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Preserving Our American Democracy in an Era of Repression and Regression

Frank F. Islam

Frank F. Islam

Part Three: Plans for Preserving Our Democracy

[This is the third and final blog of a three-part series focused on what is happening in our democratic republic in terms of repression and regression and what should be done in response to these conditions. In the first blog, we examined the areas of repression. In the second, we examined the areas of regression. In this blog, we present and discuss plans for protecting and preserving our democracy.]

Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with insistency.

– Daniel Burnham, American architect and urban planner

In an April 10 White House coronavirus briefing, President Trump was asked by a reporter what metrics he would use to determine when to reopen the country. Trump pointed to his head and replied, “The metrics right here. That’s my metrics. That’s all I can do.”

That gesture and those words confirmed that the United States was in terrible trouble with this planning averse President who lives inside his own head in charge during this time of crisis. This is the case because inside that head there is little-to-no room for data, evidence, expert knowledge, intelligence, or analytical reasoning.

As a business person, President Trump demonstrated his lack of planning and management skills by bankrupting six hotels and casinos, which caused thousands of lost jobs and getting involved in more than four thousand lawsuits. As our President, Trump’s failure to put a timely and thorough health care plan in place to combat the coronavirus has already resulted in more than 1.4 million cases and nearly 86,000 deaths in the U.S. and traumatized the American economy.

There is no vacuum at the top. But it would be nice to have a vacuum cleaner that could be used to get rid of the flotsam and jetsam floating around in the mind of our feckless leader. Or perhaps all we need is the sun or a little bit of bleach for the President to ingest.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. But you have to have one to waste one.

Seriously, because of who he was and is, this is the best that can be expected of Trump — our commander-in-chief. He may be our “war-time” President. The war he continues to wage, unfortunately, is not on the coronavirus pandemic, but a divisive re-election and cultural war focused on mobilizing his base to go into combat on his behalf.

This is a tragic for the United States and destructive of our American democracy. Fortunately, while the coronavirus has shown us the worst of Donald Trump, it has brought out the best in many citizens who have leapt into the breach to fight for the common good and to breathe life back into the American idea.

Our democracy is not on life support and ventilators like those citizens with Covid-19 in hospitals across the nation, but it is definitely at risk. As we said in our two earlier blogs in this series, we are living in an era of repression and regression.

The repression has been going on for some time, but intensified with the presidential political campaign of 2016 and has intensified even more-so under the Trump administration. The scope of the regression is broad and encompassing and has been affecting many areas for decades before the pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has multiplied the impact of these repressive and regressive forces. As a result, it will be totally insufficient to only address the near-term health and economic consequences of the pandemic.

What will be required to win this war completely on behalf of the American citizens and to preserve our democracy is an integrated set of four plans. They are:

  • Health Care Stabilization Plan
  • Country Reopening Plan
  • Economic Recovery Plan (Short Term)
  • Democracy Renewal Plan (Long Term)

In earlier times, the federal government would have taken the lead in helping to develop and ensure those plans were put into place and implemented effectively. In these times, for the time being, the federal government is providing “guidance” and leaving it up to states and cities to chart their own course on the first two plans.

While the federal government (with a few notable exceptions such as FEMA, the CDC and the National Guard) has been more hands-off, citizens and organizations have heard the call to arms and been hands-on, providing input and ideas that can be used to develop all four of those plans. They have done so with classic American industriousness, ingenuity, and inventiveness.

We will identify some of that creative input and ideas in our discussion of the plans that follow. Let us begin, however, with an overriding recommendation, which is to establish an American Renewal Commission as the group to lead the development of these plans.

American Renewal Commission (ARC or Commission)

Kyle Cheney of Politico reported on April 6 that there were four proposals circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives to establish a 9/11 type commission to investigate the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ARC we recommend would have a much broader scope and charge than the coronavirus investigative 9/11-type commission proposals currently being floated in the House. The Commission would be responsible for preparing the drafts of each of the four plans identified and ensuring they are an integrated set.

As an integrated set they should be comprehensive, coordinated, and citizen-oriented. The overriding vision for the set should be:

To provide the strategic and proactive framework for creating a more inclusive and equitable American democracy.

In combination, these plans should resemble but go well beyond the scope and thrust of the acclaimed Marshall Plan, which the U.S. put together to finance the rebuilding of Europe after the devastation of World War II. There should be a preamble to the plan that defines the parameters of a new social contract, similar to the one Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz proposes, “between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor, and between those with jobs and those who are un- or under-employed.”

The charge to the Commission should be to conduct a thorough and in-depth SWOT analysis and situational assessment of the United States’ current position in each plan area. Based upon those findings, at a minimum each draft plan should clearly spell out goals, strategies, strategic action programs, implementation requirements, facilitating factors, potential obstacles or barriers, and critical success factors. Each plan should include a budget and cost benefit analysis for its implementation.

