priorities for comparison. Convergence of the two sets of priorities will eliminate the current practice of candidates changing their priorities to correspond to those of their special interest contributors, while ignoring the needs and legislative priorities of their constituents.
7. AI-Based Fact-Checking to Eliminate Social Media Disinformation: Online digital tools enabling network members to distinguish fact from fiction in the information they gather and evaluate for their legislative agendas.
The 21st century has the distinction of introducing a politically transforming technology that many critics consider powerful enough to cripple democratic institutions and processes in unprecedented ways. This technology incorporates computer-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) into social media platforms and uses their communication capabilities to instantly transmit vast amounts of political propaganda and falsehoods to tens of millions, and even hundreds of millions, of people simultaneously.
When delivered by politicians skilled in misrepresenting facts and convincing gullible people to vote for them, the combination appears to have already led to such massive misperceptions of facts and even reality that one prominent analyst asserts it has led to an "American Psychosis".
Yet such transformations are reported to be occurring in many countries around the world, and not just the U.S. Several post-facto analyses have concluded that this technology-transmitted disinformation has actually swayed elections in several countries. Its anti-democratic impact has been worsened when psychological information about recipients, and their political predispositions, have been surreptitiously gathered, as indicated in the following 2022 report:
"Facebook has dramatically agreed to settle a lawsuit seeking damages for allowing Cambridge Analytica access to the private data of tens of millions of users . . ."
Despite the unprecedented, anti-democratic power of social media technology used in this way, in combination with its divisive algorithms, it can be counteracted when the same AI-based technology and algorithms are devised to empower voters to distinguish facts from fiction.
As Oxford University scholar V. Polonski has pointed out in Towards human-centred AI,
"It is easy to blame AI technology for the world's wrongs (or for lost elections), but there's the rub: the underlying technology is not inherently harmful in itself. The same algorithmic tools used to mislead, misinform and confuse can be repurposed to support democracy and increase civic engagement. After all, human-centred AI in politics needs to work for the people with solutions that serve the electorate."
The digital tools accessible to voters using the social network described above enable them to use the computer-based capabilities provided by the ML technology described above to fact-check information and eliminate misinformation and falsehoods disseminated by political partisans via social media.
Individual users and members of online voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions hosted on the social network will be able to use ML technology to query voluminous electoral and legislative databases to obtain increasingly accurate and relevant information. This includes information contained in existing repositories of laws, legislative proposals, deliberations, and lawmakers’ votes; policy and program evaluations; information describing users’ agenda setting and consensus building activities; users’ intra-network votes; user stories; content from social media, newspapers and journals, etc.
8. Voter-Initiated Petition Drives, Referendums, Initiatives, and Recall Votes: Digital tools, including the online voting utility, enabling voters to conduct petition drives, referendums, initiatives, and recall votes, publicize their results, and transmit them to pressure elected representatives to enact voters legislative priorities.
After a party-backed electoral candidate wins an election and takes office in a legislative body, such as the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, they become part of the organizational hierarchies, rules, and regulations created by the parties controlling each body. They must adhere to them, and conform to the decisions made by the lawmakers in charge at each level. The members of each party assemble in a private "caucus" where they decide which legislative priorities to pursue, and what strategies to adopt to get move them through the various committees that review their provisions and can alter them. These committees may or may not be bipartisan, and their members may or may not oppose each other's proposals. Possibilities for the emergence of crippling legislative stalemates stalk their every move.
By this stage, the constituents who voted to put these lawmakers in office have largely disappeared from the decision-making arenas of legislative bodies. There are no formal mechanisms by which elected representatives can poll their constituents to get feedback on the priorities adopted by their party caucus, or various actions they might take that impinge on constituents' needs and demands. Nor do their constituents have effective mechanisms they can use to convey to their elected representatives their immediate needs and priorities as they evolve over time. Single voters, groups of voters, of organized groups representing voters, can voice their own requests and demands for actions they would like their elected representatives to take. But they can be ignored, and typically are ignored.
Clearly, the absence of an ongoing, interactional forum and interface between constituents and lawmakers provides space for serious cleavages to emerge. Making matters worse are the difficulties voters and constituents typically face when trying to figure out what votes were taken, and how individual lawmakers voted. This disconnect is worsened by the practice by which lawmakers take "voice votes" rather than "role call votes", in which the name of each representative and their vote are recorded and made accessible to the public.
