America’s Political System Isn’t Going to Collapse. It’s Going to Muddle Through.
There is no constitutional mechanism for solving disputes between the executive and the legislature. That wasn’t such a problem when the parties weren’t particularly polarized, but it’s a huge and growing problem in an age when the parties loathe each other.
The eventual result is likely to be a political system where periods of divided government are characterized by paralysis and brinksmanship, but the president wields more power, and there is more protection against disaster. When governing majorities do exist, they will govern more aggressively — much as the Democrats did in 2009 and 2010.
This will not solve the fundamental problems in America’s political system, but it will keep the system from being overwhelmed by them. As such, the root dysfunction — that America’s political system is not built for, and does not work amidst, highly polarized parties — will not lead to the collapse of American democracy so much as a slow erosion of America’s advantages. Much that needs to get done simply won’t get done. What does get done won’t be done well.
Over time, the public will grow angry with this situation, but they won’t know exactly who to be angry at, nor how to fix it. It is hard to apportion blame for economic growth that should have happened but didn’t; for a tax code that should have been simplified but wasn’t; for successful companies that could have been started here but weren’t; for government services that should be better but aren’t. America will muddle through — the cost of our political system’s problems won’t be a spectacular collapse so much as they will be the slow divergence between what our living standards could be and what they are.
The article is a year old, but I’ve been thinking about this problem a lot as I watch the GOP disintegrate into an angry hate mob, and wanted to page it to discuss the problem. Faced with Obama’s initiative to reform healthcare, the GOP decided its approach would be absolute opposition while urgently warning its voters that Obamacare represented a grave threat to America itself. This approach produced spectacular election successes for the GOP in the elections of 2010 and 2014, but the price they have paid is to radicalize their base into an angry mob that sees only Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as being steadfast enough to save the nation. The article sees the probable way forward as muddling through, with the Presidency accruing more power while the Congress does little more than engage in angry debates because one cannot compromise with people trying to destroy America. However the people can demand something better, which can be achieved through election reform.
In order to depolarize Congress, the power duopoly of the Democrats and Republicans must be broken, and this can be done without amending the Constitution by instituting proportional representation to the process of electing Representatives to Congress. Included with reforms to make ballot access easier for third parties and to make registering and voting easy and convenient for all people, people will have options other then not voting or voting for the “lesser of two evils.” With proportional representation, a third party vote will no longer be wasted but will often result in representation by a candidate the voter believes in, thereby making Congress more representative and democratic. Just as importantly, Congress will no longer be divided into two enemy blocs but will instead have three or more parties of equal dignity, reintroducing the art of compromise and deal making to get things accomplished.
Another problem this could resolve is that presidential democracies are inherently less stable than parliamentary democracies. This is because in our current bipartisan system, with presidents and representatives elected independently of each other, each can make a legitimate claim to a mandate from the voters, which can be another source of gridlock when there is a conflict between the legislative and executive branches. Parliamentary systems don’t have this problem because the head of the executive branch is selected by the legislative branch, so they are in harmony. However its my belief that the Founders intended most Presidents to be elected by Congress, and a multiparty system could bring this to pass.
The Constitution provides that if no candidate for President receives a majority of the electoral vote, the election goes to Congress, where each state delegation has one vote for one of the top three candidates. The Founders probably thought the electors would rarely elect the President directly, but would usually send two or three candidates to Congress for it to make the choice. In a two party system one candidate almost always gets a majority of electoral votes, but with three or more major parties it would be more likely that no-one would and Congress would elect the President, just as parliaments select prime ministers. Thus another source of gridlock, opposing mandates between Congress and the President, would be removed.
Obviously the two parties won’t voluntarily agree to surrender their duopoly on power, and the article is probably correct that we will consequently muddle through with a dysfunctional Congress making the country less prosperous and secure than it could’ve been. But that fate is not inevitable; the people could demand, and force, a change to produce a more representative, democratic and functional government, just by passing some election reform laws.