The Commission will not have to start from scratch. Groups of all stripes and persuasions have already weighed in, and many more will undoubtedly be doing so in the months ahead. This full body of work should be reviewed and considered as input by the Commission in the analysis phase of its planning.

In terms of its composition, the ARC should be nonpartisan rather than bipartisan. Its members should be drawn from national leaders with expertise and experience in business, politics, government, civic and community service, and academia. The Commission should be headed by representatives from the business, civic/community, and governmental sectors. While it should include a few former elected officials, they should be a minority of the membership.

The ARC’s membership will be pivotal to its success. According to Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, who headed the 9/11 commission, told her that “the first and most important challenge for any commission would be making sure the right people are on it. Ideally, he said, they should be figures who are respected across party lines and who are not likely to seek political office in the future.”

It will not be just the appointed members of the ARC who matter. Of equal importance will be the management team and staff of the Commission. These individuals should have content knowledge and expertise in health care, government, economics, social policy and programs, have done major management studies, and created and contributed to the successful implementation of turnaround and/or transformation plans.

To avoid being seen as political, the Commission should be established and begin its work in the first quarter of 2021. Sufficient time should be spent to do the planning right which means 24 months for all four plans.

The plans should be developed in three phases: The Health Care Stabilization Plan and the Country Reopening Plan should be prepared and available within 12 months. The Economic Recovery Plan within 18 months and the Democracy Renewal Plan within 24 months.

The Commission should present its plans to representative stakeholder groups for review and comment. The final plans should be provided to the President and U.S. Congress for consideration and action.

The Commission should be paid for by a mix of public and private funds. It should also solicit volunteer-contributed time to assist in the research and analysis from organizations such as businesses, consulting firms, universities, and civic organizations.

One might argue that our elected officials at the federal level are already doing this planning when they write laws or develop policy. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. A law is not a plan. A policy is not a plan.

Moreover, Congress, over the past decade, has become increasingly more dysfunctional. It is also understaffed and frequently has to depend on lobbyists and think tanks to do its primary and secondary research. Those groups have agendas. They are hired guns for their cause, as they should be.

When it comes to an issue as critical as the future of this great nation and our American democracy, we adamantly believe that we need more objective and neutral data. We need real strategic planning and foresight.

The Commission would provide that. As Martin Luther King famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This ARC would help to bend the United States toward more justice and opportunity and equality for all and it would do that first in its health care stabilization plan.

Health Care Stabilization Plan (Stabilization Plan)

Since it was established on January 29, The White House Coronavirus Task Force has been the group that “coordinates and oversees the Administration’s effort to monitor, prevent, contain and mitigate the spread” of coronavirus (Covid-19). The Task Force and the White House have been criticized for being slow to issue, and not directive enough, in its guidance, and for the lack of national testing plan and program.

As a result, a number of groups and individuals stepped up and put forward plans and recommendations. Three common elements among most of the proposals were: ramp-up testing, do extensive contact tracing, and treatment and quarantine of all those who are identified with the virus.

Because of his extensive involvement in addressing health issues through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates has become a very knowledgeable and one of the most influential people on what to do to combat this pandemic. On March 31, in a Washington Post op-ed, he outlined a plan to make up for lost time in dealing with the coronavirus.

Gates’ plan had three steps: (1) Implement a consistent nationwide approach to shutting down; (2) Have the federal government step up testing; (3) Implement a data-based approach to developing treatments and a vaccine.

On April 26, the Rockefeller Foundation issued a National Covid-19 Testing Action Plan. This Action Plan was created by the Foundation bringing together experts and leaders from science, industry, academia, public policy and the government.

It has three major objectives: (1) Launch a plan to expand from the current 1 million tests/week to 3 million within 8 weeks, and 30 million within six months. (2) Launch a Covid Community Healthcare Corps to do testing and contact tracing nationally. (3) Create a Covid-19 data commons and digital platform to create a national system to track the Covid-19 status and to find data-driven ways to improve diagnosis and treatment.

At about the same time that the Rockefeller Foundation put out its plan, Andy Slavitt, director of Medicare and Medicaid in the Obama administration, and Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration for President Trump, advanced a $46.5 billion coronavirus package. They did this because the U.S public health system lacks the capacity to address the needs presented by Covid-19.

Their $46.5 billion package would allocate funds as follows: (1) $12 billion to expand the contact tracing workforce by 180,000 until a vaccine is on the market; (2) $4.5 billion to use vacant hotels to house infected and exposed people; (3) $30 billion to offer 18 months of income support for those voluntarily self-isolating.

The White House has made some modest progress in having tests manufactured and distributed over the past month or so. And, on April 30, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that “if things fall in the right place,” meaning that the coronavirus vaccine, which is currently in Phase I trial, works, and is safe, the vaccine might be available for wide use nationally as early as January 2021. It remains the case that there is still not a national plan for managing and controlling the response to the coronavirus.

