October 12, 2020
America's political system the past 244 years has relied on two main political parties in various incarnations. For the most part, it has worked. However, in the age of hyper-partisanship, and intense tribalism, it has made passing vital legislation and effective governing nearly impossible, not to mention, respecting free and fair elections. Has the time come now to make room for more political parties to save American democracy?
For most Americans, our options when we vote or choose our political alignments are traditionally binary, in the forms of two main parties, Republicans (conservatives, or the "GOP") and Democrats (liberals). This election cycle has been far more partisan and challenging than in years past. The country is dealing with racial strife, economic class issues, lack of faith in government, and impartial institutions like the Supreme Court, and I feel that this is a culmination of the last 30 years of a two-party system that has outlived its usefulness. The country is at a point where elections now are a zero-sum game, where its either victory for the right party, or intense opposition where the party in the minority does everything in its power to damage the opposing party who controls the White House. Even though many Americans do not like President Trump, if his election is certified by each state's Secretary of State, there is nothing that can delegitimize his re-election. There have been wargaming scenarios by "progressive groups" to do just that, however, by encouraging Joe Biden not to concede, to force the inclusion of ballots sent by mail (which the Republicans will contest), and use the court system to delay certification of the election unless it works for their political interests (Republicans are really no better in this case, either).
How did we get here? I feel that the two-party system itself has outlived its usefulness. Both parties are now entrenched and show no sign of adapting or being conciliatory when it is required. The Democrats and Republicans are primarily focused on protecting their loyalty to the powerful and wealthy corporations, individuals, and mega-donors who provide the lion share of their fundraising. Look at the most recent Presidential debates on September 29th. It was an ugly shouting match between two septuagenarians, who are more focused on tearing into each other (to please their donors) rather than what both men can do for their country, which is enduring a difficult year on many levels.
The Democrats, at one time, were the party of the working class and stayed true to their roots even though they would lose three consecutive Presidential elections from 1980-1992. It was Bill Clinton's shocking win in 1992 against incumbent President George H. W. Bush that altered that narrative and which allowed Democrats to seek out the same corporate benefactors of the GOP. Once the Democrats gave in and sought out productive relationships with influential corporate interests, things changed. A result of this cooperation was President Clinton signing the law that abolished the Glass-Steagal Act, which separated retail banking and investment banking (which some say led to the 2008 financial crash) and his infamous support of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), which gave American corporations the ability to offshore jobs to Mexico, China and other parts of Asia in their pursuits of even more profits. That turning point meant that the middle class and lower-income Americans really had no real advocate on their behalf. Both political parties essentially neglect most American's concerns in favor of the business interests of the largest corporations and industries, particularly in Silicon Valley, the oil and gas industry, and Wall Street.
Donald Trump's 2016 surprise election was from the neglected segments of American society throwing a "Hail Mary" of sorts because it was the first time a political candidate spoke plainly and showed surprising concerns for their desires and interests in many years, and Mr. Trump won as a populist. However, I don't see the Republican party turning into a "populist" party that advocates for the interests of the middle-class worker, or seeking to provide some assistance to those close to poverty and the downtrodden. Based on their overall history, the party tends to be aligned with the goals of large businesses and offers solutions to problems in the form of individual self-reliance, while focusing to loosen the reigns of a suffocating, over-regulating, authoritarian government. That platform is appealing for large multi-billion dollar corporations and wealthy families, but for everyone else, not so much. Some of their goals, such as individual liberty and responsibility, are admirable characteristics, but promoting them by a political party is hard to get behind, even if I do support those ideas in practice.
I think both political parties show no signs of changing or adapting to attract new voters and instead want to solidify their base of passionate and loyalist voters. The GOP wants to protect its alliance with conservatives, businesspeople, and Christian voters, while the Democrats are focused on social justice and gender relations, issues that impact their two largest voting blocs, African-Americans and women. Democrats also want to "pack" the Supreme Court by adding more liberal jurists, so that it will be overwhelmingly liberal for a generation or two. The Democrats also want to give statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C, which would give the party four dependable and reliable senators to pass bills, and protect their control of the Supreme Court nomination process (Republicans would love to protect the court in the same vein, but do not have any potential new states from which to draw even with the Democrats).
