Five political parties?

Looking not just at this past election but at the past several elections in the United States, one can see various political movements and philosophies being expressed. One possibility—by no means a certainty, but definitely a possibility—is that five distinct political groups could form in the country, working in cooperative opposition to try to represent all the citizens of the United States.

Political parties already existed in European countries when the American Constitution was written. The writers of the Constitution hoped to avoid the development of such parties in the United States; their invention of the electoral college was one effort to dilute the power of any such parties that might develop. Almost immediately, though, two political parties developed in the new government, and the United States has operated with a two-party system ever since.

The advantages of a two-party system over a multi-party system (which is common in most democracies) is that a clear majority of elected leaders can work together to guide the country. In a multi-party system, often no one party gains a majority, and coalitions of two or more parties must work together to lead the government. Sometimes these coalition governments allow leaders to gain control who never would have been chosen by a majority of citizens (such as the Fascists in Italy, the Nazis in Germany, and the Communists in Russia). But multiple parties permit a wider variety of opinions among the voters and within the body of elected leaders. At times, the two-party system seems to omit too many options from consideration. (On the other hand, in the United States, third parties often have championed causes that eventually were adopted by one or both of the major parties; the ideas were successful, even though they did not lead a new political party to ultimate success.)

It seems that the United States contains five political movements at this time. We have Republican-business-as-usual and Democratic-business-as usual; we also have Progressives, Populists, and Centrists. Progressives oppose business as usual; however, their liberal goals generally cause them to support the Democratic Party. Populists also oppose business as usual; but their conservative goals generally cause them to support the Republican Party. Centrists also oppose business as usual; both parties try to gain their support, and they sometimes vote for one, sometimes for the other, and sometimes choose not to vote at all. Ross Perot attempted to capture the Centrist vote in the 1990s, but he chose a bad decade in which to run as a Centrist, given that Bill Clinton was very much a moderate Democrat rather than a liberal Progressive Democrat, and both George Bush and Bob Dole were Republican-business-as-usual candidates without much appeal to the Populist voters.

Donald Trump managed to energize the Populists, inspire many of the Centrists, and capture control of the Republican-business-as-usual politicians for one term in the White House. Joe Biden was chosen by the Democratic Party as a business-as-usual candidate who could gain some Centrist support without losing any of the Progressives. As his term continues, though, he is likely to alienate the Progressive element in the Democratic Party, which could lead to a split in the party. At the same time, Republicans are divided between Populists who still support Donald Trump and business-as-usual Republicans. That also could lead to a split in the party.

No better opportunity exists for the Centrists to claim their own ground in opposition to business-as-usual Republicans and Democrats. The ire of Progressives and Populists would not fuel a Centrist Party, but the Centrists could still grab a number of voters who fear both Progressives and Populists and who despise the business-as-usual politics of both parties. Not that the Centrists could choose a President by 2024. It will take a long time to form a new party. It must start from the grass roots. Its first candidates must establish themselves on school boards, community governments, and county boards. Then they could gain some seats in state legislatures. After that, they might capture a few Congressional seats—something the Progressives and Populists would also be able to do if they split from their respective parties. Over time, a growing Centrist Party could establish itself in Congress and could begin to be a factor in Presidential politics, especially as its candidates prove themselves at the local, county, and state level.

The bitterness of the recent election may keep some people out of politics—both keeping voters from voting and keeping prospective candidates from running. The passion of Progressives and Populists may wane, or they might increasingly dominate the conversation to the frustration of Centrists. Those of us who still believe in democracy and in the United States of America need to remain involved. We need to hold our leaders accountable. We need to be informed about what actions the government is considering. We need to support candidates and political movements that match our values and our goals. Grass roots campaigns can be effective, both for good policies and for bad policies. To resist the bad, we must support the good. J.