And, there will not be such a plan. This will be so even though President Trump said the Coronavirus Task Force will stay in place “indefinitely” on Wednesday, May 6, reversing his statement of a day earlier that the Task Force would be winding up its work by around Memorial Day.

The task force may be there but it will be, as it has been since its inception, a toothless tiger. And not all task force members of this “tiger” will be present in person for a while. On May 9, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of CDC, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of FDA announced they would be self-quarantining, due to contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19.

On May 11, President Trump appeared at a coronavirus news conference in the White House Rose Garden flanked by two large banners that proudly proclaimed “AMERICA LEADS THE WORLD IN TESTING.” That claim is true in the absolute number of tests that have been conducted but completely false in terms of the more important number, which is tests per capita. Even in cases where we’ve outperformed countries on this metric, as Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) points out, there are reasons for this that don’t reflect well.

On May 12, the Senate Health, Education and Labor Benefits Committee held a hearing on the coronavirus briefing with Drs Fauci, Redfield, Hahn and Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of Health at HHS as witnesses.

During the hearing, CNN reports, Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated, “All roads back to work and school run through testing. And that what our country has done so far on testing is impressive but not nearly enough.”

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) agreed with Alexander on the need for more testing, but she was much more critical of its current availability. She asserted: “We need dramatically more testing. It’s unacceptable we still don’t have a national strategic plan to make sure testing is free, fast and everywhere.”

Even though Senator Murray called for a national strategic plan for testing, there will never be one from this administration. This war has already been won. Trump declared victory on May 12 in front of those testing banners when he said, “We have met the moment and we have prevailed.”

This means when the American Renewal Commission convenes in January 2021 it will have the plans and proposals discussed here and many others to consider in drafting the Health Care Stabilization Plan after it completes an exhaustive assessment of the status of the coronavirus at that time. In conducting this analysis and decision-making the ARC should determine what has been accomplished since the coronavirus was identified, what has not and why.

This absolutely must not be done as a blame game or a finger-pointing exercise, however. It must be a search for the truth which will set America and Americans free from the effects of this pandemic and be to fully prepared for the next pandemic which will come inevitably.

One of the documents that the ARC should look at carefully as part of its inquiry is the Global Health Security Index (GHSI or Index). The Index was released in October 2019 as a joint project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, and The Economist Intelligence Unit. The GHSI ranks countries based on the preparedness to face a pandemic.

The United States ranked first out of 195 on the Index, with an overall value of 83.5. Tellingly, however, it fell short in some critical indicator areas, including: access to health care, where it ranked 175 out of 195; socio-economic resilience, with a ranking of 59; and exercising response plans, with a ranking of 54.

The deficiencies in these areas, in conjunction with the lack of presidential and federal leadership, may help to explain why the U.S. has stumbled in responding to the Covid-19 onslaught. The ARC can make this determination based upon the facts and data it collects.

As noted earlier, the ARC should have the Health Care Stabilization Plan drafted, reviewed, commented upon and delivered to the President and Congress for action within 12 months.

One concern should be mentioned. This timeline assumes that when there is a second round of Covid-19 beginning in the Fall of 2020 — as most medical experts project there will be — this round will be mild in comparison to the first one. If, on the other hand, the second round is a wave comparable to, or worse, than the first round, as many medical experts predict, the ARC should compress its time frame for completion to the shortest period in which a quality job can be done in preparing the Stabilization Plan.

The Stabilization Plan should be focused solely on pandemic preparedness and management. As Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, all of the Democratic candidates for President, and numerous others have highlighted, the United States public health care system is “sick”. The ARC should provide the answers to dealing with the illness of the health care system as part of the Democracy Renewal Plan.

Country Reopening Plan

As with the Stabilization Plan, the ARC should have the Country Reopening Plan drafted, reviewed commented upon and delivered to the President and Congress for action within 12 months. Also, in this area, as in the area of health care, there was not, and will not be, any national plan for country re-opening.

The White House did issue Opening Up America Again Guidelines on April 16 for states to follow. These guidelines stated that there should be a 14-day period of “downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses” and a “downward trajectory of documented cases” before re-opening.

CNBC reported that by April 30, none of the states had met the guidelines. Nevertheless, as reported in the New York Times by May 7, more than half of all of the states had re-opened partially, and the bulk of the states that had not reopened or had serious restrictions were primarily in the Northeast, the Midwest Great Lakes, and the West Coast. Even in many of those states, people were being allowed to walk on beaches, parks, and other open space areas.

With a few exceptions such as Georgia, the states have not acted precipitously and have developed well-designed phased plans for re-opening slowly. The plans tend to resemble each other and generally follow the phased approach set out in the White House Guidelines.

