Why The Two-Party System Is Effing Up U.S. Democracy

“in the U.S., one party has become a major illiberal outlier: The Republican Party. Scholars at the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have been monitoring and evaluating political parties around the world. And one big area of study for them is liberalism and illiberalism, or a party’s commitment (or lack thereof) to democratic norms prior to elections. And as the chart below shows, of conservative, right-leaning parties across the globe, the Republican Party has more in common with the dangerously authoritarian parties in Hungary and Turkey than it does with conservative parties in the U.K. or Germany.”

“People in countries with majoritarian(ish) democracies, or two very dominant parties dominating its politics like in the U.S. — think Canada, Britain, Australia — have displayed more unfavorable feelings toward the political opposition.”

“another team of scholars, Noam Gidron, James Adams and Will Horne, shows that citizens in majoritarian democracies with less proportional representation dislike both their own parties and opposing parties more than citizens in multiparty democracies with more proportional representation.1”

“This pattern may have something to do with the shifting politics of coalition formation in proportional democracies, where few political enemies are ever permanent (e.g., the unlikely new governing coalition in Israel). This also echoes something social psychologists have found in running experiments on group behavior: Breaking people into three groups instead of two leads to less animosity. Something, in other words, appears to be unique about the binary condition, or in this case, the two-party system, that triggers the kind of good-vs-evil, dark-vs-light, us-against-them thinking that is particularly pronounced in the U.S.”

Call it authoritarianism

“Blocking an inquiry into the January 6 attack on the Capitol, embracing Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen, making it easier for partisans to tamper with the process of counting votes: These are not the actions of a party committed to the basic idea of open, representative government.

It’s common to call this GOP behavior “anti-democratic,” but the description can only go so far. It tells us what they’re moving America away from, but not where they want to take it. The term “minority rule” is closer, but euphemistic; it puts the Republican actions in the same category as a Supreme Court ruling, countermajoritarian moves inside a democratic framework rather than something fundamentally opposed to it.

It’s worth being clear about this: The GOP has become an authoritarian party pushing an authoritarian policy agenda.”

“When people think of authoritarian governments, they typically think of police states and 20th-century totalitarianism. But “authoritarianism” is actually a broad term, encompassing very different governments united mostly by the fact that they do not transfer power through free and fair elections.”

“competitive authoritarian systems survive in part by convincing citizens that they are living in a democracy. That’s how they maintain their legitimacy and prevent popular uprisings. As such, they do not conduct the kind of obvious sham elections held in places like Bashar al-Assad’s Syria (he won the 2021 contest with 95 percent of the “vote”).

In competitive authoritarianism, the opposition does have some ability to win a bit of power through, well, competition — even if the scope of their possible victories are limited.

It’s a tricky balance for the regime to pull off: rigging elections enough to maintain power indefinitely while still permitting enough democracy that citizens don’t rise up in outrage. Many competitive authoritarian regimes have collapsed under the stress, either transitioning to democracy (like Taiwan) or forcefully repressing the opposition and becoming a more traditional autocracy (like Belarus).”

“Happily, the United States still passes the most basic test of whether a system is democratic: whether the public can vote out its leaders. But it is hard to deny that the Republican Party has begun chipping away at that baseline principle, using the flaws in our political system to entrench their power.”

Why The Two-Party System Is Effing Up U.S. Democracy

“In order for democracy to work, competing parties must accept that they can lose elections, and that it’s okay. But when partisans see their political opposition not just as the opposition, but as a genuine threat to the well-being of the nation, support for democratic norms fades because “winning” becomes everything. Politics, in turn, collapses into an all-out war of “us against them,” a kind of “pernicious polarization” that appears over and over again in democratic collapses, and bears a striking similarity to what’s currently happening in the U.S.

There’s no shortage of plausible explanations for why U.S. politics has become so polarized, but many of these theories describe impossible-to-reverse trends that have played out across developed democracies, like the rise of social media and the increased political salience of globalization, immigration and urban-rural cultural divides. All of these trends are important contributors, for sure. But if they alone are driving illiberalism and hyper-partisanship in the U.S., then the problem should be consistent across all western democracies. But it isn’t.

What’s happening in the U.S. is distinct in four respects.

First, the animosity that people feel toward opposing parties relative to their own (what’s known as affective polarization in political science) has grown considerably over the last four decades. According to a June 2020 paper from economists Levi Boxell, Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, the increase in affective polarization in the U.S. is the greatest compared to that of eight other OECD countries over the same time period.

