The Struggle for the Soul of America: Can Democrats Make Lemonade Out of Election Lemons?

The Democrats got a crate load of lemons in Tuesday’s election results. They lost all three statewide races in Virginia.[1] And, while Pres. Biden won New Jersey by nearly 16 points a year ago, incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy barely eked out a victory in the governor’s race.[2]

Conventional wisdom is these results do not bode well for the Democrats’ chances in the 2022 mid-terms a year from now. But there may be a silver lining for the Dems if they can get their act together.

Since winning both houses of Congress and the presidency a year ago, Democrats have accomplished little for the American people. Their one major piece of legislation, the COVID relief bill passed last March,[3] has long been forgotten by most voters. What has been front and center for months, however, is the Democrats’ haggling over Biden’s social spending and climate package, the Build Back Better Act (BBB), while their infrastructure bill (BIF) languishes in the House after passing the Senate with bipartisan support. Progressives in the House have refused to support the BIF bill until they are assured that Senate Democrats will pass the BBB reconciliation bill. But, until moderate Sens. Manchin and Sinema get onboard, that assurance remains in doubt.[4]

If the Democrats are to have any chance of winning next November, they must heed the warning from the 2021 elections: Give Americans a positive reason to get out and vote for their candidates by passing these bills or suffer the dire consequences. In this year’s election, the Democrats fell way behind the Republicans in firing up their supporters.[5]

And the Democrats have no time to lose. They must pass these bills now so that the American people have sufficient time before the 2022 elections to enjoy and appreciate the many fruits contained in them. Here are a number of those benefits in the infrastructure bill:

  • Roads, bridges, airports, ports, public transit, broadband infrastructure, and power grid maintenance and expansion
  • Clean drinking water and removal of pollution from soil and groundwater
  • Energy job creation
  • Clean energy tax credits

The BBB reconciliation act includes these very popular provisions:

  • Universal pre-kindergarten
  • Paid family leave
  • Lower prescription drug prices
  • Clean energy tax incentives and fees
  • 15% minimum tax rate for large corporations
  • Childcare funding
  • Extension of the child tax credit
  • A middle and working-class families tax cut
  • A Medicare hearing aid benefit

Polls indicate a large majority of Americans approve of the BBB social services/climate act.[6] Since Republicans are united in opposing the bill, the Democrats should receive a significant election boost next year for providing these benefits to millions of Americans. A recent poll found that members of Congress who back the BBB agenda would receive a 17-point increase in support.[7]

So, the Democrats can make lemonade out of their 2021 election lemons by moving expeditiously to pass these two bills. But there is one additional piece of legislation that must accompany them. As I explained in last week’s blog, the Democrats must pass the Freedom to Vote Act to protect our voting rights against red state legislatures that are now passing laws to make it harder for Americans to vote and gerrymandering more Congressional districts to their unfair advantage.[8]

Without this additional bill, Democratic voters could be thwarted at the polls next year. We must contact our senators and representatives and urge them to pass all three of these measures. (https://clerk.house. gov/Members#MemberProfiles, 202-225-3121) and senators (https://www.senate.gov/ /senators/senators-contact.htm, 202-224-3121).

The future of our democracy hangs in the balance.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/579765-republicans-poised-to-sweep-virginia-stunning-democrats

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/11/02/us/elections/results-new-jersey.html

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/11/biden-1point9-trillion-covid-relief-package-thursday-afternoon.html

[4] https://www.wsj.com/articles/progressives-warn-democratic-leaders-on-possible-infrastructure-vote-11635413402

[5] https://www.alternet.org/2021/11/a-wake-up-call-for-democrats/?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=8175

[6] https://democrats.org/news/new-polls-same-results-president-bidens-build-back-better-framework-is-extremely-popular/

[7] https://buildingbacktogether.org/news/icymi-new-building-back-together-poll-build-back-better-agenda-remains-deeply-popular-across-key-states-members-of-congress-who-back-agenda-see-17-point-boost-in-support/

[8] https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Democrats’ Reconciliation Bill Must Include Voting Rights

Time is running out for the Democrats to pass President Biden’s chief legislative program, Build Back Better (BBB). While they have been working on it for months, progressive and moderate Dems can’t seem to reach a compromise that both sides can live with. Yet, they all know that if they fail to pass legislation that provides some significant benefits to the American people, their prospects in next year’s election are dismal.

