A futuristic government? | Three Things Thursday
Classrooms, board rooms, courtrooms, and even doctors offices all look a little bit different these days. Coronavirus, for its incredible destructive force, has been a boon for forcing institutions to rethink how they can adopt technology to create a truly 21st century system.
It’s enough to leave us to ask: what does 21st century governing look like?
Twenty years into the 21st century, and we still don’t have a precise answer. We know now that legislative sessions and hearings can be held over Zoom and Skype, and that assembling staffers and politicians into committee hearing rooms may not always be necessary.
But there are still larger, more systemic questions about governing that haven’t been answered.
How, in a world that changes faster than ever before, can the government keep up?
Here are this week’s three things:
It’s a tired story: partisanship has taken over Congress. Nothing gets done anymore because each party is afraid of its base, and each party stokes fear about the other side. We know the story; often, we’re the ones telling it in this very email. A new report from the Association of Former Members of Congress analyzes the systematic issues with Congress and presents recommendations on how to address them.
Coronavirus, it seems, is making the situation in Congress worse. Already devoid of the relationship building that had allowed previous generations of politicians to shuttle through major bipartisan legislation, the dynamics in DC have been even worse as of late — last week demonstrated by a profanity-laced tirade Representative Yoho directed at Representative Ocasio-Cortez. As Zoom calls and necessary social distancing allow elected officials to further shelter themselves off from the other side, the real casualty may ultimately be civility in the halls of Congress.
It turns out, there is a benefit to rubbing elbows with your colleagues; there is a benefit to happy hours and breakfasts. Even something as small as an elevator ride with a member of the opposite party can allow for the creation of a relationship — or at the very least, an understanding of the other side's humanity that is so often missing in today’s Twitter wars and political showdowns. Carl Huse writes this week about the report and its conclusions.
Big Tech had their day in front of Congress yesterday, and the Who’s Who of tech bosses showed up to testify. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Apple’s Tim Cook were zoomed in to testify in front of the House Anti-trust subcommittee. The tech industry, so long allowed to flourish unchecked by the powers of Congress, suddenly found themselves under scrutiny, as Congress worked to discern whether their unprecedented growth had violated any anti-trust laws.
As Wired’s Gilad Edleman points out, this was the first major anti-trust hearing since the 1970s. Internal documents and communications from Facebook, Google, and Amazon provided damning evidence that these organizations had engaged in systematic (and illegal) processes to wipe-out and acquire competition.
But here’s why it matters: these hearings could have damning and resounding consequences for the makeup of the internet. When the hearings weren’t descending into partisan rancor, our elected officials got at substantive issues and questions that may prove critical when it comes to creating a new system of legal guidelines — the likes of which haven’t been seen since the breakup of monopolies during the Progressive Era.
… that is, if they can keep it together long enough to get a bill through.
Senate Republicans released their new stimulus package this week, coming up against the Democrat-backed House bill, as well as warring factions in their own party. Americans need relief, and less than 100 days before an election, neither party wants to let the side claim victory.
Unemployment assistance, small business relief, and food aid were common in both bills, yet only one chamber included election assistance. The Senate bill, tragically, neglected to direct any funds towards ensuring secure elections in November, a not-all-together-shocking-but-nevertheless-disappointing decision that will only cause chaos and uncertainty as election day creeps closer.
American elections are being vastly underfunded right now; whether it’s for PPE for poll workers, updated machinery, or yes, absentee and vote-by-mail infrastructure, holding an election during a pandemic is expensive. Right now, the majority of the cost for holding elections is being passed on to local jurisdictions — the same jurisdictions that are facing revenue shortfalls as coronavirus related closures shortages cause their tax bases to dwindle. Americans have a right to secure and safe elections. Now we need Congress to ensure that it happens.