America's Problem isn't Capitalism - Its Problem is the Political System

America’s Problem isn’t Capitalism -
Its Problem is the Political System

© David Burton 2021

America's Political System

     The 2016, 2018 and 2020 national elections once more brought to the attention of the American people the worn-out and discredited claim that America should replace its system of capitalism that has made these United States the most successful nation in the history of the world with a socialistic system that has consistently proven to be a disastrous failure. The likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, along with “the Quartet” of anti-Americans and those avowed Marxist leaders of the “Black Lives Matter” movement have tried – so far without success – to erase the reality of some 300 years of the success and greatness of American capitalism. These socialist/Marxist ideologs would have us replace what has helped make America great with the more-than-a-century long consistent failures of socialism.

     in spite of what these detractors of America’s system of capitalism may claim, America’s problem today is not our capitalistic economic system – America’s problem in the twenty-first century is its political system!

     America’s governing body has, for many years now, been paralyzed by a political system that has deteriorated into a hostile battleground where the word compromise is unknown and where the good of the American people has taken a back seat to vituperative animosity between America’s only two real political parties – the Republicans and the Democrats.

     In a glaring example the inability of Congress to avoid politization of even such a non-political action as approving the appointment of a U. S. Supreme Court justice, the U.S. Senate, on 26 October 2020, voted along party lines to confirm the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The 52-48 vote was the first Supreme Court confirmation in modern times with no support from the minority party.

     After declaring the Senate shouldn’t confirm a new justice during an election year in 2016, Senate Republicans abandoned their own rule in order to push through their own nominee just four years later. “The vote was a formality, with senators divided almost entirely along party lines, voting 52 to 48 with just one Republican breaking ranks.” (Ref. 1)

     In still one more example of a failed political system, consider the fiasco that occurred in late December of 2020. The country was reeling under the massive resurgence of Covid-19. Americans and the American economy desperately needed a financial boost to counter the economic impact of the year-long pandemic. What did Congress and the President do? They bickered, fought and only at the last minute did Congress passed a badly written piece of legislation. While the congressional infighting was taking place for several months, the President sat idly by instead of interacting with Congress to get a meaningful economic stimulus bill acceptable to all. Only when Congress finally agreed on a relief bill at the very last minute did the President step in - and then to belatedly voice his opinion that the $600 relief being provided to most Americans was too little - and he refused to sign the bill while threatening to veto it. President Trump’s refusal to sign the bill caused millions of Americans to temporarily stop receiving their desperately needed unemployment checks until he finally came to his senses and signed the bill. Where was he during the months of congressional negotiations? Why wasn’t he advocating for the American people during the eight months leading to congressional passage of the bill? Why wasn't America's Chief Executive and head of the Republican Party doing his job and directing the congressional members of his party in crafting legislations that he wanted enacted? Why did it take our politicians so long to reach a compromise necessary to the welfare and well-being of the American people? And what was in the legislation finally agreed to by Congress and – after the fact - opposed by the president?

     “After months of wrangling, sniping and stalling, Congress finally reached a deal on a stimulus bill this week {the week of Christmas 2020}.
     “And if you thought the bill’s top priority was providing relief to American businesses and individuals struggling under the financial crush of the coronavirus, you would be wrong. [Emphasis mine]
     “Included in the $2.5 trillion bill, which combines $900 billion of coronavirus relief with $1.4 trillion in government spending, is $10 million for ‘gender programs’ and $15 million for ‘democracy programs’ in Pakistan . . .
      - - -
     “President Trump . . . in a video posted to Twitter . . . slammed the bill’s aid to other countries, saying Congress had ‘found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people.’
     “Trump called on lawmakers to increase the ‘ridiculously low’ $600 stimulus payments to $2,000, and get rid of ‘wasteful and unnecessary’ provisions. {Why was the President silent for the more than 6-months when Congress was bickering over a relief bill and why wasn’t he active in crafting the bill as head of this country’s executive branch and leader of the Republican party?}
     “There are numerous nothing-to-do-with-coronavirus-relief gems in the nearly 6,000 page bill, such as a tax cut for the motorsports entertainment industry, like NASCAR, which allows for the faster write-down of costs related to their complexes. The bill’s provision helps those companies lower their overall tax bills until 2025, according to the Washington Post.
     “And while American families wait in long lines at food banks around the country, Congress made sure that people who buy electric motorcycles get a 10% tax credit extended.
     “If lawmakers can explain how foreign aid and tax cuts such as these help businesses that have been shuttered for months reopen, or keep jobless people from becoming homeless, we’d like to hear it.
     “ ‘Despite all of this wasteful spending and much more, the $900 billion package provides taxpayers with only $600 each in relief payments, and not enough money is given to small businesses, and in particular restaurants whose owners have suffered so grievously,’ Trump said.
     “{Democratic} Speaker Nancy Pelosi seconded Trump’s suggestion that relief checks increase to $2,000, tweeting, ‘Let’s do it.’
     “That should have been Pelosi’s sentiment over a month ago, when she and {Republican} Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were just getting around to speaking to each other about the relief bill again, after weeks of silence. [Emphasis mine]
     “ ‘Let’s do it’ should have been Congress’ motto as infections surged after the first round of relief measures were passed.
     “Instead, ‘let’s drag it out’ was the order of the day, and it’s taken eight months to get a bill that’s bloated with aid and tax cuts irrelevant to pandemic relief.
     “Congress needs to remember that they work for the American people. This bill does a poor job of reflecting that. [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 2)