Here’s a possible solution. Instead of trying to pass the whole enchilada all at once, divide the $3.5 trillion social services and tax reform bill in two:

  1. One bill would contain all the provisions from the original proposal that both sides can agree to support.
  2. The second bill would include those areas on which they cannot currently find common ground and would not be considered until after the 2022 election.

The one thing that must be included in the first bill is the 2021 Freedom to Vote Act.[1] Standing alone, voting rights bills have been blocked by Republican filibusters three times this year, most recently this week.[2] However, by inserting it in their first BBB reconciliation package, Democrats would prevent a Republicans filibuster since the reconciliation process only requires a simple majority.

For the Act to qualify for reconciliation, Democrats must also include a specific funding amount, e.g., $2 billion, to assist the states in their implementation of the voting rights provisions.[3] Adding this relatively small amount to the reconciliation bill would be much easier than changing the filibuster rule since all 50 Senate Democrats support the Freedom to Vote Act,[4] which is not the case with the latter approach.

Securing Americans’ voting rights would be a major achievement for Biden and his party. It would also give the Democrats a much greater chance of maintaining control of Congress in the 2022 election. They will have demonstrated that their party can deliver for the American people having passed the first half of Biden’s BBB program, voting rights and the $1.2 trillion, bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Plus, the Democrats would have the promise of the second half of Biden’s BBB agenda – including combating climate change and lowering drug prices — which they would introduce in 2023 after next year’s election. This should energize the Democratic base to get out the vote and increase the Dems majority in Congress. With larger majorities in each house, the Democrats would then most likely be able to pass the disputed portions of the BBB program.

Clearly, progressives would be taking a chance with this compromise strategy. But the reality is that the BBB plan that finally does pass this year will be significantly reduced in size anyway and will not include some of the progressive provisions that were in the original proposal. Given the strong opposition of Sens. Manchin and Sinema to these provisions, there is really nothing they can do about that. Splitting the bill into two and including the Right to Vote Act in this year’s portion is the best that the Democrats can hope for.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/breaking-down-freedom-vote-act

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/20/us/senate-voting-rights-filibuster.html

[3] https://budget.house.gov/publications/fact-sheet/budget-reconciliation-basics

[4] https://www.democracydocket.com/alerts/senate-republicans-block-freedom-to-vote-act-from-floor-debate/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Urgency of Boycotting Corporate America

In last week’s blog, “It’s Time We Take on Corporate America,”[1] I called for a massive boycott against the corporations and business associations lobbying to derail President Biden’s tax reform and spending package, Build Back Better (BBB).

The $3.5 trillion program these corporations oppose includes many provisions[2] that are very popular[3] with Americans:

  • lowering the cost of childcare and providing two years of universal pre-K for 3 and 4-year-olds
  • expanding Medicare to include coverage of dental, hearing and vision services
  • extending the child tax credit through 2025
  • cutting prescription drug prices
  • providing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave
  • combating climate change
  • raising taxes on corporations and the very wealth

My blog stressed that corporate America is at the root of our country’s problem, Big Money’s control of government policy. A few years ago, I even wrote a book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America,[4] focused on this very issue.

Last week I pointed out how moderate Democrats like Sen. Manchin and Sinema are unwilling to support the $3.5 trillion BBB plan, in large part, because their very big contributors, for example, the pharmaceutical industry and the national realtors’ association, oppose it. While progressives and the Democratic leadership have strongly urged these moderates to unite with the rest of the party and pass the Biden agenda, they have stood firm in their opposition.

Unfortunately, the only ones who have the muscle to convince these Democrats to change their position on the BBB program are their major corporate donors. (A recent report, Behind the Curtain,[5] exposed the connections between Congress and their corporate sponsors.) And the only ones who have the power to stop the corporate lobbying against the BBB agenda and voting rights are American consumers. By refusing to patronize these companies, we can conduct a nationwide boycott forcing them to change the lobbying practices that protect their bottom line while jeopardizing our democracy.

