Senator Klobuchar summarized the Build Back Better plan on Twitter, “Millions of good-paying jobs. New roads and bridges. Broadband access for everyone. Lower costs for childcare, elder care, and community college. We’re going to get this bill to the President’s desk. That’s how we build back better.” She might have added, “This is also how we build back faith in American democracy.”
Passing government programs that address the needs of everyday Americans is itself an important part of the process of restoring both faith in our democratic institutions and functionality to our democratic processes. The basic lesson of the so-called policy feedback literature is that the choices we make in how we govern the economy, health, and education can either reverse or reinforce inequities in civic and political capacity.
As Pete Buttigieg remarked awhile back, “a lot of the mistrust in our country right now is the result of policy failure. And that policy failure is largely about a generation of intentional disinvestment in the things that we share and need together.” He is right. Policymaking has second-order effects on citizens’ attitudes about, and relations to, democracy—effects that can either instill civic and political engagement or breed endemic apathy. The specific direction of the policy feedback depends not only on the generosity and universality of those policies, but also on their visibility and the efficiency of their implementation.
Laws regulating election procedures are not the only, or even the most important, influences on enhancing political participation, fostering political capacity, or restoring faith in our democratic institutions. A government that gets things done for its people, and broadcasts clearly when it has done so, is another. Thus, while today’s announcement that a group of Democratic Senators, including Amy Klobuchar, have a new, paired down voting rights bill is promising, we should all note that the Build Back Better plan is itself a “democracy-reform” package—an opportunity to demonstrate policy responsiveness and an important step toward restoring faith in our democratic institutions.