I posit that America is hurting by our two-party political system. For most of the country, there is not even a viable third-party candidate on a local or state level, let alone national. Nearly every single Western democracy has at the very least 3 major political parties, and most have many more. There is certainly an argument that can be made for having too many parties being problematic, but in America we are on the opposite extreme.
Why do we have two parties? The came into being because the structure of U.S. elections, with one seat tied to a geographic district, tends to lead to dominance by two major political parties. Even when there are other options on the ballot, most voters understand that minor parties have no real chance of winning even a single office. Hence, they vote for candidates of the two major parties in order to support a potential winner. Of the 535 members of the House and Senate, only a handful identify as something other than Republican or Democrat. Third parties have fared no better in presidential elections. No third-party candidate has ever won the presidency. Some historians or political scientists might consider Abraham Lincoln to have been such a candidate, but in 1860, the Republicans were a major party that had subsumed members of earlier parties, such as the Whig Party, and they were the only major party other than the Democratic Party.https://pressbooks.online.ucf.edu/pos2041lg/chapter/the-two-party-system/
For the past 225+ years, America has been locked into the rigid two-party political system. A multiparty system might benefit many Americans, especially the poor and disenfranchised like me. I’ve noticed virtually no politicians seem to truly care about the poor, even the working poor. We’re not even on their radar which is very sad and very frustrating and upsetting.
Right now if you look at Congressional and Presidential voting the vast majority of Democrats are pro-abortion, pro-LGBT, and in favor of funding social programs. They tend to be lax/liberal on social issues, and liberal on economics. On the other hand, the vast majority of Republicans are anti-abortion, and anti-LGBT (Although sadly this is rapidly changing. Trump courted the LGBT vote and many Congressional Republicans say they support the Supreme Court ruling creating “homosexual marriage”.) and are very conservative on economics.
Sadly, this results in a terrible field of choices for a voter like me who favors strong social programs which help the poor (I would be homeless or dead without them!), yet is very conservative on social issues. It leaves me burned no matter who I chose. And I refuse to compromise my conscience on major issues so I choose to not vote.
Theoretically, suppose we had a multiparty system. In that case, I can see strong support for a 3rd party comprised of Christians, moderate Democrats, and Republicans who care for the disabled who can’t work, and the truly poor. As well as supporting conservative Christianity’s orthodox positions on social issues. In my mind, it would be a win-win. Sadly, I doubt I’ll see this dream realized in my lifetime.
The Medium is the Message
We live in a hyper-partisan age where social media video/audio clips (a few minutes long) and television sound bites define the majority of our political discourse sadly. They have an enormous influence on political elections and the mechanics of politics in general. A great book on how corporate and other nefarious interests use the media to brainwash and manipulate people and how the media itself becomes the reality is “The Media Is the Massage” by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore. It rearticulates McLuhan’s seminal idea of his book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” first published in 1964.
McLuhan’s theory, which I think has been proven by events of the past 60 years, is basically this:
McLuhan uses the term ‘message’ to signify content and character. The content of the medium is a message that can be easily grasped and the character of the medium is another message which can be easily overlooked. McLuhan says “Indeed, it is only too typical that the ‘content’ of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium”. For McLuhan, it was the medium itself that shaped and controlled “the scale and form of human association and action”. Taking the movie as an example, he argued that the way this medium played with conceptions of speed and time transformed “the world of sequence and connections into the world of creative configuration and structure”. Therefore, the message of the movie medium is this transition from “lineal connections” to “configurations.” Extending the argument for understanding the medium as the message itself, he proposed that the “content of any medium is always another medium” – thus, speech is the content of the writing, writing is the content of print, and print itself is the content of the telegraph.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_medium_is_the_message
By the way, if you’re interested in better understanding McLuhan’s work (which is eerily prescient in what he predicted would happen) check out this film, “The Medium Is The Message” which he made in 1967. McLuhan discusses his ideas concerning his earlier book “The media is the message.” It’s like he was able to look 55 years into the future!
Due to the polarization of the two political parties and the significant reduction in recent decades in the moderate members of each party, we have a great deal more government gridlock where good bills that would help people fail due to strict party voting vis a vis the partisan mentality that so dominates the minds of our legislators. This also affects the president’s passing or vetoing legislation. Embarrassingly, in recent years, we’ve seen the federal government shutdown precisely because of the increase in hyper-partisanship in our parties and the ensuing gridlock it produces.
One thing I’ve noticed in my lifetime (particularly with respect to presidential and congressional elections) is the way, tragically, that demagoguery (appealing to the worst prejudices and enflamed emotions of the populace) has become a tool politicians use to garner support and attack their opponents. It used to be that political rivals would stick to the issues and say why they are the better choice. Now most politicians at the levels I mentioned engage in character assassination, discuss personal issues and personally verbally attack their opponents, discuss matters that are not relevant to the election, go out of their way to demonize their opponents, and talk negatively about them continuously, use the media to demonize their opponent, take a scorched earth policy where nothing is off limits, etc. For a sad example of this type of behavior see my blog post from last year on Dr. Oz:
This demagoguery has truly poisoned our entire political process. It ensures that the most hot-headed, belligerrant, and acrimonious of candidates win. This goes hand in hand with the role of the media who are supposed to be neutral observers who desseminate the news. Now the media are active partisan agents directly creating or trying to manipulate how the news is perceived.
