One man’s idea for how America can finally become the greatest country on earth by doing nothing more than finding the courage to realize the dream.
By David Todd McCarty | Monday, September 28, 2020
Dalton Trumbo, the great contrarian, infamously blacklisted screenwriter, and defender of the American ideal once said, “Everybody now seems to be talking about democracy. I don’t understand this. As I think of it, democracy isn’t like a Sunday suit to be brought out and worn only for parades. It’s the kind of a life a decent man leads, it’s something to live for and to die for.”
The concept of the American ideal of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—the American Dream of economic opportunity and equal justice under the law—is probably not that different today than from what the founders considered it to be nearly two and a half centuries ago. It was a concept of freedom and opportunity for the few, not the many.
That we have been able to expand that concept to be more inclusive over time, is really the great triumph of the American democratic experiment. That we started with a good idea is something. That we were able to evolve it to be so much more, is extraordinary. But somewhere along the way it became corrupted, as all things tend to do over time. It’s no one person’s fault. It happens, like a mutation in our nation’s DNA, with one too many deviations from the original causing unforeseen problems, that if left uncorrected, will destroy us from the inside out.
Thomas Jefferson believed in revolution, and foresaw America as a prime example of righteous revolution, one that would likely continue for decades and possibly centuries. It would have probably been inconceivable to him, however, to imagine that the country would have lasted this long without another interceding revolution. In his time, it had been just over a century since King Charles had been led out of his palace and beheaded for treason in front of his subjects. It would have been laughable to imagine the United States lasting as long as it has, without the need to cast off the yoke of oppression.
Trumbo also said, “Dishonesty in government is the business of every citizen. It is not enough to do your own job. There’s no particular virtue in that. Democracy isn’t a gift. It’s a responsibility.”
This has certainly never been more true than it is right now, but it’s also hardly our first incident. We have seen dark days in America. In fact, an honest accounting of American history would suggest that for some group or another, every day leading up until today, has been rather dark at times. There is no decade that one can look back on and not find a group of people, defined by race, religion, culture, gender or sexual orientation that has not been, or is not currently being, discriminated against in this country.
But having the courage to acknowledge our faults, understand our limitations, and admit our failures could make for a powerful country worthy of fighting for. We are a proud nation, but that has not always served us well. Our lack of humility is due in large part to our unbridled success, but everyone thinks they’re invincible until they’re not. In Bill Bryson’s book The Body, he reflects that there are something like 8000 things that can kill you, but in the end, we manage to avoid every one, but one. It only takes one. Harvey Weinstein was too powerful to bring down. AIG was too big to fail. Rome could never fall. These were all clearly, bad assumptions.
The Roman Empire lasted for over 1000 years. Great Britain, Spain and the Soviet Union had massive empires that eventually collapsed. Russia is a sad, cold place. England is in chaos. Spain can’t pay its bills. Italy is cute, but not currently ruling over anything more consequential than Parmesan. Nothing lasts forever, as it should be.
It’s not inconceivable that America could be brought down. We really are too powerful, both economically and militarily to face any sort of full frontal attack from an outside foe. A quote often incorrectly attributed to Lincoln, but true nonetheless, states, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we lose our freedoms it will be because we have destroyed ourselves from within.”
Never is a long time, but it’s more than likely that a collapse of the United States would come as a result of our own doing rather than anyone else’s. We are currently in a place where we can’t imagine that happening, and we are probably no where near that point, but we are going down a dangerous path that leads to authoritarianism with a sizable percentage of the population seemingly more than fine to go along with it.
For a good portion of the past half century, the Republican Party has been on a mission to ensure that white supremacy was the future of America. They cobbled together a seemingly odd coalition of interest groups, from business leaders to evangelical groups and developed a political ideology that combined conservative, Christian morality with laissez-faire, supply-side economic policies. The strange bedfellows of the adherence to a strict, legalistic code of religious fundamentalism, with the more laissez-faire approach to letting businesses “do whatever they want” was probably more of a marriage of convenience than of true ideological compatibility. Christian theology teaches a value system based on humility, generosity, and love, that leads to taking care of the poor and forsaking personal power and wealth. While the Republican economic theory of trickle down economics is more of a top-down approach to social justice. Get off the backs of the rich, and eventually everyone will be rich. It sounds more realistic when they say it, but not a lot more.