For example, New Jersey which has been the second hardest hit state with coronavirus cases and deaths announced a six-point “Road Back Plan” on Monday, April 27. NJ Governor Phil Murphy opened beaches and parks on May 2, but stated it was premature to open any businesses.

Florida ranks eighth in coronavirus cases and deaths. FL Governor Ron DeSantis announced his “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step.” Plan for FL on April 29. Many beaches were already open. His plan called for re-opening selected businesses on a reduced scale on May 4 in all counties except for Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach, where the preponderance of Florida cases existed.

Most governors and city mayors have demonstrated strong leadership and the ability to cooperate in creating innovative and collaborative approaches to confront and combat the coronavirus pandemic. These collaborations for reopening planning extend across state lines. There is an eight-state coalition in the Northeast and a four-state coalition on the West Coast.

These responsible actions and coalition-building have been essential because of the contrasting signals and messages sent from the White House regarding reopening America. The Guidelines issued by the White House speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, they do not speak to the President. On May 2, the Washington Post ran a revelatory article describing the President’s “desperate attempts to reopen America,” guided not by science or epidemiologists but wishful thinking and an econometric model which forecast a peak in cases in mid-April and a much lower death count than has occurred.

The President has exacerbated his desperate attempts by tweeting approvingly in support of those who have come out in states across the country to protest and demonstrate against business closures and stay at home orders. These tweets and his public comments rationalizing and encouraging that aberrant behavior have been extremely divisive. They have moved the U.S to the precipice of anarchy.

On Chis Wallace’s show on Sunday, May 3, Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx called protesters storming the Michigan Capitol not wearing masks and jammed together and not social distancing “devastatingly worrisome” because it increases the potential for new coronavirus cases and more deaths.

Dr. Birx also reinforced that the medical community’s projections for Covid-19 deaths have been over 100,000. That is much higher than the 60,0000 that President Trump had been claiming would be the peak. By that Sunday night, May 2, President Trump himself was adjusting his numbers from 60,000 to closer to 100,000.

The chaotic and nationally uncoordinated reopening process, combined with the President’s cognitive dissonance, make the American Renewal Commission’s development of a Country Reopening Plan especially critical. The country will have reopened in some shape and form by January 2021. But the impact of that reopening because of the lack of a uniform and consistent approach will be variable.

In this planning area, as in all of the others, the ARC will have solid data to draw upon as the basis for creating its plan. Although not done deliberately, the states provide a Whitman’s sampler, or an uncontrolled experiment, of data that can be analyzed to see what was done and the results achieved. ARC should create an index to evaluate and rank the effectiveness of states responses to determine what to recommend going forward to ensure the best possible outcomes across the country.

Additional reference points, among others, include the original reopening plan put together by FEMA and the CDC; the May 1 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) put together by the CDC; and the 17 page CDC report, “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework” (Guidance Framework) which provides step-by-step directions on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public facilities. Jason Dearen and Mike Stoppe of the AP report that this Guidance Framework was to have been issued on Friday, May 1 but the White House has shelved it.

The review of the original FEMA/CDC reopening plan should identify deviations from it in the White House reopening plan. The May 1 MMWR highlighted four factors contributing to accelerated spread: travel-associated importations, large gatherings, introductions in the workplace and densely populated areas, and “cryptic transmissions resulting from limited testing and asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread.” These factors should be used to assess whether they were adequately addressed in the federal government’s guidelines and the states reopening plans. The Guidance Framework should be reviewed and the ARC should conduct interviews to ascertain why it was not issued or used to facilitate the opening up process.

The analysis in this area should determine best practices that can be highlighted in the Country Reopening Plan. That plan can be used to extend and enhance the reopening across the nation or to revamp the re-opening process if the reopening that began in late April and early May led to shutdowns due to reaccelerating the expansion of Covid-19 in the Fall of this year.

Economic Recovery Plan (Short Term)

On May 2, after a Fox News interview, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told reporters, “I think right now, because there’s been good news really that the opening up is starting faster than we expected, appears to be doing so safely that we won’t really need a phase four (Coronavirus stimulus package).” Hassett was incorrect in that opinion.

Here are some of the dire facts. The U.S. economy shrank 4.8% in the first quarter of the year the biggest decline since the Great Recession. Over 33 million Americans had applied for unemployment benefits by the end of April. The unemployment rate in April shot up to 14.7%. Consumer spending went down a record 7.5% in March, the sharpest decline in 60 years.

And things will go downhill from there. Hassett himself, on April 28, warned that the jobless rate in June could hit 16 to 20%, and that the GDP could crater in this quarter (April — June) by an annual rate of 40%. On Face the Nation on May 10, Hassett increased his jobless projections stating, “I’m looking for rates north of 20 [percent], sadly.”

