Many of us are rejoicing that Trump’s attempted coup didn’t work. And we are rightly outraged at those who stormed the Capitol.
Yet the upsurge of feeling about protecting democracy is a good time to suggest that we seek fundamental changes in our system to make it a real democracy that could work for everyone.
Trump is a perfect embodiment of the values of selfishness and “looking out for number one” that is the bottom line of the capitalist marketplace. It was that marketplace and its media that made him a pop hero to millions long before he became a politician. Anyone who has worked inside a large corporation has been conditioned day after day, year after year, to seek to maximize profits without regard to the consequences for others. After years of being in those institutions, and watching the media that it shapes, most people come away believing that this is “reality” and that it would be unrealistic to try to challenge it.
The Democratic Party is dominated at the top by people who share this assumption, but who also believe that the government should alleviate the worst suffering that the inequalities of wealth and power have engendered, as long as doing so does not significantly weaken the capitalist marketplace. Meanwhile, the Left of that party correctly pushed for considering and repairing the suffering of previously exploited groups including people of color, women, LGBTQI, immigrants, etc. But it is rare to hear an open critique of the ethos of selfishness which underlies and reinforces all the inequalities and all the oppressive practices, and thus makes it almost impossible to get the changes needed to make our country truly a democracy.
The most important thing we can do is to recast progressive forces to place at the center of our public discourse (and eventually into our educational system) a campaign to recognize every other human being on this planet as fundamentally valuable and to care about them as though they were part of our extended family. We must replace the old bottom line of money. We must judge efficiency, productivity, and rationality in our corporations, political system, education system, health care system, media and cultural system by a new bottom line: the extent to which they maximizes our capacities to be loving and kind, generous and forgiving, committed to environmental and social justice, seeing other human beings as embodiments of the sacred rather than seeing them thru the perspective of how they can “be of use” to us, and responding to the earth and the larger universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the mystery and grandeur of this life. Using this New Bottom Line will appeal to many who would love to live in such a world but have never heard a political force explicitly and systematically putting that vision at the center of their discourse. These same people then fall back into “being realistic” and settling for the world of selfishness, and the Right begins to look most realistic when it promotes selfishness and the Left most unrealistic when it calls for reform within the contours of the capitalist worldview.
Articulating that New Bottom Line will help us build the public support we need to actually win the specific transformations needed to democracy a reality in America.
Abolish the Electoral College The president should be chosen by popular vote, and should take office immediately upon receiving the votes of a majority of voters.
Significant Changes to Our Voting System We need to pass legislation to ensure automatic voting registration when a person turns 18, online voting registration, restoring voting rights to felons, protecting voting rights throughout our country, and more.
Limit Presidential Pardons The President must not have the power to grant pardons to any member of her/his/their family, presidential staff, cabinet members, and top assistants to their cabinet members, or highest 20% of donors to their corporations, campaigns, or any other project to which they are identified.
Abolish the Senate The Senate was created to protect the slave-owners and the rich from democratic measures that would promote democratic redistribution of wealth or income, and it now serves the elites of wealth and power more than the interests of the bottom 50% of wealth holders or income earners. The House of Representatives would have the power to confirm or reject presidential nominees to the Supreme Court and other federal courts, and to impeach the president and call for a new general election every two years. There must be a 12-year time limit on serving in the Supreme Court of the U.S. and state supreme courts, in Congress, and in all state legislatures.
Publicly Funded Elections All federal and state elections must be publicly funded, with all other money banned from any source. Public money used to fund elections would be distributed equally to the 2-4 largest political parties. All major media must provide the largest 2-4 political parties free access to at least 5 hours of prime time that the parties and their candidates may shape in any way that they choose. This shall apply to all federal and state elections.
Initiative Process Empower the people of the U.S. to generate policies thru an initiative process that would require the support of 5% of the population supporting it before it could be put on the next ballot in national elections or local elections, and with a ban on spending money to collect signatures except as granted equally to those who support and those who oppose the proposed measures.
Abolish Wealth Inequality Ban major inequalities in wealth by mandating a tax on wealth and income so its actual outcome is to ensure that no individual or family shall receive income more than seven (7) times the income of the median income of our society, and ensure that no individual or family can retain ownership of wealth that is more than ten (10) times the wealth of the median wealth of families in this society, excluding ownership of a person’s primary residence.
Corporate Responsibility Every corporation with incomes of $50 million or more per year shall be required to prove to a jury of ordinary citizens once every five years that they have a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility. They will be prevented from moving their jobs and investments out of the U.S. until they pay local communities reparations for the anticipated damage to the well being of the communities where they employed people.
These are important first steps toward democratization. If pursued in association with campaigns for the New Bottom Line and with an explicit connection to programs to repair the damage already done to the earth and to the animals who live on it, democracy would come alive, become unbeatable, and many who currently are too timid to actually implement it would be empowered to win many other aspects of “the Caring Society: Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.
And when these steps have been instituted, we will have a working democracy rather than the thin elements of democracy that people are seeking to protect from those who do not value democracy at all.
Rabbi Michael Lerner holds a Ph.D. in philosophy (1972) and a second Ph.D. in psychology (1977), is editor of Tikkun magazine www.tikkun.org, executive director of the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley, chair of the international Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author of 12 books, most recently Revolutionary Love published by the University of California Press (more info about this book at www.tikkun.org/lj). Lerner was recently described by Professor Cornel West of Harvard U. as “one of the most significant prophetic public intellectuals and spiritual leaders of our generation” and Keith Ellison, Attorney General of the State of Minnesota, says: “The caring society is the only realistic path for humanity to survive, and in Revolutionary Love Rabbi Lerner lays out a powerful and compassionate plan for building that caring society.” Talking about his book Revolutionary Love, Gloria Steinem, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine, says “Michael Lerner takes the universal qualities wrongly diminished as ‘feminine’—caring, kindness, empathy, love—and dares to make them guides to a new kind of politics that can challenge the cruelty, competition, and dominance wrongly elevated as ‘masculine.’ Revolutionary Love opens our minds and hearts to a fully human way of living and governing.”