Donald Trump just won the ultimate reality show: American politics. Since Trump’s shocking election victory, people around the world have been wondering how such a great democracy could so easily come off the rails. Many citizens of foreign countries are even taking pride in how much better their systems are than America’s. Based on my new book Technocracy in America, here are five ways other political systems are more effective than America’s.
(1) Unelected electors indirectly elect our president
In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College to George W. Bush. The same thing happened again to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Finally everyone’s paying attention to this antiquated and illegitimate body that dictates America’s election outcomes against the will of the of voters. Here’s how it works: An equal number of state electors are chosen by each political party from their own ranks who then cast their ballots after the election. Why America doesn’t simply directly elect its president is a mystery to the citizens of countries as far-flung as France and Colombia — not to mention Australia and Belgium and two dozen other countries where voting is mandatory.
(2) The Cabinet is stacked with friends of the president
It is a time-honored tradition for presidents to appoint trusted friends and major campaign donors to the Cabinet and other senior positions, no matter how unqualified. What Trump and previous presidents have in common is that their cabinets tend to be stacked with rich white men who may or may not actually know much about their portfolios. Another problem is that because they are often picked from outside government, the cabinet is hardly a democratic body such as in Great Britain where all cabinet members are elected members of parliament who actively serve their constituencies. Similarly, in China, all members of the Central Standing Committee have long administrative careers behind them managing giant provinces and major issues like infrastructure and industry, and work together as a team for a 5 to 10 year stretch. But in the US, because American cabinet officials simply serve “at the pleasure of the president” and often for just two years before returning to Wall Street, law firms and the speakers circuit, there is little consistency in the team meant to help the president “connect the dots” in an ever more complex world.
(3) The government is full of political hacks rather than professional experts
In fact, the same issues of a self-interested and silo-thinking Cabinet plagues the entire federal government. Trump has approximately 4000 vacancies to fill across more than a dozen agencies and bureaus — again mostly with donors and industry executives — meaning long lag-times for Senate confirmations and huge shifts of personnel who need to “learn the ropes” before they actually get down to business. There is a better way, as exhibited by countries such as Germany, Singapore and Japan, where a large and competent civil service of experts manages the bureaucracy. Civil services are full of career professionals who are apolitical and become experts on what policies work and don’t work. America had the world’s biggest and best federal service through the mid-20th century, but then let it decay as special interests took over. Most importantly, a good civil service keeps the government working even when elected politicians do nothing.
(4) We have two useless chambers of Congress instead of just one
About those politicians: America today suffers from an abundance of representation and a deficit of administration. There is a great excess in the power of representatives — congressmen and senators — and deep shortfall in the power of administrators: governors and mayors. There are too many officials trained in law and not enough in policy: In other words, too much time spent arguing rather than doing something. Smaller but better-run countries such as Denmark, Singapore and New Zealand have just one chamber in their legislature who actively engage in major policy issues like budgets and laws. That is all even big countries like America need. However, rather than redundant representatives who are tools of special interests, America’s single chamber should be an Assembly of Governors, with each state getting two who divide responsibilities between leading the state capital and coordinating with other states in Washington.
(5) We don’t amend the Constitution even though it is desperately needed
There hasn’t been a meaningful amendment to the Constitution since 1971 when the 26th amendment lowered the voting age. By contrast, Germany’s constitution is not treated as a sacred Bible to be dogmatically obeyed but a living document able to adapt to the times. Germany regularly amends its constitution to recognize more national languages, increase social services provision, and strengthen protection of privacy. Iceland famously used Wikipedia-style crowdsourcing to draft a new constitution. America should also be more proactive in appointing judges to the Supreme Court based on their positions on what amendments they feel are necessary to improve the functioning of the court and the Constitution’s relevance to society.
This article was adapted from Parag Khanna’s new book Technocracy in
America, now available at: https://www.amazon.com/Technocracy-America-Info-State-Parag-Khanna-ebook/dp/B01LX46FXZ/