In mid-March, many economists and firms were predicting that the economy would go into a recession due to the coronavirus. By mid-April, the International Monetary Fund predicted the worst downturn worldwide since the Great Depression, with the American economy contracting by 6%. On April 29, after reviewing various reports and data sources, New York Times business reporter Ben Casselman wrote, unequivocally, “The worst is yet to come.”

University of Chicago economics professor and adviser to Barack Obama Austan Goolsbe’s assessment aligns with Casselman’s. In a May 3 New York Times op-ed, he opines, “A medical crisis created an economic crisis. But a political crisis can make the economic crisis much worse and that may be where we are heading.”

Note that Goolsbe said “may be.” Goolsbe states that the potential for an economic crisis can be lessened by “controlling the spread of the virus” and “spending billions to fight the economic devastation.”

It will take considerable time to control the spread, so more governmental spending is absolutely necessary. There must be a fourth round of stimulus — and depending on how things play out after that, it may be that even a fifth and sixth will be needed.

William Gale, the Arjay and Frances Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy at the Brookings Institution advises that the case for more stimulus investments is strong and the costs would be small. He argues: (1) Funds targeted to state and local governments would help mitigate the recession; (2) Not all debt is bad — Good debt serves genuine national interests; (3) U.S. public debt will not trigger a crisis — The U.S. borrows in its own currency.

Additional federal funds are critical for sustaining the American economy at some level and avoiding an almost complete crash. As Washington Post economist Robert Samuelson observes, “A good deal of the so-called stimulus doesn’t really stimulate. Instead, it stabilizes — or aims to stabilize…”

Samuelson didn’t say this but a primary reason this will be the case is that we Americans today are living in the United States of Inequality. Those on the underside of the economic divide will be the ones harmed in the aftermath of this pandemic.

The New York Times launched an inequality project in April to look at the huge disparities in wealth, health and by race in the United States and how the pandemic could impact them. In an op-ed on April 9, the Times Editorial Board declared “Over the past half century, the fabric of American democracy has been stretched thin.”

After examining what contributed to this stretching, the Editorial Board asserted “The crucible of a crisis provides the opportunity to forge a better society but the crisis does not do the work.” The Board goes on to state that there is “…a need for new ideas and the revival of older ideas about what the government owes the nation’s citizens, what corporations owe employees and what we owe one another.”

This crisis does present an opportunity. It is a pivot point which the American Renewal Commission can leverage in preparing its Economic Recovery Plan to reduce the major areas of inequality and regression to ensure the economic divide is narrowed substantially.

We discussed the following regression areas in our second blog of this series: American workers; women; minorities; big business; small business; urban areas; rural areas; civic learning and engagement; and political partisanship. We also noted that many others could be added to that group including millennials, schools and teachers, the print news and media, manufacturing, and innovation.

As its first task, the ARC should create a comprehensive list of all the major areas of inequality or regression, and then use it to determine what progress has been made in each area, based upon the stimulus spending and other initiatives sponsored by state and local governments, the private sector, religious, civic and community organization, and citizens. The Commission can then proceed to the second task of deciding what should be done in the years to come to make the economy better and fairer for all.

The Commission will have a broad range of resources it can draw upon in developing its inequality reduction recommendations. There has been a wealth of books written over the past decade or so outlining plans and proposals to address the inequalities in the U.S. And the coronavirus pandemic has generated a cornucopia of new ideas.

The new ideas have come from a wide variety of sources. The Brookings Institution has been especially prolific. They have published numerous blog posts on the impact of COVID-19 and how it has exposed serious flaws in vital U.S. systems and actions to be taken to correct them.

We set out the following ideas of our own and others in a blog just as the impact of the coronavirus was starting to unfold here: instituting a consumption tax dedicated toward this area; redoing the tax plans of the past that have benefitted primarily big businesses and the most wealthy to make them more equitable; development of more good-paying jobs through governmental supplements; giving workers a stronger voice in the workplace; financial support for small business start-ups and entrepreneurs; guaranteed government loans for struggling small businesses, which may have difficulty paying back loans going forward; initiatives directed at regions and rural areas that are lacking in economic development; infrastructure rebuilding jobs; national service jobs in areas of high unemployment; child support for single working mothers; and meaningful skill development that is related not to training but to guaranteed job placement and on-the-job training as opposed to classroom work.

Based upon the catastrophic collapse and disappearance of jobs for those on the lower rungs of economic ladder, we would add the establishment of a Civilian Coronavirus Corps to that list of ideas and put it near the top. This CCC would be similar to but different than the Civilian Conservation Corps that was operated as a New Deal public employment relief program during the Great Depression.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was for young unmarried men (17–28) and they did conservation work across the country. This CCC would be focused on those low-paid workers of both sexes from the industries and groups that have been most affected by the pandemic shutdown. Research indicates those low wage earners are disproportionately women and minorities, and work in the leisure, hospitality, retail, personal service, and health care sectors

The CCC would be public service employment to do a wide variety of things including conservation, infrastructure repair, child care, arts and crafts, and health care assistance. The CCC would expand and build upon the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act that has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Chris Coons (D-DEL).

