Reforming our terrible two-party system…

Reforming our terrible two-party system…

For better or worse, nowhere in the constitution does it mention political parties. By looking into the writings of the founders, it seems apparent they never would have thought that our current party system would exist in the form it does today, and would have almost certainly seen it as detrimental to the republic if they could. Quite honestly, the founders would likely be shocked and appalled by the state of many of the union’s institutions as they exist today.

John Adams wrote in a letter to Jonathon Jackson, October 2nd, 1780. – “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

The Origin and development of our two major party system

As much as Donald Trump has spoken about “draining the swamp”, much of this rhetoric was undermined by the lack of talk about electoral reform. Credit where credit is due, he did diminished record-setting numbers of government regulations that many economists suggested made the U.S. uncompetitive to countries, such as China, and the overall number of bureaucrats retiring outnumbered those joining the force. So regulatory red-tape and buarocratic swamp eased the economy. However, among the many reasons Donald Trump was elected (no, not Russia, racism, or ignorance), was that he was an outsider who presented an opportunity to “Shock the system” and shake things up. To many Americans Trump represented a bulldozer to a democratic republic highjacked by bought-off government insiders and corporate interests. And this, not the economy, was the bulk of the “swamp,” which could only be drained by making representatives actually representative to the constituents. A swamp left untouched throughout his administration. In fact, record levels of bi-partisan skepticism about the 2020 elections suggests that things have gotten worse. Working class Americans agree lobbyist buy-off are a problem. Democrats suggest voter suppression is a primary problem, republicans suggest recklessly lenient laws make our election significantly more susceptible to fraud, and fraud more difficult to identify. Fact-check true on both counts. We always need to recognize the tendency for all optical interests to try to maximize the ability of their interests to implement influence, and minimize opposing influence. Both parties engage in suppression tactics whether its attempts to abolish the electoral college or gerrymandering their district lines or making voting locations unreasonably difficult to access. That’s human power struggles in the real world and it’s not going anywhere. The key is to have the basic systems in place to diffuse concentrated power, like the electoral college and states and counties controlling their own electoral systems, and establishing reasonable election integrity laws like voter ID and securities that make elections the least susceptible to fraud and interference. After all, our elections are meaningless if the aren’t trusted and practically speaking it’s better to have more secure elections even if it’s a little more inconvenient.

(In my personal opinion many of the so-called anti-suppression policies being discussed in the halls of Congress are much more oriented towards garnishing political power than implementing the greater good of the country. The idea of lowering the voting age, Mass auto-registration and requiring no form of ID are all terrible ideas. There should be some basic barriers to entry, like some real world adult experience, some personal effort, and at the very least some evidence of the identity and citizenship of a person. Voting is the right of law-abiding Americans, it also has serious ramifications and it should require enough barriers to entry and personal effort to encourage a higher concentration of people who actually have enough life experience to grasp those ramifications and take it seriously, in my personal opinion. – “Bucky” Dillon Knowlton )

Hyper-partisan solutions has made even by-partisan concerns impossible to address. Politicians make big promises to the people on the stage, then retreat to their dens where they call up massive corporate lobbies to fund them in exchange for political favors. We all know it. Obama and Romney’s top campaign contributors were literally the same 10 corporate interests. So it’s almost certain that whoever wins the presidential election will not have the large, bi-partisan confidence of the people, but will nevertheless enjoy the full approval of our financial elite.

The whole point of a democracy is to grant the blessing of public confidence in our government and assure that the government exists with the consent of the people. So how did we get here? Over the course of our country’s history, there have been quite a number of political parties, although most never gain any traction and most have been extremely short-lived. Today the 3 most notable minor parties are the green party, the libertarian party, and the constitution party. The Libertarian Party is the oldest, and as of 2019 libertarians held office in 176 minor positions in government.

However, since 1852, we’ve elected without exception either a republican or democrat to the presidential office. Before that, it was either a democrat or a whig, before that we had a democrat party or the national republican party, before that the democratic-republicans vs the federalists. George Washington is the only president to be elected without a party affiliation.

The party system is seemingly an inevitable part of America’s political design. Groups with like-minded agendas will always congregate, and some arbitrary name will be given to represent the said group, so at some point, political platforms are inevitable in any large scale democratic process. But without some form of ranked voting, the very nature of democratic electoral processes manifest themselves eventually into two opposing political parties, which can be characterized by opposite world views, described by Dr. Thomas Sowell as the constrained and unconstrained vision. Left-leaning Psychologist Jonathon Haidt has actually done some very interesting work into the psychology of moral foundations and how that corresponds with political alignment. He calls it, “Moral Foundations theory.” You might surprised by his assessment, he was. And it gave him a significantly more tolerant respect from his counter-parts.

