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Our Political Parties and “The System”

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Political parties have historically been the institution by which candidates are produced in our history, even if not a part of the founders’ original conception. How else do we put together candidates for office except through large groups of voters forming coalitions? But coalitions mean different groups with differing interests. Lone individuals can’t martial the resources to run for office unless they’re billionaires like Trump or Bloomberg.

The problem is that individuals can sometimes hijack parties, either by wealth (Bloomberg in New York City), command of the public platform (like Trump whose wealth is a significant part of his persona but not his sole political tool as it was with Bloomberg), or by skillful capitalization of political opportunity (the Clintons). The dynamic of parties is the dynamic of democracy itself which means voters can be suborned because of their own passions and the “madness of crowds”. The fact that parties are evident across governments and cultures suggests they cannot be dispensed with and, in a system like ours, where universal suffrage and a winner take all electoral mechanism are the rule, parties can become pretty broad in their membership, leading to a sense of estrangement by large numbers of individuals in one or more of the member groups.

If the estrangement is too great, obviously, coalitions fracture. But parties don’t go away. You get new parties as our history shows. So we are at a crossroads. We either discard what we’ve got in the Republican party, and hope we get something better, or we try to keep what we’ve got.

At the moment it looks like 40% of the GOP base is ready to call it quits. Either give them Trump or they walk. But Trump is an unqualified blowhard who has already done damage to the Republican brand. Perhaps irreparable damage. If he gets the nomination, the party is sullied and he probably loses — but might win if Hillary blows up in which case the nation is damaged. If he doesn’t get the nomination at this point, he and his followers bolt and Hillary or some other Democrat wins. Trump has done serious damage to the coalition of conservative interests that was the GOP, though he has only been able to do it through the anger and willfulness of 40% of our voters. They are the ones blowing up a longstanding coalition out of pure orneriness and an unrealistic demand for ideological purity.

It’s anybody’s guess what comes next. Our history shows that some form of party politics will survive, even if the GOP doesn’t and we get a generation of statist progressivism going forward. Blaming both parties or even party politics per se is a mistake! We only have ourselves to blame for thinking political purity is possible and desirable.

The truth is political purity is the stuff of totalitarianism, not democracy.

About Stuart W. Mirsky

Profile photo of Stuart W. Mirsky
Stuart W. Mirsky, a former New York City official who last served as Assistant Commissioner for Operations in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before retiring in 2002, wrote a column, "The Rockaway Irregular," for The Wave, a south Queens based weekly, for more than a decade (until Hurricane Sandy changed the equation). He is an original founder of the Rockaway Republicans, one of the most active Republican groups in southern Queens, and author of a number of books, including The King of Vinland's Saga, an historical novel of the Norse in 11th century North America, A Raft on the River, a memoir of Holocaust survival, and Choice and Action, a work of contemporary philosophy addressing the implications of relativism and nihilism for our moral beliefs.

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