On Monday night, I turned on the television to take my little peek at CNN. I wanted to see what the hot election topic of the day was. Of course, it was another Donald Trump night, this time centered on his refusal to disavow the Ku Klux Klan in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper the previous day. It created an absolute firestorm in the political world, most interestingly in the Republican party, which Trump is leading for the nomination to be our next President. With everyone intensely aware of the sensitivity around race relations in this country and not wanting to be dubbed a racist, it seemed that every politician in the party was—if they had not already, that is—blasting Trump and distancing themselves from him as much as possible. The chorus of Republican leaders chanted, “He is not one of us! We don’t support him!”
Watching that night, I had a glimmer of an idea.
The next night was Super Tuesday, when so many Presidential delegates get divvied up by the multiple primaries across our great land. When I returned from voting, I popped on CNN to see how it was all going, with one big question on my mind: Would any of Trump’s comments and the passionate condemnation of him by his Republican leaders have any effect on the actual voting? After all, so far in this campaign, the voters have shown a remarkable unwillingness to listen to the party leaders and pundits. If all had gone according to plan, it would be decided by now that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were the nominees for our two parties. Obviously, reality lies elsewhere.
The fact that the voters supported Trump by a wide margin on Tuesday only seemed to infuriate the Republican leaders more, forcing them to face the reality of their Doomsday Scenario. I pictured them wringing their hands and wondering: What are our options if HE is now the face of our beloved party? He’s not even a real Republican! And even though Clinton won a majority of states on Tuesday and is holding the lead for the Democrats, I have no doubt that their party brass has, along the way, had a few tense (though certainly not as horrified) moments of wondering: Is Bernie Sanders really the face of our beloved party? He’s not even a real Democrat!
The manic few days since Tuesday in the Republican party have reinforced what has become clear over the entire course of this campaign cycle: We have two very fractured political parties on our hands. And here is where my glimmer of an idea turned into a most amusing thought experiment!
Imagine, if you will, five politicians who, deep down inside, hold these views:
- Politician A: Stereotypical ultra-conservative on all fronts. Think Tea Party.
- Politician B: Stereotypical ultra-liberal on all fronts. Socialism plus.
- Politician C: Sees herself as literally “pro-Life” in broad terms. Against legalized abortion. Against capital punishment. Favors strong gun control measures. Favors publicly-funded, universal health care. Strong on environmental protection. Against massive military spending. Against major Wall Street reform. Against same-sex marriage. Against campaign finance reform. Tough on immigration/does not favor a path to citizenship for people already here illegally.
- Politician D: Against strong gun control laws. In favor of legal abortion. In favor or capital punishment. No strong feelings on the environment. Against publicly-funded, universal health care. In favor of massive military spending. Against (or indifferent to) major Wall Street reform. In favor of same-sex marriage. In favor of campaign finance reform. Moderate on immigration and open to the possibility of a path to citizenship.
- Politician E: Favors strong gun control measures. Against legalized abortion. In favor of capital punishment. In favor of strong environmental measures. In favor of publicly-funded, universal health care. In favor of massive military spending. In favor of major Wall Street reform. In favor of same-sex marriage. In favor of campaign finance reform. Tough on immigration/does not favor a path to citizenship for people here illegally.
In our current, two-party system, in order to rise to some level of real power, each of these five politicians has to choose to be either a Republican or a Democrat. Unfortunately, the way things are working—or, more accurately, not working—in Washington these days, whichever party the individuals go with, they would have to swallow the blue pill or the red pill and toe the party line. For Politician A and Politician B, choosing the appropriate party might be relatively easy, even if they didn’t believe the party was leaning far enough in their direction.
But what about the other three? Each holds some views that would plant them firmly on the Republican side and other views that are firmly on the Democrat side. In today’s political game, though—you know, the one we are all so disgusted by—these folks would have to choose one side and swallow all of their other beliefs that don’t go along with the party rule. If they don’t, they would be ostracized and told they weren’t a real Republican (or a real Conservative) or a real Democrat (or failed the “Progressive test”) by their party members and shut out of the system.
