I can’t help but feel that the two major political parties in the United States are having a race to the bottom.
A year and a half ago, it was the wildly unpopular Republican party that was broken and would never win another election. But immediately after President Donald J. Trump’s surprising victory in 2016, the spotlight shifted toward the Democrats, who had been fractured by the arrival of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
And now, Republicans occupy the White House, both chambers of Congress, nearly two-thirds of governorships and the balance (more or less, depending on your impression of Justice Anthony Kennedy) of the Supreme Court. Yet, Republicans have struggled to pass some of the most basic conservative legislation, from tax reform to immigration policy to health care bills.
So who, exactly, is worse off in the long term?
We are — the American people.
Our electoral system simply makes it impossible to run as even the best candidate who does not fit the rigid mold of a Republican or Democrat.
The U.S. is unequivocally the most prosperous state in the history of the world. We have produced some of the most successful businessmen, published three times more academic papers than any other country and produced some of the most creative artists for the past century, yet our choices for leadership in recent years have been lackluster at best.
The most recent of our past three presidents, Trump, had no political experience and campaigned on the adage “no publicity is bad publicity,” capturing media attention with his endless would-be career-ending gaffes for any establishment candidate. Before him, we had Barack Obama, a two-term state senator and community organizer with few if any political achievements to boast of before assuming office. Barring the fact that he was a young, handsome, charismatic black man from Chicago, Obama would have been unelectable. Finally, we had George W. Bush, who led the U.S. into two decade-and-a-half long wars, skyrocketed the national debt and left the U.S. in its biggest financial tailspin since the Great Depression.
Congress might actually be filled with even worse politicians, too divided to pass any legislation without a party majority in both chambers — and even then, only with great trouble. A health care bill, for instance, under Trump should be the easiest bill in the easiest policy in the world to pass with Congress swinging heavily right. But closing in on a year into the presidency, the policy remains unchanged. Congress’ approval rate is so low that it would be laughable if it weren’t so distressing: As of October 2017, the number remains as low as 13 percent.
The U.S., the self-proclaimed leader of the free world, ought to be able to fill a stage with 20 candidates for president, each more impressive than the last. But for some reason, Communist China gets the competent, qualified Xi Jinping, aggressively attacking global problems head-on, while we are stuck with Trump.
Across the pond, Germany, too, has elected a competent leader, Angela Merkel, who, if not the true leader of the free world at this point — given the degree to which she is globally respected and the degree to which our leader is not — could at least be called the Chancellor of a free Europe.
Our politicians are so consistently incompetent or unqualified because of our electoral system. Even if each of the candidates in past elections had been phenomenal, we would still have a system where only individuals who represent narrow interests could ever clinch a nomination. This is why, until the past year, it has always been party loyalists who have managed to gather support (and we have all seen how much worse it is when outsiders capture the hearts and minds of the populace).
The simple fact is that the electoral system precludes third parties from rising to the fore, whether in local, gubernatorial or national races. As an independent, I am forced to choose between two candidates with whom I have wide-ranging disagreements or waste my vote.
Other countries have managed to come up with fairer systems. Although there are fundamental problems with Parliament in the United Kingdom — for instance, the fact that the prime minister is not chosen by the people, but by whichever party wins a plurality of seats — their legislature actually reflects the multitude of the opinions of the population.
In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson received more than 3 percent of the popular vote. That number would undoubtedly have been much higher if half of the population hadn’t been so scared of a Trump presidency that they felt obligated to vote for Clinton or vice versa.
Yet Libertarians hold no seats in the 100-seat Senate or even any seats in the 435-seat House of Representatives.
Likewise, Jill Stein of the Green Party received 1 percent of the vote, despite her party having no representation in Congress.
Instead, U.S. voters are required to select some blunt antidote for their problems while they likely have significant qualms with the party they have chosen.
The Democratic and Republican parties necessarily cater to only a specific subset of the population. The entire center is left out of the equation, as well as the far-right and far-left.
This system is simply absurd. It worked in 1789, when the president’s power was much more limited and states’ powers were comparatively greater. Such a system denied the prospect of one state controlling the entire direction of the nation. But at this juncture, we have — more or less uncontroversially — handed much of that state power to the federal government.
To ensure the prosperity of our country and to ensure that every voice actually has weight, we mustn’t have a system wherein the seats of Congress are selected on a regional basis in a winner-takes-all format, but one where there is a national election and the number of seats in Congress is in direct ratio to the number of votes each party receives.
Though this issue directly affects Congress, it indirectly traces back to the presidency as well. Because third parties are at an impossible disadvantage in Congress, it makes it impossible for third-party candidates to gain traction in the presidential election as well.
Without first establishing a decent presence in Congress, to vote for a third party president is largely the same phenomenon. Unless change can happen slowly over time, change will not happen at all. Only after slow congressional shift to, say, the Libertarian party, could a third-party candidate gain significant support.
Unfortunately, a change to reflect a more democratic system of government is unlikely to happen. For Congress to pass such an amendment to the Constitution would mean signing away the power of the parties which gave legislators their seats in the first place.
Grant Osborn is a College junior from Springfield, Ohio.