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Yes, someone else is chiming in with their opinion on certain executive orders. But as you will see, it is a bit different than other analyses that you might have read so far.

The problem with the executive order President Donald Trump signed Friday that brought the immigration of refugees from several Middle Eastern nations to a near standstill is that the order should not be framed in terms of race (though it does play a giant role that should not be overlooked). It should be framed in terms of constitutionality and legality of the order. Because framing the order through race, the argument becomes “us vs. them”, and divides people further. However, by framing it constitutionally, the argument against it becomes just “us”. Because that order having any kind of success, it establishes the precedent that the chief executive of the United States- one person- can ban certain groups of people from the country whenever he or she deems it is in the best interest in the nation’s security. This is a civil rights issue for every American.

Think about it like this- today it’s people from a few countries in the Middle East that are targeted. However, if Trump or any other president in the future decides that people from Ireland, or Italy, or South Korea, or Brazil, or Egypt, or Finland, or [insert country/race], based on what one person from [insert country/race] did something wrong or criminal here in America were targeted with similar executive orders. Or people that have brown hair, or those who have joined an organization that president does not agree with. That president apparently can simply direct their expulsion via executive order. That’s the issue that I see with this ban. It’s arbitrary, and one person can decide who’s in and who’s out. What is to stop another president from acting in any way I’ve stated above (or doing so in worse ways that I did not mention)?

Presidents have often tested the limits of executive power- from President Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to “pack” the Supreme Court to Presdient Nixon’s attempts to spy on and retaliate against his political enemies and the media and claiming executive privilege when it came to withholding evidence, to President George W. Bush’s war powers and the powers given to him by the Patriot Act to direct the erosion of the right to privacy for American citizens to President Obama’s renewals of the Patriot Act, his concerning use of drone strikes, and high use of executive orders to implement change that should have been done in Congress. Trump’s predecessors have given him the ability to act in this manner, and to this point past presidents have acted with at least some restraint. It was only a matter of time until these gradually expanded executive powers fell into the wrong hands, with Trump being the current case in point.

This brings me back to my original point. It’s clear that our government has lost its way, and it has been losing its way for some time. When the Founding Fathers were shaping the document that became our Constitution, they made a clear attempt to give most of the power to the new government to the Congress. Both the president and Supreme Court had power for sure, and all three branches could and should act as checks in cases of abuse by another branch.

I fear that our society has become so insulated and polarized that both sides would scream at the changes I will advocating for in the paragraphs to come. These changes would be twisted and mangled into monsters, so unrecognizable after going through the cable news treatment and repeated within the echo chamber of our own online communities where we hear only what we want to hear and accept opinions as fact and fact as lies.

I do not pretend that any of these solutions are the product of my own mind; they are simply ideas I have read that I am putting into one place.

Penny Pinchers

One of the few powers that is explicitly handed out in the Constituon is the power of Congress to create laws and be in charge of the money. The president cannot raise or move funds if Congress does not specifically allow him/her to do so. However, as the executive branch has grown over the years, that power has become somewhat muddled. Politico can take you through in finer detail:

Article I gives Congress full power over the collection and expenditure of public funds. The president has no independent spending or taxing authority absent congressional authorization, and must come to Congress annually with hat in hand.

Yet, Congress has been extraordinarily deferential to the executive branch, most conspicuously by authorizing executive agencies to collect and spend funds with little congressional direction. Last year, these fees, fines, and collections amounted to $516 billion, or one-seventh of the total budget, which is not going through the annual appropriations process. That is almost equal to what the nation spends on national defense. The high tide of this give-away of congressional spending power came with Dodd-Frank. It funds the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) with money from the Federal Reserve (a quasi-governmental entity). The Bureau also can fine financial service providers and then give the money to private parties operating “consumer education” and “financial literacy” programs. Congress has no say over the use of such public funds.

The legislature can assert some control over Trump’s freedom to spend by directing agencies to turn more of the money over to the Treasury, where it must sit until Congress re-appropriates it. Legislation introduced last Congress by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL) would do just this, but Congress would be wise to first map out which agencies are spending what and why, and decide which agencies should have their spending authority curbed. (Remarkably, Congress is largely unaware which agencies are collecting what fees and fines and for what purposes, as a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing recently demonstrated.)

Obviously it is concerning that Congress would be so “extraordinarily deferential to the executive branch.” The $516 billion number that the executive branch is allowed to control to various extents is such a vast number that goes unaccounted for by Congress.  Imagine what a dent the would create in our national deficit (which stands roughly at $560 billion for 2017, with a likelihood that it rises over the next several years as the link to the Wall Street Journal suggests) if Congress collected that money instead of the money staying in those agencies.

Campaign Finance Reform 

By every measure, the way campaigns for office are financed in this country has gone off the rails. Neither side seems eager to do anything about it since both Democrats and Republicans benefit from the contributions of corporations thanks to the Citizens United decision, donations to “independent” political action committees (PACs), and undisclosed contributions. Take a look at the pie charts below (courtesy of OpenSecrets.org) to see the breakdowns of where campaign contributions came from during the 2016 election cycle.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-12-29-57-pm

As you can see, large individual contributions and PACs take up most of the territory on those charts, and therefore end up with most of the influence over members of Congress. For example, during the vote for the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2015, contributions from oil and gas corporations seemed to play a significant factor in getting members of Congress to vote for it. The following from AOL Finance explains:

Senators and representatives who voted for the measure received far more in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry than those who opposed it, according to an analysis by watchdog group MapLight.org. Working from public contribution data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, the organization matched votes on the bill to the money received by members of Congress from the oil and gas industry.