In our two-party system and with the current toxic climate in Washington–in which politicians are demonized by their own party if they make any sort of compromise with members of the other party—there is no room for a complex set of beliefs. To make it there, and especially to stay there (that is, to get re-elected), you have to act exactly like a Republican or exactly like a Democrat. You reject whatever the other party proposes on principle, whether it has value or not. You support whatever your party proposes on principle, whether it has value or not. The principle being: We are right; they are wrong. No exceptions.
But imagine again, if you will, that there was a separate party for each of the five politicians above, and a party for others with different combinations of positions on the important issues. In my thought experiment, I was picturing four to six parties (at least two that would form out of each of our current parties, and then another one or two with relevant distinctions from them) roughly equal in size. Aspiring politicians could be open and honest about where they stand on the various issues with no worries that they would not find a group of relatively like-minded folks to band together with.
In the ideal world of my mind, this new system would create and encourage a whole new attitude in Washington and thereby a whole new attitude of us citizens toward our leaders. You see, if our Congresspersons knew that the five parties were proportioned almost evenly, they could be certain that in order to get anything accomplished, they would have to work together with members of the other parties and compromise. There would be no more shame in that. No one group could stonewall the others with any effectiveness. And since there would be enough options so that everyone could be honest about their positions, and enough cooperative work to ensure exposure to multiple points-of-view, it wouldn’t be such a scandalous thing to change parties at some point in your lifetime. You could actually be authentic, because becoming a member of one party wouldn’t make you much more powerful than being a member of another party.
Imagine how much more you could trust the folks in Washington if you thought they were being completely honest, were genuinely trying to do what they pledged to you, and were voting on principles that you could support rather than strictly along party lines. With multiple parties, your representatives could actually be complex individuals and good public servants simultaneously. How cool would that be! And even better, it might make the idea of running for public office more appealing to more and better people, giving us a much more attractive pool of candidates than the rag-tag bunch we have up there right now.
Obviously, this is merely a thought experiment, and I understand that blowing up our entrenched, two-party system would be unfathomably difficult and messy. But what if we could? This moment, with both parties as splintered as they seem to be, seems like that one fateful moment in time when there is a window of opportunity for a revolution to occur. Do we dare blast that window open and start anew? I, for one, think it would be pretty cool if my kids grew up having reasons to trust our elected leaders, or, better yet, aspiring to become the leaders of their generation. I would blow it up for their sake.
How about you? What ideas do you have for improving our political system and restoring the public’s faith in Washington? Open up your journal and your imagination. Of course you know that your ideas are highly unlikely to be implemented in the near future, and hopefully that frees you up to consider your most idealistic fantasies. If you could give a letter grade to how you think the current system is working, what would it be? (I am waffling between a “D” and an “F”.) Does it seem like the animosity grows more and more every year and the parties cooperate less and less? What do you think it says about the public’s faith in our government and politicians that the “outsiders” Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have far surpassed everyone’s expectations in this Presidential campaign? What do you think their success says about the health of our two political parties? If we could put this situation in a vacuum and ask the members both parties simultaneously, “Would you agree to split your party in half if they agreed to split their party in half, creating four parties in similar size?” do you think they would go for it? Which party do you think would be more eager to start dividing? In your opinion, what effect would it have on our politicians if we had several different options for them, seemingly all with an equal chance of allowing them to reach their goals? Would they, as I suggested, become more honest with their positions and more willing to work with all of the others? What effect would it have on you as a voter and citizen? Would you have more faith in your elected officials? Finally, what effect would it have on the next generation who would grow up in the new political climate? Would it be worth the pains of transition? Could it be any worse than our current mess of mistrust and obstruction? Would you be open to trying? If you had to join a party with one of the five politicians mentioned above, which one would you choose? Write down where your heart stands on each of the issues I listed—free yourself and listen to your heart, not your current political party—and see if you are the leader of your own political party. What would you call it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to hit “RESET” on the political system in America?
Value your voice and your choice,
P.S. If this thought experiment made you wonder, share it. We all need to re-imagine our world anew sometimes. Have a blessed week!