Essentially he found that Political “liberals” drastically emphasize the Care/harm foundation, with additional support from the Fairness/cheating and Liberty/oppression foundations, and actually shirk the other foundations like loyalty to in-group, respect for tradition, and purity. “Conservatives,” especially religious conservatives, use all six foundations in a more balanced way, including Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation. These manifest themselves in culture and policy in many examples from the way the revere common symbols like the flag more so than perhaps the average liberal, to support for police, to their hesitance to adopt emerging cultural movements for the sake of adhering to their relative view traditional values and customs. His final diagnosis, we actually need both to strike a balance between stability and infinite-revolution at the expense of it.

But this tendency of multi-party system’s to inevitably devolve into a duopoly is called Duverger’s Law. It basically claims that as one party gains an advantage, lesser parties will naturally diminish and converge as people will cast their vote for the “Lesser of two evils” which reinforces the cycle of diminishment of lesser parties until only two are left. Furthermore, two-party system will devolve into the ugly politics we see today, as the acquisition of power becomes more and more dependent on demagoguery, victimhood/grievance peddling and opposition tactics. The media incentives for “rage-bait” mirror and reinforce it. After all, the first major newspapers were created as the communication branches of the first political parties. So it turns out that we can’t fix our “Fake news” epidemic without fixing election strategy more broadly.

Our country is in the midst of an identity crisis, a zenith in the conflict of visions. It is a largely ignored crisis greater than any of the problems that the opposing political parties rightly point out. It’s more destabilizing than the growing levels of wealth inequality, more unsustainable than the mass unmitigated illegal immigration overwhelming our border agencies. As destined for failure as our fraudulent reserve notes.

Like most issues, there’s actually many different ways to fix it, none perfect, but absolutely improvements can be made. Here are some suggestions for conversation starters…

Ranked Choice Voting

Two-party systems are necessarily winner-take-all. As in, whoever gets the most votes wins. This may seem reasonable prima facie, but let’s dig in a little. Shouldn’t we hope that our politicians, regardless of party, would try to appeal to the middle ground of where the entire constituency stands, instead of appealing only to the slim majority, or even the minority activist base that agrees with them wholly? I think so, but in today’s era making concessions to constituents that didn’t vote for you is political suicide in the primaries, even if it might be more stabilizing and popular in regards to the broader general constituency. When considering primaries, a presidential candidate may win only 29% of the popular vote. That means that 71% of the population isn’t getting what they want. Thinking that ‘winner takes all’ voting is democratic in a numerical sense is a convenient illusion.

This leaves smaller parties with no chance. Ever been chastised for throwing your vote into the ‘trash can’ of votes? Ever heard people opine about how you’ve got to choose the lesser of two evils as if still voting for someone evil was as fine and dandy?

Ranked choice allows you to finally express your fealty to the anti-HOA party without worrying that you’d be better off using your ballot as TP. Ranked choice would allow you to pick the anti-HOA party as your first choice, the Green party as your second, the conservative as your third, and whatever virtue-signaling corporate cutout is representing the liberals as your last choice.

I’m sure this would prove how tired many Americans are of our corporate duopoly. No longer beholden by shame, voters could push for the candidates they actually wanted and know that whoever wins in the end will have to have achieved more than 50% of the vote. The parties with the fewest votes along the ranking system would be cast out from the ballot, in which case the next choice on everyone’s ballots would go toward determining the majority. This way, we’d make sure that the candidate who won would actually have managed to win the popular vote in their community.

20 cities and 4 states have already gotten on board with ranked-choice when it comes to primaries. However, one state (Maine) is looking to take it a step further and use ranked-choice voting for the whole of their general election.

Countries that already use ranked-choice include:

Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia.

This system will also greatly reduce negative campaigning because they have to appeal to people who aren’t just in their base. With ranked-choice, you’ve got to make yourself and your policies actually look good (and hell, you’ll have to actually have policy-solutions lined up – what a concept!) to win the primary votes of as many people as possible, and the secondary votes of all of those who prefer your political competition. Maybe you’ll be able to trash on the other guys a little bit, but not in the fantastic style of our current political races.

Ranked-choice voting will also put an end to gerrymandering, which is just another way to say politcal red-lining.

Democracy Dollars

Two of America’s favorite words, side by side.

Not only does the rhetoric give us that warm and fuzzy ‘merica f*** yeah feeling, but the idea of ‘democracy dollars’ stands up to the ‘Citizen’s United’ law and seeks to make political campaigns more about people and less about corporate money.

Democracy Dollars were proposed as a solution to campaign funding issues by Andrew Yang, who ran in the Democratic primaries. He was predictably ousted from prime-time and received far less attention than the other candidates, likely because Yang was less an establishment democrat then an ideologue and reformist.

