In ancient civilizations, politics was a part of daily life. Famously, the Greeks invented direct democracy—a system in which the entire voting population took part in discussions and habitual voting on legislative issues directly affecting them. Even the brutal and uncompromising Romans who invented the Republic—the political system utilized by the United States—saw the poor and unrepresented plebeians rise in influence to take up power in the government. Today, the state of American representative democracy is at a stand-still, a vicious cycle in which the narrative of politics is manufactured by the few to benefit the few, depriving the vast majority of citizens’ genuine representation in their government or influence with their tax dollars. At the current moment in history, the American political system is more reminiscent of an aristocratic republic than a republican democracy. The following are the four pillars of American power that need to be completely reconstructed to erect a genuinely representative democracy elevating the people in a country we all call home.
American politics is bursting with extraneous wealth. Public office should not be monetarily beneficial, civic servants should be just that—not those of fame or affluence. A job in politics should not require that candidates have superfluous wealth to be elected, nor should they be able to attain wealth through the occupation. Instead, the financial lives of public officials should be simple and stable. As constituents, we are obliged to demand equality between us and the people who are supposed to represent us. Senators’ salaries are $174,000 a year for working three or four days a week, a stark contrast to the American average of around $50,000 than three times less the senatorial salary. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if wealth wasn’t directly used to sustain and gain more power through the relationship American politicians have to big business. Curbing hefty salaries, imposing smaller election spending limits and equal funding, implementing tighter restrictions to prohibit representatives from being bought by corporate interests, as well as establishing term limits on Senators will facilitate the process of getting wealth out of politics and put power into the hands of American civilians.
First and foremost, corporate entities should not have the same rights as tangible human beings. The U.S. Supreme Court continues to rule that the 14th amendment, which was originally drafted to guarantee slaves’ citizenship after they were freed, mandates corporations are people when the casual observer can determine this is illogical, untrue, and should be overruled immediately. We can attempt to fix this inaccuracy by ferociously voicing our discontent to our representatives in Congress and practicing civil disobedience. Personhood allows companies to lobby for their benefit and donate as if they were constituents. Consistently, the process favors the wealthy while we fund corporate bailouts with taxes, and deprives regular people of their rights to a fair and equal chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Overturning the ruling in favor of Citizens United, the law that allows corporations and unions to spend an unlimited amount of money on a candidate running for office, should also be overturned. One candidate having an advantage because they were donated more money for their alleged corruption is already immoral, but it should also be illegal because it’s a basic threat to the democratic process. Prohibiting political nonprofit corporations from donating so-called dark money to campaigns for office, and therefore keeping lawmakers accountable for their actions, will create a more equitable political climate for a wider range or ideas and interests, eliminating the rich and powerful from sustaining influence at the American people’s expense.
To fully expunge money out of politics, citizens need to demand campaign spending from political parties on elections be modest and equitably funded. There needs to be an adequate limit to the amount of money spent in both national and state public elections respectively. By first prohibiting excessive corporate donations, we can further this cause by capping the campaign spending overall. The national limit for spending in federally funded candidates in general Presidential elections was over $96 million in 2016.
The Republican and Democratic Parties both received federal funding of $20 million plus the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), but the other parties do not get any funding if they didn’t receive five percent of the vote in a prior election. Additionally, the federal government will match every contribution up to $250, but that monetary restriction is easily circumvented by multiple donations. This deliberate attempt to concentrate wealth leads to the vicious cycle, the churn of power in the Presidential election that keeps the same group of insiders in office and sets the bar much too high for money in lower positions of representation. Some gubernatorial races do not have a spending limit and campaigns have gone over $150,000,000. Campaign spending restrictions should be reasonable in order to create opportunities for regular, caring people desiring to make real changes in their federal and local governments.
After limiting the amount of money that can be donated and spent in campaigns for public office, we then need to petition against corporate interests’ ability to lobby representatives in support of the policies benefitting their businesses by investing in candidates who will comply with their needs. This keeps the cash rolling in the cyclical wheels crushing the American public. A bill should be drafted to limit lobbying privileges to grassroots community organizers and private citizens, crippling the undemocratic power of big banks, corporations, and Super PAC investors.
Limiting the transfer of wealth is also necessary for media outlets shaping the public consciousness about politics with their donations to party campaigns and biased slants. An anti-lobbying law should include spending from media on campaigns for public office. Wealthy media conglomerates allot millions of dollars to lobbying for what will influence policy in their favor while the majority lose their say on issues affecting the whole population and the rest of the world. Politics and the media should not be in bed together in any way, shape, or form. In addition, unionizing and reallocating profit from media conglomerates to the journalists themselves could reduce sensational headlines and biased reporting. A free, fair, and independent press is essential to democracy and should be neither attacked nor supported by politicians. Instead, it is only an agent of truth and democracy.