Many of the tomes related to inequality were written in response to the impact of the Great Recession. Some of our favorites, in no particular order, are: The Price of Inequality (Joseph Stiglitz); That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back (Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum); Our Kids (Robert Putnam); Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of A Great American School System (David Kirp); The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream (Jacob Hacker); Opportunity, Responsibility and Security: A Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty and Restoring the American Dream (A report from a working group of the conservative leaning American Enterprise Institute and the liberal leaning Brookings Institution).

Although these books were published in the past decade, their recommendations warrant consideration in this new decade because for the most part they have not been implemented, and in many instances the inequalities they address have worsened. We ourselves wrote two books that contain scores of recommendations that remain relevant: Renewing the American Dream: A Citizens Guide for Restoring Our Competitive Advantage (co-authored with George Munoz) and Working the Pivot Points: To Make America Work Again.

Based upon its analysis, the ARC should develop a multi-faceted and robust economic recovery plan that can be employed to narrow the inequality gap by the end of this decade. That plan should include measurable criteria to enable the review of progress made on an annual or regular basis.

One of those central measures should be what we call Individual Economic Well-Being (IEW), which can now be monitored more closely because the Department of Commerce is issuing a new report, which takes us beyond GDP to look at distributional accounts to see how economic growth is experienced by individuals and families. These distributional accounts allow a detailed examination of income inequalities.

Democracy Renewal Plan

The Democracy Renewal Plan will be the capstone of the four plans. The American Renewal Commission should develop this plan to enhance, expand and extend the recommendations and strategies set out in the other three plans.

This Plan is especially important because numerous studies show that Americans were losing faith in the American Dream and the American democracy even before the shattering impact of Covid-19. This decline has occurred across all ages but is strongest among younger Americans below the age of 45. If this faith continues to disappear, our democracy will become a hollow crucible and eventually die.

The ARC should develop the Renewal Plan to prevent this from happening. The Economic Recovery Plan will start the process of restoring faith and confidence in the potential of America and Americans. The ARC should use this plan to add the other additional ingredients that will be required to revive the American dream and make it accessible to all.

The ARC should define those essential ingredients and the strategies required to help make faith grow again. At a minimum, they should include a focus on:

  • the dream itself
  • the federal government
  • civic life, civic learning and engagement, and
  • the public health system.

Initial thoughts for consideration in each of these areas follow.

The American Dream

Each of us has our personal conceptualization of the American dream. Here is a working definition, that we posited as the dream for the majority of Americans in our book Renewing the American Dream:

The American dream is the opportunity each and every citizen has to realize one’s personal potential and to achieve success, generally measured as economic security. The fundamental elements of the dream are getting educated and working hard in order to have a good job that pays decent wages, provides adequate benefits, puts food on the table, a roof over one’s head, and allows for retirement with dignity.

The ARC should craft its own definition, and then do research to see how well the nation is doing today in providing the context for an individual to achieve her or his personal potential. A framework that could be considered for conducting that research is the American dream construct. That construct is comprised of eight forms of capital: intellectual capital, economic capital, social capital, individual capital, community capital, institutional capital, spiritual capital, and organizational capital.

One of the recommendations that could come from this analysis, if it was not put forward in the Economic Recovery Plan, could be the need for some form of temporary or permanent universal basic income. When Andrew Yang advanced a basic income proposal as the centerpiece of his campaign to become the Democratic nominee for President, it appeared unrealistic and unattainable. In May of 2020, given the harrowing circumstances created by Covid-19, this may no longer be the case.

Federal Government

All of the most recent presidents have done some downsizing, restructuring, or tweaking of the federal government. Bill Clinton conducted a National Performance Review, reduced the size of government, and instituted the Governmental Performance and Results Act. George W. Bush implemented the Program Assessment Rating Tool. The Obama administration installed a performance goal setting and monitoring process.

Donald Trump came in and his approach was to decimate nearly all federal agencies — most especially the domestic ones. In many cases, he appointed an agency head who was opposed to the agency’s mission. That appointee changed the agency’s mission, inverted its policies, and drove many competent federal bureaucrats out of the organization.

The ARC needs to do a pre-Trump and post-Trump study of each agency comparing its mission, priorities, programs, policies and procedures, and staffing. This study should be done by enlisting small task forces in each agency and providing them with the template to conduct this examination and prepare their reports. The Commission should use these reports to develop strategic blueprints to reinvent the agencies over the next four to eight years.

President Trump has also had a dramatic and radical effect on the three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Examining this should not be in the scope of the Commission but made the purview of the incoming President and the next Congress.

