The Two-Party System is Bleeding America Dry

Haven Beckman
In 2016, Donald Trump’s unforeseen electoral victory heralded the beginning of a historic administration, a regime that would have profound consequences for the stability of American democracy. Many independent and right-leaning voters considered the inflammatory businessman the only person on the ballot who would advocate for right-wing values as President of the United States—and were willing to set aside their reservations concerning his extremist rhetoric if it meant electing a conservative to the White House. Between sensationalist Trump and the “Radical Left” agenda of Hillary Clinton, the former was often vastly more acceptable; he couldn’t possibly have meant all the stuff he said on TV, right?
In 1796, George Washington already began to see sparks of democratic decay brewing amid what he saw as intensifying American factionalism. In his prophetic Farewell Address, he warned the newborn nation against the very state of “alternate [political] domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge” that Americans today find themselves facing, fleeing, or more likely, participating in.
In 2023, the future that America’s first Founding Father extrapolated more than two hundred years ago has now come to pass. Republicans and Democrats, America’s ruling political duopoly, have descended into an open culture war, knives held to each other’s throats, both drawing blood. The loudest voices in the room declare We The People a relic of the past; in this combative era, radicalized Representatives of the United States House, most notably Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, feel that “a national divorce…. by red states and blue states” is a better way to appeal to their extremist voter base than bipartisan compromise and innovation. Faith in the legitimacy of the electoral process has hit a record low, as “Big Lie” conspiracy theories undermine the American public’s trust in the democratic process.
The question posed to us, current and future American voters, is how this country can patch the holes in its sinking political system.
Ironically, an answer for how to continue on—for this country’s problems are far too numerous for a panacea to cure—may lie within the text of the nation’s first goodbye. In order to effectively combat democratic backsliding, the United States must reject the deeply entrenched two-party dominion over American political thought, and heal the “division of the republic into
two great parties” that George Washington “dreaded as the great political evil.” Within his landmark Farewell Address, America’s first president conceded power with a strong warning for posterity: that a near-absolute political duopoly is just about as undemocratic as a society governed by a single ruling party.
To bring about such a monumental political and social paradigm shift will require an extremely dedicated effort on behalf of The People; to succeed, it will need persistence, passion, bravery, and above all, people who actually care enough about the future of their country to loudly campaign for political ideas outside of the comfortable mainstream. Unfortunately, the nature of Two-Party dominance actively poisons the ground from which its opposition would sprout, spreading fatal apathy and demoralization among the voting population.
On July 1st, 2023, the United States Census estimated that 334,994,511 people resided in the United States. Each of these individuals has their own unique perspective on the world, morals and values, and opinions on how their nation should be run. To represent the interests of the hundreds of millions of American voters, the Land of Liberty has historically offered only two
political factions with enough electoral power to make a difference.
The Two Party System works to force a mass of individuals into two sides in which they cannot all possibly fit—entrenching an oppressive ideology that suppresses alternative methods of thought and presents blind conformity to its vision of societal structure as an acquiescence to the natural “way of things.” Within America’s Two-Party System, citizens are overwhelmingly pressured to vote Republican or Democrat, while individuals who identify in between or outside of these categories are excluded from the conversation. Intellectual diversity is sidelined from the mainstream while the political duopoly—and the narrow strain of rhetoric encompassed within its two factions—is asserted as a factual reality within the American consciousness.
Applied to the democratic process, the Two-Party System consolidates its power by reducing public perception of what is possible: discouraging citizens from voting if their views fall outside of the paradigm, while concurrently putting a damper on the political debate that further alienates alternative perspectives and “enfeeble[s] the public administration,” as Washington, the only American president to not ally himself with a political party, recognized. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was found that in the 2020 presidential election, compared to recent national elections in 49 other countries, the U.S. ranked just 31st in regard to voter turnout. When citizens don’t feel as though their voice will be heard with their vote, they are unlikely to brave increasingly onerous conditions to cast it. America may consider itself a beacon of democracy for the Free World, but in truth, it’s lagging behind its peers.
When civil, diverse political discourse is stifled, it “agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection,” said America’s first President upon his departure in 1796. More than two centuries later, a group of armed far-right zealots attempted to interrupt the democratic process with an attack on the United States Capitol. When the conversation is suppressed, it becomes more difficult to communicate; when communication deteriorates, so does common empathy and respect for differing views and identities.
In a society where individuals can no longer recognize the humanity in people who disagree with them, the result is the bitter ideological polarization gripping 21st-century America—a zero-sum game that harms voters on both sides of the aisle.
It is not a partisan issue to seek an end to the hostility, because a state of senseless, perpetual conflict benefits no one. On the New York Times’s “Matter of Opinion” podcast, where both progressives and conservatives are invited to offer their opinions on controversial topics, a frustrated participant said: “The culture war is about joining a side. It is about picking a team… and the problem with picking a team in the culture wars is that you inevitably end up with lunatics on your team, and the craziest ones are often the captains of the team [...] and they may want to go much further than you might want to go.” Rather than safeguarding democratic institutions, the Two-Party System actively radicalizes extremists who would tear it down.
In the midst of unmitigated chaos and hatred, authoritarianism ascends. When empathy, trust, respect, and civil discourse recede, democracy stumbles.
To rekindle the flame of American liberty, voters need the simplest of freedoms to be restored: the ability to think what they think and be who they are without fear, and to feel empowered in their society not in spite of these differences, but because of them.
Totalitarianism fears radical political theory because it imagines possibilities for change and growth outside of the box of convention and is therefore difficult to control; to disrupt forces wishing to suppress the will of The People, Americans need to not just tolerate but celebrate minds that question, create, and disrupt.
At this point in the American story, third parties lack the power, influence, and resources they need to become viable alternatives to the default “red or blue” checkbox. No third-party candidate has won a presidential election since the 19th century, and even now, in the 21st, the possibility of a coalition “No Label” candidate on the ballot is largely opposed by both Republicans and Democrats. While it may be easier to accept two-party dominance long into the 22nd, it is folly to believe that American democracy will survive that long without taking decisive political action to safeguard it.
To save democracy, The Two Party System must be deconstructed, not just because it is limiting, oppressive, and a destabilizing instrument of control, but because it is fundamentally incorrect. There are countless ways of seeing the world. To suggest otherwise gives into totality, and erodes the democratic fiber of the nation presumptuously referred to as the “Land of the Free,” assuming that freedom will continue in perpetuity.
Every vote matters. Voters must go to the ballot with intention, responsibility, and the democratic desire not to defeat the enemy, but to strengthen the American family so many have given their lives to build.
Haven Beckman (she/her) is an aspiring writer and editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and primarily writes poetry, creative nonfiction, and works of journalism. She is an alumna of the Yale Young Writers’ Workshop, serves as the Features Section Editor for the Athenian Pillar, and has previously published her work in the Alcott, Coterie, and Apprentice Writer Magazines. Her favorite word is “shenanigans,” which her two fearsome cats are often up to.

"I Voted!" by Vox Efx is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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