I have to get your attention. Our political system is barreling toward a cliff right now and there is barely time to stop it. I am going to show you where we are right now with a graphic illustration of the binary political system we have developed in our country. It is doing horrible things to us as citizens and I can show you best by taking you out of the political framework and throwing you into a hard-core street life scenario.
There is a terrifying scene in the 1987 cult classic film Street Smart that fairly accurately depicts the plight of more American voters than most of us might think. Morgan Freeman earned an Oscar nomination for playing ruthless pimp “Fast Black” who terrorized early 80’s Times Square in the pre-Guilianni days of New York City.
Katy Bates plays “Punchy” a prostitute that has gotten out of line and wants to make choices for herself and break free of Fast Black’s control. In response to her moment of rebellion, Fast goes into full intimidation mode so effectively that everyone in the room is horrified- especially Punchy. As horrible as this illustration is, there is no clearer example of the sorrow of being stuck with only two choices- neither of which is worth a damn to you:
When Fast tells Punchy that she has to be punished he also gives her a choice, although it was nothing that she was prepared for. It was the binary choice from hell but ultimately, even in her horror, she did finally make a choice. She chose to lose her left eye and keep her right eye. That searing example of man’s inhumanity to man exists on other planes as well although it is almost never as dramatic as it is in a context of street life. But its getting close in our politics.
While our politics are never that dramatic, they are most definitely parallel to this scene. Imagine you are a lifelong Republican. A legitimate family values Christian conservative. I am not saying that with snark- I do not paint all of these folks with the rank hypocrisy of those mega-church assholes or reprobate child molesters. I am talking about a real person who cares about the country and other people like I do- they were just born Republican . They have always hated the Democratic party and the best Democrat is a dead Democrat.
But then your Grand Ole Party nominates Donald Trump for President and now you have a serious problem. You have always thought that Hilary Clinton was the spawn of Satan or the bride of Frankenstein or some other creature straight out of a horror film. You find her to be irreparably corrupt and unfit. And besides she favors abortion rights and Hollywood folks like her so no way she can get your vote.
Yet Donald Trump has gone on record as a philandering, adulterous, idolator – one who is also on record as saying that he has never done anything that he feels like compelled to ask God to forgive him for. And for good measure he said that 9/11 was an inside job. Then he’s on tape bragging about grabbing pussies. Then he attacks the Pope. Then he attacks military veterans and top military brass. Then he refuses to show his personal income tax returns. Then he demonstrates repeatedly a strange and enduring affinity for Vladimir Putin- America’s Public Enemy #1.
These are ALL disqualifying factors for you standing alone- but this guy has done all of these more than once and dared you to care.
I know you don’t really care about his racist insults and divisive rhetoric but most of you at least know its a bad look for the country and that does matter to you at least. Remember how nuts you went when Barack Obama wore a tan suit that one summer day?
So what do you do? You can’t vote for Hilary, that is already established. What you do is, you vote for Trump and just PRETEND like none of that shit ever happened. He calls it fake news and you HAVE to believe it or else you look worse and worse for supporting him. At first you just entertained the idea of fake news because there may be a little bias here and there but before long, you are a full-on “fake news” convert- denying the veracity of every news item that says anything unflattering about Donald Trump. And that denial makes you brain-dead. Trump and the Trump News Network (a.k.a Fox News) can tell you ANYTHING and you buy it- because if you don’t, you are faced with the fact that you compromised everything that you have always said you believed in to vote for this man.
But you did it because you were like Punchy trying to decide which eye you were willing to give up. I am sure that I will never understand the searing hatred that so many life-long Republicans have for HRC. She doesn’t seem any worse than the average politician to me- but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that those hardened feelings toward her were real to them. So the binary system we have- the one that is not anywhere in the founding documents of our nation’s political system- has left many of us where Punchy was. Almost as bad as being faced with that binary choice is feeling like neither of the parties really speaks to your needs or concerns so you just stand mute altogether on election day. I was really pissed at those people in the days after the election but over time I have come to feel real sympathy for anybody so willing to let others speak for them. 47% of eligible voters fit into that category during the last general election.
The bottom line is that the binary system we have is a failure. It does not serve the citizenry properly. Our nation is too large and too complex for all of us to fit into two parties. And I am not proposing that we need a third party. I am proposing that we need a fourth and a fifth and a sixth. What happens when you have more parties is that more people have a real chance at feeling represented and will then participate in the process. And at its core a democratic republic is supposed to be a participatory system. Moreover, when you need to build a coalition to win, you can’t just run on hating somebody because you will almost certainly isolate yourself politically and die out.
I am fully aware of how entrenched we are in the two party system and how invested the political class is in it. But there was a time when our economy was entrenched in chattel slavery. There was a time when only white land-owning men could vote. Times change. Societies evolve. And our politics have to evolve with them- whatever it takes. We can see indications that the ground is ripe for some real growth in the direction of more parties from the last general election and most recently from the special senatorial election in Alabama. The winner of that race was Democrat Doug Jones and his margin of victory over Republican Roy Moore was 1.5%. But what is most telling is that 1.7% of the vote were write-in ballots for Republicans who did not want to vote for Moore because he was space-balls crazy and an obvious pervert. That is a powerful indicator that voters- even old veteran conservative voters- are willing to cast a ballot in another direction on principle and turn an election.
100% reporting (2,220 of 2,220 precincts)
It always feels like a cop-out whenever someone is discussing a horrible turn of events or an outright tragedy by saying “everything happens for a reason.” But we have been hearing it for so long that our minds have been wired to search for reasons in everything. And my personal aggravation with Trumpism aside that search has to be a good thing. Because my angst over the election and disastrous presidency of Donald Trump may very well be the bottom that we needed to hit with this played-out, ineffective and corrosive binary system where just two political parties divide up 130 million voters and then divide up the country to keep the system running.
To be clear this is not one of those bullshit “both sides are guilty” analyses. Obviously, the GOP is patient zero for the fever that is killing our body politic. But we are all infected and the only true antidote is to break the political monopoly that the Democrats and Republicans have held for far too long. In the words of our unfortunate friend Punchy from Street Smart let’s do something else for a while.