Ayn Rand described the theory as “the abolition of any and all forms of government intervention in production and trade, the separation of State and Economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of Church and State.” Being the atheist that she was, Rand took traditional Christian morality, which adheres to a model selflessness, and she flipped it. She believed that selfishness is a virtue, and the goal of life is to grow and develop as an individual, and that a moral social system supports the rights of the individual above all, not the collective.
Republicans in an effort to combine what they saw as the best of both worlds, entered into a compact whereby they concocted the notion that it was God’s plan for them to be wealthy, that selfishness was in fact a form of righteous, and that morality and economic independence were not only connected, but interdependent. They were doing the Lord’s work by not propping up the poor in needy reliance on the state. They were indeed loving the poor by ignoring them.
But the true catalyst for the birth of the modern Republican Party in America was the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Blacks has long been loyal to the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln after all, but were unable to exercise their right to vote. When President Johnson pledged to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Southern Democrat found themselves without a party. Until the Republicans saw the opening they needed. In what became known as the Southern Strategy, as the civil rights movement and dismantling of Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s deepened existing racial tensions in much of the Southern United States, Republican politicians such as presidential candidate Richard Nixon and Senator Barry Goldwater developed strategies that successfully contributed to the political realignment of many white, conservative voters in the South who had traditionally supported the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party. It was during this time that the Republican Party was pushed much more to the right. The parties, in many ways, switched ideologies, one becoming the other, largely over the issue of race in America.
This is a simplification of a complex history to be sure, but I’m not writing War and Peace here. I’m simply making the case that we have a political party that has operated outside of good faith, in the name of God, to try to turn this country into the playground for the rich on the backs of hard working Americans.
This is not freedom for all. It’s not an open opportunity to achieve the American Dream of economic independence. It’s nothing more than a long con by the rich to convince the poor that they are necessary. It’s often difficult to discern who is keeping you down when the person telling you who to be angry with is the one standing on your neck.
It’s time for a Second American Revolution.
I’m a pacifist, as I believe killing another person is a crime against humanity. I don’t care if you call it war, capital punishment, standing your ground, or community policing. It’s morally and ethically wrong. The only way you can rationalize it as otherwise is to claim some afterlife where things will undoubtedly be better. But what if there is no after? Why am I to take your word for it? If you take away the ultimate thing of value, the spark of life that can never be replaced, you have stolen a thing that cannot be valued. That is immoral and unjustifiable.
But that said, I would not be surprised if a Second American Revolution turned to violence. Even India’s struggle with independence against British rule, while nothing like a conventional war, and largely peaceful, was not without violence. We have turned a concept of having militias to protect the country with muskets rather than resorting to a standing army, into a seemingly endless supply of anger and violence with the unprecedented arming of civilians in modern peacetime.
I do not advocate violence of any sort, but do support shutting down the country if that’s what it takes. I’d like to see us start with the plethora of legal remedies at our disposal beginning with exercising our right to vote. If we can get enough Americans off their ass, and out from behind their screens long enough to pay attention to the hell we are about to experience, we might be able to turn the tide. Here is my plan. It’s not comprehensive. Hell, it’s not even that well thought out. There are smarter people out there who can work out the details. I’ll leave that up to them. But we need to be thinking like revolutionaries and not frightened politicians.
The first thing we need to do is win control of the government. If you want to change the system you really only have two choices. Get inside and change it, or burn it down. For the moment I’m going with Option A, but I reserve the fundamental right to change my mind.
We need people of conscience to vote for Democrats. That’s the first step. We need to vote for Democrats, not because they’re so great, or have it all figured out, because they don’t. They’re the best of the worst that we have. Our current system of government is structured to support two political parties and the Democrats are our best choice.
Once we control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, that’s just the beginning. Now we have to make the hard decisions necessary to change the government. I’m not talking about reaching across the aisle or any of that happy horseshit. I’m talking about dismantling half a century of racist bullshit. I’m talking about a whole new ballgame.
First, you get rid of the filibuster, a civil rights-era political device designed to allow the bigots to block legislation they didn’t like. A simple majority rules in all cases before Congress. End of story.
