How to Fix America’s Broken Government, Racial Inequity, and Federal Debt
By David A. Ellison – Author of Repairing our Divided Nation
Divided We Fall: What motivated you to write “Repairing Our Divided Nation”?
David Ellison: My frustration with the racial and political divides in our society compelled me to write this book. The racial divide I see today disgusts me, and I blame much of it on our educational system for continually avoiding to address the negative effects of Reconstruction on our nation. The political divide in our country appalls me as well. It is obvious that winning an election has become more important to our elected representatives in Washington than doing what is in the best interest of our country. The “party over country” attitude must stop, and Congress needs to follow our Constitution and stop abdicating many of its responsibilities to the president and administrative agencies.
Repairing the Middle Ground
You identify as a Centrist. Can you explain what that term means to you?
Ellison: I define a Centrist as someone who likes some of the ideas from the Democratic side of the aisle and some from the Republican side. Centrists do not believe either party has a lock on all the good ideas to lead our country forward. Centrists are not wishy-washy in their beliefs – we are looking for a more fiscally responsible and more socially accepting federal government. To me, it centers around civility, compassion, compromise, and common sense. I believe most people are tired of the partisan bickering and lack of progress being made by our elected representatives in Washington and that a majority of Americans would like to see Centrist leadership.
Your proposed agenda includes right-leaning policies (e.g. judicial originalism and reducing the administrative state) as well as left-leaning policies (e.g. campaign finance reform and racial justice). How would you create a Centrist platform that unifies and motivates the public? Who gets to decide the platform?
Ellison: Democrats and Republicans each have very lengthy platforms that few people read. Former Senator Bob Dole claimed that he never read a party platform. Since most people don’t know what is in their political party’s platform, and candidates aren’t bound to follow the platform, there really isn’t unification on every single policy within either party.
Centrists may not agree with each other on every issue, but they are not likely to be too far off in their beliefs. And if there were a Centrist Party, the members wouldn’t have to deal with an extreme wing of the party – like the Democrats and Republicans have to contend with – since their goal is to take the best from each of those two parties. Given that the most important documents in American history were relatively brief, the Centrist platform must be brief and understandable to all, so voters know not only who they are voting for but also what they are voting for.
As a point of clarification, I look at judicial originalism as being lawful rather than right-leaning. Thomas Jefferson was not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but he believed they should keep pace with the advancement of society. Since our Constitution is the supreme Law of the Land, we must follow the original intent of the Framers until new amendments lead us in a different direction.
You advocate for a fiscally responsible and socially tolerant “middle ground.” How can this platform gain momentum?
Ellison: I do advocate for a federal government that is fiscally responsible and socially accepting, but it’s a misconception to say that Centrists are looking for a “middle ground.” We are not. In his book “The Centrist Manifesto,” Professor Charles Wheelan from Dartmouth describes a Centrist Party as one that takes the best ideas from each party, discards the nonsense, and builds something new and better. I essentially said the same thing in my book.
If the word Centrist is causing confusion with the middle ground, maybe a centrist party would gain more traction if it were named the Democratic-Republican Party. It would be a fitting name since we want to implement the best ideas from each party. Please note that such a party would have nothing to do with the beliefs of the now-defunct Democratic-Republican Party of 1792.
Most Americans do not want their descendants burdened with debt that could put them in financial peril. If this were to occur, our nation would then become vulnerable to attack from a foreign country that does not share America’s beliefs in freedom, human rights, free and fair trade, and democratic principles. Therefore, I believe that Americans want a fiscally responsible federal government, whether they realize it or not.
In addition, the majority of Americans do not want fellow Americans to suffer financially, physically, or mentally. Therefore, I think most Americans would be in favor of guaranteeing that all Americans – no matter the color of their skin or their zip code – are given not just an opportunity, but also a real chance, at becoming economically self-reliant and living a life with dignity. That would include a “safety net” to help those who, because of physical or mental challenges, cannot provide for themselves. There is a way for America to accomplish the above and a whole lot more and that is what “Repairing Our Divided Nation” is all about.
Repairing the Constitution
You argue that not adhering to our Constitution during and after Reconstruction is America’s biggest mistake, more than slavery itself, because of the impact it continues to have today. Can you explain?
Ellison: It seems like the leaders in America have always been afraid to publicly admit and define our problems – whether it’s race relations, our country’s finances, or anything else. It’s almost like they are saying to us, “you can’t handle the truth!” This needs to stop.
After much research, I am convinced that had the leaders of our country during and shortly after Reconstruction respected and followed our Constitution, our nation would not have the racial divide it has today. Because the repercussions are still affecting America – and I’ll go over some examples shortly – I believe that not adhering to our Constitution during this critical period in U.S. history is America’s biggest mistake.
This non-adherence also set a bad precedent that gave the false impression to future leaders that it is permissible to disregard our Constitution when it does not meet their personal beliefs and agenda. Since our Constitution is the supreme law of the land, it is illegal not to comply with it. Not complying has had grave consequences, particularly for people of color.
Slavery had been around for thousands of years before our country was formed in 1776, and as I explain in my book, it could not have been eliminated immediately without risking the formation of our Union. Fortunately, our Constitution was ratified in 1787, and it put slavery on a path toward extinction. Unfortunately, it was a slow path, and slavery was not eliminated until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865. Racism, however, never stopped. I believe that when our country’s leaders at that time did not use the “death pill of racism” – adherence to the Constitution – it was an even bigger mistake than slavery because racism is still haunting our nation today.
