The 1970s was a rough time for most Americans. The economy was tanking, inflation was out of control, and thanks to the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal, few people had anything good to say about their government. Which is why predictions about the future from this era are so fascinating.
No matter what your political persuasion in the 1970s, you probably had established a healthy distrust of politicians. The future of politics was pretty grim, and radical changes seemed like the only answer to putting the country back on track. One place where we see these proposals for radical change is The Tricentennial Report, a fascinating sample of American attitudes from 1976, put together by the oil company ARCO.
Over 60,000 Americans wrote in to express their opinions for The Tricentennial Report, which included everything from letters to the future written by kids to ideas for how politics in America might be reformed. Today we're taking a look at the latter, which includes thoughts on creating a fourth branch of government, computerised voting and completely rewriting the US Constitution.
One of the most interesting letters comes from a man in the Bay Area who explains that he hopes Congress will become more "computer oriented" in the future. Other than a mention of modern politics being "too slow", he doesn't really elaborate on how computers will help the political process. The letter seems to speak to a belief that if we could just remove some degree of human decision-making from the process and insert computers, things will run more efficiently and intelligently. From the vantage point of 2015, when every Congressperson has the world's knowledge at their fingertips, this notion seems particularly quaint.
The Tricentennial Report was included in a time capsule that isn't supposed to be opened until the year 2076 — the year of the American Tricentennial. So you didn't get this sneak peek from me.
Rewrite the Constitution
We need to rewrite the Constitution. There have been so many judicial decisions that I doubt that the Constitution as now interpreted means either what the founding fathers thought it did or what we want it to mean now. This country should not belong to the judges and the clever lawyers-it should belong to all of us. If we really mean to be governed by the consent of the governed, let us update the Constitution, write it so we can all understand it and eliminate the ambiguities. Let us redo it and renew our commitment. I, for one, am sick of having non-elected officials "interpret" my rights and responsibilities.
Understand the Purpose of Government
I believe the fundamental question we must deal with in the future is, what is the purpose of government? Our government was created by men who were political philosophers able to look at the reason for government and not at the superficial issue of what government should do for the people or what the people should do for the government. The purpose of government is a necessary first statement upon which the issues of form, functions, rights, and responsibilities are debated. The need today is for all of us to understand the philosophies upon which our government was built so that we can more rationally govern ourselves.
Sheldon H. Bergman
New Constitutional Convention
A Constitutional Convention should be held within the next ten years in order to reaffirm basic rights and establish new priorities. I think this is essential if we are to survive to have a Tricentennial...
Get the reorganized Federal government out of local and regional issues. It should concentrate on truly national matters, world affairs, and extraterrestrial developments.
J. S. Young
El Cerrito, California
National Council of Elders
We should have a national Council of Elders, a group composed of capable, wise, detached individuals, appointed for life, who would be responsible for supervising studies of alternative courses of action.
Crystal Falls, Michigan
Out With the Old...
Changes in Federal, state and city governments are long overdue. I would like to see more honesty in government office holders and officials. I would like to see some fresh young blood replace some of the oldsters whose actions indicate their need for retirement...
Louis J. Fischler
Brooklyn, New York
Fourth Branch of Government
A fourth branch of government should be established. This branch would be known as the "Board of Security, Law and Ethics." The members would be elected by the people of each state and each state would elect one member every four years with every member having no chance of re-election. This body would have control over the FBI, CIA, the Attorney General and all law enforcement agencies within U.S. Jurisdiction. It would serve as a check on the President, Vice President, the Cabinet, members of Congress in both houses and members of the Justice Department (including the Supreme Court), throughout the United States. Both these changes would necessitate a change of the Constitution, but I think it would solve a lot of our problems.
William A. Grant
Computers to Fix Congress
I believe that Congress will become more computer oriented. In these political times, it is just too slow without computers. The last few Presidents have become very powerful because of this. I have heard several times about how our President has bypassed Congress. If this continues, Congress may soon be phased out of the American democracy. In the future, we will have a more modern Congress. One that uses computers, hopefully.
Computers for Voting
My idea is a complete revamp of the way we elect President of the U.S. In the age of computers, I cannot see why the vote cannot be carried down to the grass roots... Most voters have social security numbers and these numbers could be used for voting purposes. The Electoral College would be abolished.
Let Kids Have Their Say
Kids should have a small part of the rule of the world. We should get a small say so around here. After all, we're who the world depends on in the future.
Free Postage When Writing Congress
Extend the "Franking Privilege" to all citizens when writing their congressman.
Harry W. Wyche
Direct Budget Allocation by Citizens
My proposal is simple: along with the form 1040, wherein the citizen is required to commit some portion of his income to the running of government, include a list of items on the proposed budget for the fiscal year. Have the citizen put his total tax bill at the top of the page and then select the different budget items he wishes to see supported... The key is that finally the citizens' opinions are being asked. Each taxpayer would earmark so much of his own share of government funds for each project he sees fit. The government would be charged with doing nothing more complex than seeing that each item receives the amount designated by each taxpayer.
Rochester, New York
More Local Control
"E Pluribus Unum"-one out of many. That is what this country was supposed to be. It should be so on a local village level, through the town and city and up to the state level, with each unit taking care of its needs from taxes in that order. In that manner, each citizen and locality could make certain that it was governed properly and keep a proper restraint on government.
Brooklyn, New York
Apathy in Elections
In the current Presidential election, we are seeing democracy at work and it is an almost laughable example of inefficiency and waste. It is no wonder so many people do not vote or, if they vote, insist upon being independents. They are utterly confused by the whole mess and many have written it off as not worth working at. The trouble is that remedies being offered are usually in the direction of less democracy when what is needed is more efficiency.
Edna Coffin Choo
Pompano Beach, Florida
New Energy Solutions and Better Education
That American people have a greater awareness of the America that they are so much a part of. This country always rises to the occasion, but in recent years it has been hard pressed to understand the occasion. I feel that for the Tricentennial, there is a need for understanding in all American endeavours, be it the solving of the energy problems or a new and advanced type of architecture. Education of all the people will help the young and old have a common ground in understanding the future needs and wants of this country.
Terrence M. O'Brien
A Revival of Confidence in the American System
In this memorable 200th year of our national life, nothing can be more important than to start a revival of confidence and belief in our system before apathy and cynicism sweep it away.
Studio City, California
Illustration: scanned from the Tricentennial Report (1977)