Most Americans treat our country’s two-party political system as if it had been handed down from on high, some kind of eleventh commandment. “Thou shalt only have two political parties, and all others shall be chastised as ‘spoilers’ and cast into outer darkness.”
Not only is this central tenet of American politics not one of The Lord’s commandments, it isn’t even in the US Constitution, which makes no mention of political parties whatsoever. Our current system, which makes it difficult for other political parties than the Republicans and Democrats to get on the ballot and share in the country’s governance, was, over time, tweaked by these two “major parties” to discourage competition,which was already damped down by our “winner take all” electoral system. It’s as if it were the water that we’re fish in, totally taken for granted, just as most people take our lack of a national health system, expensive college education, and lack of paid maternity leave, things which pretty much every other country anywhere near as well-off as ours has, totally for granted, and even dismiss as “unrealistic” the notion that we could have such things in this country.
Let’s use a metaphor to describe our situation. Suppose Ford and General Motors had total control over who could sell cars in America, and used that control to make sure that no foreign car companies were permitted to import their products into the US, and no other domestic car manufacturers could set up business, either. Suppose all that Ford sold was Pintos, which, for the benefit of my younger readers, were notorious for being “unsafe at any speed,” as Ralph Nader pointed out long ago when he was the fair-haired boy of the liberal Democrats. But I digress…suppose all Chevrolet sold was monster SUVs that got about 6 miles per gallon and also had serious safety issues. Suppose Ford and Chevrolet, or the corporations that owned them, controlled the automotive press, and reviews of their products stressed the safety and economy of SUVs and Pintos alike, and routinely trashed foreign cars and Mr. Nader, with his silly vendetta about those cute little Pintos.
That’s the American political situation today. The Republicans and Democrats in most states have made ballot access–getting your party’s name and candidates on the ballot–a difficult hurdle. The media by and large only regard the Democrats and Republicans as newsworthy. These two parties agree about two fundamental things–the importance of maintaining corporate capitalism and the American empire–and only differ about hot-button social issues like marriage equality and abortion, and whether or not to maintain the appearance, although not the reality, that it is the government’s job to protect the people, and the environment, from overly greedy and/or careless corporations.
What that has boiled down to this year is that the Republican candidate is a lying, cheating, sexist bully who so embodies the values the Republicans have appealed to in recent decades that he’s even scaring many long-time Republicans into supporting the Democratic candidate, who is an arrogant, condescending servant of the corporate status quo. At a time when radical societal change is imperative if we are going to keep life as we know it from collapsing under the impact of human-induced runaway overheating of this, our one and only planet, neither of them offers a realistic way forward. The Republicans and Democrats feed on each other–the neoliberal policies the Democrats have put in place have destroyed the livelihoods of millions of formerly middle-class Americans, who are flocking to Trump’s banner in spite of the fact that he is not a credible standard bearer. People are that desperate. And Clinton and her upper-class supporters feed on fear of what Trump’s angry mob will do if they actually gain access to the levers of power. Most people, including most politicians, are so wrapped up in the back-and-forth of this struggle that they seem to have little perception left over to realize the enormity of the climate changes we are drifting into while thus distracted.
I think their fears of each other are largely justified, although there are certainly some “over the top” aspects to both. I think that they are technically innocent of a great many, possibly all, of the charges against them that fill the air. After all, Bill Clinton was”legally accurate” when he said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Framing the discussion as being about the legalities of their conduct misses a much more important concern–Ms. Clinton’s thoroughly corporatist world view. Again, the narrative as it plays out is a distraction from the real issue.