House representatives who voted for the bill on average received 13 times more in oil and gas contributions ($45,375) than those who voted against it ($3,549). Democratic representatives who voted for the bill received, on the average, $18,141, roughly five times the $3,444 received by those who voted against the bill.

Once one starts digging, it does not take one long to find how widespread this occurs and how often it does. It’s not illegal. But the rules certainly do favor the wealthy. This is undoubtedly a big reason why some people felt a draw to Trump when he would say “the system is rigged” or we need to “drain the swamp” in Washington. If the president is serious about “unrigging” the system, this would be a good way to start. A serious, bipartisan attempt to change the way campaigns are financed and give people the feeling that their voices are not being drowned out by powerful individuals and corporations would go a long way in restoring faith in government and its ability to govern, and may even earn Trump points among Democrats and progressives.

Anti-Gerrymandering Legislation 

Gerrymandering has been a major force in creating the division we see in politics today. States legislatures are in charge of breaking down voting districts, which they can do every ten years following the census. Depending on which party is in charge of a given legislature, that party can redraw districts to benefit them and make them “safe” districts. This unsubtle way of making sure your party stays in power has caused parties to drift further away from the center, with candidates and congresspeople taking positions further and further towards the extremes of their respective party. There is no incentive for them to put forth a bipartisan face to their districts when they are nearly guaranteed to win.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-12-24-56-pm
Source: OpenSecrets.org

Obviously, gerrymandering is not the sole reason behind the high reelection rates among members of Congress (particularly in the House, as shown in the chart above). But it is a bigly (yes, I went there) factor.

There has been a push in recent years to take gerrymandering out of the picture. For example, FairVote, a non-partisan non-profit organization that advocates for fairer voting procedures and laws, has called on Congress to consider the organization’s “Ranked Choice Voting Act”. Here is what FairVote has to say about how their proposal would work:

FairVote’s flagship proposal for Congress would replace the winner-take-all single-winner districts with fewer multi-winner districts. In each multi-winner district, three, four, or five winners would be selected by ranked choice voting. In each district, the majority would elect most of the seats, but voters outside the majority could elect their fair share too, meaning that nearly every voter would have a representative they supported and helped elect. The total number elected in each state would stay the same, but district lines would not determine winners: voters would.

Now one might ask why a state legislature would pass laws like this that would affect parties so severely. As of this writing, Republicans control both chambers of a state legislature in 32 out of the 50 states, while Democrats hold control in 13 states. Republicans also control governorships in 33 states (Democrats have 16 governors). Surely there is no incentive for, let’s say, Republicans in Texas or Democrats in California to risk losing those strong majorities now (and redistricting powers) in order to have voting that is more fair.

Here’s why: Have you even been in a fight with someone- let’s say a significant other- and  at one point the person you’re verbally sparring with says “Fine, I’ll do it. I’ll be the bigger person.” From that moment, that person has the edge over you and will always be able to say “I was the one who [insert action/activity] and put my ego aside.” They can always claim to be more willing to look like the unselfish one.

In Maryland, a Democratic state senator made such a move. Jamie Raskin, who represented Maryland’s 20th district in the state senate from 2007 until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives last year, introduced a bill into the Maryland Senate early in 2016 that would solve the problem of gerrymandering. The point here isn’t that this is the ideal solution to the issue or that it should be enacted. The point is that a Democrat introduced this bill in a state where districts that are drawn heavily favor Democrats. If this bill or a version of this bill were to pass the legislature there and signed into law, this would surely make Democrats look like the more agreeable party and the one demonstrably looking to make sure the voices of all its citizens are heard and not just the Democratic voices. A bill with that type of affect and message would also tap into the populist feeling that the campaigns of Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders so successfully exploited.

We the People can make all of this happen. If only one point sticks with you the reader, this is the one that I hope does. We can make it all happen. We can do this by not only paying attention to politics when it comes time to vote. We can do this by calling, writing letters, and emailing incessantly to force action from our elected representatives. We can do this by protesting. These changes I have written about here are not liberal or conservative changes. They’re changes that are meant to enable voices on both ends of the political spectrum and protect all of our freedoms. They are not going to stop disagreements, nor should they. The debate and discussion on issues that affect us is a concept as old as our country. These potential solutions only further ensure that everyone feels as though their perspective and opinion is being heard, which should lead to greater compromise and less mistrust.

We the People can also make an active choice to improve ourselves as well. By taking responsibility for the improvement of ourselves, we indirectly make government improve (it is a government created for the people, after all). This means not only paying attention to credible news sources (both in the United States and abroad), but also taking the time to learn how our government operates and how each agency affects our lives.

The Internet is a valuable tool to that end. One can search any bill in Congress or a state legislature. One can read about the difference between our national deficit and debt, how one affects the other, and how each affects us and the economy. One might be surprised to find that there is good debt that actually helps us, or that not all spending is bad (for example, did you know that one billion dollars spent on the hiring of teachers creates over 17,500 jobs and pumps $1.3 billion back into the economy, while defense spending only creates roughly 8,500 jobs for every one billion dollars spent?)

The whole point of this sprawling article is to get people to realize what has happened and can happen if we do not put an end to bitter party politics and let parties divide us further. Our civil rights and economic freedoms are at risk, no matter what person or party holds the reins of the country in its collective hands. We should not let whichever party happens to be in the minority complain about rights, then let them forget all of those arguments once they become the majority party. We the People need to and should hold our politicians accountable. If one group’s rights are being marginalized by politicians, no matter what party they belong to, that is an affront to our rights as well because our rights can be stripped away just as quickly. Someone’s right to practice a certain religion is just as an important a right to acknowledge and protect as someone’s right to own a gun and protest. No one deserves any less or any more than another group.

Because We the People.

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