Now is the time for us to consider scrapping the two-party system of government. Now is about the best time to reflect on how our politics has failed to serve the public, and to begin to replace it.
The U.S. Constitution does not mention political parties, much less require two of them. On the surface, there is nothing inherently wrong with political parties. The problem is when these parties assume too much power and suck all the air out of the room that is American democracy. With a Democratic-Republican duopoly controlling the levers of government, we can hardly say this is a democratic system of government.
Entrenched power has resulted in the corrupting influence of money in politics, something which has impacted both major parties. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision ushered in the era of unlimited corporate money in political campaigns — anonymous, unaccountable, and overwhelming in influence. With corporations acting as citizens, and campaign donations as a form of free speech, what chance can ordinary citizens have to make their voices heard?
When the elected officials and their parties receive their funding from one source and their votes from another, the funders will win. And the result is a system of legalized bribery in which politicians are beholden to financial interests — so-called dark money — perhaps even flowing from foreign nations.
The partisan and racial gerrymandering of districts — which currrently disproportionately benefits the Republican Party — has created one-party rule in some parts of the country, allowing politicians to select their own constituents, rather than the other way around. Redistricting does not encourage moderate, heterogeneous districts, but rather can provide a particular political party with a majority of seats in a state legislature or a state congressional delegation, a potentially insurmountable advantage for the opposing party to overcome. Racial gerrymandering also dilutes the power of voters of color and renders them invisible.
The Republicans have enacted voter suppression measures in the state houses they control throughout the country. Such laws, which include voter ID (34 states in all), are designed to disenfranchise blacks, Latinos, and other traditionally non-Republican constituencies. Now, Republicans in at least 10 states have proposed legislation to criminalize peaceful political protest.
On the national level, the two major parties are at risk of imploding or atrophying. Due to their dysfunction, the government is ill-equipped to solve America’s myriad problems — climate change, poverty, gun violence, unemployment, and student loans. Democrats spent over $1 billion in the 2016 election with little to show for it, a culmination of years of tone deafness, and eschewing their labor union base in favor of neoliberal policies promoted by their corporate donors.
Under President Donald Trump, the Republicans have become a party of extremism, of unabashed white nationalism, Muslim bans, and border walls. Both Congress and the president have low approval ratings, and the executive branch is in a crisis that screams for substantive reform. The Trump administration is engaged in the wholesale dismantling of government agencies. A kleptocratic cabinet of billionaires has a combined net worth greater than one-third of the U.S. population. The president hires his family like a banana republic dictator, and he uses his position to profit from his businesses. Allegations of Russian collusion in the 2016 election notwithstanding, these are all symptoms of a larger disease plaguing the American body politic.
American politics discourages the development of viable third parties, a rigged system that renders these independent efforts little more than a protest vote. If democracy is to thrive in the U.S., we need new voices and a range of points of view to flourish. More democratic participation and civic engagement is the antidote. This includes replacing our winner-take-all electoral scheme with multi-seat congressional districts or a parliamentary-type system of proportional representation in which political parties would receive seats in the legislature in proportion to the votes they receive.
A multi-party arrangement would encourage coalition-building and compromise, rather than the pathological gridlock that characterizes American government. This will only work by lifting of all barriers to voting, removing big money from elections, and encouraging more people to go to the polls and run for office. There’s nothing to lose, and the only alternative is to continue to suffer through the national embarrassment that passes for the U.S. political system.