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By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)

Toxic partisanship and failure of democracy: How political parties became threats to the United States, and why democracy's days are counted

May 18, 2022

As I observe the results of the 2022 primary elections in several U.S. states, it seems that the Overton Windows continue to move to both extremes. Not long ago, the Overton Window of the Democrats and that of the Republicans largely overlapped. Now it seems that these windows have moved farther apart, with no overlap in the middle. This trend began during the Obama era, with the beginning of the Tea Party movement on one side, and the Occupy Wall Street movement on the other, as they both increasingly demanded more radical solutions. At first, they were laughed off by the establishment politicians as fringe elements. Soon, many of their ideas have become mainstream. Now both sides of the aisle are digging in their heels and refusing to compromise. Those who do, such as Liz Cheney and Joe Manchin, are swiftly condemned as "traitors" -- not to their country but to their party.

For most of the U.S. history, the politics have been dominated by a bipartisan paradigm. Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Whigs and Democrats. Republicans and Democrats. The modern concept of political parties, however, is thought to have originated in Great Britain. In the Westminster parliamentary systems, the executive branch is chosen from among the majority and the minority party is called the "Queen's loyal opposition." In the U.S., the presidency is semi-directly elected by the voters (technically, elected by the electors of state electoral colleges) regardless of the Congressional majority. This sets the government up for confrontational and adversarial relationship with Congress, if the party of the president is not in majority in either chamber of Congress (most of the Obama presidency was marked by the Tea Party Republican obstructionism).

Etymologically, the English word "party" (and also French "parti" and Spanish "partido") comes from a 12th century French word for division and separation (https://www.etymonline.com/word/party). It has always been more about division than about unity. Yet, there was a time when the minority party took its commitment as the "loyal opposition" very seriously: that their ultimate allegiance was to the nation, and at the end of the day, both parties were to act in good faith to promote what they sincerely believed as what's best for the country and its people. That seems to have gone out of the door in this century, perhaps since George W. Bush was anointed president by the Supreme Court after an acrimonious election. Even the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001 could not keep Americans united for very long.

Both Republicans and Democrats value political gamesmanship over good governance. Congress (and increasingly, state legislatures) has become a field for political football games, with vulnerable and marginalized people often used as the balls they toss around to score points and to attack their opponents.

On the one hand, it has been said by the conservatives that the United States is a republic, in which the constitution protects the rights of minorities from the wills of the mob. While this sounds good on its surface, it actually isn't when one considers that by "minorities" they usually mean "persecuted" rich white Christians. Time and time again, this "minority" who has outsized power, influence, and money have overruled the popular sentiments and broad consensus of the American people.

On the other hand, the left is eager to say that the United States is a democracy, perhaps one of the world's oldest and longest-running one. Yet, democracy is only as good as how it defines what the "demos" of the democracy is, and whether people can meaningfully participate and influence decisions that personally matter to them. The "demos" does not include children, incarcerated people (and in many places, anyone with past criminal records or ongoing probation), and foreigners (legal or otherwise). And because of the way how the electoral system is set up, it also makes it very difficult for the elderly, disabled (physically or mentally), and people of color to vote. Politicians know that those who cannot vote are worthless to the political ambitions and campaign finances, thus those who cannot vote are always the first to be put on chopping blocks, to be scapegoated, and to be thrown under the bus. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this.

And how good a democracy is, when a small number of powerful politicians from another state occupy powerful positions in the halls of power thousands of miles away and make all sorts of decisions, not for your best interest, but to please their wealthy campaign donors and to further their ambitions within their political parties? If you live in Seattle, you don't vote for Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi, and they don't represent you, but they get to set all the agenda in Congress.

As the Declaration of Independence (1776) reads,

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government

When was the last time have you explicitly given a consent to be governed by them? Sure, we have elections every other year (or more often), but no voter has been asked to continue this consent or to abolish the United States of America. Most everyone is born citizens of the United States and has been governed by it ever since. The entrenched and corrupt government derives a veneer of legitimacy from this ritual of "democracy," using it to justify its violence at home and abroad. At the end of the day, we are all expendable to them. They will happily maim, torture, and murder their own citizens in the name of "national security" or "law and order" or "economic stability" or "property rights" or even "public health," if doing so serves and preserves their power and moneyed interests. So much for pro-life. So much for social justice. Their platitudes are often cruel jokes.

At the very least, political parties have outlived their usefulness, now it's time to abolish them, especially when politicians are more loyal to their parties than to their duties to serve and represent their constituents. If candidates are elected by their own merits alone, not because of the "D" or "R" after their names and because of party endorsements, and they are no longer beholden to party leadership, American politics will be far less toxic and far less dysfunctional. Likewise, an end to partisanship in legislative chambers means no political party (which is technically a private organization unaccountable to the public) gets to hijack legislative agenda through chairmanship and committee assignments.

Ultimately, however, we need to deal with the overconcentration of power into the smaller number of people. Ideally, the most decisions related to governance ought to be done very close to the ordinary people, through a decentralized and highly localized council where everyone can meaningfully get their voices heard (lookup "subsidiarity"). Furthermore, government does not even have to be a monopoly (look up "panarchy"). The lack of imagination and the business-as-usual are destroying the fabric of this nation. We cannot survive this toxic partisanship much longer. A new paradigm is long overdue.


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