Submitted to the AFRO by Elijah Cummings
After 22 disheartening months of the Trump presidency, the Pew Research Center released a national survey, Sept. 26, with encouraging news for the future of our democracy.
With just weeks to go before Americans elect a new Congress, the polling data from the non-partisan Pew organization [http://www.people-press.org/] confirmed that “voter enthusiasm is at its highest level during any midterm in more than two decades.”
Far more Americans said their midterm vote will be against President Trump than expressed support for him; and a record share of registered voters (72 percent) said that the issue of which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote.
Clearly, there is substantial national support for electing a Congress that will be a “check” on the President and his administration.
Nevertheless, for reform Democrats to regain the majority in Congress and “check” the worst tendencies of the Trump Administration, we also must present the American people with a positive vision of what our “Democracy Restored” would look like.
Protecting our Democracy: The Central Issue of our Time
Recently, in an interview with Alice Giles of the League of Women Voters, I was asked what I considered to be the most important challenge that we Americans must face and overcome during the next few years.
I could have responded by speaking to the issues that I have advanced in the Congress (and on these pages) – challenges like the struggle of far too many families to earn a living wage, and the serious, unresolved issues that our nation must address in public education, health care, racial and gender justice and protecting our environment.
I remain convinced, however, that as citizens of a democratic republic, we must face up to an even more fundamental challenge: the fight in which we are now engaged for the very soul of our democracy.
At the close of our nation’s Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked whether the framers had proposed a Republic or a Monarchy. And Mr. Franklin is said to have replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Today, in 2018, I still believe we have a Republic – but only if we can keep it.
I hold fast to this conviction because the functioning – indeed the very legitimacy – of our democratic system has been under attack for some time.
I am speaking, of course, of the continuing attacks on our elections – from sources both foreign and domestic – and of the failure of Republicans in the Congress and White House to adequately defend us against those attacks.
This challenge has been raised, inescapably, by the actions of the President of the United States while in office – whatever may be the outcome of the ongoing legal inquiries into his prior conduct (and that of his inner circle).
This challenge has been allowed to metastasize by the failure of the current Republican majorities in the Senate and House to fulfill Congress’ constitutional duty to investigate and cure Executive abuse.
For example, Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have requested majority approval of more than 60 subpoenas seeking information from the Trump administration. The Republican majority on our Committee has failed to approve even one of our requests.
For the unity and future of our Republic, the next Congress must reassert our constitutional obligation of oversight, seeking and obtaining the answers to serious questions of governance that, until now, have gone unanswered.
We must perform this constitutional duty so effectively and convincingly that those Americans who support this President and those who disagree will reach a shared and united answer as to how our nation must proceed.
In the words of my heroine, former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (in 1974): “My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, [or] the destruction of the Constitution.”
Advancing a Positive Vision for the American People
As the Pew organization’s polling has also confirmed, however, victory for a new, more progressive congressional majority will be defined every bit as much by the affirmative policies that we have committed ourselves to enact as by the failures of the current President and his Republican congressional allies. This is our pledge to the American people.
A more progressive Congress will work to strengthen, not seek to destroy, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
We will fight to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, lower prices on prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies and support the apprenticeships and job training that are the foundation of living wages.
Criminal justice reform, protection of our natural heritage and more rational and humane immigration policies will once again be at the center of our national agenda.
Above all else, we will enact legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act to its full power, prevent further foreign interference in our electoral process and hold accountable anyone who seeks to subvert our most fundamental civil right.
We can and will win the fight for the soul of our democracy in 2018 – and when we do, this is what our Democracy Restored will look like.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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