Saving Democracy: Overview of Reforms

Our democracy and governmental system is huge and complex. And broken. Because of this complexity, and because our system is broken in so many different places andThe state of our democracy is highly distressing to millions. Our distress is powerful, and it has ignited a movement. in so many different ways, we must approach the project of making our democracy work by figuring out all the places and ways it has broken down.

We need to repair the whole system, starting at the very beginning, with voter values, opinions, preferences, voting behavior, and citizen political involvement. We need to extend our reform efforts through the system, step-by-step, all the way to the final outputs - the actual delivered results that the public experiences directly.

The state of our democracy is highly distressing to tens of millions of Americans. Our collective distress is powerful. It has ignited a wide and deep movement to repair and reform our democracy and government.

Dramatic Scope of Efforts Underway

Efforts underway focus on scores of specific problems, and they involve hundreds of groups and many thousands of volunteers. Efforts span everything from voter enfranchisement (think statehood for Washington DC and Puerto Rico and ending lifetime disenfranchisement for felons) to campaigns focused on preventing corruption and improving performance in the administrative structures responsible for implementing legislation. In between are dozens of pressure points where special pleaders attempt to get their way and reformers push back.

Complicating this picture is the soft, or wicked, side of this challenge. This involves things like the media's poor performance, the rise of the uncomprehending voter, the lies and propaganda permeating political advertising, and the difficulty of distinguishing fact from fiction in political discussion generally. These problems are compounded by deteriorating civic values among voters, growing tribalism and hostility, and distrust between factions and even geographic regions. All these things are part of our problem and must be reformed as well if we hope to make democracy work as it must. Courageous organizations are tackling these wicked problems also.

Combining the straightforward problems with the wicked problems represents a one-two punch. Some reform efforts lack visible quick results, such as the attempt to restore civics education so that young people are given a basic grounding in how our system works. Too slow, you may think, but not so. First, as immediately urgent as our need for a well-functioning democracy may be, our struggles to adapt to changing circumstances will go on as far as the eye can see, and this allows plenty of time for such investments to bear fruit. But just as important, a class of socially engaged people, teachers, need to be convinced quickly to begin. This would represent a hidden but relatively immediate benefit.

Published: August 2019
Revised: July 2023

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