Civic Life

The problems in our democracy are cross-cutting. Over the past few years, we as citizens have lost trust in our institutions and, as importantly, in each other. Some of the institutional problems and issues will be addressed in recommendations in the Economic Recovery Plan.

In the Democracy Renewal Plan, the ARC should concentrate on the current social, political and cultural polarization. There is an abundance of research from groups such as the Pew Foundation that can be used to document the extent and identify some of the root causes of the splintering of Americans.

Plausible solutions will be tougher to come up with. As in the other areas, there are many sources that can be consulted to find those that will be the best.

One of the points of refence for the Commission should be Yuval Levin’s, scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, book, A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and Campus: How Recommitting to Our Institutions can Revive the American Dream.

Levin concludes it is all up to us. In his New York Times article he writes, “…To ask the great unasked question of time: ‘Given my role in this institution, how should I behave? …As a President or a member of Congress, a teacher or a scientist, a lawyer or a doctor a pastor or a member, what should I do here.”

The answer to that unasked question, as we have proposed, is to behave as a 21st century citizen. To do that, be interested, issues-oriented, informed, independent, and involved. Recognize that as Americans we have the broadest sets of rights in the world and that along with these rights come responsibilities.

The ARC should put forward recommendations in the Renewal Plan for how we in our civic life should exercise those rights to improve our America institutions and to forge new bonds of trust and cooperation with one another across political lines.

National service and Interdependence Day are two ideas related to civic life that we and others have proposed before that seem timely now in terms of the potential they provide for rebuilding a shared sense of community and purpose.

The national service program would be a mandatory year of service (military, national, public) for young Americans. General Stanley McChrystal and the Service Year Alliance and the Aspen Institute have been in the forefront of advancing this concept. Given where America stands today, for young high school or college graduates it could be one year plus the opportunity to re-enlist for a second and possibly even a third.

Interdependence Day would be a new national holiday dedicated to celebrating the “us” in USA. It would be a day to come together and to begin to deal with the red and blue divide by building bridges instead of barriers.

In the domain of civic life, there are also important rights to be looked at in terms of political participation that are affected by voting rights laws, election districts and the electoral college. The Commission should inquire into these areas also and make recommendations regarding them.

Civic Learning and Engagement

The road to becoming a 21st century citizen should start early through effective civic learning and engagement. It used to in the 20th century, but in many states and places does not today. This is so because in this 21st century courses in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) have taken precedence over and in many cases displaced civics.

There are many groups working to reverse this trend, including the National Council on Social Studies, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning, CivXNow, the Civics Renewal Network, and the Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship. And there are a few states including Florida, Illinois, and Massachusetts that are on the cutting edge in terms of “action civics” to move the acquisition of the core knowledge, skills, and dispositions for citizenship beyond the classroom and into the community.

The provision of civic learning and engagement opportunities is important at all points long the educational continuum. Middle school is the essential place to begin the process of nurturing our nation’s future citizens for three primary reasons: (1) Formation of a positive orientation early in a student’s career increases the potential for sustained interest and participation; (2) Middle school represents a critical window of opportunity because of the developmental state of students in those years; (3) Middle school is where the civic learning gap is currently the largest and most problematic.

In 2018, the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution published its 2018 Report on American Education. That report provides an in-depth inventory and commentary on state civics requirements. It also provides a set of ten proven practice for a high-quality civic education.

The ARC needs to draw on these and all available resources to develop recommendations to improve the health and vitality of our civic education. Finally, it is imperative that the Commission provide recommendations to improve the United States public health system significantly.

Public Health System

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that this system is woefully inadequate and ailing. Janeel Interlandi of the New York Times, in an article, cites some of the deficiencies this crisis highlighted and states, “Nearly all of these problems might have been averted by a strong national public health system, but in America no such system exists.”

The Health Care Stabilization Plan will pinpoint what needs to be done in the near term to deal with the consequences of the pandemic and ensure that a pandemic of this type does not reoccur. It will not, however, address the systemic needs and inequalities which were gargantuan and have grown even larger because of the impact of the pandemic.

The Commission needs to specify recommendations for accomplishing this in the Democracy Renewal Plan. Those recommendations belong in this plan because there can not be a healthy democracy without a healthy citizenry.

It is ironic but the pandemic which put the spotlight on the nation’s healthcare and mobilized so many on the front-lines of health care had a devastating effect on the health care industry. The Washington Post, in a May 4 article, reported, “…the health care industry is suffering a historic collapse in business that is emerging as one of the most powerful forces hurting the U.S. economy and a threat to a potential recovery.”

This is the case because the truth is that America’s public health system is a non-system. Robert Reich characterizes it this way in a March 15 Guardian article, “Instead of a public health system, we have a private-for-profit system for individuals lucky enough to afford it and a rickety insurance system for people fortunate enough to have a full-time job.”