But there’s yet another critical reason to boycott these companies. Following the January 6th insurrection, many corporate PACs suspended their political donations and promised to re-evaluate them in light of the attack on the Capitol and our democracy. However, just six months later these PACs (including American Airlines, GM and UPS) were back providing funding to members of Congress who opposed certification of the electoral college results and hindered the peaceful transition of power.[6] In effect, some of America’s largest corporations have given a “pass” to supporters of the insurrection as long as they continue to provide legislation beneficial to their companies.

Ultimately, an effective boycott must make it in a corporation’s interest to support what is in the public interest. That is, American consumers must make it perfectly clear that we will only use our purchasing power to patronize companies that promote our country’s core values and the common good.

For too long corporate America has been calling the shots in Congress as well as in state legislatures. If we want to hold onto our democracy and build a better future for all Americans, we must take control of government policies away from corporate America.

While there are valid objections to a nationwide boycott, here is how to address them:

  1. I’m in, but we’ll never get enough people to participate for it to be effective.

Well, if we don’t try, we’ll never know. The boycott will certainly need some well-known national sponsors like the AFL-CIO and other unions, Black Lives Matter, Common Cause, the Democracy Initiative, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Indivisible, the League of Women Voters, MoveOn and many others. With the right message and numerous large organizations behind it, millions of people could join a national boycott.

2. I really depend on Amazon, FedEx, etc. I need them and can’t give them up.

Practically all goods and services that these corporations provide can be obtained from other sources. While it may take some effort on our part, the stakes are too high to fail to act. The future of our democracy is at risk. If we want to save our country from authoritarian rule, we must be willing to sacrifice.

3. What about the workers who will lose their jobs when their companies are boycotted and can’t keep employing them?

As the boycott builds, a fund to supplement unemployment benefits for those laid off workers must be created by the participating organizations and individuals. They cannot become casualties of a national boycott.

I urge you to spread the idea of a national boycott to your friends and colleagues. If you are a member or contributor to a national organization, please send this blog to them and implore them to get involved. Together we can take back our government and save our democracy.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/

[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/budget-reconciliation-bill-build-back-better-act/

[3] https://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/92121

[4] See https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/

[5] https://peoplesaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Behind-the-Curtain-final.pdf

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/07/15/american-airlines-overturn-election-january-6/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: It’s Time We Take On Corporate America

The Democrats are in a bind. If Congressional Democrats don’t come together and pass President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, they will almost assuredly lose both houses of Congress in the 2022 mid-term elections. Every Democratic member of Congress must understand that not only is their congressional majority at stake, but also the success of the Biden presidency, his ability to win re-election in 2024 and democracy itself. It’s that simple.

And yet, the Democrats are finding it difficult to reach an agreement. A major stumbling block is the $3.5 trillion cost of Biden’s social and economic reconciliation bill. Progressives argue they have already reduced the legislation from its original $6 trillion and, after all, the expenditure is over a ten-year period. Nevertheless, Sens. Manchin and Sinema plus some moderate House Democrats strongly object that the price is still way too high. But are they truly concerned with the price tag, or are they just doing the bidding of their corporate sponsors?

One of Sinema’s main objections to the legislation is its Medicare prescription drug proposal to lower the cost of medications.[1] It’s no surprise that Sinema has taken this position. She has received approximately $750,000 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. During her 2018 Senate campaign she repeatedly promised to work on lowering the cost of prescription drugs. But after Sinema received the industry’s generous donations, she reversed her position and opposed the plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.[2]

Manchin and several House Democrats who oppose the bill’s Medicare drug proposal also garnered very large contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.[3] The fact that 88% of all Americans support the Democratic plan to allow the federal government to negotiate lower prices on medications tells you whose interests these moderate congresspeople really represent.[4]

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to a new report, Behind the Curtain: The Corporate Plot to Upend Democracy, 20 corporations or industry groups have spent more than $201 million in lobbying so far this year that is mostly aimed at derailing progressive provisions in Bidens’ popular tax reform and spending package. They include Amazon, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Comcast, Facebook, FedEx and Pfizer, companies many of us patronize.[5]

The report issued by People’s Action, a nationwide network of groups organizing for social justice, and Dēmos, a progressive think tank, exposes Big Money’s crippling grip on our government:

“Rich corporations are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the American people from getting what they want: a government that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few. Their massive use of corporate power to frustrate the will of the people on an issue-by-issue basis is part of a larger anti-democracy effort backed by corporate America.

