If you’re anything like me, you’re racked with anxiety, fear, frustration and rage over the state of modern US politics. News story after soul-crushing news story, I feel like I’m being mentally beaten with hammers, and I want to just shut it all out and pretend that everything is ok. I used to look down on the people who were oblivious to the goings-on of the world; now I envy them.
We seem to be stuck in a never-ending cycle between a party of high-order incompetents (the Democrats) and a party of angry, hateful zealots (the Republicans). Both are only interested in power. Both are firmly entrenched. Both are crooked to the bone. Neither represents what America needs or even wants.
I ask myself, how can we fix our political system? I come up with some answers I think are pretty good: term limits; public funding of elections; more oversight and transparency. Simple solutions like these could go a long way toward fixing what’s wrong with America. There’s just one problem: none of it will ever happen. Not in any meaningful way.
Why? Because it requires approval from the very people who we’re trying to reign in. These solutions would require our representatives to voluntarily give up a great deal of power, and most of them won’t do that. How do we get rid of these entrenched politicians? Elect new ones. But that’s our biggest hurdle: getting rid of them. People disapprove of our Congress members, and that disapproval is the highest it’s ever been. So why can’t we get rid of them? These people get reelected over and over again.
Here’s how it usually works. Let’s say somebody dies, and there’s an open election for their seat. The Dems and the Repubs field their respective candidates, as do a few third-parties. The Dems and the Repubs have a ton of money and power, and they completely outclass any other parties. Third-party candidates are unable to keep up, so few people consider them a viable option. So really, we only ever have a choice between the Dems and the Repubs (with few exceptions). If you’re one of the few people in this country who likes either of those parties, there’s no problem. But if you’re one of the majority, who don’t really like either party, you’re left with the chore of deciding which major-party candidate is the lesser evil.
But let’s say you’ve got an incumbent candidate who you think is a terrible congressperson. But he’s a Democrat, and a Republican would be even worse (or vice versa). The Democrats aren’t going to put up anyone to run against their own incumbent, so you get the same awful candidate being re-elected, or replaced by one whose politics are even more out of line with yours.
That’s what I’m getting at: elections are broken. It’s almost impossible to elect anyone from a third party, and it’s almost impossible to get rid of incumbent candidates without conceding to the party you really don’t want in power.
We need to change our voting system.
What we have now is traditionally called “first past the post“. It’s biggest problem, as I mentioned already, is that it forces voters to choose between the two candidates who are most likely to win, instead of allowing voters to choose the candidate they think would be best for the job. There’s a lot of other interesting criticisms of the system on that Wikipedia page, and rather than just rephrase them here, I’ll let you read that if you want.