The year 2020 and the first months of 2021 are likely to be etched in the American psyche for decades for its threat to American democracy. The COVID 19 pandemic claimed its 350,000th death in the US in the end of December. More than 40 million Americans are unemployed. Families and businesses throughout the country are engaged in a decision making about “reopening” the economy and returning to schools, utilizing the vaccines. Cities throughout the country were convulsing with angry protest and violence in response to the police killing of yet another African American man. The 2020 presidential election and its result are continuing to be infused with a toxicity that is tearing the fabric of the nation apart. Efforts are underway to delegitimize and question the patriotism of a large proportion of the population. The supreme court is losing credibility as a fair adjudicator of constitutional questions. The election process, a bedrock of our representative democracy, is under assault by no other than the president of the United States, who believes his opponents are “rigging” the election. A substantial number of American citizens continue to believe the election was stolen. Furthermore, the ex-president has not recognized the result of the election and threatens our national unity. Although Former President Donald Trump is undeniably a leading actor in this crisis, it precedes him and seems certain to persist after his departure, now that President Biden assumes the presidency.
The concern about the state and future of the American political experiment started in 1776 is not surprising, and envisioned by our founders. The current circumstances of the body politic, are in large part manifestations of the flows of the constitutional DNA established in 1787. For decades, the fabric of US body politic has been unwinding. The country is polarized, inflicted with multiple self inflicted pathologies. More and more citizens believe that the political system is rigged. During the past decades Americans have become politically divided, polarized to an alarming extent. Challenged by regionalism and partisanship like no other time in recent American history. We are continuing to experience a political environment where passions have become the main driver of political discourse. Politicians and interest groups with access to sophisticated digital tools leverage a deeper understanding of psychological drivers for political action by addressing and personalizing messages that promote emotional response and action. Meanwhile there are many challenges and existential threats such as climate change, social inequality, systemic racism and automation that do not get addressed politically due to the political dynamics in Washington DC.
To heal this divisiveness, it is important to revisit the vision and principles that led to the creation of the United States. Building on the principles to create a framework to facilitate meaningful public deliberations and to develop a tool box that can help our citizens engage in the public sphere. To reclaim and to promote liberal democracy and liberal values in the United States. As we move past the 2020 election and its aftermath I suggest developing a framework of activities, a treatment plan of sorts, that seeks to contribute to the healing process. The goal is to establish national rituals that affirm the social contract established and fought for by prior generations of Americans. The “treatment plan” for our ailing republic tentatively called The Washington Farewell Project, builds on George Washington’s farewell address—the “letter” he wrote to the American people in 1796 after deciding not to run for a third presidential term. The various initiatives of the project seek to contribute to the body politic in a number of ways. To create a strategy to fortify American liberal democracy through education, exploration and celebration of our constitutional republic and areas of shared past.
Operationalizing the George Washington Farewell Project and The Americanism & Our Civic Ritual of Freedom Initiative
The Washington Farewell Project includes:
Civic Rituals: Establishing national rituals that educate citizens about our constitutional framework and the role of the citizen within the political ecosystem. Some of the planned rituals include:
Washington’s Farewell Address, as a timely message for the people of the United States: A public reading and discussion of Washington’s Farewell address can prompt an annual assessment of where we are along with a patriotic reflection of who we are as a nation.
Independence Day July 4th: On the Nation’s birthday it is customary for us to gather together for the purpose of considering how we may better serve our country. On the Nation’s birthday it is customary for us to gather together for the purpose of considering how we may better serve our country. This year we are asked to address ourselves to the newcomers and to make this Fourth of July what has been termed Americanization Day.
The Civic Seder for Thanksgiving: A national ritual, reflecting the shared American creed, can help affirm the social contract established and fought for by prior generations of Americans. Many religions and other social institutions have established rituals that sustain them from generation to generation. While a national ritual can have a positive short-lived impact for the participants, it can also serve as a launching pad for a more meaningful exploration of freedom and liberty in the 21st century and to develop a modern expression of citizenship. By celebrating America’s origins, aspirations and common creed we can develop strategies that promote shared American values
Constitution Day: A Time to Reflect on the Health of the Nation: Current political decision making and government performance suffer from information asymmetry that marginalizes the citizen making it difficult to assess the function. To meaningfully participate in our government, it is crucial for decision making to have relevant, accessible, reliable and timely information. Additionally, the “performance” of our government is rarely discussed in meaningful ways that can enhance public engagement. What is needed is a formalized way to “track” the performance of the government along with multiple relevant indicators.
Citizen Toolbox: When it comes to our political life, digital technology has the potential to enrich American Democracy and provide the tools for 21st century solutions to the challenges confronting the United States. From participation in the political process to engaging citizens in decision making and policy formulation, digital technology can be leveraged on the local, national and global level. Where previously only well connected individuals and organizations were engaged now more of the public can participate.
These tools allow unprecedented opportunity to get access to information, mobilize, challenge misinformation and provide for a more deliberative dialogue.
Taking Action With the Citizen Commission: Citizens across the nation can join together to discuss strategies to solve problems impacting the entire nation, and work to unite across regions, religions and ideologies. Using a framework and format that promotes communication and dialogue, aided by digital technology, moderated by a representative nonpartisan organizing body, citizens can educate ourselves to counter the excitation of passions by politicians and other representatives of factions, hold political parties accountable not only during election time by engage with them utilizing tools of active citizenship, take to the streets to petition the government when it doesn’t represent us. This process can contribute to a better understanding of the constitutional framework that is central to our body politic/ civil society. Perhaps we can focus on a social challenge for which there is wide, bipartisan agreement and work to most effectively confront it. One such challenge is the COVID 19 Pandemic ravaging the country, or the Opioid Epidemic.