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  • Marie McKinsey

Three Ways Political Parties Poison Democracy

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

I want to begin by reminding you that the Constitution makes no provision for political parties. The founders of this country saw how warring political parties created tensions that led to civil wars that tore England apart. They didn't want their brand new country to repeat those mistakes. They wanted a true democracy.

However, it wasn't long until they gave in to the old ways, started to coalesce followers around certain points of view, and parties happened anyway. Yet, they never amended the Constitution to acknowledge political parties. Perhaps they were hoping that someone down the line could find a way to avoid this trap.

Here we are centuries later. And their worst fears are realized. The United States are not united at all. At all.

Tensions are giving way to violence - history is repeating itself. People don't feel safe on the streets of their cities and towns. Some are afraid to talk to neighbors, for fear that they will unwittingly step into a confrontation that will lead to violence. Others are aggressive, and in-your-face with their contempt for other people, and what they want to do to people who disagree with them.

There is talk of civil war.

We live in a toxic environment. And political parties are at the center of it. Here are 3 ways they are poisoning our democracy.

1) Political parties reduce governing to the level of sports. And "reduce" is the right word. Governing should be held to a higher standard than games. I expect I'll get push back from the football dads and soccer moms who insist that children need to participate in sports as preparation for life.

I disagree. Sports are entertainment, for participants and spectators. It is true that sports can teach kids teamwork, discipline, and promote physical fitness. But sports are a poor metaphor for life.

Because at the end of the game, sports teach that in order for you to win, someone else has to lose. If the way you measure success in life is by how many people you defeat, you are not a team player in the real game of life. In real life, you need to be on everyone's side, because we are all in this together. As a nation, we are only as strong as the least advantaged citizen.

This is why things never seem to get done in Congress. Elected officials are playing sports instead of governing. A filibuster is just a play designed to run out the clock. Voter suppression and gerrymandering are tactics designed to keep the ball out of the hands of the opponent. In the sport of politics, the goal is not to do what is best for the country, but to do whatever it will take to keep the other side from winning.

And that is toxic.

2) Political parties erode the integrity of citizens and public servants. Integrity means wholeness. If what you believe, what you say, and what you do all match, you are living in integrity. All parts of yourself are on the same page.

When you belong to a family, a tribe, a church, a club, or a political party, it is personal. These are your people. When someone criticizes a member of your group, you feel it as a personal affront. Even if you think that the person in question - a politician, an abusive relative, a clergy member - is wrong, you will feel that you have to defend them, or at least say nothing, in order to protect them and yourself from more fallout.

If you have ever been in this situation, remember how it felt in your body. It hurts. You want to say something, do something, but you are afraid of being accused of disloyalty. You are afraid of retaliation. So you do nothing. What you believe, what you say and what you do are out of synch with who you really are. You've lost your integrity. This is toxic to your soul.

The antidote to this poison is to leave political parties behind. Being an Independent is a happier, healthier path.

3) The way political parties control elections is unconstitutional. I know, that's a big opinion, but think about it. The way that candidates get on the ballot in an election cycle is through primaries. Many states have only two primaries, one for each party, and only party members can vote.

Over 40% of the electorate in the US identifies as Independent. That means that these Americans have no say in who runs for office in states with closed primaries. In reality, this isn't different from totalitarian regimes where the people in power put two names on the ballot and declare that they have offered people a choice.

Denying citizens the right to vote in every election is wrong.


I don't have a remedy for the problem of political parties, any more than the founders did. But it is clear that we need to start taking steps to unhook ourselves from the abuses of the system. Here are some ideas. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1) All states should have open, non-partisan primaries. When someone registers to vote in Washington state, for example, they are not asked to declare a party preference on the registration form. Washington uses a "top two" primary system. All registered voters get the same ballot. The two candidates with the most votes moves on to the general election. This is fair for all voters, regardless of party preference, because everyone gets to vote in all elections.

2) Challenge the myth that half the voters in the US are either Republicans or Democrats. That isn't true. Neither party has an actual majority, or even close. In a recent Gallup poll, conducted in October, 2021, 44% of voters declared themselves Independent. Democrats and Republicans came in at just 26% each.

Repeating the story that half of all voters are one or the other, suggests to voters that they have to join a party. It leaves them to think that if everyone else has picked a team, they have to, too. This misconception empowers the parties, but offers no benefit to voters. What do you get when you join a party? An extra $100? A new toaster-oven?

As a side effect of believing this myth, a lot of political arguments start with people getting unnecessarily angry at that "half of the country that believes____." But it isn't clear that half of Americans believes anything. People can be pretty eclectic, and irrational, in their beliefs. Sometimes both at the same time. Promoting the idea that there are only two choices, and that voters are all on one side or the other, is just another way to divide people. Division is a popular tactic in political gamesmanship. It might win an election. But division is toxic, and we are all living with the negative effects of it.

3) Ignore media types who write about how Independents aren't really independent because they lean toward one party or another. Well, what are Independents supposed to do? In nearly all elections, there are only two candidates to choose from, one from each party. (See above.) If anyone's going to vote, they're going to have to choose, or lean, one way or the other. Doesn't mean they like either candidate. Or that they aren't independent. Until there are more parties and/or choices, this is all they've got.

4) Put an end to dark money. That is money contributed to organizations like Citizens United, which is used to promote political campaigns without having to disclose the names of donors. It's called "dark"money because no one knows where it comes from. It could be donated by foreign governments, crime syndicates, or any powerful person or entity that seeks to influence US politics.

The US Supreme Court ruled that as long as the primary purpose of Citizen's United is not political, this is OK. But here's their mission statement. Tell me whether the purpose of this organization is anything but political:

Citizens United's stated mission is to restore the United States government to "citizens' control, through a combination of education, advocacy, and grass-roots organization" seeking to "reassert the traditional American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security. - Wikipedia

If Citizen's United was in the business of selling cookies, I would agree that the Supreme Court might have a point, but this reads like someone's campaign pitch. Money raised by Citizen's United and other PACs adds another layer of corruption to an already fraught system.

It's time for corporate money to be taken out of the US political system. Corporations are NOT people. Corporations are specifically designed to shield people from accountability. An LLC can be sued, but if it loses, its officer's assets are protected. The LLC's assets: a desk, a chair and a laptop can be seized, and sold to cover the loss. But the officer's compound in a gated community, the yacht, the stock portfolio and private jet can't be touched. That should, in itself, negate the argument that corporations are just the same as regular citizens.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.


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