The 2018 elections are likely to result in a Democratically controlled House of Representatives while the Republicans are slated to retain control of the Senate. It seems that Americans do not like to give a government the great power unity provides because since the election of Ronald Reagan there have been only a few instances of a single political party controlling the presidency and both houses of Congress. Bill Clinton had a unified Democratic Congress for one congressional session and George W. Bush for two. Barack Obama enjoyed a unified Congress for one session and it appears that Donald Trump will have only one unified session as well. That’s only five congressional sessions out of the last nineteen.
Traditionally the president and congress have been able to work together despite their political differences. For example, Ronald Reagan was able to get a substantial tax reform law passed but only with the cooperation of the Democrats such as Dick Gephardt, Bill Bradley and Tip O’Neill. But much of the political horse-trading that accompanied such deals led to abuses that people now call the “Swamp”. Over time, the two main political parties have become more ideologically oriented, which has made cooperation more difficult and has resulted in gridlock.
One of the reasons for this increase in the importance of ideology in elections is the primary election system in the United States. Originally conceived as a reform to the old system where party bosses selected candidates for political offices (a process known as the smoke-filled back room), the primary system has led to the selection of highly partisan candidates by a relatively small group of highly motivated voters. And because party bosses have little influence over who gets to be a candidate, there is little party discipline after the election. This makes it hard to pass legislation even with control over both houses of Congress as party hardliners hold out on partisan issues that the other party won’t vote for.
A recent survey by More in Common (an international research group) showed that activists on the left and right comprised only 14% of total voters but controlled the agendas and platforms of the two principal political parties. The remaining voters, instead of being the silent majority, are now called the exhausted majority.
There is clearly an opportunity for the creation of a new centrist party. In business, if you have an underserved market, entrepreneurs will seize the opportunity to serve that market and gain market share. All across the globe, new parties are forming because of voter disenchantment with traditional parties that have failed to deliver the type of governance that the people expect. But most of these new parties have been on the fringes of the left and right; rightwing AfD in Germany, left-wing Syriza in Greece, conservative UKIP in the United Kingdom, the populist Five Star Movement in Italy, etc. Latin America was besieged by new (mostly left-wing) parties in the nineties and early part of the 21st century such as the Chavista PSUV in Venezuela where the traditional political parties lost to a political upstart and eventually disappeared.
There are numerous political parties in the United States in addition to the Democrats and the Republicans. We have the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Vermont Progressive Party along with other even smaller parties but they do not have any national impact other than to split the vote (at least according to the losing candidate). But these parties are also on the fringes or are focused a single issues so that they do not represent the views of the great exhausted middle.
But attempts to form centrist parties have struggled. The Liberal Democrats of the UK were formed in 1988 as a centrist party (although Americans might form a different impression from that name) but have struggled. They achieved a high point of over 20% of the vote in the 2005 general election and even joined the Tory government in 2010 but by 2015 were only able to gain about 7.4% of the vote. The main benefit of trying to form centrist parties appears to be forcing the major parties to move to the center to stop the encroachment of the centrist parties. This is what we want to happen but once the centrists have been put out of their misery, the major parties are free to go back to their old ways.
With both parties surging toward the fringes, many Republicans and Democrats feel that they and their concerns have been abandoned. To be successful in the United States, a new centrist party would have to put forth a unifying set of principles that would attract the exhausted majority in the center but also the moderates of the left and right with principles that address their very real concerns. Free market economics and economic growth on the right while taking care of the needs of the disadvantaged and a not too unfair distribution of income and wealth.
The centrist party could promote economic growth even while eliminating corporate welfare and tax loopholes and subsidies. It could promote international trade while insisting that trading partners lower tariffs, reduce non-tariff barriers and stop the theft of intellectual property so that American workers can compete on a level playing field. We can secure the retirement benefits of older Americans while not breaking the bank and robbing our kids and grandkids of their future.
Healthcare is likely to be the most contentious and difficult issue to resolve. America needs a viable long-term plan that reduces the cost of healthcare for all citizens while reducing the distortion created by the current slap-dash plans that respond only to the two-year election cycle.
The greatest challenge to such an initiative would be that the exhausted majority lacks the energy to provide the necessary leadership to achieve these goals. It is the nuts on the wings of the American political bell curve that are driving the discussion of issues along with the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality of the media. Civil discussion and thoughtful problem solving do not make good headlines.
The current level of divisive politics is unsustainable in a civilized country and is leading to ever greater potential for violence and this election is unlikely to change that. Moderate Republicans and Democrats are being forced out in bitter primary fights or are retiring out of frustration. These people need to do more than sit on the sidelines until Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders pass from the scene. Without decisive action the replacements for these two populists are likely to be even more radical. Increasing GDP and adding jobs does not make America great (China does that too) any more than does redistributing income to a passive dependent population. Sticking to our American Founding Principles does.
And while we're at it:
I don’t think this election is going to move us in a positive direction. Instead of passing legislation and approving budgets, our houses of congress will be fighting or defending President Trump - when they are not fighting each other. Expect to see straight party votes on almost every bill brought to the floor except for approving national doughnut day or some such trivial nonsense.
There will be investigations, indictments and subpoenas. They will dredge up rehashes of Russian interference, sexual charges, email leaks, private servers, you name it. And everything will be flashed on big screen TVs in all the lurid details that reporters can come up with even when they are devoid of any factual information. MSNBC and Fox News will be wastelands of constant Trump coverage.
Starting Wednesday (and perhaps even election night) a plethora of Democratic challengers for the 2020 presidential election will be running amuck with a field more crowded than the Republicans in 2016. There will be a relentless pounding of press releases, breaking news and campaign swings as each candidate incites us to hate the president and love their Marxist inspired proposals to solve all of America’s problems.
And President Trump? He’ll be loving it. Tweeting a storm whenever the cacophony dies down. Poking them into another outburst of rage with a flick of his thumb. He’ll be like Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch. He’ll be lapping it up because it all feeds his ego. It also plays into his plans for the next election.
Is this what you want? Is this how you want America to be for the foreseeable future? Well, it will be unless you do something about it.