“As corporations seek to undermine the Biden plan’s much-needed tax provisions, historic investments in drug pricing reform, healthcare, housing, climate, and immigration reform, they are also attacking our freedom to vote. Many of the same companies combating elements of the Build Back Better proposal are also bankrolling voter suppression legislation.”[6]

We, the people need to fight back by attacking the root of the problem, corporate America. A massive boycott of a couple of these corporations just might get them off our representatives’ backs. These congresspeople must represent us, their constituents, not their corporate donors. Can we organize a large enough boycott of Amazon or FedEx to force them to stop lobbying against the public good?

Let’s give it our best shot. Spread the word. Send this blog to your email lists and your friends on social media. Encourage everyone you know to stop buying from Amazon or using FedEx. Working together, we can make a difference. It’s time to stand up for what’s right and in our best interests before it’s too late!

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/19/kyrsten-sinema-biden-drug-pricing-prescription-plan-512907

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/pharma-democrats-bribery/; https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/joe-manchin/summary?cid=N00032838&cycle=2022&type=C

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://peoplesaction.org/behind-the-curtain/

[6] https://peoplesaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Behind-the-Curtain-final.pdf

The Struggle for the Soul of America: A Call to Action

In the late 1960’s, I protested against the Vietnam War. Along with millions of other Americans, I marched in New York and Washington against the War, and lobbied my congressman and senators to terminate it. Together we made a difference and helped end the war in southeast Asia.

Since then, I’ve participated in many protests including against nuclear weapons and the Iraq War, as well as for Black Lives Matter and women’s rights. While these were all critically important causes, they all lacked one vital factor that made the anti-Vietnam War protest so effective: every American had a personal stake in ending the war.

While these other critical issues personally impacted large segments of the population, none of them had the potential to affect everyone like Vietnam did. We had a draft back then. So, anyone of draft age, a son, a father, a friend or neighbor, could have been called up and sent to fight a war that more and more Americans came to oppose as it dragged on for years.

Also, for the first time, the war was in our faces. The lead story on the nightly news was the War. We saw the body bags as they arrived home. We saw distraught parents, sobbing widows, bewildered children. The war and its toll were inescapable.

Today we are in a different kind of war. It’s not halfway around the world, or the lead story on television every night. But, like Vietnam, it does have the potential to dramatically affect all of our lives. Unfortunately, while that is true, most Americans have not been able to grasp that reality in the way a deadly war did.

Today the War Against Democracy is raging in our country. And while, if we lose, it will drastically affect our lives, most of us are not engaged in the fight.

We read about the anti-democratic laws restricting our voting rights being enacted across the country and shake our heads. We are furious with the continuing Republican obstruction in Congress, where they won’t even investigate the attack on our government. We listen in disbelief as General Flynn calls for a coup to re-install Trump in the White House. Yet, for the most part, we go on with our lives doing little, if anything, to stop this madness.

I think to myself, if this were France, millions of people would be out in the streets. There would be a nationwide strike halting business as usual until something was done to ensure the government survives. Here, we write a check, call our congressperson, debate the issues, and go on about our daily lives. We allow Trump and his right-wing cohorts to get all the attention even though less than a third of the country supports him.[1] We are the silent majority.

Why are we silent? First, we feel helpless and/or hopeless. We are so overwhelmed with bad news to the point where we cannot imagine what to do. Second, many of us are too comfortable. We don’t immediately feel the consequences of what is happening. We are too removed from the struggle and the oppression to be compelled to act until it is too late. And third, we don’t believe it can happen in the United States. Autocratic coups are what happens in third world countries, but not here.

The January 6th insurrection demonstrated it can happen here. And it is personal. We can lose our right to choose who governs our country. Yes, it’s true that in many ways our right to choose has already been narrowed down unfairly or practically eliminated by power brokers. Still, if we fail to prevent the destruction of what’s left of our democracy, our ability to work together to rebuild it will be severely crippled, if not destroyed entirely.

