The Biden Transition team released that the theme of the inauguration on January 20th will be “America United.” President-elect Biden has made several references to this being a “time to heal and come together,” especially after the Capitol riots on January 6th.
But it might stun you to know that a fragment of American society just hearing that it’s a time for healing and unity isn’t going to get the job done. Most Americans — perhaps not any — will hear President Biden’s call for unity and healing at his inauguration, mute their televisions, repent, and sit down to write a list of concrete steps they can take to heal the divisions in this country. We need a plan for that. Otherwise it’s just empty rhetoric from a bygone era.
1. Campaign Finance Reform
One of the single best things we can do to change the nature of politics, civil discourse, and public debate in this country is change who can participate. We need to overturn Citizens United and get deep-pocketed special interests out of the forums and campaigns where we elect candidates.
The amount of money and communication-overload inflicted on voters each election season is skewing the conversation away from what would be the day-to-day concerns of American voters.
Biden should call on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that will reverse Citizens United. He should prioritize filling vacant posts on the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and he should further promote passage of campaign finance regulations that provide for transparency and limitations on money in politics.
2. Ranked Choice Voting
Already deployed in Maine, and growing in popularity elsewhere, Ranked Choice Voting in primary and general elections will significantly change the nature of politics tearing us apart. Ranked choice voting puts consensus on display without alienating anyone’s priorities in favor of electability.
In primaries, ranked choice voting will shape intra-party squabbles into prolonged discussions about preferences for one candidate or another in your own party. “Unifying the party,” after a primary would be a thing of the past — or at least far less necessary if your get to decide on nominees based on preference and not a cutthroat, winner-take-all system.
In general elections in Novembers, ranked choice voting would allow the more extreme — and the more centrist — minor parties and independent candidates to join the conversation and have their support quantified without being spoilers. Not only would they not be spoilers, many third party or independent candidates might win as consensus choices and break up the stranglehold of our two-party system.
The Biden Administration should launch a commission on how to improve our voting systems, processes, auditing, and make clear that ranked choice voting should be the norm moving forward.
3. Demilitarize the Police and Change Their Accountability Systems
One of the greatest sources of strife in America is in our criminal justice system as it relates to race and the treatment of people of color by law enforcement. Campaign Zero has launched a comprehensive effort to change the way we police in the United States but two relatively simple steps could make big changes: demilitarize law enforcement and change how they are held accountable.
Hopefully, demilitarization speaks for itself: prohibit the stock piling of military-grade equipment for local law enforcement, reduce use of force, and prioritize of social workers and mental health professionals as first responders in their communities.
Accountability is much trickier, but the best thing to start with is to create independent oversight of law enforcement when deadly force is used. Put another way: the same district attorney that has to work with police on prosecutions should not be the official overseeing whether a police shooting was justified. It’s a conflict of interest that is only getting us bad results.
The U.S. Justice Department under President Biden will almost certainly make this a priority, but ultimately a great deal of this policy must be done in state legislatures and not in D.C. How to lead on that will be an open question and, if it’s shirked, a failure of the Biden Presidency.
4. Increase Civics Education in Public Schools and Colleges
If the Capitol Riots taught us anything, it’s that a huge segment of the American public does not understand how our government works and, worse, they do not have the tools to understand. The Riots may have been incited by President Trump, but they are also explainable by a generational failure to prepare our students to become engaged citizens.
Reading comprehension, critical thinking, even the ability to research and find sources are so absent in many Americans that they cannot participate in a genuine discussion in good faith. Even if they were to read the Constitution, at this point, it’s not clear they could comprehend it.
The assault on intellectualism and knowledge in the United States has to end and all we can hope for is that the next generation will be prepared better.
President-elect Joe Biden came up in politics at a time when simply calling for unity and healing might buy you a few percentage points in your approval rating. Those days are over.
The Biden Administration must live in a post-rhetoric world where these ideals meet concrete action. Otherwise Biden will be a doctor telling you to heal and you’re left empty-handed saying, “I know, that’s why I came to you. What do you suggest we do?”
We need more than rhetoric on healing, we need a prescription.