Left, middle or right, The Fulcrum gives Americans a fresh chance to unite
Golden is the author of "Unlock Congress" and a senior fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy, which seeks to improve democracy on a global scale. He is also a member of The Fulcrum's advisory board.
Several weeks ago, a political reformer named John Palmer composed a tweet urging people to check out an article about "unrigging" our flawed system of government and elections. He called it a "MUST MUST READ." Palmer tagged two organizations (@usapromise and @representus) that are already working to rid our politics of big money corruption and to make all votes count equally in our elections.
A few days ago, I noticed that Palmer's tweet had been liked and retweeted more than 1,000 times. The number seemed kind of high for a "good government" message, albeit not very meaningful on its own. But then my curiosity took me to some of the retweeters' profiles, and their self-descriptions were eye-poppingly diverse.
For example, the profile of Floridian @Rickfh4760 reads: TRUMP2020KAG Jesus is Lord! Pro-Trump, KAG, MAGA, Constitution!
Across the aisle, Kentuckian @ChristyCoston28 announces herself as: Political junkie, mom, progressive, proud member of #TheResistance #Equality #Resist #TrumpRussia #ImpeachTrump #NeverGop.
It's clear that Rick's and Christie's political poles are pretty far apart. Yet in an America where we feel like the level of political division has just about topped out, each of them favored Palmer's message about the need to repair our damaged system.
You can see where I'm going with this. And while I don't have the space here to include the profiles of hundreds of retweeters (viewable here), I can report that a fuller review only reinforced the point.
Americans' self-identification with the two major parties has been dwindling for a decade. The proportion of the electorate who identify as independents hit a record high of 43 percent in 2014, compared to 30 for Democrats and 26 for Republicans. Five years later it is virtually the same.
But beyond our distaste for the parties, we can't stand the flavor of the overall operation on Capitol Hill – no matter who's in charge of the chambers. Over a five-year period that began in 2014, Gallup pegged Americans' confidence in Congress in a range of 7 to 12 percent.
In the 2016 presidential election, two candidates who seemingly could not have been more politically opposite of one another, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, both railed on campaign cash as a major cause of a "rigged" system. That message resonated with millions of Americans regardless of political stripe — because it's true.
In a poll conducted right after the 2018 midterms, 75 percent of Americans said that "ending the culture of corruption in Washington" was a very important factor in their voting decision. That proportion was higher than for any other issue, including jobs, affordable health care and protecting Medicare and Medicaid.
This brings me to a delayed disclosure: It was I who wrote the article referenced in Palmer's tweet. And it was terrific to see folks from such diametrically opposed political camps — and all points in between — responding to it in such a positive fashion.
But it's not a total surprise. The fact is that more and more of us these days are talking, writing and working on the defective state of our political system and the ways in which we must take action to correct it, a critical subject.
Last year, the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy convened a group of democratic reform organizations to talk about how we could all help each other in our work to strengthen the system. What would be the best way for us — and all Americans — to become better connected and more informed? Not just about the causes of the breakdown, but more importantly, the real work being done on the ground that is already generating real wins.
Just over a year later those discussions have helped spawn the birth of The Fulcrum. Thanks to assiduous work by Nick Penniman of Issue One and this site's growing crew, we now have "the only news organization focused exclusively on efforts to reverse the dysfunctions plaguing American governance."
It is undeniable that at this historical moment we're experiencing a ton of division in our political discourse. But at the very same time, a record high proportion of Americans agree that we have a corrupt system producing a defective product.
Let's report on it more. Debate about it more. Ideate on it more. Let's keep growing this army of volunteers across the country who are working to reform the rules — in order to restore the system.
This is the place. The Fulcrum. Let the leveraging begin.
- Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy ›
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Stacey Abrams, who gained national attention during her failed 2018 bid for the Georgia governorship, is urging Congress to restore federal oversight of elections in some states.
Had she won the extremely close contest, Abrams would now be the first black female governor in America. She and her fellow Democrats maintain the election was not fairly conducted in part because her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, was secretary of state – and therefore Georgia's top elections official – at the time.
Abrams was the most prominent witness Tuesday at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on civil rights and elections in the six years since the Supreme Court eviscerated the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down the part of the law requiring advance federal approval before any changes in voting laws or practices in parts of country with a history of voter discrimination. All of Georgia had been subjected to this so-called preclearance requirement, which the court ruled is now unconstitutionally outdated.
Calling for Congress to come up with a new system for preclearance that could withstand another such challenge, Abrams said that jurisdictions formerly covered by the law "have raced to reinstate or create new hurdles to voter registration, access to the ballot box, and ballot counting."
Abrams said a voter registration group she created in Georgia, which was active in her 2018 race, submitted thousands of forms to Kemp's office and soon discovered "artificial delays" in processing those registrations. The state's requirement that names on registrations exactly match records of other government agencies sidetracked thousands more.
Both practices had a greater impact on black citizens, she said, because they are more likely to register through third-party groups like the one she founded, Fair Fight Action.
And both, she said, would have been stopped in advance under preclearance.
Abrams also charged that Kemp improperly purged names from the voter rolls.
"By denying the real and present danger posed by those who see voters of color as a threat to be neutralized rather than as fellow citizens to be engaged," Abrams said, the six-year-old Supreme Court ruling "has destabilized the whole of our democratic experiment."
After the election, Abrams created Fair Fight Action to combat the tactics used against her. It has also sued the Georgia secretary of state and is asking the federal courts to revive preclearance for any election law changes in her state.
House Democratic leaders have written legislation creating a new set of rules for the Justice Department to use in determining which states must get such preclearance, and it has more than enough sponsors to pass. But the bill would almost certainly be shelved by the Republicans in charge in the Senate.
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The National Institute for Civil Discourse has a message for the 20 Democratic presidential candidates who will participate in debates on Wednesday and Thursday nights: Remember first grade.
In other words, don't poke your neighbor, wait your turn, and if you can't say something nice, don't say anything.
Seriously, the institute, which studies and promotes civility in political debate is reminding candidates of standards it developed in 2015 in advance of the last presidential election season.
They say that politicians living up to basic standards of civility, especially when they're on national television, is essential if the angry tribal nature of America discourse is ever going to ease. "Zingers and insults might get headlines, but it's leading to a culture of candidates who stand out by throwing punches and amplifying the polarization of our politics," said Keith Allred, the institute's executive director.
The guidelines for the candidates are:
- Be respectful of others in speech and behavior.
- Answer the question being asked by the moderator.
- Make ideas and feelings known without disrespecting others.
- Take responsibility for past and present behavior, speech and actions.
- Stand against incivility when faced with it.
The institute also developed guidelines for the moderators of the debates. (NBC and MSNBC are providing the ones for these debates.) They are:
- Address uncivil behavior by naming it and moderating the conversation to move toward more respectful dialogue.
- Enforce debate rules equally.
- Hold candidates accountable by challenging each candidate to speak the truth and act with integrity.
- Treat all candidates equally in regard to the complexity of questions and debate rules.
- Be respectful when interacting with candidates.
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- A Call for Adult Civility in the First Presidential Debate | HuffPost ›