A bit more about bipartisanship

Attorney Marc Elias seems, often, to get very close to seeing a big part of why American politics has become unworkable, without quite confronting the full implications.

Yes, in a very important sense, the Republican Party is a toxic cancer devouring American democracy. But nearly all the body’s systems regard it as a vital organ. We are making nil progress toward solving this problem; this is demonstrated very well by the ability of someone as smart as Elias to get so close to recognizing it and still not make it the whole way.

Mostly I have written about this before. This system worked, for a while, but when one of the two parties involved went very bad, hardly anyone has managed to process that. Once, America could close down and replace a major political party within a two-party system, but whatever enabled that to happen in the 19th century isn’t working now. Journalism doesn’t alter its reporting. Democrats don’t stop insisting routinely on the legitimacy of Republicans and the importance of “bipartisanship.” Many advocacy groups are basically hard-wired to be “nonpartisan” and therefore blind to the situation. Voters aren’t figuring it out on their own in large numbers.

Just a few days ago, I listened to Marcy Wheeler—also very smart and very informed—talking on a podcast and asserting almost like Joe Biden that “we need a Republican Party involved in the system.” Wheeler’s estimate of the Republican Party is much like Elias’s, but presumably she figures that neither a permanent Democratic majority nor a new party replacing Republicans are realistic outcomes in the foreseeable future; I can’t disagree. Wheeler nonetheless believes in the possibility of reforming the Republican Party. As I have written, that doesn’t seem likely either, and the idea of “restoring the responsible pre-Trump party” doesn’t even make sense.

I do wonder, if only out of curiosity, how America ended up here. I have done some looking and a large country with only two really viable political parties is an extreme anomaly. The closest that I have come to any parallel is Pakistan, which had a two-party political system for a while, but didn’t stick with it. Otherwise no one else seems to attempt this, for reasons which seem obvious to me.

How and why did America end up in this situation? Other countries have “first past the post” elections, with one or more viable “third parties.” Other countries have elected presidents. America has sprouted more than two significant parties over the course of the republic’s history, but American politics nearly always settles into a two-party system, with interruptions limited and brief.

I don’t actually believe that Americans are inherently dumber or less educated or anything like that. I certainly can’t see a society which is any more naturally suited to a political binary than others. I can’t look at all American history and see a consistent strong authority “rigging” politics to work that way; over the long run America has been through multiple eras of significant political upending.

But, we’re here now anyway. We have this huge political machine, which few people even perceive entirely let alone understand, and the machine is producing dysfunction and harm, but there’s nothing yet in sight which will challenge the machine’s authority.

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