Restoring the Integrity of Our Democracy

Martin O'Malley
Jan 25, 2017 · 20 min read

**Remarks as presented to the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy, Boston College School of Law on January 24, 2017**

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Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Boston College Heights Editor

(Acknowledgements — Dean Vince Rougeau,… John Rappaport…..Jerry and Phyllis Rappaport….)


I’m so pleased to be with you today, and grateful to speak with you about such an important topic as “Restoring the Integrity of Our Democracy.”

Not so many years ago, Robert F. Kennedy said:

“Democracy is no easy form of government. Few nations have been able to sustain it. For it requires that we take the chances of freedom; that the liberating play of reason be brought to bear on events filled with passion; that dissent be allowed to make its appeal for acceptance; that men [and women] chance error in their search for the truth.”

American democracy is a topic on which many incumbent politicians love to wax poetic.

We have all heard long sermons on the beauty of our democracy, the brilliance of our Constitution.

This is not one of those talks.

Our democracy is in trouble.

We have become bored with our politics.

So bored, in fact, that most of us would rather be entertained by it than read about it.

We’d sooner protest its shortcomings than take part in its healing.

I want to speak with you today about the immediate challenges facing our Nation;

The common good we share as a people.

The human institutions we have created — over time — to preserve, protect and defend our liberties.

The dignity of every individual person.

The State of Our Democracy

Our political institutions are in a state of crisis — a crisis with domestic divisions not seen since the Civil War.

A crisis that includes foreign interventions in the public square of our democracy that are unprecedented in the history of the Republic.

The integrity of our democracy is dissipating before our eyes and in our eyes.

Like a mountain of sand with a hose running over it.

The sand is being washed away by a public too burned and too bored to vote.

By powerful wealthy special interests with a now unlimited ability to drown out individual voices.

By a media that has abandoned judgment — and the promotion of objective truths — in favor of ratings and entertainment value.

In this environment of dissipating integrity, a large minority of us has now — for the first time — elected a candidate to the Presidency whose campaign promises, platform, and rhetoric match 11 of the 14 characteristics* of fascism.

A modern, American brand of fascism already becoming popularly referred to in our lexicon as, “Trumpism.”

As Pope Francis said in an interview just yesterday — reflecting on the lessons world history offers on the rise of fascism — “now we must see what he does.”

Today, many Americans wonder:

Does he really intend to do the things he promised in the campaign? Or was he just saying that to juice ratings, and to get elected?

If truth is the heart of integrity, the early days of this Administration are not promising.

The first White House press conference was spent castigating the press corps for accurately reporting the size of the crowd that showed up for the inauguration.

It was followed by threats to throw the White House press corps out of the White House press corps briefing room.

Whatever will they do with the additional space?

Just yesterday, Mr. Trump claimed that he only lost the popular vote because 3 million illegal immigrants voted — Yet another totally unsubstantiated claim for which there is zero factual support.

The future of our country will now depend on the resilience of our democratic institutions — including our press — and the courage of individual men and women who serve in those institutions.

It will depend on the courage they can bring forward to defend the very principles which make us Americans.

I want to talk with you about progress, and the truth we share.

I want to talk with you about resistance and the restoration of integrity in our government.

And I want to talk to you about how “We, the People,” will accomplish these things together.

I. Democratic Principles

A little over a hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt said:

“Our republic has no justification unless it is a genuine democracy — a democracy economically as well as politically — a democracy in which there is a real, sincere effort to realize the ideal of equal opportunity for all [women and] men.”

Roosevelt spoke with the Gilded Age as his backdrop. The industrial revolution and the rise of the Robber Barons had pushed inequality in America to — what was thought at the time — an extreme.

Protests and railway strikes spotted the country.

It was a time of anger and desperation.

A time when working people felt the game was rigged against them. A time of profound division and unrest.

Sound familiar?

Since the days of Greece and Rome, democracy has never been easy.

Our Founders themselves were divided. We all know this now — because Lin Manuel Miranda wrote a musical about it.

I hope he writes more musicals based on American political drama.

