Stefan Hankin | a feature from The Experiment
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Many political norms have been shattered over the last four years, but gridlock in D.C. was not one of them. Washington’s inability to govern is wreaking havoc across the country and we will likely be feeling the consequences far into the future. Thanks to rampant hyper-partisanship, even the policies that are overwhelmingly popular will never become law. Feeble legislative attempts to address the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis, and our broken healthcare system are costing human lives. Our once dominant economic status is declining, and we are unprepared to deal with fast-coming changes to the global economy.
If that doesn’t make you scared enough, we are facing starkly increasing wage and wealth gaps that any historian will tell you typically ends with heads in a basket. Our friends across the Atlantic would surely be happy to share a history lesson on the relationship between economic inequality, guillotines, and regime change.
On top of all this, and really because of all this, Western countries are dealing with the heightened influence of populist right-wing movements. From Brexit in the UK, to the AfD in Germany, Marine Le Penn in France, and Trumpism at home, these closed-border, anti-immigrant, purity movements are dangerous for these countries as well as the world at large.
Given our current moments of crisis, it is vital that we have a functioning government. However, if the status quo remains and both Democratic Senate candidates do not pull through in the Georgia runoffs, the Republican controlled Senate will likely continue to be the nightmare it has been since 2015. Washington will be in a stalemate and the American people will suffer.
Clearly, Our System is Broken.
What we have now is a tottering two-party system. On one side, the Republican Party has been utterly gutted by Trumpism. Rather than standing up to the President and his devotees, the party swung all the way to the far right, destroying its platform and losing its morals along the way. The GOP today has no actual polices other than slashing taxes, getting rid of regulation, and supporting Donald Trump. However, not all Republicans were created equal. Some party members (most of whom are now former party members) have actively campaigned against President Trump, but a much larger number have watched on the sidelines as their party took a nosedive. The latter group is driven by a chronic fear of pissing off their base and subsequently losing their jobs in the next Republican primary.
As is the case for the GOP, the Democratic Party has seen better days. The eagerly anticipated “blue wave” did not materialize. It would be easy to point to the structural issues we face as the source of all progressive woes, but the disturbing reality is that nearly 50 percent of this country voted for Trump after four years of racist nonsense and incompetent leadership. Now, the moderate Democrats and the more progressive left are publicly brawling, a strategy which will work for no one.
While the moderates berate the “defund the police” and “healthcare for all” rhetoric for having slimmed the Democratic majority in the house, progressives point to their grassroots organizing movements as having secured the Biden victory. We will know more about 2020 turnout as voter participation information continues to come in, but some things are already clear: both sides are correct.
Democrats are members of a big tent party, and everyone needs to stop trying to squeeze each other out. Yes, moderate/swing districts are needed to have bigger House majorities - but at the same time, without minorities, younger Americans, and urban college educated liberals, there would be no President Biden in the White House. Said in another way, elected officials from liberal urban areas need to understand that many of the proposals that are an easy sell in their districts are a tougher sell in moderate to conservative districts. And elected officials in moderate suburban districts need to be aware of the fact that Black and Hispanic Americans are done with white people telling them what to do and being told that they should "just say things differently" in order to not put White politicians in an uncomfortable position.
We have two parties on the edge, albeit for different reasons, and a country that is in desperate need of leadership that can move it forward. Even with a 50-50 Senate, it is unlikely that Democrats could pull this off given the opposition from the GOP and the Democrats’ unwillingness to go nuclear in the Senate.
A Disturbing Reality
The disturbing reality is that nearly 50 percent of this country’s voting electorate voted for Trump after four years of racist nonsense and incompetent leadership.
We need bold action, and tertiary agreements for small compromises are not going to get us there. It is time to consider a coalition style of governing akin to that of parliamentary systems across Europe. This arrangement would bring our nation forward by ending the long cycle of legislative stagnation, by allowing Congress to actually serve a majority of Americans, and by ending the pervasive “heads I win, tails you lose” mentality in Congress that has already done enough damage.
A governing system based on coalitions may sound radical to anyone who has picked up an American newspaper in the last two decades, but it is entirely within the bounds of our democracy and is a reform we dearly need. Imagine: policymakers can vote how they please without fearing retribution from their party leaders; voters know they are electing independent thinkers who are accountable primarily to their constituents; it is easy for politicians to work together on policies they agree on even if they disagree on other issues. In a normal world, this would all be second nature, but sadly, ages have passed since our political system even resembled normalcy.
