“This much I think I do know — that a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone, no court can save; that a society where that spirit flourishes, no court need save; that in a society which evades its responsibility by thrusting upon the courts the nurture of that spirit, that spirit in the end will perish.”
— Judge Learned Hand
This, We Believe #2 — A Republic must protect its democracy in every new day from the corrupting influences of concentrated money, power, and greed.
Concentrating wealth into the hands of the few inevitably leads to the concentration of political power into the hands of those same few.
Given what we have all seen and experienced in recent years — a deep recession, record home foreclosures, declining wages, rising corporate profits, secret trade deals, bail-outs of banks too big to fail, tax cuts on top of tax cuts for the already super-wealthy — people aren’t wrong to conclude the policy choices of our nation are controlled by money for money rather than by us.
One of the more telling interviews of this 2016 presidential election was not an interview of a candidate, but of a citizen.
A fifty-year-old, blue collar, life-long Democratic man in Michigan was asked how he could rationalize voting for Donald Trump — a candidate opposed to raising the minimum or any other wage, opposed to unions, opposed to collective bargaining, opposed to pensions, opposed to paying his own billionaire income taxes, opposed to making any of his own company’s products in America…
The man answered:
“The way I see it, our country’s got cancer, and Donald Trump is just the chemotherapy we need…”
When the diagnosis is cancer, and the prescription is chemotherapy, calling the chemo “poison,” over and over again, doesn’t change the heart or mind of the voter.
But what exactly is the cancer he diagnosed? It is the self-dealing greed of those in power; elites in government, elites on government, elites who have the big money it takes to buy influence and finance campaigns. It is the cancer that has rigged the national economic game against better pay and greater opportunity for him and his family.
When people feel their country no longer works for them and their family, voting becomes merely an act of protest.
Not long ago, it seemed America’s electoral system was one of the important unifying rituals of democracy we all shared. But twice now — in the span of just four national elections — we have inaugurated to the Presidency the candidate who lost the popular vote.
This is not how democracy in a functional Republic is supposed to work.
Therefore, we must reform our democratic institutions even as we retool and retrain for a changing economic future. In fact, we cannot make our children winners in this Third Industrial Revolution unless we take action to save our democracy. Together, we must save our democracy from the corrupting influences of concentrated money, concentrated power, and concentrated greed. It is not too late. The time for reform is now.
We must not only guarantee the right and worth of every American vote, but we must also restore our trust in one another which is the heart of any Republic.
Some of these needed reforms have long been discussed. Most are well-understood and many enjoy growing popular support:
- Making the Right to Vote a Constitutional Right
- Overturning “Citizens United” — the Supreme Court decision which allowed corporations and concentrated wealth to buy elections with unlimited cash.
- Public Financing of election campaigns for Congress and other offices
- An end to politically gerrymandered Congressional Districts
- An openness to ranked choice voting
- Replacing the antiquated Electoral College with a National popular vote.
But there is one more reform that has not been much discussed. One critical reform necessary to address the corporate greed which elevated, promoted, and directly contributed to the election of Donald Trump and the sidelining of voices that might have stopped him.
We must restore the Fairness Doctrine to network and cable news coverage of our election contests — especially, our presidential election contests and the primaries which determine our final nominees.
Sure, a lot of Americans now bemoan the general election result; but, along the way, it seemed most of us really didn’t care. We tuned in and we tuned out. Facts themselves didn’t matter. It didn’t seem to matter when the Russian government hacked the emails of the Democratic Party. The fact that our political journalism had turned itself into tabloid entertainment didn’t matter. Whether our primary debates were conducted by the League of Women Voters or the wonderful world of Disney, didn’t matter. Whether the Democratic Party even had a prime-time primary debate before the people of Iowa and New Hampshire voted, didn’t seem to matter — even to the Democratic National Committee.
And in this perfect storm of fascist appeal and popular passivity, Donald Trump was lifted, promoted, and ultimately elected President of the United States.
So, did our media create Trump?
But the network executives saw how he entertained us. They saw how he grabbed us. They saw that we liked it. And they gave us more. They ran 24/7 images of his rallies without fact checkers. The awaiting stage backed by a line of crucified American flags. The plane on the runway taxiing up to the cheering crowd in the hangar… They placed him at the center of every prime time primary debate — like some bizarre product placement of a new brand of dishwashing soap. They fanned the flames of his fascist popularity all through the summer of 2015.
There is one thing in the last election about which our infotainment industry and the Russian government both agreed — agitational and divisive voices needed to be promoted and lifted up. It’s good for Russia and it’s good for ratings.
Under the Fairness Doctrine — which was repealed by Ronald Reagan and a compliant Congress in the late eighties — such grossly imbalanced coverage and promotion of one candidate over another would have been illegal — a federal crime.
But as CBS network executive, Les Moonves said while his own network showered Donald Trump with golden coverage: “I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going…It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Meanwhile, the establishment of the Democratic Party laughed from afar at the new Republican entertainment and refused to even allow a single debate in their own Party until late October. And when they did, the entertainment industry divided up the minutes allocated to the candidates based on entertainment value. The ratings were in and the script was set. There would be only one challenger for this season of Madame Secretary and he, too, would entertain.
This is what has become of political journalism made for television. Missing planes and titillating tweets. Extreme voices who shout at us to drain the swamp, build the wall, and feel the burn. Talking heads without constituencies, without responsibilities, and without editors. Presidential primary debates that are looking a lot more like Hollywood Squares or the Jerry Springer show than a contest of ideas. This is the nature of our political news today. That nature has corrupted our presidential selection process. But this reality tv show will not fix itself.
We must fix it. We must return and enforce the Fairness Doctrine to the political news coverage broadcast across our public airwaves and publicly franchised cables.
The dissolution of the objective truth from our political news coverage today is a dangerous threat to the life of our country. Truth is being “drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” This is not a question of balance, it is a question of integrity. “Alternative Facts” are not facts. “Fake News” is not news. They are lies, told in self-service or — sometimes — in the service of the objectives of foreign powers who wish us ill.
Publicly promoted lies — whatever their source — are contrary to the best interests of our Republic. For our democracy to have integrity, our media needs to have the integrity to report and promote objective truths. They need to be required to cover electoral contests fairly and objectively, or they should be prohibited from calling themselves “news”. Non-partisan commissions should control the timing and format of debates, not rating agencies and infotainment executives. And when necessary, editorial powers must balance dishonesty with an over-abundance and an over-repetition of the objective truth — lest the big lie carry the day and our country away with it.
It is time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine — the future of our Republic depends on it.