Slouching Toward Washington

The corrupt, interminable 2016 presidential primary process has revealed terrible flaws in United States democracy. The biggest takeaway is that our two-party monopoly system is outmoded and inadequate to represent our diverse U.S. population. We need a fresh start, with more, and more open, parties, more closely resembling other western democracies. Too many Americans are now excluded for various reasons, with no say in their own governance.

It is clear that our two major parties are actually four. The Trump faction of Republicans, the latest incarnation of the Know Nothings, is the feral flowering of inchoate frustration. In Paddy Chayefsky’s prophetic 1976 movie, Network, newscaster Howard Beale voiced Trump’s sentiments: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

That’s how Trump’s followers feel. They favor anger and emotion over any actual policies. That anger is all Trump has. It doesn’t matter that he waffles or fails to address most major issues facing the nation and the world. He’s pissed off and dares anyone to fuck with him. That’s his entire campaign and it suffices for those – mainly bitter, lower-income white males – who feel as he does.

Establishment Republicans, dumped in the dust by Trump’s angry followers, have nothing to offer but their time-worn obstruction of whatever might disturb their corporate patrons. These Radical Reactionaries oppose most social or political changes, especially those proposed by the Black President. What the Reactionaries have in common with the Trump Know Nothings is a rabid racism and blind distrust of all ethnic and religious Others.

The Republican Reactionaries – fronted by fossilized hacks like McConnell, Grassley, Hatch, McCain, Graham et. al. – are a persuasive argument for Congressional term limits. Two terms for senators, four for representatives. And while we’re at it, one ten-year term for Supreme Court justices, with the possibility of a second and final ten-year term upon proof of rationality. This would have shaken out Scalia before Bush v. Gore and would long since have sent Thomas packing. Not just dead wood. Downright harmful to the country.

We don’t need a professional political class, dedicated to their own political survival. The Founders envisioned citizen-legislators taking turns in government for the common good, then returning to their useful lives outside the federal establishment. Modern U.S. politicians do not – cannot – know the problems of “average” citizens, since they do not suffer them. They have no useful lives outside (and in many cases, inside) politics.

The Democrats are also divided. Party Regulars have rigged the outcome for their long-time stalwart, Hillary Clinton. The voice of the people matters less than the confidence of Goldman Sachs and Citibank. Clinton has networked, paid off and otherwise made enough people beholden to her to ensure her ascendance. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Clinton’s 2008 campaign head, now runs the Democratic nominating show. No one really trusts Hillary Clinton, but that does not matter. Only the presidency does.

Bernie Sanders entered the Democratic race because he knew with the current two-party monopoly of the primary process he had no chance as an independent outsider. The enthusiastic response to his Progressive ideas has surprised the Democrats and perhaps even Sanders himself. People still want hope and change, now more than ever.

Despite the opposition of the mainstream press – with especially shameful treatment by The Washington Post and The New York Times – Sanders has drawn the hopes of young people with his promises to address income inequality, abolish student debt, tackle climate change, etc. He’s the only candidate running a campaign based on actual issues. But that will not be enough to win him the nomination or perhaps even a voice in the party platform, despite his demonstrably large constituency. “Socialist” is a dirty work for many people, who cannot look beyond it to hear anything Sanders says.

Progressives need to work harder to incorporate the values of “green” environmentalists and racial and religious minorities into their platform proposals. Hispanics, African Americans and religious minorities, including Muslims, need stronger recognition of their signature issues, such as voting rights, law enforcement equity, immigration reform and justice in the court system. The Progressives are the only group with the will and ability to accommodate them.

Parties of Know-Nothings, Radical Reactionaries, Dem Regs and Progressives would make for a more accurate political landscape than the phony, megalithic duopoly we have now. We need to end the exclusive two-party control of the primaries. All forms of voter suppression, including restrictive registration procedures and bullshit I.D. obstructions, must be outlawed and strictly enforced. Such restrictions only serve the entrenched powers. We need a more dynamic system, responsive to our evolving values.

Can we expect such changes from our current political parties or the federal government? No way. They’re too heavily invested in the status quo. Such changes will have to percolate up from the state level. Electoral reform is a populist idea, like marijuana legalization, death with dignity and other issues too hot for Congress, pushed up to the national level state by state.

Such long overdue adjustments to our ossified system can help to make our democracy more equitable for everyone. Damn the oligarchs. Full speed ahead.

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James McEnteer’s most recent book is Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty DepartmentHe lives in Quito, Ecuador.

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