I live in a city that sadly has been dominated for the past 80 years (the last time a Republican was mayor) by party-line voting. Where people are brainwashed from the time they are young, through adolescence, and even into college that their family has consistently voted for Party X, and Party X members should get their votes regardless of Party X’s beliefs or political platform. This type of reasoning ensures that the most unqualified and horrible politicians will attain power. For Pittsburgh residents, you’ll understand when I say that only in Pittsburgh could a Sophie Masloff or a Luke Ravenstahl attain power. We should teach our children to think critically. They should learn how to test and evaluate a political candidate’s beliefs and use their own logical reasoning and morality/faith as determinative in deciding a candidate’s worthiness for office. But sadly we live in an age where people live almost solely on emotions.
The Trump Effect or the Trumpification of the Republican Party
I hate to say it, as a lifelong conservative voter, but the election of President Trump perfectly illustrates virtually every single point I’ve raised in this post. I just spoke about demagoguery and Trump is the master of that sadly! He is infamous for not respecting his political opponents (even fellow Republicans in the primary elections) and personally denigrating them, making racist, misogynistic, and sexist remarks about females’ genitalia, mocking disabled reporters, attacking anyone who disagrees with him (or asking a question he doesn’t approve of), making outrageous assertions, etc.
Trump was without doubt the single worse thing to happen to the Republican party in the 21st century so far. He also has a penchant for “getting revenge” with fellow Republicans who voted in favor of his two impeachments, or just those he didn’t feel kowtowed to him and did his bidding in Congress. He has gone out of his way to “destroy them” and unseat them from power. This type of pettiness is inappropriate and juvenile.
Trump made popular, and increased more than his predecessors did, the hyper-partisanship and lack of tolerance for more moderate views. In fact, it was as much a fundamental piece of his platform as anything else. During the Trump administration, there have been several Stalin-like purges in the Republican party of those deemed not loyal to Trump. He has a huge ego and is probably a megalomaniac. I say this as someone who voted for Trump for his first term in office.
As a Reformed conservative Christian, I found almost more to dislike in terms of Trump’s personality and ethics than I did in his political opponents. Despite the attempts by many in the Christian Right to baptize him as it were and claim he’s a Christian, I have seen zero evidence or fruit of repentance. Trump doesn’t think, talk, or act like a believer because he isn’t one. Trump comes across as an arrogant, belligerent, and bombastic bully who will try to personally destroy you if you cross him in some way whether real or imagined. This is hardly a person living for Christ and daily dying to his sin.
Trump did some good things for which I am thankful (such as appointing conservative Supreme Court Justices who eventually were able to overturn the Roe vs Wade decision which legalized abortion as a federal right in America in 1973), yet I feel future Reformed Christians will look back on the Trump years as a tragic mistake.
I’ve mentioned Trump because his rise to power perfectly illustrates all that is wrong with our current two-party political system. Trump might still have attained power in a multiparty system, but it would have been much harder. If we had honest media coupled with a better education system, he would not have attained power.
Trump showed how the two parties no longer tolerate significant (or one could argue even minor) dissent from the party platform. Those who were one day in the party’s good graces, found themselves the next day as an ostracized outsiders, an enemy after failing to uphold the party line. This is intellectually a very dangerous way to think. I see many parallels between the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party and how they operated with Trump’s rise to power and how the Republican party of today behaves. Trump certainly seems to be a fan of the Big Lie (often attributed to Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels).
I believe I’ve made a strong case for why the historic two-party political system has failed us badly. It’s time for a change. Please teach your children and grandchildren to think critically and teach them to never compromise their faith for any reason, such as political expediency.
I have witnessed the dramatic change in our country’s political discourse within my own lifetime. I clearly recall as a child watching the Iran-Contra Congressional hearings with my Daddy in the 1980s. Even though it was a partisan action that could potentially cause President Reagan to be impeached or forced to resign as President Nixon did, the discourse between Democrats and Republicans had much less rancor and no personal acrimony as you’d find today. Back then each party had a significant amount of moderates and Republicans and Democrats were friends and got along on a personal level.
Do you agree or disagree that President Trump has had a net negative effect on the Republican party? Do you think a multiparty system would help solve our problems?
If you’d like to read about the issues raised in this post in an in-depth format please check out “The Tyranny of the Two-Party System” by Lisa J. Disch. It’s published by Columbia University Press. Lisa Jane Disch is an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. She argues that the two-party system as we know it dates only to the 20th century and that it thwarts democracy by wasting votes and silencing the voices of dissenters from the two parties.
As a Reformed Christian I am trying to act and think in a way that glorifies God. I must constantly be challenging myself with the example of Christ my Lord and Savior. I believe we need to apply this same rigor and criticality to our whole political process. I’ve talked about the institutions that have failed us, but ultimately it is our fault. The greatest sin lies with us for tolerating wickedness. We must stop compromising our faith by voting for candidates who are clearly not Christians. I believe Scripture compels us to vote exclusively for fellow believers. And when we are supporting or even casually discussing politics we should always season our words with grace. We should not demonize fellow Republicans, nor even Democrats. We should proclaim the truth, and vote for those who we feel the Holy Spirit and our God-given reason are moving us to support and leave the rest up to God’s sovereignty.