By Rudy Barnes, Jr., June 3, 2023
Congress is a polarized tribal duopoly that has put partisan interests ahead of the common good. The bipartisan vote on the debt ceiling indicates hope that a majority in Congress can put the common good ahead of partisan interests. For that to become a reality, Americans must elect a Congress in 2024 committed to making the common good a priority over partisan objectives.
American democracy should be reinvented as a commonwealth to prevent its further demise. Since the Trump regime and the 2021 capitol insurrection, partisan polarization has disabled Congress and fostered an immigration crisis, rampant drug abuse, and gun violence. The election of 2024 should enable voters to provide much-needed political reform in Congress.
A commonwealth requires both parties to subordinate partisan objectives to provide for the common good, and those changes should begin in 2024. Failure will doom American democracy to continuing political dysfunction, while providing for the common good can break the congressional stalemate. It’s an overriding theme that requires both parties to reframe their political priorities.
A commonwealth cannot function if split by red and blue partisan polarization. America needs a commonwealth with a purple Congress. In the vote on the debt ceiling, 4 of the 7 South Carolina Republicans in Congress and both Republican senators voted against the compromise. Fortunately, Congress mustered a purple vote to avoid an economic disaster.
Providing for the common good is a universal moral imperative grounded in faith and provided in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors , including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. It transcends all religions, since it’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and accepted as a common word of faith by Islamic scholars.
Both Thomas Jefferson and Alexis DeTocqueville recognized the need for moral standards derived from religion in democracy. The church should be the moral steward for providing the common good, but the church lost its moral compass in 2016 when a majority of white Christians voted for Doanld Trump. Today the church is more a part of the problem than the solution.
The altruistic moral standards taught by Jesus have been lost in America’s polarized partisan politics. Increasing racism and disparities of wealth resulting from the crony capitalism of the megacorporations that produce and control prices on most consumer goods remain beyond the control of a polarized Congress that’s unwilling to hold their patrons on Wall Street accountable.
America needs to restore its democracy with the altruistic values of a commonwealth--of the people, for the people and by the people. The name says it all: A commonwealth provides for the common good, and would end America’s plutocracy and restore its initial concept of libertarian democracy. We can’t let America’s democracy evolve into demagoguery and autocracy on our watch.
“A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically, it has been synonymous with "republic". The noun "commonwealth", meaning "public welfare, general good or advantage", dates from the 15th century. Originally a phrase (the common-wealth or the common wealth – echoed in the modern synonym "public wealth"), it comes from the old meaning of "wealth", which is "well-being", and is itself a loose translation of the Latin res publica (republic). The term literally meant "common well-being". In the 17th century, the definition of "commonwealth" expanded from its original sense of "public welfare" or "commonweal" to mean "a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people; a republic or democratic state". See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth.
On the debt ceiling bill, 4 of the 7 South Carolina’s Republican representatives in Congress voted against it, but it’s noteworthy that 3 Republicans voted for the compromise bill; and Nancy Mace, one of those who voted against the bill, said she still trusts McCarthy as the Republican House Speaker. Even so, Rep Ken Buck has said conservatives in the House will discuss ousting McCarthy “in the next week or two.” See https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/us-debt-ceiling-deadline-talks-05-31-23/index.html.
Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus the most sublime moral code ever designed by man, but he had nothing but contempt for church doctrines and dogma. Alexis DeTocqueville considered the many variations of Christianity essential to American democracy. On Thomas Jefferson and Alexis deTocqueville and their views on the moral values of religion in American politics, see Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy (July 1, 2017) at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/07/religion-moral-authority-and.html.
Seth David Radwell has addressed the role of religion in early American politics in American Schism (Greenleaf Group Press, 2021, in chapter 7), describing the conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton that gave birth to America’s populism and polarized partisan politics. The juxtaposition between democratic movements and popular religious revivals that both arose bottom-up and the weaponization of these trends by political leaders seeking public support were political dynamics in the fierce battle of the two parties led by Jefferson and Hamilton. The Second Great Awakening was a broad Protestant revival beginning in Kentucky and Tennessee that spread rapidly and brought a comforting blanket of spiritual faith to huge swaths of people and counteracted a high level of socio-political uncertainty experienced in the previous decades. It attracted many converts, especially Methodists and Baptists, that grew relative to denominations that were dominant in the colonial period such as Anglicans, Presbyterians and Congregationalists. The Federalists sensed a large and growing part of the population were adopting more pious views and employed Noah Webster, with his grounding in Calvinism [Webster was an 18th century Billy Graham], to advocate that Chrisitianity become more central to American life, blaming the violence of the French Revolution on a move from religion. Webster helped shift public opinion from Jefferson’s “blasphemous” Republicans toward Hamilton’s Federalists. (p 137). Radwell has noted that “shrewd political actors succeeded in co-opting populist movements that reflect the yearnings, fears and sentiments of common people.” Radwell criticizes “the concept of imposing the strict dogma of one centralized religious institution.” (p 151) That would include exclusivist religious doctrines on salvation and any religious discrimination that violates the freedom of religion. Radwell cited the balance between faith and reason as essential to assess the political ramifications of the Counter-Enlightenment.” (p 152) See An 18th Century Preview of America's Political and Religious Schisms at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2023/03/an-18th-century-preview-of-americas.html.