To bridge this disconnect, effective ways and means for voters to actively participate in legislative decision-making are to use the proposed global social network's digital tools to conduct petition drives, referendums, initiatives, and recall votes. They can use the network's voting utility to tally and publicize their results, and -- most importantly -- transmit the results to lawmakers so they know where their constituents stand on legislative proposals lawmakers are evaluating, considering enacting, and voting into law.
Since the online voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions that voters build and host on the network can operate within and across voting blocs, as well as across state lines, these ways and means for enabling virtually unlimited numbers of voters to weigh in on legislation under consideration is vitally important to ensuring that large numbers of lawmakers from multiple election districts heed their constituents' demands, or risk defeat in forthcoming elections.
This is where can play a critical role in ensuring responsiveness and accountabilty. If lawmakers' actions diverge too far from the needs and priorities of their constituents, what is known as a "straw" recall vote can be conducted online using network tools. Such a vote would enable respondent voters to indicate whether or not they would vote to re-elect their incumbent lawmaker, based on their performance and legislative track records, or prefer defeating and replacing them with other candidates.
9. Voter-Enabled Majority Rule: Network digital tools and AI-supported databases enabling voters and their online voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions to build electoral bases large enough to supplant minority rule.
Switzerland's flourishing democracy is a government with many attributes of majority rule due to the existence of laws providing Swiss citizens a potentially powerful form of direct democracy. They can exert control over local and federal government bodies, lawmakers, and laws by autonomously initiating and voting on initiatives and referendums -- beyond the purview of the bodies in question, and without their permission.
All adult Swiss citizens are eligible to vote and are automatically registered to vote. They receive official ballots in the mail that they can complete and deliver in person to their local polling station, or transmit by mail. If initiatives and referendums win a majority of votes cast by Swiss citizens in official votes, lawmakers are mandated to rescind or alter the laws or legislative proposals that citizens opposed, as well as enact legislation mandated by the vote.
The impact of this direct democracy principle and practice embedded into Swiss government is that they motivate lawmakers belonging to different political parties to work together across partisan lines to build consensus among themselves. They strive to collaborate and reconcile their differences in order to avoid passing laws that might incite Swiss citizens to approve initiatives and referendums requiring them to change existing laws or pending legislative proposals.
Unfortunately, the faltering U.S. democracy has failed to emulate the Swiss model. Most recall mechanisms in the U.S. that once existed have been removed or hobbled. U.S. voters' only option for removing unresponsive lawmakers is to wait until the next election rolls around -- six years in the case of a U.S. Senator . However, given the impediments injected into electoral processes to disenfranchise voters (think gerrymandering!), objectionable lawmakers are likely to be re-elected.
Fortunately, it is possible to circumvent these impediments. The global social network for re-inventing democracy described in this blueprint provides voters a potent 21st century form of direct democracy, a platform for building online voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions that can forge such large electoral bases that they can determine who runs for office, who gets elected, and what laws are passed.
With this voting strength, voters can pressure lawmakers to enact their legislative agendas or risk defeat in the next election. It is not necessary to enact reforms to remove the disenfranchising impediments that political parties and special interests have inserted into U.S. electoral and legislative processes. Voters can easily and quickly use the digital tools provided on the global social network described above to conduct online petition drives, referendums, and initiatives, and recall votes enabling the members of their blocs, parties, and coalitions to express their preferences and priorities. They can tally the results using the voting utility and send the results to lawmakers to inform them of the actions demanded by their constituents.
These actions need not be confined to a single election district, due to the fact that the members of their network-hosted blocs, parties, and coalitions will span district boundaries across all 50 states. Their cross-country reach will enable them to transmit similar legislative demands and instructions to lawmakers representing all 50 states, if they choose to do so. Their members will be able to demonstrate their electoral strength by ensuring that those eligible to vote in specific districts register to vote and do vote in numbers large enough to determine who wins forthcoming elections.
Most importantly, they can use their voting strength to put electoral candidates of their choice on official ballot lines. They can use existing party ballot lines already approved by election authorities, or they can register their own parties and obtain their own ballot lines. In the U.S., running and electing candidates in primary elections is indispensable to winning general elections. Such victories, especially with respect to winning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, are facilitated by the fact each district typically comprises less than 1 million voters, and elections can be won by a plurality of them.
