leadership conversation with harold ford jr
LONGEST-SERVING CONGRESSMAN — John Dingell Jr., foreground, who holds the record for the longest term of service in Congress with 59 years, joins Harold Ford Jr. in speaking with students at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan in 2015. Dingell represented the area of Michigan now known as District 12 in the U.S. House of Representatives. He died in 2019 at the age of 92. PHOTO COURTESY THE GERALD R. FORD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

It’s time for USA 2.0

Forget “us vs. them” and “the new Civil War.” We’re Americans; let’s fix what’s broken. That’s what we do.

I’m a huge admirer of the Big 3 documents underlying our nation: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

They are amazingly effective tools constructed by a brilliant collection of Founding Fathers, and they changed the course of the world for the better. But the Constitution was adopted 234 years ago this June, and the Bill of Rights was ratified three years later in 1791.

Despite my personal admiration for and trust in these documents, the changes since that time in knowledge, capabilities and society are almost incalculable.

It’s now time for a bit of tweaking, a refresh, and some well-thought-through patches to our national operating system.

I’ll boil down my list to these three critical improvements:

Eliminate gerrymandering. Humans are wily animals and are highly creative in manipulating circumstances to their benefits. Politicians have worked out how to “choose their own voters” to virtually guarantee that incumbents cannot be voted out of office, and to prevent the other guy from ever getting in.

The Founding Fathers would have tarred and feathered cheaters like that.

Today, if marketers can develop algorithms to put ads for new boat motors on my PC screen after I hovered for a nanosecond over a picture of one, why can’t we assign a nonpartisan group of genius computer scientists to create a program to assemble totally fair, unbiased and just voting districts? Let’s do that.

When I see politicians stand in front of cameras in the Capitol and say on any issue, “That’s not what the American people want,” it makes me gag. All the while, their gerrymandering is preventing the American people from getting what they do want.

Enact term limits. Super-complex factors affecting our lives arise every day at the speed of light. Meanwhile, one congressman set the record in office at 59 years; seven have served 50 years or more!

There are 62 members of Congress now who have been there 40 years or longer. Forget current knowledge, forget fresh and efficient new ideas, we’ll never get them this way. Note that 97 percent of corporate PAC money goes to politicians already in office to keep them there, while poll data shows that 82 percent of Americans favor term limits to reduce such corruption and arrange for better representation.

Throw out or change the filibuster. The Senate filibuster (a Dutch word meaning “pirate”) is not an ancient American legislative technique. It was invented only in the early 1900s as a way for one senator to hold up debate and obstruct a vote, and it clearly makes work grind to a halt.

I understand there are a few pros among the cons, but let’s at least require the old filibuster method of a senator having to stand there and explain their position on the bill, and not simply “phone in a filibuster.” That’s just crazy.

The results of our government cheating and inefficiency remind me of an experiment where researchers administered a mild electric shock to two lab rats in a cage (uncomfortable, but not harmful). The shock almost always led to the two rats becoming aggressive and attacking each other.

Too often these days, the comparison comes to mind of we Americans fighting with each other because our leaders in Washington have no problem with making our lives unnecessarily miserable.

A few tweaks to the system are overdue and, I believe, would help the situation considerably — and would meet with the approval of our Founders.

— Trained in industrial-organizational psychology, Heeter specialized in workplace learning and knowledge management in tech industries. Now retired, he works to encourage efficient processes, wise decision-making, and a good quality of life. He lives in DeLand.


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