By carrying on with these unproductive battles, both parties are oblivious to issues that most Americans truly care about (jobs and healthcare to name a few), and on passing important legislation that will improve and protect the quality of life if its residents. They are most concerned with guarding their political territory, and killing off any competition, either from an independent third party, or a self-funded candidate. Congress is now entrenched in frustrating legislative gridlock, where neither party wants to work with the other side because it would anger their most dependable and loyal donors, for whom politics and winning are absolutes. Part of this is due to districts in the House of Representatives that are "gerrymandered," or designed to protect respective incumbents. Districts are always altered and tend to shapeshift to match where the most loyal voters live.
The drafting of Congressional districts is done according to demographic trends and their geographic locations during U.S. Census years that will be productive and beneficial to the political party that gets control of the process based on majorities of state legislatures (see image and link below). The goal is not for citizens to choose their representatives, but for representatives to pick their voters, which will ensure they do not have to work for anyone's vote. It is the reason certain members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, say outrageous things, are unprofessional, who show a lack of class in working with the other side, and are generally not punished for their actions. They represent the reason there is gridlock and the lack of civility in politics. The other variable is that the American people are becoming those very same individuals. I think social media is the primary cause, along with a format on cable news that allows people to scream at each other without making any sentient points without resolution of their issue. Not to mention a lack of time spent with actual people in dialogue. Families rarely spend time together, and if they do, are always checking their phone instead of talking to one another. People do not talk and work things out anymore, and if the country cannot return to a day when we disagree with one another but are living and working in respective harmony, I see troubling times for the foreseeable future.
"Evolution of a Pennsylvania Congressional District"https://www.fairdistrictspa.com/the-problem/about-gerrymandering
In Wisconsin this year, the Democratic party was using legal and political maneuvers to eliminate any challenges from candidates from the environmentally-conscious Green Party. The move was done I believe because the new party could potentially take away voters who are registered Democrats, but who may like the environmentally-conscious policies Green Party initiatives that might be more progressive than its own Democratic party platform:
These methods are to the average person, very anti-Democratic. So why are Democrats doing this? Because they can, and the GOP engage in similar shenanigans when doing so benefits them (i.e. felons in Florida who have paid their dues to society and want to vote, but the Republican lower chamber in the state legislature makes it harder for them to do so by forcing them to pay off all debt they owe, which the average is around $1,500). There are over 100 million Americans who are eligible to vote but do not, and instead of courting those citizens, the major parties try to protect their power by giving voters the least amount of options as possible and eliminate any challenges to the status quo.
What are the Options?
Major Third or Multiple Parties
If American democracy is to be saved for future generations, now is the best time for the emergence of other political parties. These parties can be single-issue (environment), economic support (blue-collar workers and working families), independents, and Constitutionalists. I strongly believe that these parties or other relevant incarnations must start to win House and Senate seats. The stranglehold that allows for partisan gridlock might be eliminated when new, independent party members caucus and vote as a block when needed, but also allowing each individual members to choose how they want to vote. In theory, the duopoly that the Democrats and Republicans have could be broken, but it requires the right people as independent members to change the system.
Look at the current United States Senate breakdown currently, with 51 Republicans (red) and 49 Democrats (blue). As an example, if nine new senators not affiliated with either party win seats, it would be a game-changer. It would transfer a large amount of power from the two majority parties to the nine senators not affiliated with either party. They could caucus simply to organize as a group, but each individual member has the opportunity to vote the way their constituents want or their own personal convictions. It would force the Republicans and Democrats in each party to actually vote and pass important legislation through horse-trading, which is what the Founders intended. If the nine independent members could side (or a majority of those nine) with whichever party presents a solid piece of legislation, both major party senators would have to make a choice or risk losing their leverage and power.
I think this idea has a better chance of bearing fruit in the House of Representatives, where you don't need to raise obscene amounts of money (Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey raised almost $28 million dollars for his recent senate campaign, although the national average is a little over $10 million, while House races average $1.5 million-Mother Jones). Out of nowhere candidates can pull off upsets because the races are not well-known as senate races. Buying airtime statewide is costly for senate candidates, especially in large, expensive states like California, New York, and Florida, so if this phenomenon is to succeed, it needs to happen in states like Oklahoma, Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho, and Missouri, where costs are much lower to run for office. For this method to be successful and effective, a lot of money needs to get behind these independent candidates and parties, through political action committees (PACs), joint fundraising committees, and grassroots fundraising. While it is not ideal to use PACs in order to win, you need a vehicle to generate and expend revenue for a campaign. It is awfully hard to pull this off when you are part of an independent party. Success would be determined when multiple candidates not affiliated with either the Republicans or Democrats win a cluster of Congressional seats. I think the probability of this happening is very small, but I would personally root for this to succeed on some level.