He could write one about Thomas Jefferson’s 1800 Presidential campaign against Adams; when Jefferson supporters published rumors that President Adams was a hermaphrodite.

Or, he could write one about Lincoln’s election in 1860, which was so contentious half the Nation seceded. And even with half the states seceding, he still barely won re-election!

Up from the ashes of those experiences, a renewed sense of national unity grew.

A newer and deeper sense of solidarity; the truth spoken by Frederick Douglass that, “We are one, our cause is one, and we must help each other if we are to succeed…”

The great challenges we face are two-fold. One political and one economic. And the two are also one in the concept of our nation…

As the late (and great) Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said:

“We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

Our government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is now threatened by an economy of the few, by the few, and for the few.

“Trumpism” — like other brands of elected fascism before it — can only succeed in an atmosphere of economic distress and desperation.

Inequality in America today is a moral challenge with economic and democratic dimensions.

Get this:

If you are one of those Americans with a college degree, your portion of the workforce lost 87,000 jobs in the Recession. But since then, 8.4 million new jobs have been created in America for people with college degrees. That’s a net gain of 8.2 million jobs.

If on the other hand, you are one of those Americans with only high school diploma, your portion of our workforce has yet to experience a recovery. Our people with a high school diploma or less suffered the loss of 5.4 million jobs during the Recession. Our job creation since the Recession for this group of Americans has been just 84,000 jobs. In other words a net loss of 5.1 million jobs.

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Whether it’s unrest in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities or suicides across rural America, the heart of the desperation is the same:

It is a lack of hope for better days.

Our hollowed out manufacturing base has left tens of thousands of Americans jobless, angry, and convinced their own government has become a tool for the powerful and wealthy.

As the great poet laureate of the American Dream, Bruce Springsteen, sings:

“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true. Or is it something worse?”

When this many Americans feel the economic opportunity game has been rigged against them by their own politicians, voting becomes solely an act of protest.

But anger never fed a hungry child.

Anger never protected a family’s home or sent a kid to college.

Anger never built a great nation.

And despots only succeed in the face of bad economies and weak democratic institutions.

So, what do we do about it?

II. Forward, not Back

As with most complex problems, there is not just one thing to do; there are several.

The restoration of our democracy is not a sequential exercise.

Not a matter of first accomplishing one thing before pursuing the next and then the next…

We must pursue all of them, and we must pursue them at the same time.

The wholeness of our cause must define the purpose of our fight.

#1. We must frame a principled opposition to Trumpism based on “economic opportunity for all” and “the freedoms of every individual person.”

One out of every 100 people in the United States took part in last weekend’s March for Women.

The March — I would submit to you as one attendee with my own women and men — was not just about women. It was about all of us.

Native people were well represented. Immigrant people were well represented. Every faith and creed — including our Muslim sisters and brothers — was represented.

Images of Mother Earth were well-represented.

The young were disproportionately well-represented — and rightly so: as their future years on this planet are disprortionately at risk.

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Mark Kauzlarich for CNN, Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017

A principled resistance, a principled opposition to Trumpism — with all its celebration of aggressive masculinity, militant white nationalism, and Darwinian economics — must be based on American principles and universal values:

Primarily — a belief in the dignity and freedoms of every person.

A belief in the common good we share.

An understanding that we are all in this together.

That our economy is not money, it is people.

And together we must take actions that reflect these truths; actions that defend these truths.

Actions which give our children a country with more opportunity than we have had, not less:

Good jobs with rising wages.

Security, health, well-being.

Opportunity for all.

[This is our offensive framework, and this must be our defensive framework.]

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#2. We must fight to guarantee a Constitutional Right to Vote for Every American.

We, Americans, have some of the lowest voting rates in the world; and we are the only advanced democracy making voting harder to do.

Voter ID laws in 32 states were recently passed to keep as many as 23 million Americans from successfully voting in the last election.

This was not something that just casually happened.

Not something that blew in on the Gulf Stream or a polar vortex.

It was a concerted effort advanced by such groups as ALEC with funding from deep-pocketed, current Republican groups, advanced and passed into law by current Republican legislatures and current Republican governors.

