By: Chris Harden
We’ve all heard it over the past few months: If a third party were ever to win, it would be this year. A 74-year-old democratic-socialist nearly overtook the seemingly predetermined Democratic nominee. An immature and incompetent real estate tycoon has barrelled through a well established Republican field to redefine party hierarchy with little more than offensive and narcissistic platitudes. Clearly, anything can happen, and in a country where more than half of voters say they’re dissatisfied with their two major choices, many are seeking alternative political paths.
Despite what might otherwise be the perfect set-up, neither Jill Stein nor Gary Johnson will win the 2016 election. Why? No Green or Libertarian will win our government’s top position when that government and the institutions that revolve around it are built by and for in-all-ways-dominant Democrats and Republicans. That’s not to say it’s not possible — Ross Perot isn’t that old. But without continuous attention and a platform that draws from both ends of the political spectrum, it simply won’t happen (especially as many Americans are so terrified by the prospects of a Trump administration they’ll do anything to evade it).
Even in the improbable case of a third-party candidate’s election, he or she would not only be largely inconsequential in policy, but highly divisive at a time in which the angst stretched across the nation could spawn irreparable damage to both our politics and society. Nevertheless, that angst also holds the power to draw us together. We all feel it — something more than the quadrennial anxiety of election time — though we don’t all attribute it to the same things. Regardless, a common sentiment in a time of hostile polarization deserves deliberation.
So what’s causing it? Trump supporters say a corrupt, opaque, and downright stupid Washington. Bernie supporters argue a reckless, greed-driven economy in which the middle-class is completely disregarded. Clinton supporters blame a web of media that preaches mindless hate and enables a candidate like Trump to win millions of minds and votes. Johnson and Stein supporters are furious that their candidates are each considered “a waste of a vote.” If you didn’t make the connection, we all want the same thing: democracy.
As indicated in a study by professors from Princeton and Northwestern, the U.S. is much closer to a “civil oligarchy” (rule in “defense [of income]” by socioeconomic elite) than any sort of democracy. But that comes as news to few of us. For decades at the least, we’ve collectively felt that although we have uninhibited free speech, our officials rarely respect or even listen to our voices. That is not part of the democracy we were envisioned by our founders to be, nor the democracy we attempt to project and promote abroad. No president alone, or even with a Congressional partisan majority, will create this democracy we (and the world) so badly need. Without sustained, varied, and organized pressure for systemic reform across the country and across political identities, our angst will only continue to grow on top of our frustrations.
Throughout our lives, we regularly hear, in some form or another, that “We’re stronger together.” Yet, we’re inclined to think that we must convince others of our views in order to find political commonalities worth pursuing. Counterproductively, we ignore what can and should be the explicit goal — rather than shared subliminal desire — of every American: shaping a democratic government which briefs us on policy and involves us in decision making.
This November comes a vote to maintain or liquidate those channels for democracy that currently exist, as they exist. As any third partier would be quick to point out, they don’t work all that well. But it makes our national journey to create a government by and for the people immensely easier to work within some established space and with some inside ears in place to listen to us (at least on occasion). In other words, let’s keep an eye on the future not only as we hope it to be, but as it will be. A vote for the more honest and participatory of two truly contending platforms instead of another you more so identify with may better ensure the latter soon turns reality than a vote directly for it.
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