Healing the American Divide
by William Bishop
Americans in 2020 are split and aggressively divided. The country has largely followed that model set forth in our bicameral legislature: They are either for or against the current party and administration. The notion that everyone that doesn’t support this administration falls into one all-encompassing category called Democrat or that everyone that does support it falls into an all-encompassing category called Republican isn’t only inaccurate; its unhealthy. This sense of tribal identity and the perception of politics as a zero-sum game is the source of the problem and fixing it is the solution. Each side thinks that the other taking control means cutting off their desired futures, and are vilified in the media. When people’s hope for the future is taken from them, they instinctively (and rightfully) fight to get their futures back. However, it isn’t the desire of either side to rob the other of their future (except for the current president, perhaps). Privately-controlled media and foreign actors are flooding the people’s sources of information and news that Trump-supporters (I hesitate to label Trump-supporting as equivalent to supporting the republican party, as he doesn’t embody their values) use to shape their world-view on what is happening and how they should respond. Supporting a power-hungry criminal that is benefiting foreign enemies (Russia) isn’t the obvious or popular choice, and in a Democracy it is the popular choice that matters – the will of the people. Therefore in order to subvert Democracy, one needs only control the perception or narrative of the people who are most likely to support him. While Trump’s policies and his behaviors and political record largely do not support his promises, don’t reflect his supporters identity, and do not benefit his supporters, he is still receiving their support. There are two key reasons for this. First, his supporters are constantly misinformed by their chosen media outlets with constant Trump-supporting propaganda. Additionally, these same sources are attacking all other sources as ‘fake news’, leading supporters to believe that the propaganda is the only reliable source of ‘news’. Sadly, these propaganda distributors are performing at the behest of Russia or self-interest with regards to Trump’s increasing power to the wealthy. Second, they are unable to identify with any other individual that can embody their values in the presidency. Many republicans don’t support Trump, but are pro-life, pro-gun, pro-religion, and anti-immigration/xenophobic. None of the democrats embody these republican value points but Trump does. He is pro-life, pro-gun, pro-religion, and very xenophobic. He’s also a lot of terrible things besides the things that voters look for. For a very large percentage of the population, however, he is seen as their only option if they wish to preserve these things. All opposition is painted as radical left-wing demons who only exist to take these things away. To them, Trump vs Anyone Else is a matter of voting for the lesser of two perceived evils, as everyone else is a “deep-state socialist attempting a coup”. In the end, they will begrudgingly and reluctantly vote for Trump.
How to fix the problem? Getting rid of false propaganda and the two-party system should do it! But that’s not easy, is it? I think we’ve all seen that. Attacking sources of propaganda is a murky area with regards to free speech and not the road we want to go down. Expanding the two-party system is constantly being quashed by the establishment because it would spread political power around and the party in power generally loves holding onto that power rather than create a fairer system. Such is the nature of the beast (I guess? Personally, I don’t care about power but I don’t expect others to emulate that. Life is hard enough already). However, humans are resourceful creatures. When the existing world doesn’t give us the best solution, we invent new ones. Human imagination and innovation is infinite and endless. How then can we leverage our ability to create new things to both stave off opposition and heal the divide between the nation and bring people together? We create a new space for everyone to have their voices heard where they are safe and they know they matter. A new space where people can raise concerns about the direction of the nation as well as concerns about the damaged road signs at the end of their street. A new space where they can engage their neighbors, their town, their district, their state, their country and all of the politicians representing them at each level. People need to believe what has always been true but has largely been forgotten: The government exists FOR the people. We can do this by creating a new digital media for every citizen to directly engage with their government for information, services, connection, and communication. A new form of American PUBLIC social media that lets every citizen have their voices and concerns heard and recognized and from which Democracy can fully function as it was intended. A complete and total revolution of the relationship between our government and the people who it exists for and for whom it continues to exist with their support. When people feel like their government cares about them and that they matter, they will be more open to engage and civilly discuss whats important to them, and consensus and compromise can be reached which everyone can feel happier with and be a part of making. Maybe they didn’t get exactly what they wanted, but they were a part of the conversation. They were a part of the decision. They were a part of their government. They helped make their government and can stand with their government. Everyone can share in this experience of making the government for them and everyone they meet on the street, and know they helped make it too. That they’re in this thing called life together. This will give people unity and solidarity that doesn’t exist today in the relationship between citizen-to-citizen and citizen-to-government. Party divides won’t be as harsh and it won’t be a zero-sum game in which one party wins and one party loses. Instead, everyone wins. When the person who wants to do the things you care about has a party name you aren’t familiar with, you’ll know its OK because what they believe and what they do is for you and you have the power to elect someone else when the time comes. Participatory democracy breaks down the walls propping up a two-party system, breaks down the walls propping up propaganda and tribalism that separates ‘my team’ from ‘the other team’, and breaks down the walls protecting corruption in our government. It gives the American people back the lost faith and trust in their government and elected representatives. It gives the American people a government that they can stand behind and be proud that they are a part of and that they were heard and that they mattered. That, is what will fix the divide in this country and we should realize this goal as soon as we can.