Make no mistake. Our country is in crisis. We are on the brink of disaster. It’s time to organize. Our power is in our numbers. Take to the streets. Call for a nationwide strike and/or boycott. If you want to save our democracy, the time to act is now.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (now RepresentUs New Mexico), a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/after-100-days-out-office-trump-s-support-softens-nbc-n1265457

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Republicans’ Relentless Obstructionism and the Futile Call for Bipartisanship

The Republican Party is deeply divided. On one side are the Trumpsters. While they are united in their support for former president Trump, they actually fall into two separate camps. 

On the one hand, we have the true believers, like Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who led the fight to overturn the election and return Trump to the White House. Millions of Trump faithful are in this bloc as well. Brooks claimed that Americans “have been victims of the largest voter fraud and election theft scheme in American history,”[1] without providing any evidence.

On the other hand, we have the shameless sheep. These are the Republican officials who are too afraid of Trump’s base to stand up for the truth. Since 55% of Republicans still believe the election was stolen[2] and 60% want Trump to run for president in 2024,[3] they fear being primaried by a true Trump supporter. Holding on to power is more important to them than the future of our democracy.

According to Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who voted to impeach Trump, most of his colleagues are thinking: “I need to continue to exist in this job so that I can make an impact. I don’t have the courage or the strength or the ability to swing this party, so I’m going to just kinda put my head down and go along.”[4]

There is, however, a third group. A small minority of Republicans who do not support Trump and his lies and are willing to speak truth to power. Most prominent among them is Rep. Liz Cheney, currently the 3rd ranking Republican in the House. She recently explained, “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”[5]

Equally striking were the comments of Michael Wood, a Texas Republican congressional candidate and former Trump backer who lost a recent U.S. House runoff with just 3% of the vote. A former Trump backer, Wood noted that the Republican Party has “lost its way”:

I don’t know what we stand for…We don’t like baseball. We don’t like Coke. We don’t like NASCAR. We don’t like Hollywood. We don’t like academia. We don’t like anything. We’re just a grievance party that hates a good hunk of America and then we call ourselves patriots, and this is just a dead end.[6]

Then, to effectively prove Wood’s point, Republican Senate minority leader and Obstructer-in-chief, Mitch McConnell, declared, “One-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”[7] For McConnell and the majority of Republicans, it’s all about obstruction and regaining power. To hell with controlling the pandemic or improving the lives of the American people.

Our democracy is floundering in large part because the Republican Party is rotting away. And because Democratic Sens. Manchin and Sinema are demanding unrealistic bipartisanship before they will support critical bills that can save our democracy from Republicans’ relentless obstructionism and their boundless craving for all-embracing power. These Democrats are standing firm despite the fact that McConnell, Hawley, Brooks and their colleagues have made it clear that they will have none of it.

Cheney and Wood are voices in the wilderness. There are no Republican leaders able and willing to heed their warnings. The critical question then becomes: Will Manchin and Sinema grasp the deadly peril our democracy faces and put the needs of the country ahead of their idealistic bipartisan principles? We must do whatever we can to help these senators see the light and do the right thing.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.                                                                                        

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (now RepresentUs New Mexico), a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-TRUMP/LAWMAKERS/xegpbedzdvq/

[2] https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/news-polls/majority-republicans-still-believe-2020-election-was-stolen-donald-trump

[3] https://www.newsweek.com/6-10-republicans-want-trump-run-2024-think-2020-election-stolen-1581031

[4] https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/adam-kinzinger-trump-election-conspiracy-092610348.html

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/03/liz-cheney-republican-trump-election-big-lie

[6] https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/michael-wood-congressional-candidate-republican-party-nicolle-wallace-000443441.html

[7] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/joe-biden/mcconnell-says-he-s-100-percent-focused-stopping-biden-s-n1266443

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Can We Stop Social Media From Undermining Our Democracy?

If you haven’t seen Netflix’s docudrama, The Social Dilemma, I highly recommend you put it at the top of your “to-watch” list. It’s a deep dive into how Facebook, Google and other social media manipulate its users (us) and what that is doing to American society.