It is a system-changing feature of the proposed global social network that it enables voters to build winning voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions whose members reside in all 50 states. They will be able to build cross-partisan consensus around common legislative agendas and slates of candidates that their members can elect in states across the county by registering to vote in election districts in which they are eligible to vote. This opportunity to introduce majority rule in the faltering, minority-rule U.S. democracy, with implementing years and decades of reforms, will enable U.S. voters to initiate and ensure enactment by lawmakers they elect of major, system-transforming legislation. This includes abolition of the minority rule-enabling Electoral College, the U.S. Senate's filibuster, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
10. Voter-Driven Cross-National Conflict Resolution: Network digital tools enabling voters to democratically build and globally manage voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions that can put an end to life-threatening and fatality-causing governmental actions and inaction.
Attainment of the lofty goals of the United Nations (UN) founded in the 20th century has been hampered since its inception by the simultaneous creation of its Security Council. Its 9 members, and the veto possessed by each member, have vetoed the large majority of efforts by the UN's General Assembly to devise and implement peace plans to end conflicts among members, and between members and other countries with whom they are in conflicts, particularly those involving the use of force.
The on-going, 21st century, life-threatening and fatality-causing repercussions of this counterproductive feature, built into the design of the UN, are too numerous to count. Fortunately, they can be counteracted by voters using the digital tools built into the design of the global social network described herein. For these voters and their influence can span the globe when they build such large online voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions that devise and publicize breakthrough peace-making plans and policies which cannot be disregarded by elected lawmakers -- unless they are willing to risk defeat in forthcoming elections.
What will spur the unfolding of such scenarios, and widespread usage of the global social network, are the dire straits into which contemporary lawmakers, political parties, and special interests have plunged their constituents. Among their most notorious failures, after defunding health systems and medical/scientific research, is their exacerbation of the ensuing global pandemics causing millions of deaths. Furthermore, by failing to adopt and globally implement carbon emission controls, they are sparking climate catastrophes that are causing millions of injuries and fatalities, and threatening the sustainability of the planet. To make matters worse, they are expending vast amounts of their resources on weapons of war, instead of pursuing non-violent solutions and diverting these resources into improving the quality of lives of their populaces. Voters must now step in to put an end to the conflicts, crises and emergencies their governments are aggravating.
As 2023 unfolds, two tides of disruption are rising, both threatening lives and livelihoods throughout the world. One is the rise of threats to the sustainability of life on the planet, due to climate disruption and global pandemics. The other tide is conflicts occurring within and between countries -- new and old conflicts. Both tides are largely caused by undemocratic governments that have eluded control by the people they should be serving.
What has become abundantly clear is that the governments threatening lives and livelihoods, and threatening planetary sustainability, are unlikely to take effective actions to prevent the two tides from wreaking havoc. They must be fundamentally transformed in the near term, not by internal reforms requiring years to implement, but by external, voter-driven re-invention of essential electoral and legislative institutions and processes.
This re-invention is indispensable to counteracting the likelihood that internal and external conflicts -- violent and non-violent -- may bring about the collapse of law and order and societal institutions required to maintain stability. Fundamental civil, political and human rights cannot be protected and exercised if the predicted outbreak of civil war in the U.S. proceeds along its current trajectory.
Abroad, government caused conflicts involving sabre-rattling with nuclear weapons continues in countries as far apart as North Korea and Russia. Hundreds of thousands of troops are losing their lives in conflicts occurring without the active consent of the governed, and despite the opposition of the courageous few. Where and how these conflicts might spill over is unpredictable, aided and abetted by unmanned, virtually untraceable drones that can wreak havoc on civilians, power grids, and nuclear power plants.
Here in the U.S., during the past decade, armed and dangerous individuals, groups, and militias have begun attacking and planning attacks against a range of targets, including elected officials, religious and ethnic groups, and more recently, key installations and nodes of the power grid.
The geographic scope and intensity of anti-government hostility is reflected in the hundreds of individuals from a majority of the 50 states who participated in the insurrection launched against the nation's Capitol on January 6, 2021.
A key premise of this U.S. Blueprint is that avoidance of the tides of destruction put in motion by undemocratic, faltering governments can only be achieved if decisive, technology-based, consensus building power is shifted to voters at the grassroots. They must be empowered to democratically build voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions that can forge sufficiently large, cross-partisan, electoral bases to elect lawmakers who can introduce majority rule to replace the minority rule that is currently governing the U.S. The ideal vehicle to set in motion this fundamental transformation is the global social network and its digital tools described above.
Yes, putting this shift into motion will constitute a second democratic experiment of even greater magnitude than the first experiment created by the Founders of the U.S. Constitution and Republic in 1776. That experiment heralded a new era of American and global self-government previously inconceivable. Two centuries later, U.S. voters must be empowered to launch a second experiment to usher in a new era of fully democratic self-government of, by, and for the people.
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