     And we hoped in vain that after those unfruitful 8-months of inaction, America was finally going to get that much needed economic relief! But, not so fast!

     After all the toil and trouble, “House Republicans and Democrats . . . blocked each others' ‘unanimous consent’ requests after President Trump aired grievances Tuesday night to the massive coronavirus stimulus and government funding package lawmakers sent to his desk.
      - - -
     “The brief and unfruitful exchange of political barbs came as it's still unclear whether Trump will veto the original piece of legislation. Even as he attacked it Tuesday he did not explicitly say he'd veto it.
      - - -
     “The floor stalemate Thursday leaves lawmakers and the president right where they were when Trump first released his Twitter video on the stimulus and spending . . .
      - - -
     “The political maneuvering in the House comes as Trump, who departed D.C. for Mar-a-Lago Wednesday, is also bringing a government shutdown back into the equation by not signing the funding package. The government is currently operating on a one-week spending bill that was meant to keep the lights on just long enough for the president to sign the omnibus legislation that would fund the government for the next year.
     “Further, unemployment benefits for many Americans are set to run out the day after Christmas. {It did!} Multiple other pandemic-related benefits, including an eviction moratorium, are set to run out before the end of the year. . .” (Ref. 3)

     And yet, at the very end of the year, we have the unbelievable situation that while the President, nearly all Democrats and most Republicans all favored the increase in the stimulus amount, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, opposed it. And opposition by this one powerful Republican politician all but shut the door on President Donald Trump’s push for the $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks to the suffering public. McConnell declared that Congress had provided enough pandemic aid as he blocked an attempt by Democrats to force a vote on the increased aid. McConnell’s refusal to act meant the additional relief Trump wanted was all but dead - at least for 2020 or until the new Congress convened in 2021.

     Is this any way to run a government?

     “One of the enduring American myths we cherish is the two-party system. We must have two parties! To have three parties or more is impossible; to have only one, unthinkable. George Washington ran unopposed in the first two presidential elections but ever since 1796, the first election in which there were two competing candidates, Jefferson and John Adams, one political party has always tried to utterly destroy the other. . .” (Ref. 4) To read what our founding fathers thought of political parties, see Reference 5.

     The Constitution says nothing about political parties. Not only that, but the Founding Fathers explicitly did not want American politics to become partisan. In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton and Madison both warned against the dangers of domestic political factions.
     Our first president, George Washington, was not a member of any political party at the time of his election or throughout his tenure as president. In fact, Washington argued that political parties should not be formed for reasons he stated in blunt terms in his Farewell Address. Washington's analysis is not only brilliant, but remarkably prescient. ”The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it” and “It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.[4]

     The two-party system is destroying America. Democrats and Republicans are in a death match and the American people are caught in the middle.

     More than two centuries later, we need to recall Washington’s advice. Here in the year 2021, “The nation faces all sorts of serious problems, from growing inequality to spreading international terrorism, but the bitter fight between Democrats and Republicans has largely ground government to a halt. Partisans on both sides are so angry they can barely speak with the other, much less work together. The most extreme are convinced that members of the other party are treasonous and purposefully harming the nation. This isn’t just a perception. . . Many of the more extreme partisans simply refuse to work with the other side. The result is that the two parties have the nation’s capital, and many state capitals, in a death grip.
     “This level of hostility is a direct cause of gridlock. . . over the last thirty years the nation has grown more partisan and Congress has become less effective. Each side is more extreme, and each bases their political agenda on demonizing the other side. Each side engages in political machinations, which include partisan gerrymandering and manipulating the rules of Congress to get their way, stymie their opponents, or deny them office completely.” (Ref. 6)

     At the end of 2020 following Donald Trump’s election defeat, a January 2021 runoff election for the two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia became necessary. While refusing to accept his election defeat that was evident to everyone else, the lame duck president campaigned for the two Republican Senate candidates in the hope that the Republicans could retain control of the U.S. Senate.