I am a fairly regular consumer of social media. I mainly use it to promote my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America, and to publish the blog you are now reading. After watching The Social Dilemma, my thinking about social media has shifted dramatically. While it provides some real benefits, I now understand that these huge companies have become an unbridled threat to our democracy.

The film brings to light that people are highly likely to believe false information on the internet, which, in turn, affects their off-screen behavior. For instance, 64% of the people in extremist groups on Facebook joined these groups because they were unknowingly seduced by information social media feeds them. By using algorithms, mathematical formulas derived from what we choose to look at on the internet, social media sends us computer messages and images that reinforce ideas and products that we have previously viewed. Algorithms often push content that ignites outrage and hate, and also amplifies biases within the data collected from our computer usage.[1]

According to an MIT study, false information on Twitter spreads six times faster than true information because people have a greater emotional reaction to fake news.[2] That’s how former President Trump was able to quickly spread his Big Lie about the election to millions of social media users. This enabled Trump to draw thousands of his outraged followers to Washington on January 6 who were willing to storm the Capitol and attempt to overthrow the government.

The Social Dilemma provides evidence of just how destructive social media is to American society in general as well. Social psychologist and New York University professor Jonathan Haidt notes a “gigantic increase” in depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide among pre-teen and teenage children, Gen Z, who have been on social media since mid-primary school.[3]

Haidt says that the numbers of teenage girls admitted to hospital for self-harm including cutting were stable until around 2011-13, but in the U.S. these have risen 62 per cent for 15-19-year-olds and 189 per cent for pre-teen girls; “that is horrifying…We’ve seen the same pattern with suicide,” he said. In older teen girls it’s up 70 per cent compared with the first decade of this century and “in pre-teen girls, who had very low rates [previously] it’s up 151 per cent and that pattern points to social media.”[4]

Jeff Orlowski, director of The Social Dilemma, says he feels afraid of political misinformation and concerned about “the breakdown of truth.” If people can’t agree on the truth, he notes, that puts society in jeopardy and makes it possible for democracy to fail.[5]

“We have a machine whose main currency is outrage and anger,” Orlowski concludes, “And if this is the trajectory that we’re being programmed down, if we are constantly being fed the things that made us outraged and angry — and that is our life experience and that’s what we see on a daily basis — how does it not end” in civil war or autocratic rule?[6]

Orlowski hopes his film can serve as a wakeup call that shocks the public into demanding the reforming of social media. We, the people need to lobby Congress to regulate social media just as public utilities like our electric companies are required to meet certain standards.

Rather than manipulating the public for nefarious purposes, social media must serve the public good. If Americans do not heed The Social Dilemma’s wakeup call, we do so at our own peril.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.                                                                                        

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Social_Dilemma

[2] Ibid

[3] https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/it-makes-you-want-to-throw-your-phone-in-the-bin-the-film-turning-teens-off-social-media-20200926-p55zhi.html

[4] Ibid

  [5] https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/09/18/social-dilemma-director

[6] Ibid.

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Critical Fight to Save Our Democracy

As vital as the COVID relief bill is to the health and wellbeing of the American people, so are the For the People Act[1] and the 2021 Voting Rights Act[2] to the survival of our democracy. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported:

REPUBLICANS’ WAR on democracy is gaining steam. Unable to persuade a majority of voters to vote for their presidential standard-bearer or Senate candidates in some key races, many have decided that instead of trying to compete in a free and fair vote they will make the contest less free and less fair. Republican state lawmakers are introducing voter-suppression bills all over the country.[3]

On February 8th, the Brennan Center for Justice published its report on Voting Rights. It detailed how serious this war on democracy really is:

In a backlash to historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election, and grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities, legislators have introduced well over four times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to roughly this time last year. Thirty-three states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 165 restrictive bills this year (as compared to 35 such bills in fifteen states on February 3, 2020).[4]

Fortunately, the pro-democracy forces are not idly sitting back and watching these attacks on our right to vote: “To date, thirty-seven states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 541 bills to expand voting access (dwarfing the 188 expansive bills that were filed in twenty-nine states as of February 3, 2020). Notably 125 such bills were introduced in New York and New Jersey” alone.[5]

Nevertheless, the odds are against the pro-democracy factions. Republicans control more state legislatures than Democrats do. Those legislatures are now working to gerrymander more than enough Congressional districts to take back the House of Representatives in 2022.[6] If they prevail, the Biden administration will be obstructed by a hostile House from doing almost anything to help the American people. Just like the Republicans did to the Obama administration when they regained the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.