Second, the change in how Americans feel about their party and other parties has been driven by a dramatic decrease in positive feelings toward the opposing party. In most (though not all) of the nine democracies, voters have become a little less enthusiastic about their own parties. But only in the U.S. have partisans turned decidedly against the other party.”

” Third, more so than in other countries, Americans report feeling isolated from their own party. When asked to identify both themselves and their favored party on an 11-point scale in a 2012 survey, Americans identified themselves as, on average, 1.3 units away from the party that comes closest to espousing their beliefs”

“This gap is the highest difference Rodden found among respondents in comparable democracies. This isolation matters, too, because it means that parties can’t count on enthusiasm from their own voters — instead, they must demonize the political opposition in order to mobilize voters.

Fourth, and perhaps most significant, in the U.S., one party has become a major illiberal outlier: The Republican Party. Scholars at the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have been monitoring and evaluating political parties around the world. And one big area of study for them is liberalism and illiberalism, or a party’s commitment (or lack thereof) to democratic norms prior to elections. And as the chart below shows, of conservative, right-leaning parties across the globe, the Republican Party has more in common with the dangerously authoritarian parties in Hungary and Turkey than it does with conservative parties in the U.K. or Germany.

The U.S. is truly exceptional in just how polarized its politics have become, but it’s not alone. People in countries with majoritarian(ish) democracies, or two very dominant parties dominating its politics like in the U.S. — think Canada, Britain, Australia — have displayed more unfavorable feelings toward the political opposition.

In fact, in a new book, “American Affective Polarization in Comparative Perspective,” another team of scholars, Noam Gidron, James Adams and Will Horne, shows that citizens in majoritarian democracies with less proportional representation dislike both their own parties and opposing parties more than citizens in multiparty democracies with more proportional representation.”

“there is also something particular about what’s happening in the U.S., even compared to other majoritarian(ish) democracies. For example, the major parties on the right in Canada and Australia have not become as illiberal as their American counterpart.”

“While it is both easy and appropriate to criticize Trump and fellow Republicans for their anti-democratic descent in service of the “Big Lie,” it takes more work to appreciate how the structure of the party system itself laid the groundwork for the former president’s politics of loathing and fear. A politics defined by hatred of political opponents is a politics ripe for hateful illiberalism.

The new scholarship on comparative polarization is crucial in understanding this dynamic. In one sense, it offers a very depressing view: Given the current binary structure of American party politics, this conflict is mostly locked in. No level of social media regulation or media literacy or exhortation to civility is going to make much of a difference. But it also offers a kind of master key: If the structure of a party system is as crucial as these studies suggest it is, then the solution is obvious: The U.S. may want to change its voting system to become more proportional.”

There are two kinds of GOP attacks on democracy — and one is much worse

“Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of voter suppression laws. Many provisions currently being pushed by Republican state lawmakers make it harder to cast a ballot in a certain way — such as by mailing in the ballot or placing it in a drop box. Or they place unnecessary procedural obstacles in the way of voters. These provisions often serve no purpose other than to make it more difficult to vote, but they also are not insurmountable obstacles.

Other provisions are more virulent. They might disqualify voters for no valid reason. Or allow partisan officials to refuse to certify an election, even if there are no legitimate questions about who won. Or make it so difficult for some voters, who are likely to vote for the party that is out of power, to cast their ballot that it’s nigh impossible for the incumbent party to lose.”

“the most common kind of law that seeks to make the results of an election impervious to the will of the voters: gerrymandering. The Census Bureau expects to provide states with the data they need to draw new congressional and state legislative districts this fall. Once that data is available, states like Georgia and Texas are likely to draw maps that seek to entrench Republican rule as much as possible. (Democrats also engage in gerrymandering, but blue states are more likely to use independent commissions to draw district lines, or to have other safeguards that limit partisan redistricting.)

Gerrymanders can potentially make the fight to control a legislative body all but impervious to the will of the voters. In 2018, for example, Democratic candidates for the Wisconsin state assembly received 54 percent of the popular vote, but Republicans won nearly two-thirds of the seats.”

Biden’s infrastructure deal proves bipartisanship can’t deliver

“So far, Democrats and Republicans have made some headway on the bipartisan deal. They have agreed to a very vague framework that includes funding for roads and bridges, public transit, passenger and freight rail, electric vehicle infrastructure, clean drinking water, and broadband internet, among a few other areas. The agreement goes into almost no detail beyond those broad categories — with lawmakers now working to get more specific as they transform that framework into actual legislation.

