14. Update Our Public Symbols

A Plan to Renew the Promise of American Life, Plank 14

Plank 13     Contents     Summary

Plank 14. Update our public symbols.


Specific Recommendations

14.1. To increase voter turnout, hold federal elections on the second Monday in May instead of the first week of November and make Election Day a federal holiday.

14.2. As a result of the foregoing change, convene Congress on June 1st instead of January 3rd (which will eliminate congressional lame-duck sessions) and inaugurate the president on July 1st instead of January 20th (which will shorten presidential transitions).

14.3. To simplify federal budgeting, begin the federal fiscal year on January 1st instead of October 1st.

14.4. Update the ten federal holidays, and the images on United States coins and currency, to celebrate American principles and achievements.


Explanation

This plank is primarily about two things: our public calendar and our public symbols.

These may seem trivial matters, compared to others discussed in this plan. But I think they’re important. Our common symbols and celebrations are essential to our self-understanding. They tell the world what we regard as our greatest achievements and highest ideals. And ideally, they inspire our children to carry on what’s best in our way of life.

Admittedly none of the following reforms is essential to our national happiness,  but I do think they would provide benefits. See what you think.

Fiscal Year

First, and this is really just about eliminating unnecessary complexity, I recommend we synchronize the federal fiscal and tax years with the calendar year. Just start everything on January 1st. Congress has twice moved the start of the fiscal year. First, in 1843, it moved it from January 1 to July 1. In 1976, it moved it again, from July 1 to October 1. And yet it still can’t get its work done on time! I think it’s time we moved it back to January 1st. Keep it simple!

Election Day

To increase voter turnout, I would move Election Day to a warmer time of year, make it a federal holiday, and have it coincide with (my proposed) Flag Day, on the second Monday in May—a beautiful time of year.

A benefit of making Election Day a federal holiday, and during a mild-weather time of year, is that it would weaken the case for protracted voting periods (early voting) and voting-by-mail schemes, which, as the reader will recall, we eschew under the ballot integrity plank.

Inauguration Day

As a logical consequence of moving election day to mid-May, we would need to move the day on which federal officers are sworn in. I propose that each year Congress ordinarily convene on June 1st instead of January 3rd and that after each presidential election the president and vice president be sworn in on July 1st instead of January 20th. This change would require a constitutional amendment.

Under this arrangement, every second year we’d hold elections in mid-May, seat the new Congress on June 1st, and, in presidential election years, inaugurate the new president on July 1st. And then we’d top it all off by holding the traditional barbecues and fireworks on July 4th.

This would greatly shorten the transition time between elections and swearings-in, from nine or ten weeks to just two or three—and would have the happy side-benefit of making lame-duck congressional sessions a thing of the past. *

Federal Holidays

Our current federal holiday calendar could really stand an update. Think about it. We have federal holidays to honor certain groups (workers, veterans, the fallen), but not to honor people who are arguably just as important (e.g., taxpayers, first responders). Why? And we have holidays to honor certain illustrious individuals (George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Christopher Columbus) but not to others who are surely equally illustrious (Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison), nor holiday to honor any woman. Meanwhile, Washington’s Birthday has quietly devolved into a noxious thing called Presidents Day. Really? Must we celebrate Millard Fillmore and Richard Nixon? How is Presidents Day different from Kings Day or Monarchy Day? Most people cannot tell you what Labor Day celebrates or explain the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Some are offended by Columbus Day. And apart from July 4th, there is not a single federal holiday dedicated to America’s principles. Sheesh. Surely we can do better.

Right now there are ten federal holidays, spread out over the year. They’re somewhat clumped into winter, with two in January and two in November. Five by law are observed on a Monday in order to maximize that wonderful creation, the three-day weekend. Overall, this arrangement strikes me as pretty good. But I would spread it out a bit more evenly, and update a few of the holidays to downplay the emphasis on individuals and groups and play up principles and achievements.

Here’s what I propose. Keep the five most traditional holidays, viz.: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Independence Day, and Memorial Day. But eliminate the other five, all of which celebrate favored individuals or groups (Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day). In their place, have five new days that celebrate important American achievements and symbols (namely, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Emancipation [i.e., the Thirteenth Amendment], Civil Rights [the Fourteenth Amendment], and the American Flag).

Among other benefits, this would give us an additional three-day weekend.

Our current calendar:

  • JAN 1   New Year’s Day                                  Fixed
  • JAN      Martin Luther King’s Birthday    Last Monday
  • FEB      Washington’s Birthday                  Third Monday
  • MAY     Memorial Day                                     Last Monday
  • JUL 4    Independence Day                          Fixed
  • SEP       Labor Day                                            First Monday
  • OCT       Columbus Day                                   Second Monday
  • NOV 11  Veterans Day                                     Fixed
  • NOV       Thanksgiving Day                            Fourth Thursday
  • DEC 25  Christmas Day                                 Fixed

My suggested reformed calendar:

