A Two Party System
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The problem with a two party system is that there are only two parties.
A body politic that has only a choice between two parties is necessarily wildly contorted as a general election looms. Bifurcating something as complex as political and social ideology is an attempt to simplify something of nearly infinite nuance into three or four broad statements. The end result of that process of applying binary thinking is homogeneity on the one hand and chaos and self-destruction on the other. And that’s what we’re seeing as we grab our popcorn and watch in fascinated amusement the political train wreck that passes for a general election in the United States.
The first thing that needs to be noted is that, with a two party or binary system, in a free market capitalist country, polarisation must necessarily take place. Because of the cutthroat competitiveness that capitalism breeds, people of opposing political views face each other down and duke it out until one view is left standing and the other is left bleeding in the arena. There is no possibility of arriving at a consensus when politics are as polarised as they are in the US at this writing; there will be no dialectical process of thesis meeting antithesis to produce a synthesis. In this kind of politics, synthesis would be seen by all participants as capitulation and selling out. The US congress of the last eight years, the entire stretch of the Obama presidency, has demonstrated that better than any theoretical application of political theory could do.
As we have seen, the degree of polarity that has developed in United States politics has led lawmakers to the point where party loyalty takes precedence over loyalty to their oaths of office or even loyalty to their country. This is an inevitable result of the fiercely fought battles to control the narrative of one party in that two-party system. As a result of having fought so ferociously to stake out positions on the far right, the traditional territory of the Republicans, any backsliding toward the middle was simply not tolerated by the party. And with the right wing views so entrenched in their rhetoric and their doctrine, it became it sign of weakness even to grant their president the simple courtesies due to him by virtue of the office he held.
The acknowledged mission of the Republicans came to be to deny the president any victory or accomplishment at all and to achieve this noble aim by simple obstructionism. Most of the time they simply did nothing; the rest of the time, at every opportunity, they threatened or attempted to shut down the government completely. So intent on undermining Obama’s presidency were they, that they were willing to destroy their country’s economy, its sense of self worth, and its standing in the world. Even if people were to die (another inevitability of shutting down air traffic control, police departments, the military, etc.) as a result of their actions, well that would be worth it not to compromise and work with the other party or, god forbid, the president. What they didn’t see, and what is only becoming clear to them now, is that in the process they destroyed their party.
What went wrong for the Republicans was the advent of the Tea Party faction within their caucus. The Tea Partiers, by their sudden election of a cohort of far right freshman congressmen and senators, persuaded the rest of the party that they could appeal to their base and more of the general public by pushing the envelope of their dogma farther and farther to the right. Soon Republican senators and congressmen were falling all over themselves to showcase their bona fides by refusing to consider compromise in their debates over legislation, even going to the extent of signing Grover Norquist’s “never raise taxes” pledge and cutting every social program in sight. These government employees were determined, as Norquist said, to shrink the government down until it was small enough to drown in a bathtub. The pledge itself being a betrayal of their oaths of office, wherein they had pledged that their country was to come first in all considerations, became a symbol of how narrow the Republican entrance gate had become.
The Republican Party had long stood for a few ideals: smaller government (not no government), free enterprise capitalism, states rights. But now, to be a good Republican, you have to deny anthropogenic climate change, oppose civil rights for the LBGT community, demand that planned Parenthood be defunded, support the intrusion of evangelical Christianity into government, profess that life begins at the moment of conception, deny that evolution is a scientific reality, be in favour of voter suppression, despise immigrants, and a whole laundry list of more and more bizarre dogma. The Republicans, in their struggle to elbow their way to the most extreme right of the party hadn’t considered the fact that by its very nature, an extreme position excludes many people. So while the real hard core Republicans gamely continued to participate in the rightward migration, occasionally they’d lose one of their own; one who had just a bit more sense than to follow the herd.
But meanwhile, registered Republicans were questioning whether the party of Lincoln represented their views any more. The Republican tent had been reduced to the point where nobody was left under its shelter except fanatics and political opportunists making a calculated strategic move. While there continues to exist an enormous Republican base, many are questioning whether they can in good conscience continue to go full Republican.
So, in the 2016 Republican primaries, Donald Trump came along and mobilised that contingent of the Republican base that supports all the narrow minded, mean spirited social dogma of the extreme right. He couldn’t care less about policy, foreign or domestic; he’s only interested in appealing to the hard kernel of deeply angry hard core Republicans that want to drive the vicious social agenda of the very worst of what’s left of the Republican party. And despite Ted Cruz and a rather shambolic collection of party stalwarts trying to play spoiler, Trump got them all signed up and swiped the nomination from anyone with the slightest hint of moderation in their views. Having shrunk their tent down to a size where it only covers this group of rabid fanatics, we are poised to see the GOP under Trump get slaughtered at the general and the rest of the party fracture and possibly splinter into third party startups. As long as Trump is the candidate there are millions of Americans who have never voted anything but Republican, but cannot countenance a Trump victory; they will stay home because they would rather sandpaper the insides of their eyelids than vote for Hillary Clinton.
Now, a third party is not at all a bad idea. Even better would be several more parties. If people are feeling as politically alienated as they seem to be, the reason for that alienation is obvious. The two party candidates at 2016’s general election will have the highest disapproval rating of any presidential candidates in history. Trump is hated because he embraces hatred and is gambling that there is enough hatred out there to carry him on a wave of odium and loathing to the White House. Hillary Clinton is disliked by fewer people but with some intensity for a number of reasons from her support of the Wall Street bailouts to the whisper campaign regarding the cellphone non-story. Nevertheless, no voter who agrees with the Democratic stance of providing a social safety net, progressive taxation, organised labour, and broad civil rights could ever vote for Trump, leaving abstention or Hillary as the only options.
A third party and even more than that would help the US avoid the angst of the limited choice they face and quite probably the circus that these primaries have become. If there were more parties, there would be no need for the internecine knife fight that’s destroying the only party on the right; there would be some place for Hillary-hating liberal elites to call home. There is nothing in the US constitution that requires a two party system; the constitution never even mentions parties. Even more importantly, the very structure of the United States government as determined by its constitution presumes that those seeking political office have the country itself as their primary loyalty. The two party system demands that pols adhere to their party above all, there being no alternative other than a complete reversal of all views previously held.
So here’s to the fragmentation and ultimate shattering of the GOP; Since a Republican candidate can’t possibly win 2016, with any intelligent foresight some additional parties might be formed out of the scattered pieces of the old party. If that were to come to pass, in the fullness of time we would see congress representing a kaleidoscope of different views and interests, the power of the lobbies would be seriously diminished, compromise would be a daily fact of life and not an act of apostasy to be punished by burning at the stake, voters would be far more engaged, and there would be a sense that finding genuine representation in congress wouldn’t be the far-fetched fantasy of a cockeyed optimist.