Does US Two Party Political System Promote or Erode Integrity?

by Dr. David Gruder

There are definitely both pros and cons to having political parties and, more specifically, to a having two-party system. I suggest that in today’s spin-dominated political climate, the cons now significantly outweigh the pros. Today’s party-oriented system promotes polarization of complicated issues into dangerously oversimplified positioning that is frequently fanatical in tone.

I have mentioned in prior posts how democracy lives at the intersection of three core societal needs that sometimes appear to be in conflict with each other (see those posts for explanations of each of these needs):

  1. Individual freedom
  2. Collective highest good
  3. Legitimate special needs of specific groups

Today’s political parties have fallen into the following traps:

  1. Developing Positions About Controlling Symptoms Rather Than Resolving Causes: They rarely discuss the root causes of the problems we face or seek solutions that resolve those root causes; they instead pander to what they claim is the public’s unwillingness to appreciate the complexity of issues and its demands for instant symptom relief rather than long-term wellbeing
  2. Favoring Rigid Postures Over Core Intentions: They rarely educate the public about the intentions beneath their positions or solutions; in fact they too often tend to become so dogmatically rigid about their positions that they seem to lose touch with the core intentions that gave rise to those positions or solutions in the first place — this makes them dangerously impervious to input from those with perspectives that are different from their own
  3. Favoring Fanaticism Over Solutions That Address Our Three Core Societal Needs: They rarely frame a position they take or solution they propose in terms of how it addresses democracy’s need to live the intersection of the three core socetal needs I listed above
  4. Badmouthing the Equally Valid Core Intentions the Other Party Stands For: They rarely seek or acknowledge the wisdom beneath the positions taken by the other political parties, let alone pool the wisdom beneath both sets of positions to reveal the more complete picture that is necessary for co-creating truly viable solutions

These traps have been tearing apart our country’s political system and pitting patriotic citizens against patriotic citizens more as zealots and fanatics in opposition to one another rather than as family who seek to pool their respective wisdom to co-discover solutions that will be far more effective than any one group’s perspective alone can yield. In other words, the two-party system as practiced today in the US is actually eroding integrity rather than strenghtening it!

By having fallen into the four traps I mentioned above, Democrats and Republicans alike are out of integrity with their responsibilty to the American citizens. By not insisting that political leaders respond directly and fully to questions about the four above dimensions when they are speaking about their positions or proposed solutions, the media is out of integrity with its responsibility to the American public. By not insisting that politicians and the media do their jobs in these regards, the American public is out of integrity with their responsibilities as citizens.

Despite enjoying a long history in the United States, I suspect that most Americans do not realize that America’s first President, George Washington, did not belong to a political party and that most of America’s founding fathers were opposed to political parties being part of the American experiment in democracy. I believe we suffer severely today from some of the traps that caused the founding fathers to be as reluctant as they were to incorporating political parties into the American system of government.

So, ponder this: How might our political landscape take a big step in a better direction if both of today’s two dominant political parties had the guts to select a presidential candidate from their own party and a vice presidential running-mate from the other party?

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