This is why enacting HR 1 and the Voting Rights Act this year is critical. These new laws would take redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislatures. HB 1 requires states to adopt independent redistricting commissions for the purpose of drawing Congressional districts.[7]

Voters’ rights would be protected under these new statutes as well. HB 1 prohibits states from restricting an individual’s ability to vote by mail. The bill would also mandate that states make online voter registration available and establish 15 consecutive days of early voting for at least 10 hours a day, among numerous other provisions making it easier and safer to vote.[8]

We must do our part to ensure our rights as voters are protected. Write, call or visit your senators and Congresspeople. Urge them to do whatever it takes to pass these laws before it’s too late. That may mean all 50 Democrats voting to eliminate or alter the filibuster, which the Republicans will surely try to use to block these bills.

Still, the Democrats have an “ace in the hole.” A simple majority of the Senate could “carve out” election-reform legislation from the filibuster. That is the Democrats could vote to exempt any bill that expands voting rights from being subject to a filibuster, which Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has already proposed. That would preserve the filibuster for all other legislation while allowing Democrats to pass fundamental democratic reforms at a time when democracy has come under attack from the right.[9]

If the Democrats want to save our country from oppressive, minority rule for the foreseeable future, this is the step they must take. The survival of our democracy hangs in the balance.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://democracyreform-sarbanes.house.gov/sites/democracyreform.house.gov/files/SIMPLE-SECTION-BY-SE CTION_H.R.-1_FINAL.pdf

[2]https://www.leahy.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/John%20Lewis%20Voting%20Rights%20Advancement%20Act%20one%20pager.pdf

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/georgia-voter-suppression-bills-hr-1/2021/02/24/0c283eba-76e7-11eb-9537-496158cc5fd9_story.html

[4] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-february-2021

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/02/democrats-need-hr-1-and-new-vra-protect-party/617987/

[7] https://democracyreform-sarbanes.house.gov/sites/democracyreform.house.gov/files/SIMPLE-SECTION-BY-SECTION_H.R.-1_FINAL.pdf

[8] Ibid.

[9] https://www.vox.com/22260164/filibuster-senate-fix-reform-joe-manchin-kyrsten-sinema-cloture-mitch-mcconnell; https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/01/democrats-biggest-decision-nuking-filibuster/617854/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: To Save Our Democracy, Defeat Republican Racism

Racism is alive and well in America. And it’s what keeps the Republican Party ticking. Donald Trump, the party’s racist-in-chief, has made sure of that.

But Trump did not initiate GOP racism. In his new book, It Was All a Lie, Stuart Stevens, a life-long Republican operative, illustrates how racism has long been a central theme in the modern GOP playbook.[1] From Goldwater’s opposition to desegregation to Reagan’s “welfare queens” references to Trump’s command to the white supremacists Proud Boys “to stand back and stand by,” Republicans have rallied their supporters with racist rhetoric for decades.[2]

The Republican Party is all about power at any price. Since playing the race card works in America, it has had no problem using racism to build support and gain power. Consequently, over 80% of Republicans are white compared to less than 60% of Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center.[3]

At the same time, the GOP is actually losing a considerable number of its establishment-type followers due to Trump’s lies about the election and his promoting the insurrection against Congress.[4] As a result, the party is now dominated by Trump’s racist base. Anyone who doesn’t fall in line, like the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial, is censured or labeled a traitor by the party.[5]

Consequently, the GOP has become a racist, immoral cult, that employs anti-democratic tactics to gain control of government. And many red states are now implementing more voter suppression measures targeted at minorities to consolidate power:

“Republicans have introduced some 165 proposals in 33 states this year that would make voting more difficult. These include imposing new voter-identification laws, rolling back access to mail balloting and early-voting periods, and adding new hurdles to the voter-registration process.”[6]

In addition, red state legislatures are using gerrymandering to further solidify their clout. Taking the redistricting process out of the hands of partisan legislatures has never been more critical.

