Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian (1805-59) wrote this about the USA: “America is a great country because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

What does it mean for a nation to be good? It means that it has both good institutions and good people running them. It also means a society where citizens are law-abiding and honest, where people respect each other, the government respects the people, the people respect the government and families live in communities with a minimum of fear and a maximum of compassion.

In 21st Century America, some of our institutions are not functioning as intended, or have become obsolete; some of our people have lost their moral compass and become materialistic. Almost daily, we see the inability of our elected representatives in Washington to work together for the common good; instead, they blame each other, refuse to compromise, and fail to take care of the people’s business.

Congress can’t even agree on a budget – with or without a deficit. All the members of Congress should be sequestered in the Capitol Building with nothing to eat or drink, except peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk, until they pass a budget. Here are some other steps which could help restore our country.

In my opinion, the nation’s biggest problem is the corrupting influence of special-interest money on our political system. A corporation is not a person, and money is not speech. We must prohibit all political contributions from corporations, labor unions and other organizations. Only individual U.S. citizens should be allowed to make campaign contributions. Campaign contributions, campaign spending and the length of campaigns should be strictly limited. This problem hinders our ability to deal with all our other problems.

America should stop trying to be the world’s policeman; our government needs to be much more cautious about intervening militarily in other countries – it’s very expensive, and the people in foreign countries often are ungrateful. Whenever the President intends to send our young men and women to fight in foreign territory, he should be required to tell the American people the reason for his action and how we will pay for it. We have enough problems to solve here at home.

An estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants live in our country; their children who were born here are U.S. citizens by law and often attend our schools. Many of these immigrants work (sometimes at jobs that U.S. citizens don’t want) but pay no taxes – except sales taxes. Undocumented immigrants should be required to register with the government so that they have legal status and pay income taxes, etc.; after paying a fine, they should be put on a path to citizenship. Those who fail to register after a certain period of time should be deported. It is unrealistic, costly, and a poor use of law enforcement personnel to try to arrest, imprison, process and deport all these people.

There is no simple solution to gun violence in America, but some things can be done to make us safer. Mental health care and treatment should be made more readily available. Parents need to deny their children access to violent video games, violent movies and violent television programs. Ways must be found to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, crazy people and children. All gun dealers should be required to check a database of convicted felons and persons involuntarily committed to mental hospitals before selling them a gun, and stiff penalties should be imposed on anyone who provides a gun to a felon, mentally-ill person or child.

A friend who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam and has used most types of firearms said that if a person wants to protect his or her family, home and business, the best choice of weapons would be a shotgun. As someone recently said in “Talk Back”: If a hunter can’t hit an animal using a rifle with a 5-bullet clip (the maximum allowed under South Carolina law), then maybe he should try fishing. So, why do private citizens need military-style weapons which are designed to kill many people, really fast?

Congress has a chaplain and a prayer room, and it begins each session with a prayer. The U.S. Supreme Court, which banned prayer in public schools, invokes God at the beginning of its sessions. Voluntary, nondenominational prayer should be permitted in our public schools as well. Children who want to begin each school day with a prayer should be able to do so. But, the rights of people who do not wish to participate in such an activity must be protected. Ethics, manners and politeness should also be taught in school. The Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’ commandment to, “Love your neighbor as your self”, ought to be posted in school buildings. We need prayers, not guns, in our schools. Let your elected representatives know what you think about these issues.

Anthony J. DiStefano, of Aiken, spent 29 years working in state and federal government including positions with the Ohio General Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives and two executive agencies of the federal government.