In America, there have almost always been factions, even back to the days of British tyranny. The Loyalists and the Patriots; those who maintained that America, as a colony, benefits from British rule and protection, and those who believed in an independent America, free from the mother country, one that would thrive on its own. Families sold out their Patriot kin for the sake of the Crown, but the Revolution continued to brew, and here we are with a newly independent land comprised of states, each with their own sovereignty.
During the Constitutional Convention, the representatives were deliberating about what should be included, what was important, and how the governments should interact at the state and federal level (this was just coming off of the disappointing failure of the Articles of Confederation). Indeed, most thought, a national government was necessary for the maintenance and security of the republic, but the degree to which they hold power is what needed solving. Enter the Federalist Papers and later on our first President George Washington.
The series of 85 papers were written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison under the pseudo-name “Publius” after the Constitution was sent to the states to be ratified and become the law of the land. They outline in great detail the ideals of a confederate republic bound by a constitution to have limited authority over people’s lives. One striking thing they included in Federalist Paper No. 10 was a line talking about the state of governments at the time, and something on which George Washington remarked in his farewell address. There were complaints “that our governments [were] too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that the measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minority, but by the superior force of an interested and over-bearing majority.” Washington furthered this in his farewell address, stating that “the alternate domination of one faction over another…is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”
This stark warning coming from the 18th century came true even after he left office, let alone as we live today. Such emphasis and importance placed on political parties has continued to lead this country further down the road of division.
In the populace, there exist people who are labeled “low-information voters”. This term describes people who are less likely to vote, don’t pay attention to the issues of the day, have little interest of the issues of the day, who make their judgements based on appearance or political affiliation, or any combination of the aforementioned. People who are typically low-information voters will likely vote for a candidate given a certain political affiliation – people with a “D” or “R” next to their name – without giving consideration to their policy positions or personal beliefs. These people also are likely to vote based on who they hear about most, which given the majority of media coverage will likely yield a Democrat voter.
In a way, the low-information populace has made it easier for the rise and dominance of not just political factions but also divided political factions. Political parties and their candidates play a branding game with phrases such as “we are here to represent the people, to make life better for you, to fight for human rights and the rights of the oppressed”, more or less vague and generalized statements. These things ultimately make people feel good, especially when that same party goes the opposite direction. Routinely, Democrats label Republicans as racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic, wanting to kill poor and old people, not caring about anyone but white people and the financially affluent, all of this without proof or even just cause. but because they set themselves up as the righteous and the only ones fit to hold that title, they can get away with the negative branding of the opposition.
But the split between party lines doesn’t just have an affect on low-information voters, but also how the government operates and runs at a state and federal level. California is commonly considered a deep-blue state, running rampant with Democrats and will always be a Democrat stronghold, but the views of the people in the state can vary, even to the point where there is a more conservative view on important issues. But because of political gerrymandering, bad publicity, political branding, and outright mudslinging, the Democrats hold a majority in the state legislature and have the governorship. It’s only a small part of California that holds deep-blue beliefs, but because of that advantage for representation, a majority rule makes it near impossible for the Republican minority to have any say in the policy of the state.
Compare this to how the federal government is run. Whoever is the majority party is seen as the ones to be able to roll-over the other party and enact the laws they want, especially if the White House is occupied by a President of the same party. The Founders, especially the writers of the Federalist Papers, saw the rights of the minority as vital to the federal government making policy on behalf of all people. But political parties make this extremely difficult, as we can see on many occasions, mainly in the Senate, where Republicans and Democrats alike are meant to vote in a block without variation, both sides holding fast to their party policies, making nothing productive as a result. Especially when it comes to courtship nominees and cabinet members, there should be a 60 vote majority to represent most of the country agreeing that the nominee is fit for the office they will hold. Partisanship has led to the “nuclear option” being employed to lower the vote threshold to a simple 51 vote majority.
The idea of having a 60 vote or 2/3 majority means circumvention of party-politics and a direct representation of the people in our government. After all, we are NOT a democracy, we are a constitutional republic, using federalist principles to divide the power between local, state, and federal governments.