Ron Brownstein’s recent article in The Atlantic (a must read) clarifies just how urgent this matter is and what needs to be done about it. He explains that Republicans “will likely return to power and control politics for the next decade or more,” if the Democratic Congress fails to pass HR 1 and a new Voting Rights Act (VRA) this year:

“Given the likelihood that, absent federal intervention, red states will enact severe gerrymanders and new obstacles to voting, the decision about whether to end the Senate filibuster to pass these two bills could shape the future of American politics more than anything else Democrats do in the next two years.”[7]

Congress should have the COVID relief bill on President Biden’s desk before the end of March. Once that is done, HR 1, the For the People Act,[8] and a strong VRA must be enacted into law before Congress’s August recess. In order to ensure government of, by and for the people, we all must put maximum pressure on Congress and the Biden administration in the coming months. Write or call your senators and representatives and the White House. Attend their town hall meetings this spring. Let’s make our voices heard loud and clear.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/02/it-was-all-a-lie-review-trump-republican-party

[2] https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-09-29/asked-to-condemn-white-supremacists-trump-tells-proud-boys-hate-group-to-stand-by

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/26/what-the-2020-electorate-looks-like-by-party-race-and-ethnicity-age-education-and-religion/

[4] https://www.bostonherald.com/2021/01/13/republican-voters-leaving-party-after-pro-trump-mob-stormed-capitol/

[5] https://www.voanews.com/usa/us-politics/republican-groups-censure-party-lawmakers-who-voted-impeach-convict-trump

[6] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/02/democrats-need-hr-1-and-new-vra-protect-party/617987/

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://www.commoncause.org/our-work/constitution-courts-and-democracy-issues/for-the-people-act/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Imperative of a Second Trump Impeachment

With only days left in the Trump presidency many Republicans argued that the process to impeach Trump without hearings was being rushed. They also contended that impeaching Trump would only further divide the country when it was really time for national unity.

Could the Republicans be more hypocritical? First, they had no problem rushing through the Senate Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s life-time appointment to the Supreme Court right before Trump was defeated in the November election? Then, after the election, they spent two months dividing the country by backing Trump’s Big Lie that the election was rigged despite losing 61 court cases challenging the results of the election.[1]

The Republicans two-faced positions reinforce why it was imperative for the House of Representatives to impeach Trump again, as well as why the Senate must now convict him.

The most obvious reason for this second impeachment is Trump openly and methodically incited insurrection against our government. If such a heinous crime were to go unpunished simply because of a lack of time, it would be a blatant invitation for a future authoritarian president to attempt to overthrow our democracy again. As Republican Rep. John Katko of New York asserted, not holding the president accountable would be “a direct threat to the future of our democracy.”[2]

Another courageous Republican who voted for impeachment, Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington state, countered his party’s objections, stating “I will not use process as an excuse.” In fact, he regretted “not speaking out sooner” against Trump.[3]

Rep. Newhouse’s remorse points to another compelling motive for calling for a second impeachment so late in Trump’s presidency. Every Congressperson and Senator must be put on record and held accountable for his or her vote. When the American people go to the polls in 2022 and 2024, they must know whether their representatives stand for the Constitution and the rule of law, or for Trump and the autocratic rule of one man.

Which brings me to why the Senate must convict Trump. For four years, Trump has been dividing our country and attacking our democracy. He was never the president for all Americans and he is clearly unfit to be president. If Trump is found guilty, the Senate can then vote to bar him from ever again holding federal public office. We must urge our Senators to convict him and make sure that he can never hold the office of president again.

We are at a defining moment in our history. This issue is above politics. It goes to the core of who we are as a nation. Unfortunately, too many of our elected officials have put party politics before country for too long.

As citizens who will help determine the future of our country, we all must decide whether or not we are for the rule of law when we vote for our future representatives.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/politics/elections/2021/01/06/trumps-failed-efforts-overturn-election-numbers/4130307001/

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/01/13/us/trump-impeachment#which-republicans-voted-to-impeach-trump

[3] Ibid.