  • JAN 1       New Year’s Day                               Fixed
  • FEB          Civil Rights Day                               Third Monday
  • MAY         Flag Day / Election Day               Second Monday
  • MAY         Memorial Day                                   Last Monday
  • JUN          Constitution Day                             Third Monday
  • JUL 4       Independence Day                         Fixed
  • SEP          Bill of Rights Day                             First Monday
  • OCT         Emancipation Day                          Second Monday
  • NOV        Thanksgiving Day                           Fourth Thursday
  • DEC 25   Christmas Day                                 Fixed

Comparison:

  • Old: Calendar clumpy (2 holidays in Jan., 2 in Nov., none in March, April, June, Aug.).
  • New: Calendar less clumpy (2 holidays in May, none in March, April, Aug.).
  • Old: 5 Monday holidays.
  • New: 6 Monday holidays.
  • Old: Fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
  • New: Fiscal year starts Jan. 1.
  • Old: Election day is first Tuesday in Nov. (Nov. 2 through 8).
  • New: Election day is second Monday in May (May 8 through 14).
  • Old: Congress convenes Jan. 3.
  • New: Congress convenes June 1.
  • Old: President inaugurated Jan. 20.
  • New: President inaugurated July 1.

Currency Images

I find the current practice of highlighting individuals on United States coins and currency slightly bothersome. It smacks of monarchy. Traditionally the face on the currency belongs to the sovereign (for example, the Roman emperor or the British monarch). Obviously, we’re a republic, not a monarchy. Since the American people are our sovereign, why not celebrate them? If we merely try to update the currency pantheon, we get into inevitable fights over issues of political correctness, focusing on secondary qualities like sex and ethnicity rather than true greatness. In lieu of faces on our national coins and bills, I would substitute inspiring symbols, patriotic scenes, important historical events, or inspiring quotations.

Speaking of quotations, one reason to put key quotations from the Constitution on our money is that politicians might actually read them.

So here’s what I’m suggesting. Instead of the current line-up of greenbacks:

  • $1 Washington
  • $2 Jefferson
  • $5 Lincoln
  • $10 Hamilton
  • $20 Jackson
  • $50 Grant
  • $100 Franklin

… why not:

  • $1 Washington crossing the Delaware
  • $2 Lexington and Concord (“The shot heard round the world …”)
  • $5 Lincoln at Gettysburg (“That government of the people, by the people, for the people …”)
  • $10 The Bill of Rights (“Congress shall make no law …”)
  • $20 The Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths …”)
  • $50 Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial (“I have a dream …”)
  • $100 The signing of the Constitution (“A republic, if you can keep it.”)

And likewise with our coins. There are many possibilities. The important thing is to shift the emphasis away from monarchical imagery toward imagery about noble actions and ideals.

State of the Union

A pet peeve. Presidents should deliver their annual State of the Union addresses in writing, as all presidents did from Jefferson through Taft. The yearly ‘SOTU’ ritual has become ludicrous, with members of Congress jumping up and down in partisan demonstrations and presidents rudely shaming sitting Supreme Court justices to their faces on national television. Aaaargh! The press should refuse to televise these awful displays, invitees should refuse to attend them, and the public should refuse to watch them. Harumph!

Joint Sessions of Congress

Another pet peeve. I hate speeches by foreigners to joint sessions of Congress. The honor of addressing the elected representatives of the American people has been reduced, through frequency, into a photo op for any foreign VIP who happens to be passing through town. Only Lafayette has deserved such an honor, in my humble opinion—and maybe Churchill.

Pledge of Allegiance

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I am not a fan of the Pledge of Allegiance—or rather, of its current wording, which to my ear sounds too chauvinist, too much like ‘My government, right or wrong!’ Pledging one’s allegiance is of course quite admirable, when done sincerely and voluntarily, and I have no problem with having an official pledge. But its recitation should be voluntary, and the wording should be true to our principles. In place of the current wording, I would substitute the ‘We hold these truths’ paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, a stirring creed that sets forth the first principles of our republic and distinguishes us from every other nation. And besides, it’s one the most eloquent passages in the English language.

National Anthem

A final embarrassing confession. I’m underwhelmed by ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ our official national anthem. It only became such by an act of Congress in 1931. (‘Hail, Columbia,’ the song’s forgotten nineteenth-century competitor, is also pretty uninspiring.) In the place of Francis Scott Key’s vivid, but not-terribly-imaginative celebration of our flag as seen by the light of exploding mortars, I would make ‘America the Beautiful’ our national anthem, or, if you prefer, we could make it a second, alternative anthem. (We can have  more than one.) ‘America the Beautiful’ is a better poem, with a better melody than ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ and—the clincher, for me—the darn thing is actually singable.

America, America!
God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control,
thy liberty in law! 

America, America!
God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea!


NOTES

* Lame-duck sessions occur when an outgoing Congress, including its defeated members, passes one or more last-minute laws that do not reflect the will of the most recent electorate.


Constitutional Amendments

This plank requires one constitutional amendment, to update the starting date of federal terms of office. The date of federal elections can be changed by an act of Congress.


Benefits

Will better align our civic symbols and celebrations with our principles and ideals.


Summary

Plank 13     Contents     Summary

Revised: July 5, 2018.

Published: June 21, 2013.

Author: Dean Clancy.

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