In the book, I provide summaries of Supreme Court cases showing the blatant disregard for the Constitution, particularly the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. After President Lincoln was killed, his plans to transition Black people from being enslaved to living as free people were scrapped. This led the Southern states to implement Black Codes – laws limiting Black people from freedom of movement, barring them from certain occupations, owning firearms, serving on juries, testifying in cases involving white people, or voting. Imagine if you were set free from slavery but were given nothing with which to start a life on your own. No land or house. No source of income. No public education for your children. No rights as a citizen. We shouldn’t have to imagine.
For a long time, it has been my belief that America’s educational system has hurt our society by not requiring students to obtain a deep understanding of our nation’s founding, our precious documents, and the embarrassing subjects of slavery, racism, and prejudice. I believe if it had, race relations would be much better today, because understanding brings out compassion and empathy in all of us.
You propose a number of election reforms regarding campaign finance, gerrymandering, ranked-choice voting, and term limits. Which of these do you see as the most important?
Ellison: I believe election reform is critical to the future of our democracy. We need to get people in Washington who are more concerned about serving we the people than they are in getting reelected. If we continue on the path we are on, only the well-connected and the wealthy will be sent to Washington to represent us. This dangerous path will not create a more perfect Union, so campaign finance reform is a must.
Regarding gerrymandering, we need independent, nonpartisan commissions to create competitive districts. Districts should not be determined by the dominant political party at the time of redistricting; that is one of the reasons over 90% of members of the House of Representatives gets reelected, which is not a good thing.
I believe term limits would be good for our nation. Term limits would make telling the truth a lot easier for politicians, as no one would be worried about maintaining a lifetime job. Some argue that elections are the equivalent of term limits. I disagree. Incumbents have big advantages over a new candidate, such as having better visibility and name recognition because they get media coverage whenever they want; they have access to government resources, such as mailings to constituents; and they can access money from their political party much more easily than a new candidate. Since incumbents in the House of Representatives win their races over 90% of the time, and senators win their races over 80% of the time, I think it is obvious that elections are not the equivalent of term limits.
Our country would be better served by replacing Democratic and Republican primaries in Congressional elections in each state with a single, nonpartisan primary where all candidates are listed on the ballot. This type of primary is also known as an “open primary.” In their book “The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy,” Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter call it a Top-Five Primary because they believe that the top five finishers, regardless of party affiliation, should advance to the general election. They then recommend that ranked-choice voting be used in the general election, something I believe is an improvement from our current voting system. They call this combination Final-Five Voting, and it is worth researching.
I believe that my most important proposal is the call for open primaries because it would take away a significant amount of power from the extremists in each of the two main political parties. A close second would be campaign finance reform. I think gerrymandering is the most likely proposal to be instituted because it gets a lot of headlines, and I see it as being the least offensive to the two main political parties – although still offensive.
Repairing Our Divided Nation
You discuss America’s federal debt and deficit, which is bipartisan only in the sense that neither party has shown any interest in trying to solve this problem. How do we change that?
Ellison: Unfortunately, neither Republicans nor Democrats are fiscally responsible. Republicans normally do not want to raise taxes, even when our country is in need of more revenue. Democrats normally do not want to reduce spending, even though our country has been on an unsustainable fiscal path for a long period of time. It seems as though the only party to speak about our nation’s financial woes is the party out of power. And once they get into power, they forge ahead with their own agenda and put fiscal responsibility on the back burner.
In the preamble to the Constitution, it tasks We the People with the job of securing the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our Posterity. This means that we are required by law to make sure that all future generations are free from oppressive restrictions imposed by any so-called authority from within our country or from outside our borders. For this to happen, America needs to be strong economically, diplomatically, and militarily.
Unless we want to leave future generations in such financial peril that our country would be vulnerable to attacks by another country, such as China or Russia, which do not believe in and support the values established by our Founders in the Declaration of Independence, our elected officials need to stop being concerned about getting re-elected and start making the difficult decisions needed to set us on a sustainable fiscal path. This will take election reform as we have discussed and hiring the right financial people to guide us.
These difficult decisions could come through a nonpartisan audit committee that does a deep dive into all mandatory and discretionary federal expenditures, including Social Security and Medicare, since they are a large percentage of our nation’s budget. I know that may sound alarming because these are two very important programs for the elderly, but analysis does not mean elimination. We just need to make sure these plans are actuarily sound and will not bankrupt future generations.
We need an educated populace that understands our financial challenges so we can accomplish what we need to do to get on a sustainable fiscal path. With this in mind, I highly recommend that all Americans, particularly our elected representatives in Washington, read “America in 2040: Still a Superpower?” by David Walker, the former Comptroller General of the United States and a leading authority on our country’s finances. He served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, so his nonpartisan advice is something we should heed.
If you enjoyed this article, you can can purchase your copy of “Repairing Our Divided Nation” or read more Divided We Fall book reviews.
David A. Ellison
David A. Ellison is an avid reader of books about history, politics, the division within our country, and the Constitution. His first book, Politics Beyond Left and Right: A Guide for Creating a More Unified Nation, was published in 2017. He received his B.S. from Bryant University, and is a Certified Financial Planner but no longer practices. David previously worked as the editor and publisher of The Financial Corner, a monthly financial newsletter. He currently lives in Milford, Connecticut, and is a partner with his wife, Stephanie, in the Ellison Homes Team, a real estate brokerage firm.