Citizen Service Accounts and Public Social Media:
Every citizen that has a Citizen Services Account will automatically also have a public social media account tied specifically to their account that only they can use. I emphatically suggest that this new media be portrayed carefully so the general public is aware of the gravity of what is shared with this program; because I emphatically suggest that due to the nature by which one gains membership into this forum (citizenship, one per person) and the fact that there is 100% oversight, that this forum is NOT anonymous. It isn’t a place from which anyone can do any of the things that are currently bogging down existing social media: creating duplicate accounts to falsely promote ideals or give the appearance of popular support, trolling behind anonymity, being a means of advertisement, malicious foreign participation, etc. (Long list). People would need to be aware that what is shared and said is a matter of public record and would need to stand behind their beliefs and proposals under public, democratic scrutiny. No one can say, “Experts agree…” or “Scientists have said…” , etc. because they would need to be able to reference actual people and the actual people could confirm or deny their claims. Because it is so transparent and so safe from bad actors, it will allow democracy to thrive and allow participation by the general public, so the public can start having trust in the government and their elected representatives. When people can pose concerns and questions to their elected representatives and their campaign staff and share in that experience with their neighbors and their countrymen and see how the rest of the country feels there will be a sense of camaraderie among the American people – seeing how we’re all trying to get through the day and hold on to things we care about just like everyone else, how we have problems just like everyone else, that we matter just like everyone else. When people can pose concerns and questions to their districts and get feedback, they’ll know their voices have been heard. When they don’t get exactly what they want, they can see immediately see who is arguing against it and why. Then they will understand the other side and they’ll be able to safely communicate in pursuit of compromise. The people can get the majority of those in their community, city, district, state, or country and aim referendum proposals to their elected representative. Their representative can then meet experts and impacted constituents and then leverage their knowledge, their political understanding, and the needs of their constituents and then vote for proposals or create new proposals that serve their constituents. This is what elected officials exist for. They aren’t there to take money from corporations and pass legislation that benefits them. The government exists by the people, for the people. When there is a clear and public medium in which people can see their fellow Americans in favor of progressive changes in a democratic majority then politicians will no longer be able to keep up the smokescreens created by biased media and will actually have to do things to the betterment of society, as they were intended to. If politicians operate in a way that goes against their constituents and can’t explain why sufficiently to them directly, then it’s corruption and people will be able to see it as such. What it means to be a politician shouldn’t be some drama-filled and complex space in which criminals profiteer off lobbying and foreign contributions while amassing power for themselves or their parties. It should be representing Democracy. It should be a job – a public service, and treated as such. While people live their lives and work in different fields to make the world a better place, politicians should be working with other politicians across the country to see that the needs of the public are met and safeguarded and that we have constant, progressive growth of our country, economy, society, and ultimately, our world. By creating a safe, public, transparent space we can restore faith in our politicians and our governments. People will know who they are voting for, and how they feel for and have defended the issues and constituents that they champion. Politicians are public servants, and people can trust them to serve them while they pursue better, happier lives. The government exists for them, makes life better, and they can believe in it again. It is for these things that I absolutely believe in the creation of an Americanized democracy that leverages technology to create public social media and achieve these goals.
