Let me be clear from the start: I do not want to see Donald Trump lead the most powerful nation in the world. He would wreck our international relationships, ruin the country’s credit, and generally run the United States into the ground. But having him run for president might be exactly what America needs right now.
As Ted Cruz announces he is backing out of the race for the GOP nomination, it seems to some like a sign that half the nation is ready to bring back old-fashioned racism and bigotry. This year, Republicans across the country have turned out at the polls to vote for a man who openly diminishes immigrants, degrades women, and doesn’t seem to have any real plans for when he gets in office. The Grand Old Party is certainly shifting, but has it really moved so far backward that we might as well pull out the Dylan hits and organize a sit-in on the Mexican border?
Before the Canadian consulate gets flooded with questions on how to get a permanent visa, maybe we should take a minute to look at the real culprits behind this tangled mess. I have a hard time believing half of this country is ready for a racist misogynist to lead when only 62 percent of the population is white and nearly 51 percent are women.
Instead, I see the 2016 election as a culmination of good timing, dirty party politics, and a flawed election system.
Start with eight years of a progressive, Black president who fought openly with conservative members of Congress. Add in the worst economic downturn the world has seen since the Great Depression and a visible, growing push-back from marginalized groups. What do you end up with? A lot of angry people looking for someone to blame.
Behold! A charismatic speaker steps up to the platform with a scapegoat and a promise of greatness. Sound familiar? It should. The European populist movements of the 1920s began much the same, with one young German officer named Adolph rising slowly to what would be great and lasting fame. Promises can be dangerous. Blame aimed at a group of marginalized people is even more dangerous. But the two together are not only menacing – they can be utterly catastrophic if given the chance when the timing is just right.
It’s a game of cat and mouse that has left the entire house in flames.
For a long time now, the GOP has been calling out officials for “voting the party line” and telling its supporters what a terrible job “big government” has been doing. The thing is, the rhetoric worked! More and more, Republicans (and Libertarians) are denouncing loyal party members and raising up mavericks. They shun any legislation that looks like the federal government is growing or -quite frankly – doing its job.
On the flip side, satirical news like The Daily Show and other entertainment news shows alike have made cynicism the “cool” thing to do. A government program has done something right? Ignore it or give it 30 seconds of airtime. A legislator says something stupid or off-putting? Give it a full five minutes and a YouTube clip of its own!
It’s a game of cat and mouse that has left the entire house in flames. Both sides have made “government” a virtual four-letter word. Worse, they have made it the norm to mock our political officials and declare the whole thing useless. Calling the institution to task does not have to mean ridiculing it altogether.That lack of respect is reflected in our election coverage, voting record, and reputation around the world.
It seems like there’s always been a Frenchman telling us what we’re doing wrong (or right). Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835 that the reason America’s democracy worked was because of our civil organizations. Social clubs let us rant about the government and work together to make changes. Later, in the 1950s, a man named Maurice Duverger wrote that we were doomed to remain forever a two-party system.
Duverger’s Law states that our electoral system has a way of funneling our candidates into one of two parties – a feature that persists to this day.
Basically, Single-person Districts + Winner-takes-all Voting = Two Parties. Always.
Look at a district. There is only one seat per district. You need the largest number of votes to win that seat. The logical winning strategy would be to make sure at least half the voters in that district want to vote for you. If more than one person is running, then each candidate is trying to win at least half the votes. What’s the best way to do that? Consolidate as many smaller groups as possible until you make one big group that holds at least half the district. BOOM! Only two parties.
But that isn’t the whole story. Our primary system may well be what pushed Mr. Trump to the top of the heap.
First, most people do not vote in primaries. It takes time to vote, and most of us have jobs to work around because the U.S. does not list Election Day has a state or national holiday. So we wait to take that time off until the general election in November. Not to mention a lot of districts are not that great at advertising where and when elections are held. You have to really want it to find out how to vote.
Second, because we have a two-party system – and especially because of the dirty party politics of the past half-century, the two sides seem farther apart than ever. If a candidate wants to win the primary, they have to reach out to the extreme voters in their party. As it turns out, the extreme voters are usually the ones who vote in the primaries! So by the time the general election rolls around, the moderate candidates have all been left behind when the primaries nominated the candidates from the far left and far right.
Third, if we want to get deeper into the flaws of the primary system, we need look no further than the long stretch of elections held leading up to the national conventions. Candidates are not just looking to win votes – they’re looking to win delegates! That means, if a candidate fails to win delegates early on, fewer people will vote for them in the long run. Why? Because no one likes voting for the loser. If it looks grim in those first two elections (Iowa’s caucus and New Hampshire’s primary), then it probably will continue to be grim. Many candidates drop out close to the beginning because they lose the first few primaries. The persistent prosper!
Last, in the presidential election, we still rely on the outdated Electoral College. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it has a few major hang-ups. Probably the biggest flaw is that it makes only a few states important to the overall vote. Candidates focus on the swing states, and a good number of people in the other states don’t even show up to vote because they think it won’t matter! Does that really give a fair representation of the U.S.?
Oddly enough, the Electoral College was originally created to STOP the few big, populous states from being more important than the others. That sure worked out well, didn’t it?
So, no, I do not think Mr. Trump would be a good fit as the next leader of the “free” world. But his campaign – and its frighteningly many successes – have shined a light on the problems we have with elections in this country. It’s started a dialogue that has needed to happen for quite some time now. Hopefully we will listen this time.