Where both sides haven’t reached any agreement yet is how all of this will be paid for. Democrats want to pay for it largely by undoing parts of former President Donald Trump’s tax law, while Republicans suggested raising the gas tax and electric vehicle charging fees. With both sides rejecting each other’s ideas, they instead put out a list of potential revenue sources, ranging from stronger enforcement of current tax laws to spending caps to public-private partnerships. But the sides haven’t reached any concrete agreements here, and all of these ideas may not even be enough to fund the full bill.

Democrats have also promised to pass an additional infrastructure bill through reconciliation (to bypass the filibuster on a party-line vote). This bill would aim to fill in the other parts of Biden’s agenda left out of the bipartisan deal, including broader action on climate change and “human infrastructure” measures like an expanded child tax credit and elder care.

But the party hasn’t come to an agreement on this measure. Manchin suggested the bill could be as little as $2 trillion, while Sanders has worked on a $6 trillion proposal. There is, suffice to say, a very wide space in between.

In short: A lot is up in the air. The specific details are still being worked out. It’s not clear if any of this will happen.”

GOP crushes Manchin’s hopes for elections compromise

“Senate Republicans spent months praising Joe Manchin for his insistence on cross-party compromise. Next week they will almost surely end his hopes for a bipartisan deal on elections.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believed all 50 Republicans would oppose Sen. Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) slimmed-down elections compromise, which focuses on expanding early voting and ending partisan gerrymandering in federal elections. And it’s not clear there’s a single Republican vote to even begin debate on the matter, potentially dooming Manchin’s proposals before they can even make it into the bill.”

The GOP whitewash of the Capitol attack shows the need for a January 6 commission

“As CNN and other outlets have reported previously — and pro-impeachment Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) confirmed in a statement in February — McCarthy spoke with Trump while the riots were still ongoing and pleaded with Trump to call his supporters off.

According to Herrera Beutler, Trump “initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol” on the call with McCarthy.

Subsequently, Herrera Beutler said in her February statement, “McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”

Other Republicans have corroborated Trump’s state of mind as the attack was unfolding. According to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), “Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building.”

If McCarthy is called upon to substantiate Herrera Beutler’s account of the McCarthy-Trump call for the commission, however, it would likely also put McCarthy in an awkward position politically.

That’s because McCarthy’s call with Trump — which reportedly took place as rioters were attempting to break through the minority leader’s office windows — is a reminder of the true severity of the January 6 attacks, and of Trump’s support for the mob, who he described as “very special” in a video later the same day. It’s also increasingly out of step with a Republican conference eager to downplay the insurrection and a former president who is hypersensitive to criticism — and it’s hard to imagine McCarthy looking forward to giving a faithful retelling of January 6 to a potential commission.”

Liz Cheney’s Expected Ouster Shows the GOP Stands for Nothing but One Man’s Whims

“Although Rep. Liz Cheney (R–Wyo.) easily survived a February attempt to replace her as chair of the House Republican Conference after she voted to impeach Donald Trump, she is expected to lose her post on Wednesday as punishment for her continued criticism of the former president’s fantasy that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.), who supported Cheney in February, now favors replacing her with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R–N.Y.), who is willing to indulge Trump’s fanciful belief that massive, orchestrated fraud deprived him of his rightful victory.

The comparison between Cheney and Stefanik speaks volumes about the extent to which the Republican Party has devolved into a personality cult that elevates Trump’s capricious demands above any principles or policies it once claimed to support.”

“Aside from her willingness to bend reality so that it conforms with Trump’s self-flattering delusions, what does Stefanik have to offer as a Republican leader? “Elise Stefanik is NOT a good spokesperson for the House Republican Conference,” the Club for Growth declared on Twitter last week. “She is a liberal with a 35% CFGF [Club for Growth Foundation] lifetime rating, 4th worst in the House GOP. House Republicans should find a conservative to lead messaging and win back the House Majority.”
By contrast, Cheney’s CFGF lifetime score, which is based on votes that reflect a commitment to fiscal discipline, low taxes, restrained government, and economic freedom, is 65 percent. It is clear that resisting the Democratic agenda counts for less in the GOP’s priorities than kowtowing to one man’s whims.”

How Trump is hunting down the GOP’s leading families

“Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee. Even Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain — who herself has never run for office — has been knocked down, censured by Trump allies who run the state Republican Party in Arizona.”

“The modern GOP, George W. Bush told NBC’s “Today” show earlier this month, is “isolationist, protectionist, and to a certain extent, nativist.”

“It’s not exactly my vision,” Bush said. “But, you know, I’m just an old guy they put out to pasture.””