A profound distrust is corroding American politics
Nye is president of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He was a Democratic member of the House from Virginia from 2009 to 2011.
Americans' lack of faith in our political institutions is a deeply troubling challenge to the success of our democracy and serves as an undercurrent in American politics, overshadowing and poisoning our ability to process every other question in Washington. Left unaddressed, this disillusionment will continue to cause serious disruption to all efforts to move our country forward.
While not the hottest topic driving the daily media dramatics, solving this crisis of faith by reforming the corrupted elements of our politics is the best way to get our country back on track.
American voters understand the real problem. A recent Georgetown University poll found super-majorities wanting leaders to stand up for their values, but also expect that compromise and common ground should be their goal. It is reasonable to expect political leaders will be able to express strong values but also cooperate enough to do the basics of governing such as pass a budget on time and avoid government shutdowns. It is unsurprising then that a Congress that consistently fails to do this, as yet another potential shutdown looms, enjoys only a dismal 18 percent approval rating. That profound lack of faith has consequences. In the same poll, 90 percent expressed exhaustion with "politicians in Washington who work with powerful special interests instead of standing up to them." A system awash with campaign cash and unfettered access by moneyed interest drives a deep and destructive derision among the citizens. The story of a payday lender bragging about bought access to the White House doesn't help. Politicians' relentless efforts, on both sides, to rig electoral maps to their partisan advantage only further deepens the mistrust.
Systemic disgust makes every other political process suspect. While the current impeachment drama provides a useful example of the exercise of congressional responsibility to practice oversight on the most troubling presidential behavior, relentless political and media focus on impeachment suggests that the biggest problems confronting our republic boil down to the actions of one individual — that somehow the question of removing or replacing that one person is the key question at hand. It feels like something is missing in that debate, a focus on the larger issue of systemic corruption that has riled the American electorate for many years and put our politics on this seemingly inescapable downward spiral. It is difficult to see the current process resulting in a definitive outcome because it is a case of one mistrusted institution trying to assert a sadly non-existent moral authority over the other.
The Democratic presidential debates also seem to be focused on varying approaches to legislative issue policies that will require some unlikely consensus in Congress to enact. Again, the conversation seems grounded in the assumption that a body deemed dysfunctional by the American people will rise to America's challenges given the right presidential stewardship, a notion which feels disconnected from the current lack of faith in both of these institutions. There is, of course, room for presidential leadership to improve the dynamic. But a successful challenger to President Trump would need to both convince Americans that Trump is part of the same systemic corruption they have always disdained, and present a vision of a reformed system that could restore faith in our institutions. That means a significant focus on electoral system reform and a serious change to the relationship between money and political power.
Trump campaigned successfully on voter anger against a broken and corrupted system. By many measures, his approach has made voter faith in that system worse. In order to restore faith, one would need a specific vision for a convincingly game-changing better way.
One idea would be a ban on federal politicians accepting any campaign contributions until they completed the annual budget and appropriations for the coming year. That would end shutdowns forever and create a "quiet time" for governing and allocating resources, free from the corrupting influences of fundraising calls and events.
There are many other worthwhile ideas for reform, including ending gerrymandering, realigning incentives for compromise and increasing fundraising transparency, but there is an urgent need to restore American faith in our political system by enacting real reforms.
It's high time to fix the system.
In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.