These new barriers to voting disproportionately affect women, the elderly, and people of color.

And lest you dismiss this as a partisan rant — I challenge you openly here and now to name one Democratic legislature or Democratic Governor who has passed such barriers to voting into law?

Together, as a people, we must elevate and wage the fight to make voting a Constitutional Right.

Many Americans believe they already have a constitutional right to vote, but the U.S. Constitution guarantees no such right explicitly.

The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection, not the right to vote.

The Supreme Court, in fact, has recently struck down major sections of the Voting Rights Act.

A Constitutional Right to Vote would make restrictive barriers clearly unconstitutional — whether photo ID’s, elimination of early voting days or polling places, or burdensome voter registration requirements.

Fighting for its passage will encourage our fellow citizens to overcome the obstacles in place.

(In the nation of Estonia — the only nation to have absorbed a full-blown cyber attack — they have figured out how to securely vote on-line even in the face of the ever proximate Russian cyber-threat.)

Here in our country, our laws have failed to protect this fundamental right to vote.

Amending the Constitution is hard, but voting shouldn’t be.

At a time when so many Americans don’t vote, we need to make voting easier — not harder.

You shouldn’t have to stand on your head, gargle peanut butter, spit nickels and whistle Dixie in order to register to vote in the United States of America.

In the Information Age, registration should be automatic — a right facilitated by every other interaction with your government: from Motor Vehicle offices to the Post Office.

#3. We must fight the corrupting influence of big money. This means not only fighting to overturn Citizens United, but enacting public financing of election campaigns — wherever possible — including in our own Congressional races.

One of the more telling interviews of this last presidential election was not an interview of a candidate, but of a citizen.

A fifty year old, blue collar, life-long Democratic man was asked how he could rationalize voting for Donald Trump — a candidate opposed to raising the minimum wage, opposed to unions, opposed to collective bargaining, opposed to pensions, opposed to paying his own billionaire income taxes, opposed to making his own company’s various products in America…

The man answered:

“The way I see it, our country’s got cancer, and Donald Trump is just the chemotherapy we need…”

Tough stuff.

When that is the diagnosis, and that is the prescription, calling the chemotherapy “poison,” over and over again, doesn’t change the heart or mind of that voter…

And what exactly is the cancer he has diagnosed — it is the self-dealing greed of elites; elites in power, elites in government, elites who have the big money it takes to buy influence and finance campaigns.

It is the cancer that has rigged the game against economic opportunity for him and his family.

We must fight to overturn Citizens United — corporations are not people. Political offices and the answers to political questions — especially questions about the economy we construct and fashion — should not be determined by the highest bidders.

The time has come for the public financing of campaigns.

Many cities are already moving in this direction.

The shameful way that we immediately turn our Congressional representatives into telemarketers, is a national disgrace.

“Dialing for dollars.”

Members of Congress currently spend up to four hours a day calling prospective donors. That is 20 hours a week spent fundraising. There are better and higher uses for our public representatives.

And yet, most of us would sooner buy a lottery ticket than contribute the same amount of money to a campaign — to any campaign.

So, I suppose, we get what we don’t pay for.

The behavior of our leaders is a reflection of ourselves.

Sad but true.

Given the size, scope, and importance of our ability to govern ourselves, publicly financed Congressional campaigns would be a small price to pay for restoring integrity to our House of Representatives, and to our Senate.

#4. We must, on a state by state basis, push for an end to gerrymandered Congressional districts. We must accelerate the adoption of non-partisan Redistricting Commissions and other reforms like “ranked choice voting,” and the retirement of the electoral college…

Gone from the Congress of today are the Rockefeller Republicans and the Blue Dog Democrats.

Instead we have fostered a system that drives our representative apart.

A system that has wiped out diversity of opinions.

A system that digs ideological trenches around incumbents — incumbents whose approval ratings, as a group, have hovered below 20% for nearly a decade.

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attribution: Daniel Donner, Stephen Wolf

Nature understands that balance and stability are achieved through diversity; ideologues and fundamentalists believe the opposite.

