If our democratic republic survives the November election, it will still not survive another presidential election without fundamental changes in the way the government is administered. If Joe Biden is elected president, Democrats cannot go back to the neoliberal policies of the Obama and Clinton eras. Donald Trump was elected president because governments under both Democratic and Republican majorities have failed to meet the basic needs of too many Americans—particularly those in inner cities and rural areas. I believe the future of our nation depends on whether like-minded Democrats and Republicans form a coalition dedicated to returning the government to its founding purpose and principles. In my previous posts in this series have laid a logical foundation for this conclusion.
With a new Democratic president, congressional Republicans cannot be allowed to continue blocking every proposal put forth by the President or congressional Democrats. Another four years of dysfunctional government would likely lead to an outright rejection of the current form of government and preclude any further attempt to move toward “a more perfect union.” Enough Democrats and Republicans must find common ground to allow the government to function. Democracy does not imply an equal amount of everything for everyone, and balanced budgets, tax cuts, and deregulation cannot continue being preconditions for political compromise. If our government “of the people and by the people” is to survive, the government must work “for the people”—meaning for all of the people. The U.S. government must be returned to the principles and purposes encoded in the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.
To restore trust and confidence in government, a new coalition of patriotic Democrats and Republicans must reaffirm the “American Covenant” on behalf of the American people. In his inaugural address, George Washington affirmed his belief that the Constitution had been written under the protective care of God. He stated, “Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.” His remarks conveyed a belief that the words in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution had been divinely inspired. He continued, “It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe… that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes.”
President Washington affirmed a covenant between God and the American people: “I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my Country can inspire: since there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity: Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”
The nation has since faced a series of crises and conflicts as the American people have struggled to fulfill the ideals expressed in Washington’s inaugural address and the other founding documents of the nation. Growing social and economic inequities, divisiveness, conflicts, and crises have been the consequences whenever the processes of governance have strayed from the pursuit of the inaugural ideals. Whenever the government has “disregarded the eternal rules of order and right,” it has violated the American Covenant, and the American people have no longer received the “propitious smiles of Heaven.” Today, we are once again confronted with multiple economic, social, and ecological crises that we have allowed to divide us and rip the social fabric of our nation, threatening its very survival. To reaffirm Washington’s covenant with our Creator, the new Congress must reaffirm the American Covenant through a pledge to the American people that their government will pursue a specific political agenda that will return their government to the purpose and principles encoded in its divinely inspired founding documents.
Governments of at least the past 40 years have given priority to the Bill of Rights, which were intended to “protect the people from government.” The Founders feared the republic they had created might otherwise degenerate back into a monarchy. Far too little emphasis has been placed on the constitutional “responsibilities of government to the people.” The protections in the Bill of Rights and later amendments are critical to the covenant and must be preserved. Furthermore, everyone must be assured equal opportunity to exercise these rights—such as exercise their right to vote and to practice their own chosen religion. The affirmation must address the responsibility of government to ensure that people can exercise their rights, not simply to protect them from government interference. Contrary to current political propaganda, “protection from government” and “responsibilities of government” are complementary rather than competitive. Both rights that are unrecognized and rights that cannot be exercised are rights denied—not secured.
The following is a draft of a pledge to reaffirm the American Covenant that provides a list of rights I believe must be secured to restore public trust and confidence in government. I believe the government of the United States of America is responsible for securing these rights because they are essential in recognizing and exercising the rights currently encoded in the Bill of Rights and other constitutional amendments and the unalienable and equal rights of all to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence.
Reaffirming the American Covenant:
The Congress of the United States of America pledges to secure both the “enumerated rights” encoded in Bill of Rights and other Constitution Amendments and the “unenumerated rights” below, which are “retained by the people” in the 9th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The United States government will give priority and will work diligently and tirelessly to fulfill its responsibility to ensure an equal opportunity for all to express the unalienable rights of all to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Right to enough wholesome, nutritious, palatable food to support healthy, active, publicly engaged lifestyles. Participation in society and governance are major challenges for people who are hungry because they can’t afford enough food, or are seriously overweight because they can only afford food of poor quality. Federal funding should support voluntary participation in locally administered food security programs to encourage a personal sense of connectedness, responsibility, and accountability between provisioners and recipients in local communities.
