It is an election year, and, like many, I have an election year tradition. It isn’t campaigning for my favorite candidate, staying up to date on the polls, listening to debates, or arguing with friends and family about politics.
It isn’t even looking for homes in Canada, Mexico, or some other foreign country, just in case the candidate I prefer isn’t the one elected, though I still do most of these things.
No, my election year tradition is lamenting the wayward nature of our political system, and our very poor, very destructive decision to embrace a primarily two-party system clear back in the third ever U.S. Presidential Election in 1796.
You see, though the notion of political parties existed prior to the drafting of the Constitution, the framers opted not to include them in any of our founding documents. In fact, George Washington to his dying day never joined a political party and, in his farewell address, even counseled against them as our “worst enemy” upon which “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men [and women] will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Sound at all familiar? Still, despite all of these indicators that perhaps basing our governing system upon political parties was not the best idea, We the People opted not only to form them, but to systematically restructure our entire electoral process around the two-party system in an attempt to facilitate campaigning and unite like-minded individuals under one banner, starting clear back in the 1796 election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
In reality, at this point in the history of our country, political parties really only achieve three goals – dividing people, impeding progress, and encouraging individuals to not inform themselves on individual candidates and platforms.
I find it highly interesting that a system originally designed to unite people has become the one that causes the most division. While the two-party system allows for the unification of individuals with similar ideals under a single banner, and allows for candidates to quickly garner a support base, it does not accomplish all of the goals it set out to, and it brings with it a lot of issues.
One of the greatest is that it creates a sense of teams and competition. It pushes people to look at those with opposing ideas as their personal opponent and enemy. It paints the picture of politics in the United States using only black and white, when in reality there are a lot of shades of gray.
It also tends to force issues that should help us to band together and look past political affiliation (such as, say, an international health crisis) to be politicized and polarized. And people continue to become increasingly divided and polarized because they are told by their respective parties that the fate of the nation depends on their candidate being elected and their party being in control.
In addition to dividing people, political parties tend to encourage an “us or them” team mentality. Instead of elected officials and leaders choosing to work together, and to do what is best for the American people, they choose to seek the best interest of their party. They do not put forward and support candidates who may be more moderate and willing to work across the aisle, and when opportunity to work together and affect change presents itself, they instead dig in deeper on their side’s argument, policy, and stance.
Ultimately, that means that change comes about very slowly, and that big issues which government leaders have been promising to address for many years, such as healthcare or immigration, remain largely unchanged. It also leads to government shutdowns, where the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people employed by the government are held hostage while government officials, still being paid, refuse to concede or compromise.
Finally, instead of serving as a proving ground for the development of ideas, and allowing people to consider different issues and find solutions together, political parties allow the general public to choose to blindly follow one side or the other, and remain largely uninformed on the issues.
There are many who look at which party agrees with their stance on one or a few issues, and select that party as theirs.
Then each year as elections move forward, citizens don’t even look at who candidates are, or what their stances are. They simply look at what color a candidate wears, and what letter precedes their name on the ballot, and vote according. This ultimately leads to an uninformed, under-represented public, and a great deal of corruption.
What, you ask, is the alternative? The most ideal alternative, in my opinion, would be to disband political parties entirely. This would push voters to learn about candidates and select the candidate which best represented them, regardless of affiliation.
However due to the first amendment’s guarantee of freedom of assembly, disbanding parties is not entirely feasible. The second-best option would be to establish a multi-party system. Imagine a political landscape where there was some agreement and overlap between almost every party.
In that situation, voters could find more easily a party and candidate whose views are more fully in line with their own. Parties would be more inclined to work together, because they would know that cooperation and compromise on current issues could lead to support, cooperation, and compromise from others on future issues. The people could be truly represented, extremism would decrease, and our country would become more able to adapt and change as needed, and flourish through hardship.
I recognize that, as it stands, our country currently allows for third parties to run for office and campaign. But looking at that statement in and of itself highlights the problem.
Calling other parties “third parties” implies that they are tertiary to the two main parties. And that is clearly evident. Funding, debates, and ballots all lend to our current two-party system predicament.
Some may call me extreme, but it is evident, looking at our current political system, and the depth to which two-party ideals have engrained themselves into it, that our country is headed for trouble. The consistent division, lack of progress, and freedom of responsibility granted by our two-party system guarantees that our United States will continue to grow less and less united.
If something doesn’t change, more conflict, more aggression, and, worst case, a civil war could loom ahead. I hope we can avoid that by pushing for change locally, statewide, and federally. One thing is for certain, if change doesn’t come, those in power will continue to gain more wealth, power, and influence, and We the People will continue to be the biggest losers. (Wood is a Serve Daily contributor.)