CLIMER: Fixing Congress

(J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo)

I have no doubt that my fellow North State Journal readers believe, as I do, that the U.S. Congress fails at almost everything it attempts.

In its wake, the Congress has left a path of destruction through the southern border, across Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East, through the national debt, our fiscal security, the budget process, and just about every other function of government that impacts our state, our communities and families. Congress has created problems, by action and inaction, that have grown into crises bordering on catastrophe for your system of self-government.

We blame politicians, and rightfully so, but citizens also have responsibilities to fulfill, especially when our political leaders fail. Over time, however, the American people have lost the tools needed to repair a broken system and restore their place as the preeminent focus of and influence over the first branch of government and the citizens’ first defense against failure.

“Fixing Congress: Restoring Power to the People,” which will be in bookstores on March 19 and now available online, was co-authored by longtime friend and colleague Mike Johnson (not the current speaker) and me. We wrote it because, with 40 years each of experience in the orbit of Congress, our alarm over the chronic dysfunction of the institution and the public disdain for it just kept growing daily since we left public service.

One problem Mike and I kept seeing below the surface was the lack of public knowledge of how Congress works; why it doesn’t; how people can access it, and how they can influence what their representatives and senators do. The lack of such knowledge knows no boundaries ― not your education, your job, your age, race, gender or what kind of car you drive. It results from neglect by our schools, civic organizations, political parties, media and even ourselves.

It is a cause of the public distrust in all things political.

We believe that without knowledge, there is no trust, and without trust, there is no governance.

“Fixing Congress” provides historical context, explains the complexities of Congress, and delves into special interests, polling, campaign financing, the media, the lack of civility and the demise of civics education. We also look at solutions that we all need to consider from reform of congressional processes and behavior to major changes in the structure and functions of our democratic institutions, such as the size and shape of political districts and campaigns. We also delve into the relationship between Congress and the judicial and executive branches.

Americans have, throughout history, confronted seemingly insurmountable challenges. Each time, the crises have been met and overcome, not by Washington, the media, Ivy League academicians or leaders of industry, but by the people on whom our nation and way of life have always depended ― you, me, Mike Johnson, The People who have gone to war, who have met the challenges of foreign terrorists, who have made the U.S. economy the strongest, the most productive, and the most innovative in the world and have done so while upholding the values and principles on which the new Republic was founded two centuries ago.

We are now facing a crisis of confidence in our country. People are angry at each other and must be told how to converse at the dinner table. People have lost trust in each other, no longer believe in the benefit of the doubt, and are unwilling to compromise on opinions shaped by extreme and strident views, misinformation and social media propaganda.

Politics has gotten personal and ugly.

Our social and political system is off the rails, and it can no longer be left to politicians to get it back on track to get us from where we are to where we need to be. The place to start is with Congress. They call the House of Representatives the Peoples’ House, the First Branch of Government, the place where we should go to get redress of our grievances. It’s a big job, but someone has got to do it. That someone is all of us. “Fixing Congress can help pave the road ahead.

“Fixing Congress” is available to preorder at many retailers, such as Target, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Walmart. We hope you’ll read it and enjoy it, but more importantly, help us spread the word about the need for an empowered and engaged citizenry for the long struggle ahead to restore power to the people.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787 to his friend William Stephens Smith, son-in-law of John Adams: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

You can help start another revolution and reformation of our democratic republic, but this time without the manure of blood. Without a national debate and grassroots action, we can’t fix Congress and save our democracy. We all have to participate.

Jerry Climer lives in Edenton.