Note: I am by no means a social media expert, but I will put the following ideas forward as best I can
Public forums and referendum petitions:
Each level of government across the country will have its own public forum under the umbrella of the Public Social Media. This means that there will be a a central ‘home’ from which each citizen has read and post access to each tier of government they are a part of. Each citizen will automatically be a member of the forum for the local/municipal government, district level government, state level government, and federal government. Additionally, any citizen can read/view any forum in the country. This is the default setting for every citizen. I will use the local/municipal level as an example for how this would generally look. On the local/municipal level individuals can access the data that is being offered from the local government with the equivalent of stickied threads about who is in office, what their roles are, what they’ve done recently, what they’re working on, general FAQs, etc. From here citizens can petition or query privately to their representative (just like if they were to e-mail or contact their representative by other means). Additionally, citizens can create posts which address an issue they are concerned with that hold relevance on the local level about how something can be done better or about issues that aren’t currently being addressed but would like them to be reviewed. Other citizens can then engage in conversation (how exactly to best implement the conversation, whether is by posts or a kind of chat feature I’m not an expert in. I think the Reddit model is pretty good though.) and once they feel that they’ve either been heard by their representative or found a solution from their peers they can then feel satisfied that they contributed to improving their lives and their government. If there is a consensus by a majority in the community, they can create public referendum petitions. What these are is a petition that is created by and signed by the community (in this case the local government populace) using technology like smart contracts. People will be able to view the document and then submit desired changes or amendments that only people in that community will be able to vote on. For example, if someone wanted to change the title from “A sensible carbon tax” to “Sensible carbon pricing” then everyone in the community would see a notification for desired change/fix the next time they access the public forum of the Citizens Services Account. From here they can vote ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to add or reject the change. Whatever is the majority decision after a certain time limit (A week, maybe) that is what occurs. If the majority is in favor of the new wording, the referendum petition would then be titled “Sensible carbon pricing” and the history of that change would be public record as well. Once there have been no new edits for a period of time or some other delimiter or a majority voted that it was completed, the petition would then officially be passed to their representative (obviously their representative can view or even contribute to any petition beforehand). At this point, their representative would (if they pursued good form, I’m not arguing they have to. But their next election might not be in their favor if they ignore their constituents.) then review and release an official response: Rejected with rationale, approve with rationale, or adopt an alteration of the proposal with their rationale. From here their representative would do what they can in their position to implement/reject the proposal. This same type of interaction between citizens and their representatives can occur with each level of government. Obviously the federal discussion would be the most difficult to moderate and that requires more informed social media experts than myself. But what this gives us is communication and representation that is progressive and serves the people. The petitions are open-source democratic proposals from constituents to their representatives. They aren’t laws and representatives are not required to follow them, but they serve as powerful suggestions that demonstrate the will of the people. The politician’s job is then to decide if it is in the best interest of the people to pursue the petition and what changes they might make based on what they know as politicians that the general public isn’t constantly aware of in their own day-to-day lives. From here they can explain their ultimate decision and this will maintain a cohesive and mutually beneficial relationship between the populace and their elected officials. If a politician is constantly at odds with their constituents and can’t explain their positions in a satisfactory way, the people have the power to change their representative at the next election. Which is exactly how it should be.
Government Information Resources:
If I have to search on a private search engine (google) where things are done in the government, then perhaps the government isn’t doing enough to give transparency and visibility to the people. We certainly have the ability to leverage technology to improve the relationship between government and the people, and we should make these changes when we can. Every CSA should have a means by which a citizen can query about government services in their area, services available to them, and programs offered by the government. Essentially, there should be a government “wiki” (obviously we’d make our own). People should be able to easily view everything the government does and has so long as it is public domain. And if there is data that aren’t in the archive, but should be, we should put up a result that says, “Hey, great question! Unfortunately, nobody is perfect – including us! But we will improve our archive to answer this question in the future and will send your question to someone who can find you answers.” The government doesn’t need to come across as brusque and business-like. It’s a resource that exists for them. Each CSA can have an inbox from which they can get questions answered by a government information call center (or something, more jobs!). If the information is classified, it should be labeled as such and when accessed, a page is displayed that says,
“Hey, this is interesting stuff! In a perfect world, we’d tell you what you wanted to know. Information about your government is open and free – just like you. Unfortunately, other governments don’t always want what is best for you like we do. For this reason, we have to keep some things secret from everybody so that no one uses this information to try and do bad things. If you really want to know, you’ll need a security clearance – here’s how you can get one…”
Again, this is a resource for the people. It should be user friendly and informative to the point that kids can use it as a resource to find out what the government is and how it works. Keeping as much as we can transparent and telling them why some things are kept secret to protect them, we create increased trust. And that is what our country needs in our government today. Trust. If people trust their government is helping them, then they will have hope for better futures. If we aren’t doing what we can so tomorrow isn’t better than today, then what are we doing?