I can speak to this with the credibility that comes from experience.

As a governor, I held that redistricting pen in my own Democratic hand.

I was convinced that we should use our political power to pass a map that was more favorable for the election of Democratic candidates.

That in this hyper-partisan era, we should not “disarm unilaterally.”

That this was legal and passes Constitutional muster.

And it did.

When our Congressional redistricting map was petitioned to popular referendum, it was approved by the voters with a whopping 69% of the vote notwithstanding three — count them, three — nasty lead editorials of opposition by the Washington Post; editorials accompanied by pictures of ugly maps.

But that doesn’t mean that the antiquated partisan redistricting process — now combined with big data, geographic information systems, and micro-targeting of precinct by precinct voting trends — is good for our country as a whole, or for our country’s future.

America needs non-partisan redistricting commissions not only for drawing Congressional districts every ten years, but for state legislative districts as well.

This simple reform, already being adopted in some states, must become the new norm of American democracy.

How can we possibly expect a spirit of moderation to thrive in our representative bodies otherwise?

How can we expect people to vote if their voice has been carved into irrelevance by a political map ahead of time?

While we are at it, we should encourage the move — already under way in some cities and states — to “ranked choice voting.”

A system where voters are are able to express their preference of candidates in terms of first choice, second choice, and third choice. It is a system that not only asks, but allows for, the expression of a greater degree of discernment and judgment from individual voters.

When old institutions no longer serve the common good, we should retire them.

Back in 2007, my State became the first state in the Union to pass a resolution committing our State to a National Popular Vote for President.

In other words, when a majority of states agrees to abandon the Electoral College process, Maryland is now committed to pledging all of her electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

The Electoral College, much like gerrymandering, is another relic of colonial America that no longer serves. It is time to throw it away.

As much as Donald Trump denies it, the fact is he lost the popular vote by 3 million people.

In the 250 year history of our Republic, only four times have we ever sworn into office a person who only won the electoral college vote. This is twice now — in just the last three Presidents — that we have sworn in the candidate who lost the popular vote of the country…

No wonder the rest of the world is scratching their heads as they look upon us — and our once proud example of democracy.

No wonder the Russians are laughing; their leader publicly calling us, “a banana republic.”

And this leads me back to us.


5. As individuals we must take actions to rebuild BOTH the Democratic Party and the reputable news organizations of our nation from the ground up; from the grass roots up; from the local to the national.

Why, you might ask, do I put both of these challenges together as one?

Because this isn’t about moving left or right.

It is about moving forward.

Forward to a more inclusive country.

With a more inclusive economy.

With a more inclusive democracy.

A democracy of integrity — where each of us matters, where every voice is heard, where each of us must try.

Where the objective truth matters.

Where progress is an informed choice.

It might be nice if we had evolved — with President Obama’s election — to a place where Political Parties no longer mattered. But they do.

And while we Democrats turned our Party into a shell corporation for bad debt, the Republican Party — such as it has become — used their Party’s power to takeover more Statehouses, more local offices, and more Governors office than ever before.

Parties matter.

And since the Republican Party has now been seized by the third party candidacy of Donald Trump, the responsibility to forge a principled resistance and a principled opposition has fallen heavily on the weakened shoulders of the Democratic Party.

Individual men and women must rebuild our Party from the grassroots up.


By running for state and local office. By contributing time, effort and their good name to local and state Party action. President Obama can’t do this for us. We need new candidates to run for city, state, and county office. The young and the young to politics.

There are many things wrong with our politics today, the primary one being, not enough good people run for office.

And not enough good people care to go into journalism — which leads me to my final point.

III. Objective Truth

We need good people to go into journalism, and we need good people to subscribe to good journalism.

To pay for subscriptions to reputable news organizations.

To pay for the objective reporting and promoting of the truth upon which our democracy depends.

The dissolution of the objective truth from our news coverage today is a dangerous thing for country.

This is not a question of balance, it is a question of integrity.

