Butler: This Constitution/Citizenship Day, let’s restore our democracy


Judith Butler of Wilmington leads the Delaware chapter of American Promise. She is a retired pharmacologist and nurse.

We hear it every day: “Democracy is on the line in the 2024 elections!” Indeed, a recent CBS poll showed that 72% of us believe our democracy is under threat. The No. 1 reason, cited by 86% of respondents of each major political party, was “the influence of money in politics.” Sixty-seven percent agreed that “most people don’t have a say.”

Concern for our democracy has reached such a fevered pitch that, for the first time, the presidential foundations and centers for 13 presidents since Herbert Hoover released a joint statement this month, expressing concern about the health of American democracy.

Why is the world’s longest-lived democracy under such dire threat?

Our Constitution established a democratic republic, where representatives elected by the people are expected to serve on behalf of their constituents. However, recent Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission (2010) have outsourced our democracy to corporations, unions and billionaires by denying Congress and state legislatures the authority to regulate political spending.

Now, wealthy donors and special interests are free to spend without limits through super PACs and “dark money” groups. As a result, political spending in the 2020 federal elections totaled $14.4 billion, more than doubling the total of the 2016 election cycle.

Very few people can run for office unless they are wealthy and/or connected to very wealthy people who will fund their campaigns. Consequently, there aren’t many elected officials who share their constituents’ life experiences, and their legislation often reflects the interests of their donors instead of their constituents: tax cuts for the wealthy at a time of ballooning national debt and record-breaking inequality; generous subsidies for the oil, gas and coal industries, as wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and rising seas caused by climate change threaten our very existence; massive spending on the military-surveillance-industrial complex, while our citizens’ basic human needs — affordable housing, health care, child care and education — are underfunded.

Wealthy special interests have far too much power in deciding who can run and what policies our representatives will consider when they are elected.

The good news is that our Founding Fathers gave us a way to fix this problem: We can amend the Constitution to allow our legislatures to regulate political spending, so the best qualified candidates can run for office and, once elected, represent their constituents and work for the common good. Indeed, a citizen-led movement has already resulted in 22 states, including Delaware, and more than 840 local governments formally petitioning Congress to propose an amendment like American Promise’s “For Our Freedom” amendment.

Amending the Constitution is a heavy lift, but we citizens did it 12 times in the 20th century. As we celebrate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on Sunday, let’s work together to restore our democracy. Tell Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, all D-Del., that we need to amend the Constitution, so every citizen has an equal say, and we are truly a democracy of, by and for the people.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at civiltalk@iniusa.org.

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