Dionne: The next two years are about democracy itself

Dionne: The next two years are about democracy itself

January 7th, 2019 by E.J. Dionne Jr./Washington Post Writers Group in Opinion Times Commentary

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, center left, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, center right, share a laugh as they walk down the House steps to take a group photograph of the House Democratic women members of the 116th Congress on the East Front Capitol Plaza on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday as the 116th Congress begins. Also pictured is Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Photo by Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON — "This is what democracy looks like."

It's the chant heard again and again at the women's marches the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated and echoed later in mobilizations on behalf of gun sanity and the Affordable Care Act, in defense of immigrants and refugees, and in support of democracy itself.

Those determined gatherings were, indeed, part of what democracy looks like. There is a reason the First Amendment to our Constitution asserts "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" immediately after it guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The assembly right is intimately linked to the next one on the First Amendment's list: the people's right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

E.J. Dionne

E.J. Dionne

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

One of the main goals of tyrants is to keep dissenters shut in their homes and out of view. Only when they find each other can advocates of change realize their potential power.

But democracy also looks like what we saw on the floor of the House of Representatives last Thursday. Through use of the ballot, fortified by exceptional feats of organization and mobilization, voters changed the face of government in our country — in both a literal and figurative sense.

The contrast between the diversity of the Democratic side of the House (by gender, race, ethnicity and religion) and the visible homogeneity on the Republican side has been much noted.

The electoral rebuke to Trump (measured by the Democratic advantage in House races of nearly 10 million votes) showed that those who marched and demonstrated understood that peaceful assembly was only the first step toward achieving their goals. In cities and towns, red and blue, large and small, they met in church basements, coffee shops, living rooms and libraries. There, they planned on how to persuade their neighbors to elect a majority that would stand up to the president and his pliant Congressional allies. Then they executed the hard work of door-knocks, phone calls, social-media conversations, fundraising and texts. And they prevailed.

It is thus appropriate that the new majority gave the hallowed designation H.R. 1 to the bill they presented Friday with the purpose of expanding democracy while pushing back against corruption. The headline aspects of the legislation took aim at Trump era sleaze, including a requirement that presidential candidates release their tax returns, and tightening of White House ethics rules.

But the guts of the bill are all about making our system more democratic: automatic voter registration along with limits on voter purges and other methods that states use to block access to the ballot box, especially for minorities and the young. It would also ban contributions from corporations controlled by foreign entities.

Central to the proposal is a new campaign-finance system designed to limit big money's power in elections. It would create a series of incentives, including matching funds for donations of $200 or less, to encourage candidates to rely on small donors rather than the typically self-interested generosity of the wealthy.

H.R. 1 will be accompanied by a new Voting Rights Act restoring the federal government's ability to end discriminatory voter suppression, ripped away by the Supreme Court's misguided 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.

Leaders of the Republican Senate dismissed the House effort and said they'd ignore it. But this doesn't reduce its importance. Democracy is a long game. It involves pressuring those who resist reform (see: peaceable assembly above) and offering proposals future electorates can eventually endorse (see: The New Deal, which brought to life many ideas first floated by progressives in the 1920s).

At this moment of trial for all who treasure democratic institutions, the world could use an example of politicians whose solutions to our problems involve more democracy, not less.

Washington Post Writers Group

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...