"I agree with you that our old, broken and dysfunctional governing system is an alarming problem. I want to suggest another possibility for reform that requires neither a constitutional convention nor a coup. I also want to suggest that there is a better way than continuing to work within our system's flaws and limits to secure our nation's future.
"I maintain that a single constitutional amendment that cuts to the core of American government's dysfunction would work vastly better than a coup, a constitutional convention or continuing to muddle through within the present system.
"That constitutional amendment would deal with election, election finance and the use of money in the public sphere. Obviously, actual wording warrants considerable thought and effort. However, I can suggest some example content:"1. Prohibit the contribution of anything of value to candidates for federal office or to federal officials."This amendment would be designed to return the right of government "by the people" to America and to reduce the influence of money in American elections and governance.
"2. Establish federal government funding and procedures for federal elections.
"3. Provide for direct election of the president.
"4. Prohibit the use of super majorities in any public election and in the rules of legislative bodies except in amending the US or state and local constitutions/charters.
This recommendation rests on several arguments: 1. That this amendment does cut to the core of the American government's dysfunction 2. That government of the people, by the people, for the people, is still worth dying for and preserving. 3. That money has corrupted our system so gradually, so insidiously and so thoroughly that we do not even recognize it as a serious problem per se and often view it as a given.
"American voters have been disenfranchised as their voting rights have been denied or abridged or their vote nullified as those for whom they vote receive large amounts of money to influence their legislative vote... The vote of the people has been usurped by concentrations of money to promote the special interests of labor, business, religion, the right to bear arms, military procurement, war and peace, foreign governments and a multitude of others whose interests are often at odds with the public good.
"The subversive influence of money on the political process is the underlying cause of most of that which ails our country. It has led to social, political, economic and international disaster for our country. It has led to unnecessary wars, the near collapse of our economy, staggering public debt, little hope for any near term recovery for our country, and collapse in public confidence in our entire political system....
"James Madison said that we cannot change the nature of man. All we can hope to do is reduce the ill effects of man's most destructive instincts (Federalist, Number 10). He realized our government could conceivably take a bad turn through the machinations of men of factious tempers, local prejudices, and sinister designs who would betray the interests of the people.
"This is precisely what has happened to America. The voice of the people has been supplanted by moneyed interests whose primary interest is in increasing or preserving their money through reduced taxes and expenditures. What the Founders could not possibly have foreseen was the incredible convergence of interests through modern technology and monetary systems. The latter increased liquidity and the influence of money in general.
"Since then, regional, political and economic factions converged into only two major political parties. Those two parties have effectively become one with money as the common denominator for the special interests of both parties. Hence, Madison's dream that a multitude of interests would prevent Congressional corruption was shredded by the passage of time and technological and economic advances.... It is futile to think we can rely on the mainstream media, a free press, to expose money driven domestic and foreign policy influence and corruption in our government....
"America's fundamental ills may be incurable without constitutional change. This was the case with slavery, civil rights, women's rights and other nation altering constitutional amendments. It may be the case with voting rights."
James Fallows is a staff writer for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the 2018 book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which was a national best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.