Democracy dollars would work like this: every American gets 100 ‘dollars’ in the form of a voucher, which could possibly be tax deductible. This would be a “use it or lose it” voucher, you could store them up fpr years and donate a larger amount later, nor could you redeem it for any other purpose. (Although I’m not ignorant enough to believe that some clever entities wouldn’t find a way to low-key pay-off people to spend their Democracy dollars in a particular way. I’m sure some of that would exist, but that susceptibility seems less corrupted than our current system, in my opinion. And in the opinion of 7 out of 10 Americans who feel as if our politicians are being controlled by shadowy outside wealthy forces. Which they are!

People could spend these “democracy dollars” on the campaign or campaigns of any politicians they chose. This way, the politicians whom people wanted to run would get the most funding. This would essentially serve as the reverse of our current system, where we make political decisions after being bombarded with ads and propaganda.

As it is today, less than 5% of the population donates to political campaigns. How many would contribute if it didn’t come “out of pocket?” Certainly not 100%, Americans are lazy. But if even 20% were to utilize this policy, we would completely wash out the current levels of lobbyist money. If 50% did, we would outspend lobbyists 4 to 1. And if one thing is true about Washington, it’s that money talks.

Of course, this would demand that people go out of their way to do political research. And it’s not unthinkable that lobbyists would just drum up campaigns that said ‘don’t throw your precious democracy dollars into the third party trash can’, and electioneering would get all weirdly meta. But a multi-party, ranked choice voting system, could counter that relatively effectively.

Direct Democracies

What if we, the lazy electorate, decided to dive head-first into civic duty by giving ourselves the chance to write laws? What if we weren’t always beholden to our ‘representatives’, but to ourselves directly?

Though many may nominate ‘direct democracy’ as mob rule (rightly, in many historical cases, especially) it stands that some countries with variations of this system of governance are doing very well, with some regulations and structural differences. Let’s examine them in some more detail.

Switzerland has a system of direct democracy. They know a thing or two about the stratification of political parties – in fact, one of these came to prominence with the moniker ‘anti-PowerPoint party’ because of their belief that this software was wreaking havoc on the economy.

To amend the constitution, Switzerland (which holds popular votes 4 times per year) must hold a ‘mandatory’ referendum and eke out a double majority, with its ‘cantons’ (there are seven in total and they rotate the title of ‘president’ yearly) and people both voting in a majority. Switzerland seems to be one of the few countries with an IQ high enough to distrust its elected officials to fulfill their promises.

Branching off from this infinite wisdom, the Swiss are also skeptical of elected officials writing and proposing new initiatives. They therefore allow any Swiss citizen to draft an initiative, and if they can find 6 others to onboard it then they can start collecting signatures. Once 100,000 signatures have been gathered the proposal will go in front of the country, needing the aforementioned double-majority to become law.

Make no mistake; people propose all kinds of wonky initiatives. I met a Swiss guy in China who told me his neighbor’s life mission was to keep farmers from cutting off the horns of their bulls – and his initiative was well on its way to 100,000 signatures. My friend voted in favor of it.

Strangely, though, less than half of the eligible voting population ever turns out to vote. The paradox of direct democracy, as measured by a few countries that operate with some form of it, is that fewer voters turn out when they believe everyone has a voice. Goes to show that people trust their fellow man far more than they trust politicians.

But what about other direct democracies (in Europe)?

Look no further than little Liechtenstein, a mountain kingdom of fewer than 50,000 inhabitants. It’s got the world’s highest purchasing power parity and their per-capita income is more than double the United States’ – a whopping $139,000 USD. Liechtenstein also boasts Europe’s wealthiest monarch, an ironic twist for a nation that runs on direct democracy. The real kicker is that the prince didn’t inherit this wealth but rather accrued it through business.

Did I mention that this country is also highly capitalist and rated as one of Europe’s best nations to do business in? That’s right – the free market and true democratic freedom prop one another up in little Liechtenstein.

Let’s take one of the West’s most contentious issues at the moment – citizenship rights. Liechtenstein has shirked the burden of laws and committees that decide who can and can’t immigrant – instead, immigrants live in the community for a certain amount of time before their neighbors vote on whether or not they can become citizens.

Better be on your best behavior if you want to become a citizen, then. Liechtenstein proves that it’s the people of a country who ought to decide which new people get to stay and vote. After all, any new citizen will be allowed to participate in direct democracy alongside their neighbors.

Conclusions

Electoral reform can involve many different ideas and strategies, but one thing is certain; Unprecedented numbers of Americans are concerned or dissuaded entirely from the notion that our elections are representative, free, secure, or fair. Let’s continue to dig deeper and challenge the status quo with more wide-spread and bi-partisan conversations about reforming our electoral system.

Let us know in the comments what ideas you have about fixing our electoral system!

May be an image of 2 people, people standing, people sitting and outerwear
The Liberty Revolt – Cole Masters & “Bucky” Dillon Knowlton

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