The problem with our two party system is that electoral victories continue to be made by small margins, which increases the efficacy of dirty tricks, gerrymandering, and as we now know makes our democracy more vulnerable to outside forces and manipulation. A properly polarized electorate divides the balance of power such that small margins are able to amplify outcomes. Hence, it doesn’t take much to swing an election one way or another if you only need to turn 1-2% of the participating vote. Add well orchestrated propaganda and some accelerant – like targeted psychographics and social media – and voilà, all of a sudden there is room for a puppet-master to rule over the democratic process.
The process of polarization is self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing. As the right marches right, the left counters by marching further left. Republicans once met by democrats became tea parties met by progressives. Today we have a harder and grittier right under Trump being met by rabid liberals like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. There is even more recent name calling between “cucservatives” and the “libtards”.
It’s gotten so bad that political forces no longer need to sell the electorate on why-him, they only have to sell us on why not-her. In fact we saw in 2016 the power of not-her was far more powerful and persuasive than why-him. Unselling the opponent became the winning political strategy. If for no other reason than it was new, novel and for lack of a better word, it was catchy: “Lock her up”. I’m a tight race the compelling argument degrades from what I can do for your country into imagine what she might do to your country.
Democracy was intended to be of the people, by the people and for the people. However the further we polarize our politics the more we end up empowering and serving special interests, on both sides of the aisle. In partisan politics each political force is met with an equal and opposite opposing force. Each time the pendulum swings, it swings harder and farther in the other direction. This process is a bit like forcing team selection for a dodgeball game. By the end of the process half of the kids are on one side and the other half are on the other. The middle is empty as people are forced into believing that they must take sides. Your either with us/them or against us/them.
This creates the conditions for a fragile democracy and easy swing-able elections.
Today more than ever the country is ripe for a strong centrist leader. However Democrats have responded to Trump by pushing hard on the progressive agenda. And therefore the true independent swing voters are forced to stay on their current side despite possible waning affection for their incumbent leader. If a centrist Democrat appeared today he might be scorned by the “libtards” as not toothy enough to stand up to the Trump right, but if he won the backing of the party, such a candidate would have a better shot at picking off newly minted Right leaning non-believers. The problem is the party is not going to be able to get out of its own way.
It’s for this reason we need a strong third and independent party in the offering. Imagine the 2016 presidential election outcome with a strong third party candidate. Someone who only needed to obtain 34% of the vote. In a tight three party race, manipulation is less effective, as there is less control of a specific outcome when there are three possible outcomes, and the cost of resources are brought to bear. When the odds of winning drop from 50% to 33% it’s harder to invest in manipulating those odds.
By the time voters were forced to choose between Hillary and Trump at the polls in 2016, there was reasonable room for some simply named “not him or her”. I’ve joked that Pee-Wee Herman could have won.
The best way to protect our democracy is to abandon the two party system. We need a strong third and independent party and the freedom for voters to make choices based on needs and wants, rather than fear of reproach which results from polarized two sides races. The longer it takes us to evolve to three parties the longer we risk long-term damage to our democracy.