Donald Trump has stated that he wants to be a President for all Americans. He is not off to a promising start.
Only 27% of eligible voters voted for him and Hillary Clinton beat him in the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. Daily protests outside his New York residence and The Million Women March planned for the day after the inauguration are evidence of deep misgivings about Trump the person as well as his ill-defined policies. Many of his cabinet appointments fail to engender a sense of balance and compromise. He has challenged the credibility of our intelligence agencies. Most of all, there is a deep unease in the nation that a Trump presidency is at best an uncertain bet and at worst a significant threat to our historical system of constitutional values, democracy, and capitalism.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Trump’s January 20th message holds the potential to reassure all Americans while offering a prescription for American greatness that works for all. Here is what he needs to say.
We need collaboration to solve our greatest problems
The inaugural address is an opportunity for our new President to be, well, presidential. Trump must reassure all Americans that he will be a non-partisan leader who will demand that Congress finds common ground and solutions that reflect a fair balance of citizen’s views. To a great extent, Trump’s election reflects the deep dissatisfaction felt by most Americans at the lack of progress in three areas:
- Increasing inequality of opportunity and the feeling that the game is rigged to favor the rich and powerful
- Inability to secure our communities from epidemic levels of violence and substance abuse, to reduce poverty rates exceeding 20%, and to build the skills needed to create meaningful work as technology eliminates many traditional jobs
- A general sense of citizen disempowerment and disengagement where Congress is viewed as part of the problem versus part of the solution.
Trump cannot overcome entrenched interests and find the right balance of policies through tweeting. Change requires careful debate, collaboration, compromise and communication. Trump needs to respectfully yet forcefully suggest that he, our citizens, and their elected representatives do their jobs. Citizen responsibility and elected representative reform need to be the centerpiece of a Trump inaugural.
Citizens need to do their jobs
Citizen rights are guaranteed in the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Over the course of American history, we have demonstrated the ability to adapt these rights to eliminate slavery, provide universal suffrage, and extend important civil rights and social protections. It is this ability to adapt that has allowed American democracy to prosper in the face of incredible changes.
However, we cannot adapt when citizens fail to fulfill even their basic responsibilities.
Consider the evidence. Approximately 40% of eligible voters didn’t vote in the 2016 election. Even fewer voted in the last round of Congressional elections. Only immigrants receive formal citizenship training and are required to pass a test that the majority of our citizens would fail. The vast majority of citizens don’t communicate with their Congressional representatives. Most cannot even name their representative. Engaged and informed citizens are a necessary condition for effective democracy. It’s time for a citizen Bill of Responsibilities.
A Bill of Responsibilities should set the standards that “we the people” need to fulfill in our role as citizens. The Trump inaugural should call for the formation of a non-partisan panel of citizens (who would be compensated for their work) to develop a citizen Bill of Responsibilities before the end of 2017. This panel should, at a minimum, provide four sets of recommendations to the President and the Congress that will:
- Require eligible voters to vote in presidential and congressional elections. Other countries do this. We should too.
- Develop common voter rules that will simplify voter registration and voting, provide adequate anti-fraud protections, and unify disparate state by state approaches
- Identify primary and secondary school curricula additions that ensure all high school graduates have a full understanding of citizen responsibilities, engage early on in policy debates, and develop the critical thinking skills to make informed choices
- Consider a system of rewards and penalties to encourage citizens to fulfill their responsibilities: financial penalties for those who fail to vote, temporary loss of citizenship for those who persistently fail to vote or meet other basic requirements (military service, jury duty, payment of taxes, felony convictions, etc). Citizenship should be earned.
By clearly defining citizens’ responsibilities creating informed citizens and rewarding good citizenship, we can expect to restore the primacy of citizenship. What gets rewarded gets done.
This type of citizen driven project has immense importance. It can be a foundation for increased public trust in the Trump administration and serve notice to Congress that “we the people” demand a more representative, inclusive, and accountable democracy. Congressional representatives would oppose these recommendations at their own peril.
Elected representatives need to do their jobs
Congressional approval levels are at their lowest levels in memory, the result of partisan gridlock caused by the disproportionate influences of well-funded special interests, business lobbyists, and representatives who are not representative of the broad citizenry. Many agree it’s time to “drain the swamp”, but no plan has been articulated to do this. The inaugural is Trump’s opportunity to demand six game changing reforms:
- Get the special interest money out of elections and re-elections. Canada puts strict limits on campaign contributions by individuals, and provides generous public funding for candidates. We need to do the same. Form a non-partisan task force to determine the best ways to overturn the Citizens United decision and forbid campaign contributions from businesses, unions, super PACs or any other organization while limiting contributions by individuals
- Reduce partisan gerrymandering by commissioning state by state non-partisan reviews of voting districts with the goal of restoring fair representation and competitive congressional elections
- Redefine the mission of political parties. Parties should not exist to win elections at any cost. They will better serve our democracy if they develop and articulate realistic, affordable and clearly differentiated platforms that make it clear to voters what they can expect from competing parties
- Establish term limits for all members of Congress
- Ensure congressional accountability to national goals with regular citizen input
- Enact a congressional rewards system that will attract the most talented elected representatives. Provide market-based incentives that will reduce the need to take money or favors from corrupting influences.
A historic opportunity
For many, a Trump presidency is seen as an opportunity to “make America great again.” For others, he is viewed as a grave threat to our democracy. Empowering citizen driven, non-partisan review of the responsibilities of citizens and elected representatives will be the most-viewed reality television of our time. More important, these debates and ensuing reforms are necessary to the successful evolution of America’s system of constitutional values, democracy and capitalism. There is much at stake. This is Trump’s opportunity.
Mac Regan spent 35 years as a consultant and executive for Mercer, a large multinational corporation, before attending the Graduate Master of Arts Program (GMAP) at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), where he expanded and improved his understanding of the U.S. from a global perspective. He has significant expertise in human capital management including role design, compensation and incentives, technical and emotional competencies, health care systems and financing, retirement programs, and labor productivity, which has been invaluable in helping to inform his new book, Global Citizen Patriots.