What’s a fear the Democrats peddle about Trump that I think is overstated? That he has some magic wand he can wave that will instantly destroy all the social, regulatory, and environmental legislation that has been put in place in this country in the last eighty years. Everybody from the military to Wall Street to a great many Main Streets will read him the riot act. If The Rolling Stones can get Donald Trump to back off, certainly The United States can. Of course if Mr. Trump loses, there will likely be a whole other popular uprising. As Green Party Presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein has pointed out,
….putting another Clinton in the White House is only going to make that right-wing extremism greater. We will see more of these neoliberal policies, like Wall Street deregulation, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Hillary has always supported. She’s changed her tune a little bit, but Hillary has walked the walk. Look at the walk and not the talk. In fact, you know, Trump says very scary things—deporting immigrants, massive militarism and, you know, ignoring the climate. Well, Hillary, unfortunately, has a track record for doing all of those things. Hillary has supported the deportations of immigrants, opposed the refugees—women and children coming from Honduras, whose refugee crisis she was very much responsible for by giving a thumbs-up to this corporate coup in Honduras that has created the violence from which those refugees are fleeing. She basically said, “No, bar the gates, send them back.” You know, so we see these draconian things that Donald Trump is talking about, we actually see Hillary Clinton doing…..
….Trump talks about (military aggression, but), it’s Hillary’s massive record of militarism: the rush into Libya, which was really—you know, she was the prime mover behind that campaign, which the military advisers were largely against; her approval for the war in Iraq and so on; you know, her threat to bomb Iran; and, you know, she—and her demonization of Russia and China, and the pivot against China. We are rushing towards war with Hillary Clinton, who has a track record.
….. What we are facing, you know, is not just a question of what kind of world we want to be, but whether we will be a world at all, the way the nuclear arms race has been re-engaged, the way Hillary Clinton wants to create an air war over Syria through a no-fly zone against another nuclear-armed power—that is, Russia—the climate crisis, where the day of reckoning is coming closer and closer all the time…..
So, the terrible things that we expect from Donald Trump, we’ve actually already seen from Hillary Clinton.
Let’s go back to the fundamental issue here: the need for a major change of direction, the avoidance of this issue in American politics, and what to do about it. One important step is that our system needs to be opened up, but it’s not going to happen as long as the Democrats and Republicans believe they have all the voters corralled. Our electoral system, and the possible futures our country could create, will change only if that changes. What happened in Canada demonstrates that. The country suffered under a minority government by the Conservative Party for nine years. The four leftish parties–the Liberals, New Democrats, Parti Quebecois, and Greens, got a majority of the vote, but split enough ways so that, in the “first past the post” system that Canada shares with the US, the Conservatives became the governing party. When Justin Trudeau led the Liberals to victory last year, he promised to transform the country’s voting system into something more friendly to the country’s multiparty reality, and a Canadian government commission with input from all five of the country’s “major parties” is now studying the possibilities offered by ranked-choice voting proportional representation, and other possibilities. The next election, they pledge, will be held under the new, more open regime.
So, I’m going to continue to vote Green. Well, actually, this year, I’m going to be voting for Dr. Jill Stein as an “Independent,” because The Green Party was unable to jump through hoops to the satisfaction of Tennessee’s monopoly-re-enforcing electoral laws and officials, and “Green Party” will not be on the Tennessee ballot–it only takes 275 signatures to get an “independent” candidate on the ballot, but between thirty and forty thousand to get a party’s candidates on the ballot. We sued over that, and a Clinton-appointed judge decided we lost. Smells like discrimination to me! Just as Rosa Parks would have gotten nowhere if she had sat in the back of the bus like a “good girl” and tried to lobby the Birmingham City Council to change the law, we will get nowhere changing this country if we accept “Democrats vs. Republicans” as the only game in town. That certainly hasn’t worked so far, and there’s no point in repeating it, hoping the results will be different this time. They won’t be. The utter contempt with which Ms. Clinton viewed the Sanders candidacy, and her complete disregard for everything Sanders stood for since she has become the nominee, make that clear. Voting Green in this election may not seem to make much of a difference, at first. But we will keep coming back, and keep building the party at the grass roots level through local candidates and co-op organizing campaigns. If we persist, we just might spark the vital changes that need to happen. I don’t see any other chance.
music: The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again“