Andrew Sorkin in his NY Times Deal Book portal recently asked the question what is the one thing we could do to fix America. That’s why this year he and his cohorts undertook a special project. They canvassed a cross-section of leading thinkers and asked them: If you could do one thing right now to help fix the country — no matter how large or small — what would it be?
Their answers are collected in a new report, “How to Fix America,” which will also run in print on Sunday. Here’s a selection of what the experts had to say:
Let’s start our own conversation here at HelloFred. How do we improve America?
Even modest housing deregulation, such as upzoning to allow taller structures, can substantially increase the supply of housing in the most prosperous areas of the country. This promotes economic migration to these areas, which can reduce poverty and inequality by giving lower-income workers greater access to higher-wage labor markets.
— Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University
Birthright funds would be invested at birth in zero-cost equity index funds; be prohibited from withdrawal until retirement; and would compound tax-free for 65 years or more. At historical rates of equity returns of 8 percent annually, a $6,750 at-birth retirement account — which would cost the government $26 billion annually based on the average number of children born in the U.S. each year — would provide retirement assets of more than $1 million at age 65, or $2 million at age 74.
— Bill Ackman, chief executive of Pershing Square Capital Management
Appropriately triaged calls involving mental health crises coming into an emergency dispatch center can assure “the right work in the right hands” and help 911 center call takers, police officers and mental health personnel work together to provide persons in crisis with the best possible care.
Here is my proposed solution, to be applied one conversation at a time: When confronted with a different view, try to find something you can agree on. You don’t have to change your views. Just be open to the fact that others have theirs, too. It may sound counterintuitive. But it’s the only place to start.
— Heidi Larson, professor of anthropology at the University of London and University of Washington and author of “Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start and Why They Don’t Go Away”
Governments must do more — especially when the reality of Covid-19 requires distance learning in so many schools across America. Giving children the necessary digital tools will help equalize education to meet this unique moment and enable a brighter future.
— Marcelo Claure, chief executive of SoftBank Group International
Still, Trump’s actions have made many democracy experts anxious about the Electoral College — specifically, how it could undermine elections in the near future. The Electoral College may have become a bigger threat to the healthy functioning of American democracy than at any other point since the 1800s, these experts say.
There are two main reasons, and the first one will sound familiar: The Electoral College is more likely to deny victory to the winner of the popular vote than in the past. The main reason is that political polarization has led to landslides in more states than in the past.
By The New York Times | Source: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections
The popular-vote loser almost won the presidency again this year, for the third time in 20 years. If Trump had received just 0.7 percentage points more of the vote in every state, he still would have lost the popular vote badly. Yet he would have won exactly 269 electoral votes, causing an Electoral College tie that Congress likely would have decided in his favor.
Imagine how disenfranchised many Americans would have felt in that scenario.
The second issue with the Electoral College may be even more troubling, scholars say: The Constitution allows states to award their electors almost however they want. They are not required to choose the winner of the state’s vote, as Jesse Wegman of the Times editorial board points out. (Jesse, who’s a lawyer, has written a book on the problems with the Electoral College.)
A state could pass a law, for instance, saying it would award its electors to whichever candidate would best serve the national interest. Or a state legislature could step in after an election, by claiming that the will of the voters was unclear, Richard Pildes of the N.Y.U. School of Law has noted.
These possibilities might have sounded outlandish a few years ago. They sound less outlandish today, Pildes and others say.
A sitting president is attempting to overturn the outcome of an election and remain in office despite losing the vote. Almost 90 percent of that president’s party members in Congress refuse to acknowledge the true winner of the election. Top officials in 18 states and more than half of House Republicans supported a lawsuit trying to reverse the result.
These moves indicate that much of the leadership of one of the country’s two political parties is willing to toss aside the country’s democratic traditions to support a power grab. It’s an example of what the political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt — in their book, “How Democracies Die” — call constitutional hardball.
Some observers believe that the situation will calm down once Trump leaves the presidency and that the Electoral College process will continue to be a boring, technocratic one that reliably rewards the vote winner in each state. Others aren’t so confident.
“Once people decide that the rules are different, the rules are different,” Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina wrote in The Atlantic. “The rules for electoral legitimacy have been under sustained assault, and they’re changing right before our eyes.”
Related: A small group of Republicans are plotting a challenge on the floor of the House of Representatives in early January to try to reverse Joe Biden’s victory.
James Fallows, writing in the Atlantic, proposes a two-pronged approach to redressing Trump’s misdeeds and destructive acts. First, Biden should address the corruption and corrosion of the executive branch by rebuilding every part of it: “Every executive agency and department needs top-to-bottom attention.” That pretty much goes without saying.
The second prong of Fallows’s proposal is a bit more ambitious. Fallows calls on Biden to launch independent investigations into three “catastrophes” inflicted on the nation by Trump: the mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, the border policies under which U.S. officials separated children from their parents, and the “purposeful or negligent destruction of the norms of government, the most important being the electoral process.” For this, Fallows proposes that Biden establish a commission, perhaps something like the 9/11 Commission.
Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith, both of whom have served at high levels the executive branch, offer a far more comprehensive and ambitious set of proposals to make it more difficult for a future president to exploit fissures in the structure of the presidency in a fashion similar to Trump.
In their book, After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency, Bauer and Goldsmith propose more than fifty concrete changes to the laws, regulations, and norms that govern the presidency. Far too detailed to summarize in a few words, the proposals include prohibitions on presidential obstruction of justice, reforms designed to reduce foreign state influence in elections and financial conflicts of interest, amendments of bribery statutes, prohibition of self-pardons, revisions of rules governing Justice Department independence and special counsel regulations, and much more.
While these proposals may look more like a wish list than a realistic plan of action, Bauer and Goldsmith recognize that getting from here to there is a long-term uphill climb: “This book is thus primarily about how to think about reform after Trump leaves the scene, whether that is in 2021 or 2025. Our primary aim is to spark informed debate about whether and how reform should proceed.”
The point is that the criminal justice system is not the only, and probably not the best, way to redress the damage Trump has done to our nation. There are other potential avenues to protect us from another Trump, whether it’s some kind of commission, legislative fixes, regulation reform, converting unwritten norms into written standards, or some combination of all of the above.