     Such is the sad state of American politics today. U.S. senators are now expected to serve the interests of their political party rather than the interests of the State and the citizens of the state that they are supposed to represent. When the two branches of Congress were established, representatives were more-or-less expected to represent the people of the state that elected them, while senators were more-or-less expected to represent the state that elected them. Today’s two party system has changed all that – and arguably not for the better. At one time, the primary concerns of the of our elected U.S congresspeople were to represent: 1) the citizens that elected them, 2) the state that sent them to Washington, and 3) the nation and the public good, as a whole - no longer!

     We need to kill the two-party system! What’s more, we may need to change the American political system entirely. Would a parliamentary system better serve this country? What could be worse than the gridlock, inaction and total incivility that we have been enduring for the past several years with our existing political system?

     Could there be any doubt that a large number of Americans are today frustrated, angered and fatigued by the American political process? The 2020 presidential election showed many of us that we were being corralled by the Democratic and Republican parties into choosing a president who was the lesser of two evils. These two parties have combined to enshrine into law a political and electoral structure, which perpetuates one party or the other in power to the exclusion of any other political group. This narrowing of political expression is a logical consequence when political parties lose their ways and when their only remaining purpose is to cling to power. A secondary effect is that of creating a political “farm system” that pretty much produces mediocre candidates for higher political office.
     As a result of this dysfunctional and exclusive two-party system, there is little political space for the people to express or reconcile their broad and complex aspirations and feelings for their country’s future. Both parties, married to special interests and narrow ideological interests, and the money these interests supply, no longer are capable of reconciling opposing positions to reach policy decisions in the public interest.
     Thoughtful, creative and pragmatic solutions are nowhere to be found in the agenda presented to the American people. The proof is in the dysfunctional US House of Representatives and the US Senate, where in both chambers ideological purity and identity politics prevail over sound policy considerations, and where little or nothing gets done, except for the quest to be re-elected.
     While “Nero fiddles Rome burns”, our nation is literally and metaphorically burning, while a broken two party political system fails or is incapable of dealing with real environmental damage, a decaying infrastructure and racial tensions and class warfare. The current political system encourages placing blame for our problems instead of encouraging solutions to the challenges confronting our nation.
     While more and more citizens are expressing their displeasure with the two party system by registering independent or not at all, there are steps being taken by citizen groups to try to reform the Congress and the way candidates are chosen. One citizens group, is working to save and improve the two-party system through its efforts to enlist members of Congress from both parties in a new bipartisan caucus known as the “problem solvers”.
     Every American must take responsibility for the health of this nation. No problem in a democracy is unsolvable. But there are no solutions and no winners when the people are divided and, for all practical purposes, are not speaking to one another. Although America is going through a very tough time with Covid-19 afflicting our nation, our country is also politically sick; and, in both, we have been searching for a cure our ills. The political healing process must start with reciprocal respect.[7]

