Let’s take a look into the (relatively) short history of American politics, since settlement by the British. We’ll cover north america before it federated into the union of the United States, as well as the resulting two-party system,it’s victories and it’s flaws. This should be an eye opening read for you, and whether you’re currently a Republican or Democrat, you may find that these groups are just passing trends, lines drawn in sand, rather than opposing forces of nature that have stood for all of time.
Before the united states of america
Before the union formed in the year 1776, there were already a number of political movements that shaped the way the nation would look. Let’s examine them now.
The colonial period
We’ll start with the colonial period. The early colonies were largely divided along political lines. There were a lot of settlers from England, and of course, they brought their political views with them. These political views largely influenced the way the colonies governed themselves. To simplify, let’s say that the political views took the form of groups; there were two major groups, the Federalists, and the Anti-Federalists.
The Federalists supported the constitution, and wanted the federal government to have more power over the states. The Anti-Federalists were a loose affiliation of smaller groups; they didn’t have a unified opinion on the constitution at first. They were against what they saw as a powerful federal government. They wanted to preserve the rights of the states. But with the passage of the constitution, this group slowly disappeared and morphed into other conservative political beliefs.
What’s important about these groups is that they were divided along geographic lines too. The Federalists were largely from the north and east, and were involved in shipping, manufacturing and trade. The Anti-Federalists were almost entirely southerners, and were farmers. Even after the constitution was ratified, there was still a lot of disagreement between these two groups, continuing to this day.
The newly united states
The two party system has some great strengths and some great weaknesses. Democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s the best system that there is. Trump aside, the republicans and democrats are able to respect each other well enough to pass laws, fund public projects, protect the nation, and serve as leaders. Let’s look at some advantages of the two party system. The first advantage is that there will always be a dissenting voice to every idea or method proposed by one party: no wild scheme can be cooked up and passed without opposition, which is a huge advantage for the people of this country, over dictatorships and single-party countries. Just think, would you want to have a child or start a new business if you weren’t sure that predictable and calm people were in charge? If they kept wildly changing surprising new laws every year? It’s hard to imagine it, living in america. Secondly, the two-party system has an advantage when it comes to elections. Candidates from a party can take votes from all over the country and vote-share their way to victory in the general election. If there were only one party, then whoever won their party’s primary would be the only candidate. This would make elections less interesting, to say the least. Thirdly, by having two parties, there is always a chance that one party will appeal to both the left and right wings of politics. This makes them more likely to win elections, and more likely to compromise and arrive at a solution that is the best for the most number of people, rather than just the half of the people that they agree with.
The two-party system isn’t perfect. But it’s the best system that we have right now. Acknowledging that, let’s look at some of it’s flaws. Firstly, the two party system is less diverse than it could be. The big issues are the ones being focused on the most, and the minor issues are not covered as much. There’s only so much a big party can focus on. While there are many smaller parties in the United States, but they are not nearly as influential as the two major parties. And while there are some people who vote for a third party candidate on the general election ballot, they haven’t won in recent history, and are unlikely to, for the foreseeable future. This means that diverse issues are not focused on by the voters, and so are left somewhat unaddressed.
The minor parties in the united states are less prominent and less well-known than in other countries (such as in Europe). The reason for this is complicated and mechanical, mostly related to the mechanism of how votes are counted. Essentially, it means that people who vote for a third party waste their vote if their party does not win, meaning that there is a strong incentive for voters to vote for either of the two major parties only. Hence the name, “The Two Party System”. Examples of minor parties include the Libertarian Party, the Socialist Worker’s Party, and of course the Legal Marijuana Now Party. Often, smaller parties have less expansive and more focused policies and philosophies, focused on a few key issues (such as women’s rights and pay only, or cannabis in San Francisco). The motivating reason for these highly specific party stances is that many voters have limited attention span, and can more readily identify with a single policy that they strongly agree with, rather than expending effort into researching the detailed and lengthy policies of a particular party ahead of time. Many voters are only aware of a party’s existence for the first time when reading their ballot sheet, and as such, the party name is all the information that they have to go on. In spite of these challenges, minor parties to manage to collect a small number of votes during elections.
The United States is a true democracy, and in it’s 230 years of existence it has seen many political movements come and go. It has seen two world wars, the cold war, and a great depression. It’s gone from having a small population to having one of the largest populations on earth, and one of the largest economies on earth. It’s seen the rise and fall of many political movements, of which the two party system is only the latest, but the best we have found on earth so far.