Despite its domineering international presence and resolute claim to democracy, the US has never been truly democratic. While the Western superpower does have some features of democracy, many authoritarian regimes, such as Russia, Egypt and Azerbaijan have democratic features as well.
In my previous article, I evaluated the ways in which the rich have US politicians under their thumbs, and how the American two-party system—which George Washington famously warned would become problematic—is more corrupt than ever before.
A Two-Horse Race
The mere fact that these two political parties enjoy many perks and privileges undermines democratic ideals. Democracy requires all parties to be treated equally. Democratic and Republican parties are funded generously by public, government, government political action committees (PACs), labor unions, corporations, and other associations. Other political parties, such as the Libertarian, Green, Reform, Constitution and Natural Law parties all struggle for recognition. These less powerful parties face many obstacles, including lack of attention by the media, minimal federal campaign financing, and a shortage in government funding.
Oftentimes, US elected officials dishonor their commitments and promises to their constituents, which has led to voter apathy. The presidential elections draw the most voters to the polls, but still fall short of obtaining popular eligible voter participation. From 1904-2016, voter turnouts have varied from 66% to less than 50%. Midterm turnouts are substantially worse. In 2022, the voter turnout was less than 46% in Texas, despite the mail ballot option. Apparently, many Americans are unhappy with the two-party political system and feel that their votes do not amount to anything. The US public is waking up to the realities of its corrupted government. According to a 2022 Pew survey, only 32% of American adults feel that the two primary political parties adequately align with their views. That means that an overwhelming majority of Americans are not happy with the current government and election process. To become democratic, the US political system must reform.
In a truly representative democracy, the people’s elected officials should be obligated to consider their constituents’ ideas, interests, concerns and welfare in rendering political decisions. In the US, the situation is totally different. Americans’ choices are chiefly limited to the candidates from two political parties who, at least superficially, represent completely opposite views. Many American voters are frustrated that there is no middle ground. To make matters worse, the champions of these polarizing elections are then indebted to the rich who funded their campaigns, rather than to the constituents they were elected to represent.
Hostility, Not Rivalry, Between the Parties
From the start, the two-party system was condemned at the highest level. “The alternate domination of one faction over another…is itself a frightful despotism,” warned the first US president, George Washington.
The French philosopher Voltaire held a similar view, stating that “If one religion only were allowed in England, the Government would very possibly become arbitrary; if there were but two, the people would cut one another’s throats; but as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace”.
The same is true concerning a regime with two political parties. This limiting of political debate to a binary opposition encourages extremism from both sides and leads to the dangerous polarization of the public. In recent decades, tensions and violence have risen across the country. Both parties continue to adopt harmful tactics in an attempt to cut the other down and gain supremacy. The American public suffers as a result.As observed during the January 6 insurrection, when thousands of angry constituents stormed the capitol building in Washington, DC, the incessant bickering between the Democrats and Republicans has fragmented the nation and heightened the risk of dissolving the union.
The recent election of the US House speaker is a perfect example of the conflict and corruption that plagues the current government. It is an event that will go down in history as one of the most notorious examples of the inefficiency of American politics — a direct result of a system confined to only two polarizing political parties.
It took 15 rounds of voting to elect Republican Kevin McCarthy speaker of the House of Representatives. In a very contentious election, McCarthy won with less than half of the House participation. Many officials abstained from the vote, including six of McCarthy’s fellow members of the Republican party. He was finally elected thanks to his endorsing the concession that any member of the House could call for his removal at any time. This was similar to what happened during the House election in 1859 before the Civil War. The event demonstrated the deep dysfunctionality of the two political parties in the US Congress. Their continuous bickering makes it impossible to pass meaningful bills in a timely manner. However, these competitors are united in their habit of catering to megadonors in the support of the military-industrial complex, despite the fact that president Dwight Eisenhower warned against it in his 1961 farewell speech.
