The riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 requires this country to take a hard look in the mirror and make drastic changes. The hate, delusion and divisiveness that have overtaken our political discourse have caused severe damage to the health and viability of our republic.
The time for good-faith engagement is now. We must reflect on how can we heal the still-open wounds and stop the metastasizing hateful rhetoric on both sides.
I could focus on the many examples of illogical, anti-democratic behavior on the left, but one cannot overlook the severely diminished state of politics on the right and the causal link to the insurrection we just witnessed.
When Republicans stood for actual conservative values – preserving the norms and traditions of civility, promoting small-government policies and respecting the role of national and cultural institutions – such an event could never have happened. Those values are but a relic from the GOP's past now.
As a result of the toxic rhetoric and anti-intellectualism in the party, the GOP has been decimated, as evidenced by the swing of unified government from the GOP to the Democrats in four short years. Millions of formerly GOP faithful will never again support the party in its current form without a severe course correction.
Fortunately, there are a few changes that could reverse the civic disintegration across the political spectrum (feasible at the state level!), but they must happen post-haste.
1) Implement intensive education reform to require civics classes at every level of elementary and secondary education.
Yes, this will require compromise – likely to include an increase to public school funding and corresponding tax increases. However, this does not and should not require any abandonment of private/charter school promotion and voucher programs.
Indiana (and hopefully more states) must pass education reform laws to include detailed metrics for civics, civility, debate, speech and history courses. It is imperative that such education include not only a thorough curriculum on the structure of government (horizontally and vertically), but even more important, on the nature, function and practice of civilized discourse. For added intellectual rigor, courses on the psychology of social media and practical skepticism starting at the middle school level would be wise.
We need these changes to ensure the coming generations have the tools and confidence to uphold American values and preserve our institutions.
2) Adopt ranked-choice voting at the state level.
In these polarized times, it is important that a winning candidate have the support of a majority of their electorate, not just a plurality. Essentially, if there are more than two candidates running for office, the winner must accumulate more than 50% of the vote.
As such, the ballot would ask voters to rank each candidate by first, second, third (so on) preference.
During tabulation, if your first choice got the fewest votes, that candidate would be removed and your vote would be recast for your second choice and so on. The process continues until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote. Two-candidate races remain unchanged, and the voter always has the choice not to rank at all.
Maine has implemented this reform across the state without any significant reports of error for the past two elections.
This common-sense reform gives people more choices at the ballot box, allows people to vote their conscience without “wasting their vote” and preserves their ability to meaningfully participate in the democratic process.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, it would decrease political polarization by encouraging candidates to campaign for second-choice voters, ultimately requiring the candidates to maintain civility in the campaign.
I hope, if there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that's been cast over our republic, it's that we all realize the need for a reset button on the American experiment. But instead of starting over, let's learn from the mistakes of our past and move forward in a way that at least allows us to talk to each other again.
Megan Torres is a Fort Wayne resident.