I propose here what I will call a “Contract with America for Public Integrity” (see at the end of this post), recalling — yet nothing like — the Republican “Contract with America” unveiled in 1994 by then U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Neither is this an inherently Democratic proposal, although I am a small-d democrat, nor a vindictive thumb in the eye of the rival party as was Gingrich’s road map to a tinier, more tight-fisted, less regulatory government that he promised “shares the faith of the American family.” (italics mine)
In mine, religious faith is irrelevant, as it should be in all things governmental. Truth is what’s relevant.
The only elements this intended “contract” shares with Gingrich’s is that it envisions a “renewal” of American attitude toward government, not by making it smaller and less consequential but by requiring profound honesty in elected officials, and it seeks to “make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves.”
But the similarities end there.
Lies, lies, everywhere lies
One disturbing issue — the surging prevalence of official government lying — is what motivates me to propose this undeniably idealistic though also imminently practical road map to more truthful, more transparent American politics.
Especially from the mouth of President Donald Trump, this epidemic of American political mendacity has been overtly and manifestly purposeful, relentless and shameless. And it is dangerous for the republic’s democratic institutions and damaging to American stature around the world.
Consider the president’s behavior at the 2018 Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, leader of America’s international rival closest to a real enemy. The underlying context of the meeting was that Russia had extensively interfered in the 2016 presidential election in trying to increase Mr. Trump’s chances of winning, an accusation in which the entire U.S. intelligence community reported it had “high confidence.” In intelligence speak, that phrase is the closest thing to absolute certainty available.
Yet, there was the U.S. president, the primary defender of the nation, blithely saying that the Russian leader had told him “very strongly” that Russia didn’t interfere in the election — and that he believed him over his own intelligence experts.
That was and still is a problem for the nation’s confidence in the veracity of its commander in chief and top diplomat, because a sane, rational leader would instinctively accept his own intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in our election. In previous times it simply would have been unconscionable, unthinkable, for a president publicly speaking in such an important international forum to so casually dismiss his administration’s own intelligence well-considered conclusions.
9,000 lies and counting
Because the president had been compulsively and flamboyantly — and provably — lying for quite some time before Helsinki, this additional disregard of truth piled more doubt upon confusion for the American people. It wasn’t a one-off event. The president has told more than 9,000 confirmable untruths in his nearly 800 days in office, according to the Washington Post’s Fact Checker staff.
The overarching problem with this viral epidemic of official lies, misrepresentations, purposeful distortions and other dishonest political discourse, which on the president’s cue has gone viral, is that few if any remedies seem available.
And the president is now falsely proclaiming “complete exoneration” of collusion and obstruction of justice in what he’s long derided as the “Russia witch hunt.” What truly happened is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, after investigating a seemingly endless litany of unavoidably problematic and likely unethical interactions between president Trump and Russian emissaries of various stripes before, during and after the 2016 campaign, ultimately decided not to file criminal charges regarding those infractions against the president or any of his hangers-on. But he did indict a number of defendants for lying about Russian contacts and other peripheral crimes.
But, and this is important, in a summary report released by Attorney General Bill Barr, Mueller pointedly emphasized that,
“… while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” (my boldface)
So, it’s clear that bald-faced lying is being systematically employed by the president and his administration to baffle and distract and undermine the electorate for political gain, with no thought for the safety of the nation, despite protestations to the contrary.
The Contract for American Public Integrity
In a more perfect union, such shameless and dangerous mendacity would be a crime, and the president and many of his handlers and sycophants would be removed from office or in jail. But for lack of adequate laws and congressional rules of behavior and constitutional accountability, this has not happened.
Therefore, here is my personal Contract with America for Public Integrity. The original Republican Contract with America proposed eight fundamental reforms; here are mine:
Legislate federal laws that make purposeful lying to the American people by any elected federal official, or any persons representing such officials, a felony.
Require every U.S. presidential candidate to publicly release full personal and corporate tax returns for the prior 10 years.
Require every U.S. presidential candidate, once elected, to fully divest from all personal and corporate business interests that could present conflicts of interest as determined by an independent, bipartisan watchdog panel.
Create an independent panel to ratify whether any “national emergency” proclamation by the president is demonstrably valid.
Prohibit shutting down government and furloughing federal workers and contractors for political reasons. Require that workers and contractors receive full back pay in the event of any valid shutdown.
Prohibit any Americans, and particularly non-incumbent presidential candidates and their staffs, from interacting with foreign government officials or emissaries (whether rivals or allies), during election cycles.
Prohibit hiring relatives of the president, his staff or cabinet members for White House-based or other official public posts.
Require chairs of all Congressional committees to rotate between political parties every two years.