As seen in the election of McCarthy as House speaker, America is run by two squabbling political parties. These politicians are more focused on shaming one another than addressing the overwhelming national problems that plague the country.
A Dangerously Divided Nation
It is not surprising that the nation is divided, and so many Americans are living every day in desperation and anger. Economic disparity and discrimination are national issues which are particularly oppressive to minority groups including Native Americans, blacks, Latinos, and Muslims. The gap between the rich and the poor is deep and ever-widening. Approximately 32% of all wealth in the US is held by only 1% of the population, an alarmingly disproportionate statistic. Even more concerning is that at the same time, over 11% of Americans live below poverty level. American politicians have not done nearly enough to address these issues.
The two-party animosity of the federal government has spilled over into the states. State level politicians often engage in a manipulative practice called “gerrymandering”, a redistricting scheme that intentionally marginalizes minorities, the poor and the least-educated citizens.
This endless bipartisan frustration leads to hostility between citizens, families, and friends. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that “72% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats” consider the other party to be more dishonest.
While many Americans abhor the two-party system, some fear that having more than two parties could result in a coalition, making the country even more unstable than it already is. However, this fear is unsubstantiated. Many Americans will continue voting as their parents had, and will remain loyal to one of the two major political parties that currently dominate. Furthermore, competition will force the Republican and Democratic parties to become more centrist in their policies, as extremism will no longer be advantageous. Investing in lesser known political parties would benefit the US immensely. If this is not accomplished soon, the US is at risk for the first ever global social progress recession.
Crisis Demands Reforms
Most of the US’ infrastructure was built after World War II, and is rapidly deteriorating. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rates US infrastructure near failing with D+ grade. Across the country, highways, bridges, tunnels, railways, clean water, electricity and other public services are either in complete ruin or are insufficient to accommodate population growth. Despite this undeniable infrastructure crisis, US politicians continue to overspend on the military.
In 2021, the US military spent a whopping $801 billion while its top adversaries, China, Russia and Iran, spent $293 billion, $65.9 billion, and $24.6 billion respectively. Thus, the US spent more than double on its military than the combined spendings of its global competitors.
To break it down, US military spending was around three times higher than China’s, over 12 times more than Russia’s and 32 times more than Iran’s. This unnecessary spending could have been better spent to help the poor, increase domestic production, and improve America’s dilapidated infrastructure.
Without standards in place to ensure equal opportunity and constitutional rights for all American citizens, democracy can easily be transformed into what John Adams called, “the tyranny of the majority.” Thomas Jefferson also purportedly claimed that democracy can often resemble mob rule, and in the case of America’s current political sphere, this saying has a ring of truth.
The biased and corrupt two-party system is not sustainable long-term. It is time to challenge the power of bipartisanism. To begin, I recommend the following steps:
- Provide sufficient funding to less extreme political parties, to allow them to finally break through onto the political stage and permit them to have actual influence on elections.
- Cut all federal campaign financing and government funding. When the government has such a powerful monetary hand in elections, corruption is inevitable.
- Provide free “equal air time” in broadcasting for all election candidates, not just the ones who can shell out the most money. Many quality candidates become overshadowed by wealthy extremists who can afford to disseminate more political advertising and propaganda.
- Limit contributions from all sources to that which is equal to what the average American is willing to contribute to a candidate. PACs, unions and other associations can multiply that amount by the number of their active members. However, no member should be allowed to double-dip, individually or as a group.
- Dismantle the “winner-take-all” electoral system, which has been rejected by many emerging democracies. Nebraska and Maine have already vowed to dismantle this system and allocate results proportionately instead.
- Enforce the “Code of Official Conduct” in both government chambers. Insert a paragraph to ensure that members of Congress, their family members, close friends, and associates are unable to practice nepotism to accumulate wealth and power, or be favored for high political positions.
Only when the United States takes steps to implement these changes will the nation begin its ascension to true democracy.
[Hannah Gage edited this piece.]
[We updated this article on Wednesday, 1 March 2023.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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