     John Adams, Washington’s successor, worried that “a division of the republic into two great parties … is to be dreaded as the great political evil.” America has now become that dreaded divided republic. The existential menace is as foretold, and it is breaking the system of government the Founders put in place with the Constitution.
     Though America’s two-party system goes back centuries, the threat today is new and different because the two parties are now truly distinct. Previously, the two parties contained enough overlapping multitudes within them that the sort of bargaining and coalition-building natural to multiparty democracy could work inside the two-party system. No more. America now has just two parties, and that’s it.
     Political parties formed in the United States almost immediately after the Constitution was enacted and partisanship became a strong identity, jumping across institutions and eventually collapsing the republic’s diversity into just two camps. The separation of powers called for in the Constitution did work as intended for a long while. Presidents, senators, and House members all had different electoral incentives, complicating partisan unity, and state and local parties were stronger than national parties, also complicating political unity.
     For much of American political history, the critique of the two-party system was not that the parties were too far apart. It was that they were too similar, and that they stood for too little. The parties operated as loose, big-tent coalitions of state and local parties, which made it hard to agree on much at a national level.
     From the mid-1960s through the mid-’90s, American politics had something more like a four-party system, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alongside liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Conservative Mississippi Democrats and liberal New York Democrats might have disagreed more than they agreed in Congress, but they could still get elected on local brands. You could have once said the same thing about liberal Vermont Republicans and conservative Kansas Republicans. Depending on the issue, different coalitions were possible, which allowed for the kind of fluid bargaining the constitutional system requires.
     But that was before American politics became fully nationalized, a phenomenon that happened over several decades, powered in large part by a slow-moving post-civil-rights realignment of the two parties. National politics transformed from a compromise-oriented squabble over government spending into a zero-sum moral conflict over national culture and identity. As the conflict sharpened, the parties changed what they stood for. And as the parties changed, the conflict sharpened further. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats went extinct. The four-party system collapsed into just two parties.
     The Democrats, the party of diversity and cosmopolitan values, came to dominate in cities but disappeared from the exurbs. And the Republicans, the party of traditional values and white, Christian identity, fled the cities and flourished in the exurbs. Partisan social bubbles began to grow, and congressional districts became more distinctly one party or the other. As a result, primaries, not general elections, determine the victor in many districts.
     Over the past three decades, both parties have had roughly equal electoral strength nationally, making control of Washington constantly up for grabs. Since 1992, the country has cycled through two swings of the pendulum, from united Democratic government to divided government to united Republican government and back again, with both sides seeking that elusive permanent majority, and attempting to sharpen the distinctions between the parties in order to win it. This also intensified partisanship.
     These triple developments - the nationalization of politics, the geographical-cultural partisan split, and consistently close elections - have reinforced one another, pushing both parties into top-down leadership, enforcing party discipline, and destroying cross-partisan deal making. Voters now vote the party, not the candidate. Candidates depend on the party brand. Everything is team loyalty.
     The consequence is that today, America has a genuine two-party system with no overlap, the development the Framers of the Constitution feared most. And it shows no signs of resolving. The two parties are fully sorted by geography and cultural values, and absent a major realignment, neither side has a chance of becoming the dominant party in the near future. But the elusive permanent majority promises so much power, neither side is willing to give up on it.
     This fundamentally breaks the system of separation of powers and checks and balances that the Framers created. Under unified government, congressional co-partisans have no incentive to check the president; their electoral success is tied to his success and popularity. Under divided government, congressional opposition partisans have no incentive to work with the president; their electoral success is tied to his failure and unpopularity. This is not a system of bargaining and compromise, but one of capitulation and stonewalling.
     Congressional stonewalling, in turn, leads presidents to do more by executive authority, further strengthening the power of the presidency. A stronger presidency creates higher-stakes presidential elections, which exacerbates hyper-partisanship, which drives even more gridlock.
     Meanwhile, as hyper-partisanship has intensified legislative gridlock, more and more important decisions are left to the judiciary to resolve. This makes the stakes of Supreme Court appointments even higher (especially with lifetime tenure), leading to nastier confirmation battles, and thus higher-stakes elections.
     The Founders should have known that plurality elections (whoever gets the most votes wins) tend to generate just two parties, while proportional elections (vote shares in multi-winner districts translate into seat shares) tend to generate multiple parties, with the district size and threshold percentages shaping the number. But at the time, the Framers believed they could have a democracy without parties, and the only electoral system in operation was that of plurality voting, which they imported from Britain without debate. It wouldn’t be until the 19th century that reformers came up with new voting rules, and until the 20th century that most advanced democracies moved to proportional representation, supporting multiparty democracies.
     The good news is that nothing in the Constitution requires a two-party system, and nothing requires the country to hold simple plurality elections. The elections clause of the Constitution leaves states to decide their own rules, and reserves to Congress the power to intervene, a power that Congress has used over the years to enforce the very plurality-winner single-member districts that keep the two-party system in place and ensure that most elections are uncompetitive.
     If the country wanted to, it could move to a system of proportional representation for the very next congressional election. All it would take is an act of Congress. States could also act on their own. Multiparty democracy is not perfect. But it is far superior in supporting the diversity, bargaining, and compromise that the framers of the Constitution designed America’s institutions around, and which they saw as essential to the fragile experiment of self-government.
     America has gone through several waves of political reform throughout its history. Today’s high levels of discontent and frustration suggest it may be on the verge of another. But the course of reform is always uncertain, and the key is understanding the problem that needs to be solved. In this case, the future of American democracy depends on heeding the warning of the past. America needs to break the binary hyper-partisanship so at odds with its governing institutions, and so dangerous for self-governance. America must change its failing political system, and one way to do this is to become a multiparty democracy.[8]

     In any case, what has become increasingly clear in the recent years is the conclusion that a capitalistic economic system is not America’s greatest problem - it’s not even a small problem for these United States. What is America’s biggest problem today is our dysfunctional political system!

  1. Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to supreme court in major victory for US conservatives, Ed Pilkington,
    The Guardian , 26 October 2020.
  2. Coronavirus relief bill shortchanges American people, Boston Herald, 23 December 2020.
  3. House GOP, Dems stymie requests to reconsider stimulus, spending package after Trump grievances, Tyler Olson, FOX NEWS, 24 December 2020.
  4. Did the Founding Fathers Really Want Two Parties?, Willard Sterne Randall, HUFFPOST, 31 October 2012.
  5. What America’s Founders Though About Political Parties, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu; Article 452 ,
    24 December 2020.
  6. The two-party system is destroying America, Michael Coblenz, THE HILL, 28 January 2016.
  7. The failure of America's two-party system, Mel Pearlman, Heritage Florida Jewish News, 30 October 2020.
  8. America Is Now the Divided Republic the Framers Feared, Lee Drutman, The Atlantic, 2 January 2020.

  21 January 2021 {Article 457; Politics_64}    
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