Second, you expand the Supreme Court. The number nine is not magic, or holy, or even Constitutional. It’s entirely arbitrary and set by Congress. It can be one hundred and thirteen if we decide, or three. The purpose should not be to pack the court with people we agree with, but to depoliticize it. We still need a court that the people trust to work shit out for us. There are plenty of opinions and strategies about how best to do this from a rotating body of judges to term limits. We can argue their various merits later. What we will not do is let the Republicans legislate via an activist Conservative Supreme Court long after they’ve lost control of government.
Next, you expand the House of Representatives. Congress passed the Apportionment Act of 1911, capping the number of House seats at 435. Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii were each granted one representative when they first entered the union. The population has tripled since 1911 but we continue to hold the seats at 435. One proposal, called the Wyoming Rule, calls for adding enough members to Congress to reduce the population of the average Congressional district to the population of the least populous state’s smallest district; in 1990, this would have resulted in a total House size of 547. A total of 569 seats would have been required to implement the Wyoming Rule based on the 2000 United States Census results. The fact is, Congress sets the number of seats and this needs to be revisited.
The framers of the Constitution created the United States Senate to protect the rights of individual states and safeguard minority opinion in a system of government designed to give greater power to the national government. What this really means is that small states and slave-owning states didn’t want to lose power, so while the House was proportionally representative, the Senate was equally divided, with each state getting two representatives regardless of population. Of course today that means that the voting power of a citizen in Wyoming, the smallest state in terms of population, is about 67 times that of a citizen in the largest state of California, and the disparities among the states are only increasing. That is untenable in a representative democracy where most people are not farmers and ranchers and livestock can’t vote. So let’s change it to allocate one seat to each state automatically to preserve federalism, but apportion the rest based on population.
“Start with the total U.S. population, then divide by 100, since that’s the size of the current, more deliberative upper chamber. Next, allocate senators to each state according to their share of the total; 2/100 equals two senators, 3/100 equals three, etc. Update the apportionment every decade according to the official census.
“Using 2017 census estimates as a proxy for the official one coming in 2020, the Rule of One Hundred yields the following outcome: 26 states get only one senator (having about 1/100 of the population or less), 12 states stay at two, eight states gain one or two, and the four biggest states gain more than two: California gets 12 total, Texas gets nine, and Florida and New York get six each. This apportionment shows how out of whack the current Senate has become.
“In the new allocation, the total number of senators would be 110. The total is more than 100 because 10 of the smallest states have much less than 0.5/100 of the U.S. population but are still entitled to one senator each.”1
Next we’re going to write a few other wrongs by making both Washington, DC. and Puerto Rico states. DC has 702,000 residents, more than Vermont and Wyoming and comparable with other states including Delaware, Alaska, and several others. Not to mention that DC residents pay more in total federal income tax than the residents of 22 other states, but have no say over how those tax dollars are spent. Even though all Puerto Ricans are US citizens, the 3.4 million Americans who live in Puerto Rico have fewer constitutional rights than anyone living in the 50 states. Americans on the island can’t vote for president in the general election or elect a voting member of Congress. Both deserve statehood, simply because the people who live there deserve to stop being treated like second-class citizens.
That’s basically it for my structural plan, so now we can get to my legislative agenda.
The first thing we need to do is reverse the debacle of Citizens United. This disastrous ruling is a large reason for the complete dysfunction of government today because representatives are no longer beholden to voters, but to their corporate sponsors. I don’t know the details on how best to rectify this, but now that we have reasonable Supreme Court, let’s strike that down while we work on changing all the state laws until buying Congressmen is illegal in all 52 states.
As long as we’re really getting rid of the swamp, serious campaign finance reform and near outlawing of corporate lobbying needs to be enacted immediately, shutting off the money pipeline that is corrupting our government. I’m not convinced that term limits need to be considered for Congressmen, because it seems like a life in government that doesn’t pay the exorbitant dividends it does now, will be less attractive to the money grubbing sorts if we remove that incentive.
It’s safe to say that in our new America, healthcare will be considered a right. No one should make a profit on whether you live or die. Everyone gets the best healthcare in the world. No health insurance. No profiteering from illness. Period.