“Alternative Facts” are not facts. “Fake News” is not news. They are lies, told in self-service or — sometimes — in the service of the objectives of foreign powers who wish us ill.

Lies — whatever their source — are contrary to the best interests of our Republic.

For our democracy to have integrity, our media needs to have the integrity to report and promote objective truths.

And to balance dishonesty with an over-abundance and an over-repetition, if you will, of that truth — lest the big lie carry the day and our country away with it.

Are we okay with the way our last election played out?

At times it seemed most of us really didn’t care.

Facts didn’t matter.

Whether our primary debates were conducted by the League of Women Voters or the wonderful world of Disney, didn’t matter.

Whether the Democratic Party even had a prime-time primary debate before Iowa and New Hampshire voted, didn’t seem to matter — even to the Democratic National Committee.

And it didn’t seem to matter when the Russian government hacked the emails of the Democratic Party and our nominee’s campaign: criminal acts intended to sway the election to Donald Trump — the first candidate from either Party to advocate a weakening of our Nation’s commitment to the NATO alliance.

Many years ago, Neil Postman, in a hauntingly prescient bit of writing laid out the contrasting futures that George Orwell and Aldous Huxley foresaw on the road ahead for civilization.

It should be required reading, or perhaps a daily mediation, in every law school and every school of journalism in America.

“What Orwell feared — he wrote — were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much [information] that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, … In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

This is the nature of our news today.

Missing planes and counting tweets.

Did the media create Trump?


But they saw how he entertained us. And they saw that we liked it. And they gave us more.

They ran 24/7 images of his rallies without fact checkers. The awaiting stage backed by a line of crucified American flags. The plane on the runway taxiing up to the cheering crowd in the hangar…

They placed him at the center of every prime time primary debate — like some bizarre product placement of a new brand of dishwashing soap.

They fanned his popularity all through the summer of 2015.

As one network executive said:

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going…It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Meanwhile the establishment of the Democratic Party laughed from afar at the entertainment, and refused to even allow a single debate in their own Party until late October.

And by then, the cake was baked.

Now it is January 2017, and the unthinkable has happened. The one candidate Hillary Clinton could beat, instead beat her.

As too many Americans concluded:

“He was just the chemotherapy our country needs.”


What our country truly needs is a liberalism that is truly liberal.

A republic that is truly representative.

A democracy that is mindful and caring of the common good we share as Americans.

An economy that works for all of us…

Our ability to compromise, to see our common interests and pursue them, to see each other in God’s image, is crucial to our future.

If we want to restore the integrity of our democracy, we must recover our innate humility.

We must recover our American spirit of moderation.

An appreciation for our differences as well as our bonds.

No man or woman can know all the secrets of the universe. From group to group — from to person to person — we cannot know each others history, nor can we fully appreciate each others hardships.

Each of us has much to learn through one another — to comprehend in the eyes of each other.

It will require uncommon maturity — for us as a People — to recover common ground.

Uncommon fortitude to restore the integrity between us.

But our nation is ours to heal.

She is ours to fix.

And only we can do this work…

I leave you with words delivered in another speech, in another time, here in Boston — cradle of the Revolution.

The time was 1944.

The person, was Judge Learned Hand — one of the greatest intellects in American jurisprudence.

(By God, his mother knew what she was doing when she named him, “Learned Hand”…)

He said:

“This much I think I do know — that a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone, no court can save; that a society where that spirit flourishes, no court need save; that in a society which evades its responsibility by thrusting upon the courts the nature of that spirit, that spirit in the end will perish.”

“What is the spirit of moderation?” he asked. “It is the temper which does not press a partisan advantage to its bitter end,… which can understand and will respect the other side,… which feels a unity between all citizens — real and not the factitious product of propaganda — which recognizes their common fate and their common aspirations — in a word,… which has faith in the sacredness of the individual.”

May God bless us with the courage, the compassion, and the integrity necessary to protect and defend the United States in the days to come.

Thank you.


*Umberto Eco’s List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism

  1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
  2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
  3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
  4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
  5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
  6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
  7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
  8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
  10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
  12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
  13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
  14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

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