Ranked Choice Voting
One idea that progressive Democrats and some Republicans have supported, and is gaining more exposure is the process known as "ranked-choice voting." Essentially it allows voters to "rank" their choices for a particular primary and general election. If their first-choice candidate has dropped out after ballots are printed or don't make a runoff, then their subsequent ranked, chronological choices get their updated vote preference. Some of the additional reasons proponents tend to like this method is that it allegedly protects against wasted votes, ensures that delegates to conventions truly reflect the will of the voters and upgrade old methods tallying votes, which include in-person caucus voting like they do in Iowa and Nevada, respectively (Hyatt and Lockhard-Spectator.us). Polling done in states (Kansas and Utah) shows that this form of voting is popular, in that it eliminates multiple rounds of voting, thereby saving money for taxpayers. Advocates for this type of voting say it protects votes from being wasted on candidates who have dropped out and want the vote to still matter. Additionally, ranked-choice proponents believe it will allow states to award delegates to the winner of the party primaries, and general election (Electoral College) a fairer chance for the candidates to win with a majority share of votes. Others believe this method would eliminate the need for in-person caucus voting, which can be a process that requires a lot of time consumption.
While I think ranked-choice voting has some merit, I am not fully certain that it would be trusted by political parties and voters for that matter, notwithstanding the states of Utah and Kansas, where the process was well received. Both of those states are safely Republican, and they do not have a high Electoral College delegate count. If ranked choice voting were to be tried and becomes popular in larger states like California, then it would build momentum. I think more opportunities to test it, and have the vote count monitored by independent organizations, to see if this process is safe, secure, and trusted is worthwhile. At this time, I am not sold on this process. It would create more trust in the process if the data collected is transparent could help guide the conversation in the near future.
Eliminate Gerrymandered Congressional Districts
After every Decennial Census count, Congress, through state legislatures, updates Congressional Districts. The goal is to protect incumbents and provide dependable votes for either party. As mentioned above, demographic and population trends are used to carve out beneficial districts that will provide preferred individuals of either party. As mentioned above, demographic and population trends are used to carve out beneficial districts that will protect members of each party. I firmly believe that instead of third-party candidates, independent parties, or ranked-choice voting, this option is the best chance to change the make-up of Congress. The Lower House is extremely partisan, much like the senate, but it is not statewide, and its districts reflect that partisan divide. If you truly want members of Congress to actually earn their vote, gerrymandered districts must be eliminated as best as possible. The topic was the central point of two U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) cases, Gil v. Whitford (Wisconsin) and Beniserk v. Lamone (Maryland) which was to determine the constitutionality of gerrymandering itself. Gil v. Whitford was brought to court due to the methods used by the Republican party in Wisconsin to secure additional seats, challenged by citizens, who were mostly Democrats. Benisek v. Lamone involved the redistricting of Maryland's 6th Congressional district. Ultimately, the Supreme Court remanded the case without a decision back to the lower courts. SCOTUS agreed to include the issues involved in the Wisconsin case but in the end, SCOTUS felt that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated the merits of the case, and the eight justices were evenly split to what degree the plaintiffs should have shown "injury" (Wikipedia.org).
I believe Congress should take the lead on this, but there must be intense public pressure, beginning at the grassroots level locally, to force both parties to come to the table. A state-mandated, impartial committee of judges (I think this was tried in California) to create voting districts that are competitive, instead of relying on partisanship is a good way to start. Currently, voters are given members of Congress who have ideological symmetry and who are not punished for political bomb throwing, which is the crux of why nothing gets done in Washington, D.C.
When legislators choose their voters, they are not required to really care for them outside of voting every two years. The voters in these gerrymandered districts are simply happy if you demonize the other side. Americans are satisfied with their own member of Congress, but as a group, they are not popular nationwide. This is precisely why hyper-partisanship is the norm in the nation's capital. In order to have constructive dialogue, or have Congress actually pass important legislation, you have to forcibly remove partisanship. Without removing that toxicity out of American politics, nothing else will improve, and much needed change in terms of how we govern ourselves will not evolve. If districts are made competitive, then those members who used to be in safe voting regions, will finally have to show results, or they get voted out and replaced. Corporations want a stable Congress, one that can be controlled, or publicly "encouraged" to vote the right way. Congressional districts that are always competitive change that preferred narrative. If gerrymandered regions can be eliminated as a tool to protect incumbents, then voters will once again get to choose who represents them. In my opinion, this is the best way out of the options considered and discussed in this post to save American democracy.