Corporations are not people and should not be allowed to spend money in political campaigns to undermine democracy. As an individual or a nonprofit grassroots organization, donations would be sourced from the people who believe in an un-bought candidate. In an effort to vary the amount of influence in the American political playing field, limiting wealth in both campaigns and overall influence on policy will support the second pillar to prop up our democracy: the diversity of viewpoints and the end of bipartisan rule.
Limiting capital in political elections as well as altering federal funding equally to all parties will assist the eradication of the bipartisan rule we’re entrenched in. The American people have clearly had enough of lesser-evil voting; we need to terminate the two-party system of elites and bring equality to funding of all political affiliations, ideologies, and persuasions. If federal funding is to continue, it should be equal for each party in every race for public office, not ideas shaped by dollar signs. This way, we can open up to new concepts and candidates we align with.
To fix the broken republic that doesn’t accurately represent its constituents, we need to make an equitable playing field for every candidate who runs for elections and promotes change in policy. We have seen time and time again that the bipartisan scheme binds us to binary thinking and a sense of powerlessness pervading the illegitimate structure. Even when we do match up with a candidate, the empty promises are often pipe dreams extinguished by greed and the demand for funding. In addition, having a wide variety of voices will open our minds to alternate solutions leading us away from carrying out the everlasting status quo, solutions that will take into account the actual values of the people and will reveal the extremities and tepid solutions of both the Republican and Democratic platforms to those who support the policies the elite wish to implement. Not only will the American people open their minds to an increased number of perspectives, there will be a bolstered sense of democracy with possible change that can combat the polarization of flawed, divisive, and skewed bipartisanship.
All this progress would be in vain if we didn’t hold government officials accountable for representing us properly and honestly. Eliminating monetary influences on policy is already a crucial aspect of ensuring legislators do what they say, but there are a few norms that need to change in order to further aid accurate representation. Including both the way we elect civic servants as well as guaranteeing they represent their constituents accurately and earnestly with engagement, the obvious next step to accomplishing commensurate representation is to end the Electoral College for the Presidency. To ensure the American people are fairly represented by the federal government and the numerous bureaucrats appointed by the Executive Branch—those who dictate government agencies and help create laws—we must elect the President we actually vote for.
By no means will reforming presidential voting solve all the problems within the American republic, but it is a necessary step towards equitable democracy and a government that will not just preach populism but will enact its citizens’ inclinations. We have had two of the last three Presidents initially elected while losing the popular vote, meaning the majority of voters wanted someone else, anyone else, and got who they didn’t want to represent the country. Not to mention the people who were suppressed from voting at all. This is in no way democratic. By counting one vote as one vote in all elections, we can achieve the government voters’ desire. Therefore, the federal policies, positions of bureaucracies formed by appointments from the President, and the shifting current down the totem pole will reflect the American public’s principles and values, not the priorities of people the majority voted against.
Reasonable term limits for Congress will also facilitate representation and institute a flow of ideas while avoiding career politicians. With the constantly changing of times and norms, it is mandatory the individuals and ideas representing us are not jaded and out-of-touch with their districts. Nobody should be able to stay in Congress for their whole career. This also forces the perspective that a lawmaker’s life in Congress is not a profitable path, but is simply the public service we elected them to carry out or they will lose their job.
Another way to change the voting arrangement is to install Ranked Voting Choice such as the system currently used in Maine). Allowing voters to rank top candidates as well as choosing stipulations to propositions with percentage points, we can craft a more accurate, more democratic system where you don’t have to choose the lesser evil—instead you will show your ranked support for ballot measures—and be without anxiety that the candidate you perceive as the greatest evil will get into office. Once the people’s legitimately chosen theoretical President is elected, he or she will appoint people to positions who just might have in mind the interest of the American people, our country, and our planet. Elected officials should then be subject to strict anti-lobbying laws. When legislators make honest decisions with their constituents in mind, those people who are directly affected by policy can truly influence their government.
Finally, the last pivotal pillar to establish a genuinely representative American democracy—and synthesize the other components into a stabilized structure—is the participation of its people. Erecting a truly republican democracy is only possible through vehemently taking part in this new, more equitable democracy. It goes without saying a direct democracy or an alternate form of government would be more beneficial for the people but to make possible alterations to the impenetrable rigged structure is the first step to revolutionizing the government of the United States. Americans are despondent about politics because they have no real say in what happens in the regime. We need to encourage participation in ways including accessible voter reform, creative ways of resistance such as sit-ins and boycotts, and attendance of events including Town Hall meetings to communicate with representatives what constituents’ desire, and demand that lawmakers pursue those policies.
Just as politics was a part of everyday life in ancient Greece and Rome, Americans should take part in the deliberation and process of politics daily. Keeping up with various outlets for unbiased news, attending community events, voicing their opinions by calling representatives, organizing demonstrations, understanding theory, and therefore implementing the agenda of the American public will surely result in furthered economic, social, and racial equality under the law. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and we need to demand that we have our say. Participation in politics during the day-to-day should return as a viable resource to change our lives. It requires your participation, my participation, and the participation of anyone and everyone who yearns for their voice to be heard.