Bruce Burleson – August 4, 2017


The current state of political affairs in the United States is a state of total polarization and division, based not just upon party affiliation but also a marked decrease in the ability of the two major parties to work together and to devise compromises that are acceptable to both sides.  In fact, last year’s election cycle led to violence in which quite a number of people were injured outside of rallies and at demonstrations.  Most of the victims of violence were supporters of Donald Trump.  We are seeing—in person and on social media--a level of vitriolic rhetoric and hatred on both sides, the level of nastiness of which we have never seen before.  On the left, there is consistent talk of burning down the White House and assassinating the president.  On the right there is widespread discussion of civil war.


The recent battles over ObamaCare illustrate how the two parties have become incapable of constructing responsible policy.  The Democrats rammed the Affordable Care Act through Congress on a party-line vote with few of them bothering to read it.  The Republicans have tried similar measures to repeal the ACA, but as of this writing a pattern of infighting has prevented them from getting the job done.  Although this is an old story, once again we’ve seen that representatives and senators from both parties would rather protect their political backsides and ensure their re-election, than to do what is right for the country.


Our Republic cannot endure these conditions indefinitely and survive.  I believe the root of the problem is in the political party system itself.  Perhaps we should have heeded the warnings of our Founding Fathers about factions and parties more than two centuries ago.  My hope is that we are not a day late and a dollar short in beginning to listen to their wisdom today.

John Adams wrote:

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

 And George Washington:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

One wonders if the founding fathers had stepped into a time machine into the future, because they describe the American political party system almost as it actually is in the here and now.

We should have heeded the advice of Washington, Adams and others from the very beginning.  Some would argue that political parties are the only mechanism we will ever have to select viable candidates for higher office.  I vehemently disagree with that assessment.  America is a nation of creative people.  We freed ourselves from the British, we’ve endured countless wars, and have built a nation that is the envy of the entire world.  We have the ability to fix our political system.  The question is, do we have the political will to make it happen.  Fixing it would likely involve amendments to the Constitution to reshape how we pick our leaders.

What I propose is a system rooted in a tradition that dates back to colonial times: the town hall meeting.  Take a look at this:

The idea behind my proposed model is to begin at the town hall level.  Tip O’Neill once pointed out:  “All politics is local.”  He was right.  Ultimately politics boils down to what happens in our local communities.  So that is where the process ought to begin.

The process begins with holding town hall meetings across the country.  At each meeting, anyone can stand up and present themselves as a candidate for president.  Let’s say a town hall of 100 attendees takes place, and ten candidates stand up.  The meeting then engages in a series of voting, narrowing it down to a single candidate.  There are any number of ways in which that could be done, but probably the best way is to hold debates and then narrow the field by a series of votes.  Finally, a single candidate is selected.

Then, the candidates selected by all the town hall meetings in a given county compete against each other in a county-wide election.  Again, the goal is to narrow the field to a single candidate.

The winners of the county elections then compete in a state-wide election.  At the end of this process, each state has narrowed down the field to a single candidate.

The state-selected candidates then engage in a series of regional or national elections until the field of candidates is reduced to a small handful.  This final field of candidates has “made it” through the entire process, from town-halls, to county elections, through statewide elections and finally prepares for the national election.

The national election is held, and the winner becomes President.

Does it all sound a bit simplistic?  Perhaps.  But again, our country is in such a hopelessly divided political mess right now that it is high time we begin a national dialogue on alternatives to the political party system of conducting elections.

Donald Trump campaigned on a platform of draining the swamp.  Perhaps the best way to do that is to do away with the Democrats and the Republicans.  With them out of the way, we can finally construct a real democracy—one that will make our country even more the envy of the world.