As the debate over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) proved in 2010, and as Trump’s attacks on that legislation before getting into, and since he has been, in office have shown, public health is a political football. On May 6, Trump upped the ante in his ongoing onslaught and attack on the Affordable Act by asking the Supreme Court to rule the whole Act unconstitutional rather than one small element in it. That is why the American Renewal Commission needs to step on the playing field and advance an agenda for public health that has some chance for bipartisan support.

What would bring that support? That’s hard to tell. Ms. Interlandi outlines some ideas for such a system in her article. As mentioned earlier in this blog, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren called for a radical restructuring of the nation’s health care system during their campaigns to become the Democratic nominee for President. Those proposals seemed far-fetched at the time but now that Sanders and Warren are out of the race, Joe Biden has embraced some of their concepts and proposed a more aggressive approach to redefining the nation’s health care delivery system.

These ideas may not be so far out in left-field now due to what has transpired because of the pandemic and its effect on public opinion. Three factors that become more important for any health care recommendations because of the pandemic are: mental health to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder — especially that of those on the front lines, first responders and essential workers; nursing home quality and support; and supply chain management.

The Commission has a chance as a “neutral” entity to fill the void of non-cooperation on this issue. By bringing the right people to the table to work with them and to endorse its recommendations, it may be able to do successful surgery and produce recommendations that can eventually garner presidential and congressional approval.

In conclusion, the Democracy Renewal Plan should provide the opportunity for America and Americans to stand and deliver in a united front that puts the common good and country first.

Time to Unite the Divided States of America

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

– Abraham Lincoln

Preserving democracy hinges on having leaders at the top who appeal to our better angels and summon us to work together on a common cause. In this regard, the United States of America is unhinged because of the modus operandi of our current President.

On Sunday May 3, Donald Trump sullied the memory of Abraham Lincoln. Trump did this in one of his most disgraceful and self-indulgent performances since assuming the presidency — and there have been many — by turning the Lincoln Memorial into a stage for him to talk too much, to wallow in self-pity, and to display his ignorance.

Performing in what was called a town hall for Fox News, Trump sat at the foot of the famous seated statue of President Lincoln in the Memorial. At one point he said, “Look I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen. The closest would be that gentleman right up there. They always said Lincoln — nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.”

Lincoln winced at this blasphemous comparison but said nothing. We didn’t know Lincoln but we do know Donald Trump and he is no Lincoln.

Lincoln was a great leader. Donald Trump is no leader at all

Since January 20, 2017, the United States of America has been leaderless. Instead of being the President for all of the people and its states Donald Trump has divided the United States and its citizens.

He has governed only in the best interests of his base and the states who supported his election. He has continued to do this through the pandemic.

Science, data and medical expertise have been shunted aside and quackery and snake oil have taken their place. Magical thinking has replaced rational thinking.

Trump has sent out tweets calling those individuals who gathered in protests disobeying social distancing guidelines, some of whom were members of extremist groups carrying swastikas, confederate flags, and military style weapons, “very good people.”

They were not. The very good people were those responsible citizens who were protecting all Americans and defending their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by staying at home and social distancing when in public.

Those Americans, in this era of repression and regress, need to exercise their freedom of expression by voting to put someone in the White House who will unite the divided states of America. Its current occupant is incapable of that.

Trump proved once again what a divider he is when he tweeted out a negative comment on President George W. Bush’s eloquent and moving video message sent to Americans on Saturday May 2 during the Call to Unite 24-hour livestream broadcast. In his message, President Bush called for us to set partisanship aside during these times of crisis.

Trump responded “Oh, bye the way, I appreciate the message from former President Bush, but where was he during impeachment for putting partisanship aside. He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history.”

Unity is not a word that Trump has in his vocabulary. Nor is humanity.

That is why Americans of all political stripes and persuasions must rise not as partisans but committed citizens concerned about the future of our democracy and vote to put a new president in the White House. That president will unite the divided states of America and put the Commission in place to create the plans to end repression and regression.

Those plans when implemented will make our America democracy healthier and more inclusive and equitable.

The critical need for accomplishing this was stressed by Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, in his April 6 letter to shareholders, in which he stated that the “current pandemic is only one example of the bad planning and management that have hurt our country.”

In his letter, as highlighted by Mary Papenfuss of Huffington Post, Dimon opines, “Done right, a disciplined transition would maximize the health of Americans and minimize the time, extent and suffering caused by the economic downturn.”

He goes on, “I am hoping that civility, humanity and the goal of improving America will break through. We have the resources to emerge from this crisis as a stronger country.” Adding, the Covid-19 crisis is “forcing us to work together…and reminding us that we all live on one planet.” “E Pluribus Unum.”

Those are powerful and compelling words. In closing, we leave you with these words which are even more-so.

We are not partisan combatants. We’re human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together. And we’re determined to rise.

– George W. Bush, May 2, 2020

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