It was not until Trumpism fractured the GOP beyond repair that a coalition driven government became a viable path forward. As we have argued, it is time to end the GOP and to create a new center-right party. In order for it to work, the alienated center-right faction of the GOP will have to walk away from their party and start a new apparatus. Outside of select elected officials, this group is currently best represented by the Lincoln Project, whose members have made it clear that they are no longer part of the GOP - but, they are not exactly comfortable with the Democrats, and they have the wherewithal to pull off setting up a new party. Within the Democratic Party, we already have a center-left party in addition to the traditional liberal faction championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in the House and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Senate. It is in the interest of these factions, the center-right, the center-left, and the left, as well as in the interest of the country that the three groups come together.
A Governing System Based on Coalitions
A governing system based on coalitions may sound radical to anyone who has picked up an American newspaper in the last two decades.
For the center-right party, there is an opportunity to create a viable alternative to the MAGA party and to start fresh without the Trump baggage, which includes “principles” such as demonizing gay people and proliferating the zero taxes + fake news = #winning strategy. In contrast to the current GOP, this alternative party could have policies based on issues other than trying to protect minority rule in America.
For the moderate or center-left faction of the Democratic Party, this coalition would give them the cover they need on their right flank and allows them to start working on and supporting legislation without the specter of being labeled a “socialist” (yes, this is a completely ridiculous claim, yet somehow Democrats have allowed it to become effective.) This moderate faction would also be the de facto arbiter of the coalition.
For the liberal faction, important goals would be reached such as universal health coverage, a tightening wealth gap, and increased economic and physical security. While the methods used to achieve these goals might not be exactly what the left would like, it is tough to argue against the potential successes. Further, since we would accomplish these goals via a grand coalition, there is less of a chance that we will spend the next decade defending the policies in court (i.e., what happened to the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”).
There are a few initial steps that need to be successful for this idea to work and it won’t be easy.
First, there must be an agreement that the coalition will work towards the goals of universal health coverage, re-structuring our social safety net, protecting the environment, and increasing the ability for US companies to succeed. As has been discussed, we see a path forward for the coalition to reform healthcare and the social safety net, to break up tech monopolies, to simplify the tax code, to modernize our patent system, and to make the American worker more marketable both domestically and across the globe. At the end of the day, the coalition would be moving the focus away from protecting companies to protecting individuals. This not only would put Americans of all economic levels in a better place (a huge win for the left) but would also make American companies more competitive (a huge win for the center-right). There would additionally need to be an agreement that for as long as the collation lasts, social issues such as gay marriage, abortion rights etc, will be, at a minimum, held in place.
Next, no members of the coalition, as long as they are acting in good faith, would face opposition from their ideological counterpart in their next election. For center-right members, this means no candidate from the left (either the center-left or far left) will run against them in the general election, leaving them to deal only with the far-right candidate who will invariably run. The same would be true for the center-left and liberal coalition members who would not have to run against a center-right candidate. This is not an ideal situation given the fact that we live in a democracy, but since our republic was set up to favor only two parties, we view this as a necessity.
Reverse Engineer a Parliamentary System
We need to find a way in today’s political climate to temporarily reverse engineer a parliamentary system.
This coalition could be created immediately if there were a few senators willing to take the plunge. Senators Romney (R-UT), Collins (R-ME), and Murkowski (R-AK) come to mind. In the House, the Problem Solvers Caucus could be a good place to start. Then, in the 2022 election, ideally the coalition could be expanded, and in the 2024 Presidential election, the power share would continue with the presidential candidate coming from one faction and the vice president coming from a counterpart. Given the Democrats consistent advantage in the popular vote, it would have to be done under the Democratic Party with a Vice President from the Center Right party. Think a Kamala Harris-Charlie Baker ticket. This is not a dream ticket for the left, so a cabinet would need to be pre-determined to keep everyone reasonably happy (Treasury Secretary Elizabeth Warren as an example).
The Founding Fathers prescient design of the US government ensured not only our nation’s longevity, but also the hurdles we face while trying to govern it. The Electoral College, the judicial system, and the Senate were all part of this design and were intended to impose checks on the popular will. However, these institutions have been coopted in the last few decades to suppress the voice of the majority of Americans and to make our country less competitive and less just. Though our institutions have proved capable of withstanding a civil war, several waves of enfranchisement, and, for the most part, the shock of the Trump presidency, hyper-partisanship is getting closer and closer to bringing everything crashing down.
It is time to move forward together, to put an end to Trumpism, and to position ourselves as a world leader for the next century. We are already post-truth. Getting to post-partisan should not be that difficult.
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