American Democracy

by Badri Sunderarajan · Tue 09 July 2024

As someone hailing from a multi-party democracy, it strikes me as deeply flawed when only two parties are perceived as even capable of coming to power—especially when there is widespread disappointment with both the parties, and the main claim of each is merely that they are not quite as bad as the other. In a healthy democracy, I would expect this situation to be ripe for a new party—or even an existing small party—to step in and, over the course of a few elections, through the gradual and then rapid gain of votes, prove their competence and legitimacy with an alternate narrative, before ultimately coming to power. Instead, voters of the USA seem to be turning with redoubled efforts towards the same duo of parties that so disappoint them.

These vain efforts are conducted with such zeal that the few people who contemplate voting for more acceptable alternate candidate are immediately denigrated and accused of "wasting" or "throwing away" their votes. In a healthy democracy, it is these very people who are the instrumental early voters for the new, improved, and vigorous alternate parties which eventually find their way to replacing the failing giants in power.

All this results in a system akin to the duopoly in business, where the two dominant players have little incentive to improve on their products, instead conspiring to keep prices high and milk their customers with little view to materially improving their services. Given enough time, I fear such a "democracy" would degenerate so much so as to be little better than a "one party" system where the same grouping of individuals, with small token variations, is perpetually in control.

What I didn't consider was the parties' habits of holding "primaries", which, though held separately by each party among their own voter base, is markedly more democratic, and provides opportunity to a wider variety of people and ideas. Unfortunately, voting in these primaries, at least in the recent past, is tending to focus more on which candidates would induce supporters of the other party to switch their allegiance to the one in question, rather than on which candidate would be best suited to govern and make policies for the betterment of society.

It dawned on me that the USA is not one democratic nation but two, albeit sharing the same geographical space.

These two nations are in a bloodless but nevertheless constant war with each other, each side vying, through political rather than military means, for complete control over their supposedly rightful dominion. One could think of the political gains and losses of seats and states as analogous to advances and accessions of territory from one nation to another, and the quadrennial presidential election as the climactic referendum in which one nation, through the backing of the people, lays ultimate albeit temporary claim to the entire territory. Due to this constant state of war, each nation is naturally conducting itself so as to gain power over and support of people from the opposing nation, an effort which takes precedence over managing affairs at home.

In this struggle, the so-called "third parties" and independent candidates are naturally seen as opportunistic breakaways or localised independence movements, that, though operating with regional support, are nevertheless treated with hostility by citizens identifying with either of the two major nations.

The natural resolution to this situation would be if one nation—or, as we know it today, party—were vanquished once and for all, with the other one gaining undisputed supremacy. This might at first sound like a regression to the undesirable "one-party" system, but it is in fact quite different. One has only to afford the surviving party the label of "the nation"; and the factions in that party, "political parties"; and the "primaries", "the national presidential election"; and then observe the diversity of candidates, and how a large number of them are treated as serious contestants, with their own ideas and capabilities; and notice how these candidates are selected by voters according—as will surely be the case when the threat of the enemy nation has disappeared—to their merits on governing the country rather than to their ability to win over supporters of some ever-looming enemy candidate, to recognise the described situation as a healthy, functioning democracy.

Views expressed are the article's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the author.