The Two-Party System Is Destroying America

By Kate Harveston on May 23, 2017

Coca-Cola or Pepsi? AMD or Intel? DC or Marvel? Android or iOS? Lucky Charms or Marshmallow Treasures?

Republican or Democrat?

It might be hard to face, but our two-party system is just one more of the false choices America is built upon. No matter how bad you think things are, they’re probably actually worse.

Why Are Things This Way?

Competition, plain and simple.

Americans insist capitalism works in their best interests because it produces choices which compete with one another for your dollar. AMD or Intel. Apple or Google. Republican or Democrat. We assume that because these things compete with one another, they’re necessarily forcing each other to produce a better product.

It’s a fine theory — or at least it would be if human beings operated rationally. Does this family tree of the Earth’s multinational corporations look rational to you? Does this look like competition? If big government is something worth worrying about, don’t you think it would look something like this?

Look at how much less competitive our family tree of political parties is, with its two spindly branches. It’s an embarrassment.

Thom Hartmann said it better a couple of elections ago: “Other democracies around the world would laugh at us if we claimed that a vote between one of two major parties here was actually a legitimate choice. The truth is, a two-party system isn't really that democratic at all … more parties mean more ideas.”

Indeed. It’s what competition is supposed to be about.

The Problem Is Winner-Take-All Elections

Hartmann is right: There is absolutely nothing democratic about an election paradigm where as much as 39 percent of the electorate ends up marginalized or otherwise unrepresented after elections.

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Winner-take-all sounds like some grand and romantic battle royale — it’s the American way! — but as a tool of representative democracy, it’s failing badly. The gridlock and apocalyptic partisan vitriol we’re languishing under right now simply isn’t possible in parliamentary-based or proportionally governed countries, where as many as 15 political parties might be represented in congress at any given time. More voices. More ideas.

Remember: Democracy is supposed to be America’s No. 1 export. We go to war on a regular basis so we can share it with the world. So why are we so terrible at it, and how can we do better?

The Solutions

The good news is, the calamitous 2016 election laid bare all the problems we’re talking about here — and it raised the fury level of the average voter past 11, priming the pump for fundamental changes if we want them. Here’s more good news: we have amazing, untapped power in this country. Just look at the numbers:

  • 39 percent Independent

  • 32 percent Democrat

  • 23 percent Republican

Obviously, this doesn’t look anything like our supposedly representative government. So, what do we do?

Ranked Choice Voting is one possibility which would ensure votes for third-party candidates don’t get wasted. Maine was the first state to try to adopt this paradigm, but it faces staunch opposition in the  legislature that is tasked with implementing it.

We have to innovate our way out of this mess — that’s supposed to be one of the things Americans do best, right? First, though, we have to stop assuming our ideas are unassailable. Clearly, they’re not — but the longer we drag our heels solving these fundamental problems, the less the word democracy is going to mean to the rest of the world.

 

Editor's note: This guest post was written by Kate Harveston, blogger for Only Slightly Biased, and the views expressed may not necessarily represent The Centrist Project