On the brink of the most consequential U.S. election in living memory, current scholars were lucky to engage in a fireside conversation with former U.S. Senator Larry Pressler. After two decades in Congress, as a member of Republicans for Hillary, and most recently as an Independent (having left the GOP after its “lurch to the right”) Senator Pressler was a rare voice of non-partisan centrism in this toxic and polarised moment. His key message is that the American republic will survive this election, regardless of the outcome, but that the current turmoil exposes deep fallibilities both in the system itself, and in the culture that currently prevails inside it.
The Senator argued that some key policy issues that the United States appears incapable of addressing include the extension of eminent domain over private property for public infrastructure provision, reforming the labyrinthine tax system, making the case for funding basic science, shifting the conversation about trade and globalisation, and rebuilding public support for a strong immigration program. In response to these failings, Senator Pressler called for a “civic reawakening”, whereby regular Americans re-engage with their democracy in order to revitalise it. Such a movement could involve electing more independents to Congress, instituting a period of national service for young people to restore a unifying civic identity, Constitutional amendments, the abolition of the Electoral College, and ending political donations from lobbyists. In these turbulent times, perhaps even radical reforms like this, proposed by a former Republican Senator no less, might be needed to save the republic from destroying itself.