The Republican Party is a dense core of gilded oligarchs, unrepentant racists, and people who genuinely want to fuck an AR-15. The Democrats, meanwhile, seem to be endlessly mired in re-litigating their catastrophic defeats, haplessly wagging their fingers at one another, insisting that theirs are the good billionaire benefactors, and, uh, whatever this is:
Unfortunately, for anyone interested in actually having their voice heard, those are basically the only choices you’ve got.
So I say: Ban the two-party system itself. It’s been nothing but trouble.
Yes, I know there’s nothing that requires American politics to be perfectly bifurcated between Democrats and Republicans. But with their entrenched financial and operational systems, they’re the only games in town. And by effectively forcing everyone into one of just two boxes, the two-party system fosters interminable gridlock and, even worse, encourages people to dilute their own political beliefs.
Think back to the 2016 election (ugh, I’m sorry). Remember that schism between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters? That was as much about the limitations of the two-party system as anything else. Sanders and Clinton were pushing philosophies which strained the limits of what a single political party was willing—or able—to accommodate. And thanks to the two-party system, it was impossible for people to turn to a viable alternative. So what happened? Voters got extremely mad at being asked to tailor their own beliefs to fit the single Democratic mold. The center, to put it mildly, had a hard time holding.
Or, for a more current example, look at the simmering civil war taking place in the GOP. On one side you have Trumpian fascists willing to burn everything to the ground in the pursuit of their bigoted agenda, and on the other, “mainstream” Republicans who want roughly the same thing but are at least willing to pretend like they don’t. In both cases, the pretense of a “big tent” has been cast aside, and the stark limitations of the two-party system are coming into sharp focus.
What’s worse, though, is that the two-party system effectively enables a corrupt disregard for actual voters’ wants and needs by letting each party hold half the electorate hostage with the prospect of the other side winning.
As ever, The Simpsons said this best.
And the system makes it much easier for the ultra-wealthy and special interest groups to prosper. Donors can simply contribute to both sides—the only sides—in a race, and rest easy knowing they’ll get their way.
There are obviously lots of people who’d love to see more parties brought into the great American political goulash. The Gary Johnson and Jill Stein presidential campaigns, and of course Sanders’ enduring popularity, shows a lasting hunger for alternatives outside the big two.
On a local level, that’s already been some progress to that effect. This year, Ginger Jentzen’s grassroots campaign with the Socialist Alternative party has raised more money than any other city council candidate in Minneapolis history. In Connecticut, state legislator Ed Gomes was elected in 2015 as a candidate for the Working Families Party. And in Las Vegas, Mayor Carolyn Goodman regards herself as an independent, having declined to endorse both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016. But while third party and independent candidates may slowly continue to make gains in city, and even state elections, they lack any sort of solid political machine and are frequently compelled to align with established Democratic or GOP operations in order to solidify their campaigns.
Although it’s heartening for voters to have a slightly broader spectrum of local political options to choose from, missing entirely are viable alternative parties on a national scale.
Which isn’t to say that the groundwork isn’t there. The newly re-energized Democratic Socialists of America has shown serious promise in building bottom-up movements that can compete in both local and eventually national races. And while much of that progress has been made within the confines of the two-party system, it’s easy to see how the progressive, issue-based comrades of the DSA would eagerly flock to just about any other viable political outlet available if given the chance.
Of course, the question then becomes, “How do things change?”
Well, for starters, America needs to fix the way money operates in politics; campaign finance reform, tougher regulations on electoral advertising, and revised entry rules for national debates would go a long way toward lowering some of the most obvious barriers that prevent third parties from gaining ground on the dominant competitors and their century-long head start. Reforming the voting system so it’s more hospitable to third parties is key too.
But that’s not all. In order to truly break the two-party system, people must be willing not only to cast ballots for “non-traditional” parties, but also actively demonstrate to their peers why they should do the same. Politics is inherently communal. Engagement outside the polling booth can dramatically amplify the effect of a single vote.
So ban the two-party system. Take a stand for candidates who actually reflect your values and your desires. Get some fresh blood into the mix. We’ll be better off for it.