Reform the tax code. Tax the rich till it hurts. You can be rich, even filthy rich, to a point, but then we’re taking the money. There is no moral reason to rationalize allowing a single person to amass a billion dollars. Seriously. No more fucking around.
Reform the insurance industry. (See strategy for reforming the tax code)
Cut the military budget in half, at least, to start. Stop going to war to protect foreign investments by multinational corporations that don’t pay taxes. Stop killing people for fun and profit. Fewer people will hate us and want to kill us. In the meantime, apologize to the world for pissing in everyone’s Cheerios.
Decriminalize drugs. This has been argued ad nauseam elsewhere, including by me, so just look it up. Prohibition didn’t work. It never worked. It wasn’t even intended to get people not to take drugs. People will get high no matter what you do, but maybe if life doesn’t suck so bad, less people will feel the need.
Reform our criminal justice system from how we keep the public safe to how we punish those who break our laws. We don’t need militarized police terrorizing our citizens. We need to completely rethink policing in America. Long prison sentences, except for the very worst cases, don’t do anyone any good. Work on rehabilitation. More education. Less prisons. Stop killing our own people.
Outlaw all but a handful of guns. Big buyback programs. Prison time for those who refuse. Send in the Marines if you have to. No more guns. Hunting only. Heavily regulated. Go visit Australia and ask them how to do it. Fuck the 2nd Amendment. Get over it. We’ll make movies about other shit.
If you really want to give everyone a better shot at the American Dream start with a first-class education, from nursery school to graduate school. Let’s train the smartest, most creative, most innovative generation ever to come out of one country. If we’d fought one or two less wars in the Middle East, for which we got nothing but a big bill and a bunch of soldiers missing limbs and pieces of their souls, we could have already done this.
Build a responsible social safety net that actually cares for Americans by giving them the tools they need to success. Stop thinking about it as welfare and start thinking about it as a way to provide everyone the American Dream.
Ok, let’s just get this over with. We never paid for those people we stole from Africa and the interest and penalties have been compounding for about 400 years. It’s a big nut, but we’re going to have to crack it sooner or later. Reparations will need to be comprehensive. Yes they will include some big payouts to individuals, but more importantly they will need to right some serious institutional wrongs. We will need to create a Reparations Commission that will devise a strategy for righting the wrongs of enslaving and oppressing a people for four centuries. They will also operate like a Truth Commission to effectively look back and tell the truth about what was done. It’s not just about payment, it’s about atonement.
I don’t think we can afford open borders, but we can afford to help people. We should not choose who gets to come based on what they can do for us today. The story of the American immigrant is what they can become. Let’s celebrate the possibility and welcome the world’s dreamers.
I know I’ve left it for last, and it’s not because it’s least important, but while we’re making sure kids can learn to read, their dads aren’t in prison, mom has a job, and no one is trying to shoot us, we need to see what we can do about the planet trying to kill us for what we did to it. Climate change will probably kill us all before we get to see the results of all this, but we have to try. Let use all our money and education to innovate our way out of this mess. It’s too big a problem to distill down to a paragraph in an essay, but we need to all be committed to this.
To some of you that probably all sounds like some sort of socialist wet dream. It could never happen in America and is entirely unrealistic, right? More than a dozen countries already operate this way. Why can’t we? We don’t lack the ability. We don’t even lack the will. We simply allowed a few wealthy autocrats to convince us we didn’t deserve any more than they already gave us. We could actually do this. None of this is even unreasonable.
Our patriotic duty as Americans demands that every citizen endeavor to realize the original ideal of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. For all. To cast off any institution, law or tradition, however sacrosanct we once believed it to be, that impedes the moral imperative for a more perfect union.
It’s time for a revolution in America. A peaceful one. We really could make America great, but not because we are trying to recapture some elusive past that never existed, but because we finally have the courage to reach for the dream that was presented in the first place.
If none of that works, we’ll go to Option B. Burn it down.
P.S. I’m sure I left out all sorts of important shit, and it’s not because I don’t think your issue is important, but because I did not do an exhaustive survey of all Americans before sitting down to write this, in order to figure out what might be important to everyone. It goes without saying that civil liberties are important and that everyone should get a piece of the pie. The rest we can figure out as we go. I’ll edit this as I think about things if need be. It’s not the gospel. I didn’t send it to God to see if could be carved into stone tablets.