Restoring our faith in democracy after Trump takes his leave
WASHINGTON – A central challenge of the Trump era is how to deal urgently with the president’s transgressions while also taking steps to prevent politicians from abusing power in the future.
Equally important is restoring faith in our republican democracy as a genuinely representative system that is open to broad participation and protected from the outsized influence of the financially privileged.
President Trump is doing far more to pollute the political “swamp” he loves to invoke than draining it. But this doesn’t mean that citizens worried about the swampiness of our politics are wrong.
So here’s a challenge to citizens and the media alike: Pay attention this week to the House debate over H.R. 1, perhaps the most comprehensive political-reform proposal ever considered by our elected representatives.
Perhaps it’s inevitable that Trump and his antics will always get more attention than any bill that includes lots of provisions. Legislation makes us work our brains a lot harder than Trump does.
But let’s not hear the excuse that there’s no point spending much time on legislation that, while likely to pass a Democratic House, has no chance in the Senate.
That less-representative body – always remember that Wyoming has as many senators as California – is controlled by Republicans and led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who hated campaign finance reforms when they were proposed in the early 2000s by his late GOP colleague John McCain, and despises them still.
The House proposal, sniff the cognoscenti, is merely a “messaging bill.”
Actually, no. It’s a marker, a bill worth fighting for in the future. Recall that versions of Medicare, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and more expansive civil rights proposals all languished in Congress or were defeated before they passed.
What commends H.R. 1 is its comprehensiveness. It brings together traditional reformers (with strong incentives encouraging candidates to rely on small rather than large contributions, and tougher disclosure requirements of who is paying for what ads) and civil rights advocates (with provisions for automatic voter registration, expanded early voting, a ban on unjustified voter purges and re-enfranchisement of those who have served felony sentences). It also lays the groundwork for renewing the Voting Rights Act’s effectiveness.
H.R. 1 has a battery of measures to deal with ethical lapses specific to Trump. These include tough provisions on presidential conflicts of interest and a requirement that presidential and vice presidential candidates disclose their income tax returns.
And it confronts core problems our democracy faces by banning gerrymandering and calling for the use of paper ballots in federal elections to protect against hacked voting machines.
There’s more there, but you get the drift. For all the talk of Democrats being divided between “the left” and “the moderates,” this bill has support from all wings of the party.
The left and center both worry about the undue influence of corporate money and billionaires on our politics. And, needless to say, political corruption is not particularly popular in any ideological camp.
As with any bill, the question needs to be asked: Is it addressing real, widely recognized problems, or is it more of a hobby-horse reflecting concerns that may be valid but are hardly front-burner?
Fred Wertheimer, the veteran political activist who helped develop H.R. 1, offered as clear an answer as I have heard about the genuine urgency of fixing our democracy.
“We have a campaign finance system we haven’t seen since the Gilded Age,” he said. “We have efforts at voter suppression we haven’t seen since the days of segregation. We have gerrymandering at a level we have never seen before. And we have a president who raises financial abuse and corruption issues we haven’t seen in generations.”
Now, tell me again: Why should we ignore what the House is up to here and just go back to the latest incremental development in the Michael Cohen story?
Of course the Trump saga matters. Friends of decent government should welcome the fact that Congress – scratch that, the Democratic House – will be putting a lot of time and resources into getting to the bottom of a variety of allegations against the president.
But we must also ponder what our democracy will be like after Trump, and begin tending to what is in such desperate need of repair.
As for the opponents of H.R. 1, they need to tell us if they think our politics are working just splendidly.
I’d love to hear them try to make that case. And if they don’t, what exactly would they do to drain the swamp?
E.J. Dionne Taking down the Skyway will open up opportunity
The Feb. 28 and March 2 editorials in The Buffalo News on the fate of the Buffalo Skyway got it exactly right. Buffalo and the state of New York have a once-in-a-century opportunity to invest in infrastructure that meets multiple community goals: enhancing mobility, promoting economic development, creating jobs, and reimagining the possibilities of Buffalo’s waterfront.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement last week of a $100,000 design competition to decide what will replace the Skyway underscores the urgency and opportunity to transform Buffalo’s waterfront with ambition and imagination, in a state that has already shown leadership in replacing aging highway infrastructure with designs that re-knit communities, open up redevelopment opportunities, and meet cities where they are today, not where they were a half century ago.
New York already has numerous examples of this leadership, including the work on the Robert Moses Parkway to expand the green space of Niagara Falls State Park, an approach the Congress for the New Urbanism recommended in 2014. When finished, it will be the park’s largest expansion since its creation in 1885. Elsewhere in New York, state and municipal leaders are removing highways in Rochester, the Bronx, and in Buffalo, where New York State Department of Transportation is reconsidering its formerly car-oriented plans for Scajaquada and Kensington Expressways.
Congressman Brian Higgins and his colleagues have led the charge for more than a decade now to reconsider the enormous, unrealized potential in the location where this 100-foot-high bridge now blocks the river, depresses land value, separates citizens from a superb natural asset, and hinders economic development.
The Skyway’s current condition represents an incredible opportunity for Buffalo. Taking it down will unlock great potential instead of maintaining the status quo. That’s the future for Buffalo.
Lynn Richards providers stems from a Medicaid reimbursement rate that hasn’t increased in 10 years and is insufficient to meet escalating costs. Medicaid pays 20 percent less than the actual costs of care, providers struggle to attract and retain a qualified workforce that has alternative employment options offering similar pay for less demanding responsibilities. Unfortunately, inadequate reimbursement and other challenges have forced several nonprofit organizations and local governments to sell or close their nursing homes.
No one should have to tolerate poor care such as the cases featured in the series. Our representatives in Albany and Washington need to provide the necessary resources that will improve the critical care needs of our most fragile seniors.
Trump is hard to defend, even for his blind loyalists
The Republican party has long accused the Democrats of being “soft on crime.” The Republican party also routinely refers to itself as “the party of law and order.”
I submit that the Republican party is also “the party of gutless, spineless and hypocritical sycophants,” bowing to the will of Donald Trump. How else can you explain their support for Trump and his family?
The Republican ire concerning the House investigation questioning Michael Cohen last week belies their fruitless 33 hearings into the tragedy in Benghazi, which ultimately led to no criminal charges at all. The Republicans are defending the indefensible; a reckless, lying, slandering, cheating and dishonest Donald Trump, a man who has no respect for the rule of law!
Republicans on the Hill who subserviently continue to stand by this unfit president will learn it wasn’t worth it. Their loyalty will never be returned from Trump, who has never been loyal to anybody, except to himself. These defenders will be tarnished forever and be “relegated to that dustbin in history,” not a good legacy to leave behind.