· Right to clean, energy-efficient housing, with sufficient space to accommodate all members of households, safely and comfortably. People living in an unsafe or uncomfortable living environment find it difficult to focus on anything beyond their own safety and security. Public housing programs should provide a path to the security of home ownership.
· Right to clean water to drink, clean air to breath, and a safe and healthful living environment. People who are unhealthy or outright sick because they feel forced to live in a toxic environment have little motivation to trust or participate in the processes of governance. The equal right to a clean, healthful, and potentially productive natural environment extends across generations to ensuring the “blessings of liberty to our posterity.”
· Right to appropriate health care to restore health during times of illness, to the extent possible, and to maintain and enhance health during times of wellness. Public health care need not “cover everything” but must include hearing, vision, and dental procedures needed to participate fully in society. Private health insurance may be purchased to cover the cost of additional convenience, comfort, or cosmetic procedures not covered by public health care.
· Right to sufficient and appropriate public education to fully participate in society, including in self-government. Elementary schools must be relieved of current social welfare functions and focus on reading, writing, and basic concepts of mathematics, science, and sociology. Public secondary and higher education will build on these basic concepts, giving priority to helping students understand “how the world works and where they fit within it,” including their responsibilities as citizens as well as members of human society. Costs of occupational education will be paid primarily by potential employers.
· Right to employment, in either private or public sectors, with sufficient economic remuneration to meet basic physical needs, participate fully in society, and fulfill social and civic responsibilities. Minimum economic benefits from public sector employment will be sufficient to provide an alternative to current low-wage, exploitative private sector employment. Public employment will automatically expand beyond essential levels to maintain full employment during times of economic recession and will shrink back to essential levels as the private economy expands and provides better employment opportunities in the private sector.
· Right to economic security for elderly and others who are unable to participate in full time private or public employment and those who are self-employed or fully employed with “housework” and caring for children. This right could be ensured through a “negative income tax” or guaranteed tax credit—similar to the current process of paying earned income tax credits.
· Right to be protected from economic exploitation. The government is responsible for maintaining “economically competitive” markets and for providing the legal and physical infrastructure necessary for an efficient capitalist economy. The government is also responsible for protecting natural resources and the natural environment for extractive economic practices that threaten the rights of future generations.
The responsibility of the U.S. government to secure these rights is already implicitly recognized in current authorizations of government funds to address each of these needs. This affirmation recognizes these basic human needs as constitutional rights of the American people and pledges to ensure that these needs are met, through private or public means, to the extent necessary to ensure that all have an equal opportunity to participate fully in our society and democracy. Those who have signed this pledge are confident that these rights are among the “unenumerated rights” retained in the 9th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and will proceed to secure these rights for all. If deemed necessary, they will also work diligently to gain congressional approval and state ratification of a constitutional amendment to reaffirm the consent of the American people regarding their government’s responsibility to secure these rights.
Finally, I firmly believe that using the power of government to secure these constitutional rights must take priority over using its power to stimulate economic growth or development. In the words of Washington: “There is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity.” The ability to prosper economically ultimately depends on respecting “the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”
In my next blog I will explain how the government can and should spend whatever money is necessary to secure these constitutional rights for the American people. The only real limits to growth in government spending are the limits to the potential economic productivity of the natural and human resources that ultimately must support the economy and society. Anytime the combined spending of consumers, investors, and government exceeds these limits, the result will be inflation in prices rather than further economic growth. Within these limits the people are free to instruct their government to allocate spending between the public and private sectors in any way “that to them, shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness”—again quoting from the Declaration of Independence. In a democracy, people have a right to disagree about the future of the nation, but these are the principles upon which our nation was founded.