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OPINION: 2023’s Political Dysfunction and Attempting to Address It

By Neil Heriot | November 13, 2023

2023 has continued its trend of dysfunction, division, and chaos, which has been the defining feature of American politics for roughly these past 10 years. For the first time in United States history, a former president is under criminal investigation for multiple alleged offenses. To add to this chaos, polls show that said former president is leading both President Biden and his challengers in the Republican Primary.

The attack on our democracy, best known as January 6, 2021, remains a controversial topic with two strongly opposing viewpoints, even though the only proper response should be to always condemn the events. To make this even worse, this is only the surface. This dysfunction is not contained to certain people, events, or issues. It has spread to both the Democrats and Republicans, and America as a whole is suffering for it. But I would like to offer a different perspective and assert that there is still cause for hope and change, even if this hope is small and unlikely in the short term.

First, one must understand the present situation that Americans are presented with every day. We live in a duopoly, where the only two real choices in elections and politics are the Democratic and Republican parties. This system, while not always perfect, worked well enough, with the average voter content enough to be a Democrat or a Republican. That was until roughly a few years before Trump appeared on the scene. Since then, more and more Americans have drifted away from both parties and became independent. This trend has shown no signs of slowing down, and it’s obvious why.

It is due to a significant flaw with the duopoly. Should both parties in the duopoly become paralyzed, ineffective, and unresponsive due to dysfunction, American voters will be forced to choose between two choices that are both unpopular and unwanted. In other words, there will not be two sensible and different choices for the best of the country, but simply one radical choice versus another radical choice.

The dysfunction in the Republican party is more well known to the American public, and presently the more extreme and dangerous of the two. Let us address the major issue: Donald Trump and his populism. He has hijacked much of the Republican party and guided it from reasonable conservatism to destructive and unhinged populism.

Trump’s populism is not concerned with limiting the excesses of the Democratic party and constructively governing the country by standard and respectable conservative principles. Instead, he wants to destroy all of his enemies, and anyone who does not fully support him. He has subverted American democracy, and he has pushed a controversial agenda that weakened America both at home and abroad. And he retains a very strong base of support that’s in a good position to bring him back to power in 2024 and allow him to pick up where he left off – but with an even greater vengeance than 2016.

Let me be unmistakable: Trump is out to save his own skin from his criminal investigations. Trump is out to take power for himself to do as he pleases, and he will crush anyone who he perceives has slighted him. There is no intention to govern and make America stronger, more prosperous, or more secure. If everyone who isn’t Trump-all-the-way has to suffer for Trump to pass his agenda, that’s perfectly fine to him. And he has managed to capture a large portion of the Republican party. Yes, there are still more acceptable Republicans that one can still disagree with, but much of the party blindly follows Trump, and will aid and abet him no matter what.

Ideally, the solution is to go to the other party; but the Democrats have their own dysfunction. I will concede that their problems are less dangerous than those of the Republicans, and that they are the lesser of two evils if forced to choose, but they still have problems. Like the Republican party, President Biden who is expected to lead the Democrats into the next elections has some notable glaring weaknesses and issues.

The most notable concern is Biden’s age. Biden is already the oldest person to ever be president, and he is only getting older. Obviously, the job of the President is much more stressful than any other job, and it is the responsibility of the American people to elect someone who has the physical and mental stamina to handle the responsibilities of the presidency. This is especially true when the US is confronted with urgent and pressing issues, and the US certainly is today. Not only is America challenged with supporting Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan while maintaining strong public opinion and a strong network of alliances, but the US also has to fight the pushed-back but not defeated menace of Trumpism.

This leads to the second issue with Biden and the Democrats: They have not succeeded in providing a strong and durable alternative to Trumpism, and that was part of Biden’s electoral mandate in 2020 when he beat Trump. Large portions of the American electorate believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. This has two major implications.

First, many Americans believe that Biden and his policies have failed to make their lives better since 2020. This conveys the message to the American electorate that the alternative to Trumpism is a failure, and will encourage them to vote for Trump again in the hopes that Trumpism will help them much more than being anti-Trump. Recent polls have painted an alarming picture where Trump is leading Biden in key swing states. Anti-Biden discontent, should Biden and the Democrats fail to solve this problem, it could mean free votes for Trump and the Republicans

The second implication means the Democrats will not have a set of policies or a leader to unify them, and this unity is necessary. In many of my previous opinions, I have argued strongly for the idea that moderation is the way to success, and that extremism in the name of progressivism is not. I am glad to see that some agree with me, but there are many who disagree. This has led to a struggle to determine what the Democratic party should be. Do they go to the center and moderate, or do they go as far left as possible? For the moment, Democrats have remained relatively united, especially in light of recent Republican chaos and their inability to unite, but there is no guarantee that these current conditions will last to November 2024.

Yet, despite all of this negativity about the dysfunction in our system, recent events have given me some cause for optimism. For one, the Ohio abortion referendum showed that despite Trumpisms malicious efforts to impose their extreme pro-life views, Americans by and large support moderation on abortion policy. Does this mean everyone wants to go to the other end of the spectrum and be extremely pro-choice? No, but the fact that the pro-choice side is seven for seven in elections, even in red states, indicates that despite the differing views on abortions, the American people will not accept the extreme option and there is a very real desire for moderation. Yes, this moderation might be more left leaning for one American and more right leaning for another American, but moderation is still moderation.

There is also a slight sliver of hope that is present on the Republican side. I have established that Trump has taken over a large portion of the Republican party, but that does not mean he has complete and uncontested control of it. Trump has remained popular with many Republicans, he has remained broadly unpopular with much of the rest of the American people. In addition, Nikki Haley has begun to rise slowly and steadily in the Republican primary. I would not declare her a centrist in the vein of myself, but her strong debate performances illustrated how one can be a conservative and a Republican, but avoid the excesses and toxicity of Trumpism. Her chances are small, but if anyone could deny Trump the nomination, she has the best chance as of right now.

When combined together, we can see that Trump 2024 is guaranteed. There is a small chance (that could grow), that even in spite of the weakness of the Democrats, Trump can still lose the nomination and/or the election. We don’t need to start preparing to live in a world of Trump 2.0, not today at least. We can see that a large portion of the American electorate supports Trumpism and will continue to do so despite the obvious flaws and issues. But a larger portion stands ready to vote against Trumpism, even if that doesn’t translate to strong support for Biden.

The abortion referendums have further highlighted that there are limits that extremists can push and still be acceptable. It further highlights a lesson that extremists must learn and not forget: You can push an extreme agenda, and the base will be happy. But the cost will be the antagonization of everyone else outside the base. The 2024 elections are a year away, and much can and will change. And while many of the signs in American politics look negative for sure, we cannot forget or ignore the positive signs as well. They are there; we just need to look for them.

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