My guest today is my long-time friend, Mick Jackson, who, along with me and his wife, Judy, co-founded Citizens for Election Reform back in 2005.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome to OpEdNews, Mick. You were a software guy working in the pharmaceutical field and retired a few years ago. "On American Leadership" is your most recent op-ed. You're not alone in your displeasure and you were quite graphic in your distaste for current American so-called leadership. What's got you so hot under the collar?
Mick Jackson: I have been studying the responses and statistics of all countries at the Worldometer coronavirus site. It is rather easy to see which countries did well and which ones badly. Considering the countries that did badly, the US and the UK stand out among Western developed democracies and they both have quite a way to go before they are through the first wave. Leadership in both countries (albeit for different reasons) has a lot to do with it.
JB: Can you be more specific? There's only one Trump. It's hard to imagine any other country suffering from the same combination of negative qualifications for good judgment, shall we say? Can you be more specific? Let me point out here for our readers although you have been on this side of the Atlantic for many many years, you were born a Brit, so you have a special perspective on the behavior of both leaders. Share some of that with us, please.
MJ: I would slightly amend your first question to "it's hard to imagine any other developed democracy suffering"". Putin in Russia and Bolsonaro in Brazil certainly match Trump in negative qualifications, but as far as developed democracies go, I would agree with you. As to why America is so bad compared to other countries: we have higher cases per million than all but a few countries and we are slowly overtaking them, We have a death rate per million that is climbing and has overtaken a number of Western European countries. In both of these measures, we are in the top few of the OECD countries. We also had a much lower testing rate, although that has improved recently, but our rate is below that of about three dozen countries. Our growth rates in deaths and new cases is far higher. The reopening will bring a fresh wave of outbreaks. This is because the more we reopen, the more infections there will be from carriers to other people.
In terms of leadership, Trump is a proud ignoramus, a man who knows little, and cares less. Johnson, like Trump, is a consummate liar but he understands politics and facts in a way that Trump simply does not. So if I had to choose between Donald and Boris to be the leader of my country undergoing this pandemic crisis, I would choose Boris, despite all his limitations.
JB: Besides for the limitations of our leadership, you have other reservations about the way we were set up as a nation. Would you care to explain that?
MJ: Well, the response is a whole essay and I have written a few on this topic. But to be fairly brief: The 1787 Constitution was signed in Philadelphia and then ratified by the states. After it passed, the US government was set up with the President, Senate etc. Then, the Bill of Rights, dealing with individual citizens' rights against the federal government, was put together by James Madison in the House of Representatives. The 1787 Constitution and the Bill of Rights have different subject matters and different authors. The 1787 Constitution, in terms of the political structures, has not changed. Franchise expansions and term limits and income tax do not change the political structures of this country. It is plain today, and not just because of Trump, that the system is dysfunctional. No other democracy that has been stable for 70 years or more has anything close to the system we have. The vast majority are parliamentary democracies. I would point out that in the major surveys of democracies worldwide (Freedom House, The Economist, the Swedish V-Dem), America had been slipping before Trump and has slipped much more since 2016.
JB: Are you saying that our governmental structure had so many authors with different voices, it became like Dr. Doolittle's pushmi-pullyu, the whimsical animal with two heads, going nowhere fast? If not, what did you mean? And, can you give some examples?
MJ: It's not an issue of authors with different agendas. The issue is that as brilliant as many of those drafters and signers were, they could not conceive of a world where the role of blacks, women, city workers, cities, technology communications, and so much more have changed so much. They did not have many real examples of democracies or representative governments, presidents, supreme courts to use as templates for the new political structure. The contemporary British parliament was corrupt and very undemocratic. They did their best and it was great for the 18th century, okay for the 19th (ignoring the Civil War), antiquated by the 20th, and is obsolete for the 21st. Examples of what is wrong with the 1787 document include the role of the presidency (set up with monarchical powers) and Senate representation of a totally undemocratic nature in terms of one person, one vote. Also, the Electoral College (designed to enhance the power of the slave-owning South), lifelong federal judge tenure, and Article 5 concerning how to amend the constitution, are manifestly undemocratic.
JB: Is there a general awareness of the dysfunction and undemocratic nature of the Constitution? Is there a relatively painless way to improve it? I'm assuming that giving more power somewhere means taking power away somewhere else, which is never popular with the latter. Who ever voluntarily surrenders power? (Probably those who least need to.) Your thoughts?
MJ: Left-wing Americans are very upset with Trump and most of them dislike the Electoral College. Yet few think much about other undemocratic features some of which I listed above. Article 5 of the 1787 Constitution requires new amendments to be passed by 2/3 in each house of Congress and then ratified by ¾ of the states. It is a very hard bar to cross. Any substantive change to political structures will be seen as either pro-Democrat or pro-Republican and thus can never get over that high constitutional bar. The only way it will be fixed, if ever, is with a massive societal, political, and economic breakdown; one much more substantial than our current Coronavirus trials and tribulations.
JB: Well, the pandemic has certainly caused a massive breakdown with more to come, I'm afraid. Are you saying that there might turn out to be a silver lining amidst all the suffering and uncertainty?
MJ: I don't think the pandemic and its aftermath will be sufficient to push Republicans to make any big changes to benefit the average American. The only way to make big changes is for Democrats to win the Senate as well as the presidency and then warn the Supreme Court not to declare the radical changes unconstitutional. All this seems somewhat unlikely, given the rural preponderance in the Senate. It is hard to see how major changes in America will be made in the next couple of years.
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