It is my opinion that in the presence of political parties, no rules like the Hastert Rule in the House can be used to abridge the rights of the minority, and that a simple majority should not be the minimum threshold for a bill to be passed in either body of Congress. I believe this could accomplish two things: 1) less bills will be passed by Congress, making the states the de facto decider in more policies as it should be according to the 10th Amendment and 2) there will be less room for one party to roll another and will force each body of Congress to act more for their constituents and compromise where necessary if they do want to pass legislation. Things passed with higher than a 51% majority (for me, the ideal threshold would be 60%, means a 261 vote majority in the House and a 60 vote majority in the Senate) would imply that a majority of the American people support the legislation, where it will either be signed by the President or vetoed.
A point that Washington had mentioned in his farewell address about one faction reigning over another is the rise of one leader of a particular faction. This was not heeded as today, the President of the United States becomes the figurehead of the political party they belong to, and all things party related are represented by them. When there is blind party loyalty, as we saw this President Obama and as it exists with President Trump. The highest office in the land being the head of a political party gives way to mass division all the way down the line or power in the country, since you now are forced to be for or against the President, which makes you for or against a party. It drives division harder as the actions of the President are considered the actions and beliefs of the party, which can be misleading and false. But because the party system exists, the assumption is entirely understandable.
There are people who want to do away with the two-party system and allow multiple parties to represent the people. There are many side-effects to this, one of them being that it makes the government even more ineffective than it already is considered to be. The Weimar Republic had a plethora of political parties, and people became so upset with it that the President was able to garner more power for himself, and eventually Hitler rose out of the disdain for the political-party frenzy and nothing being addressed. They did exactly what Washington said they would do: put all of what they want into one person of a particular political party, by which public liberty was lost thereafter. While the President is the leader of their party, the Constitution prohibits them from consolidating all power unto themselves. But under a political system where there are more than two political parties, the Presidency can issue executive orders when the Congress is ineffective and not addressing pressing concerns of the public, which will make our checks and balances system weaker to the point of dissolution.
To me, a way to get around low-information voters, 51% party majorities, and a potential consolidation of power unto the Presidency is to have public officials elected without party affiliation. There would be no “D” or “R” next to their names, only descriptions of what they believe and what they would intend to do with the power their representation gives them. Most people don’t believe in either party to accurately and completely represent them, which is an argument proponents of the multi-party system employs, but all the multi-party system would result in is a coalition of certain parties with others to vote in blocks, like we had in the Weimar Republic and as we have in Britain. They also had/have a Democratic government, which is a rule of the majority. A rule of the majority always leads to a dissolution of the democracy leading to monarchy and tyranny (democracy can also be considered the tyranny of the majority).
This is why public officials should not be elected on their political affiliation but rather on their beliefs and policy positions. You will see a more diverse representation, with public officials pulling from both conservative and liberal ideals, which will better represent the country. This practice isn’t without its pitfalls, as no system is perfect. A system like this would rely on the informing of the general population, an open discourse, and honesty throughout the political world. If people don’t care enough now to do their due diligence and inform themselves, what would make them care then? I believe that if you strip away the party affiliation, which contains inherent animus towards the opposition, politics can be a more appealing process to be involved in.
In more local positions – at the county level – there are no political affiliations, only what the candidate believes in and intends to do. Why is this process good for the local government but not federal? After all, there are very important federal issues that are not black and white, as is the case with county and local issues, but are only presented as black and white because of the two-party system. In fact, there are many cases where federal policy has a massive impact on on the people more than the state and local government does.
The reality is that as it stands, members of the federal government and state governments wouldn’t push towards getting rid of the two-party system. There are too many benefits to get and maintain power, which include fundraising, political monopolies, ease to control government with a majority. But if we ever truly wish to make the American government swamp drained, first, we the people should push for Congressional term limits, then push for a dissolution of political parties at the federal level and to some extent the state level. Direct representation, as our government and way of life depends on it, needs people who do represent the people and not their party.