Political parties have corrupted our democracy

The biggest problem in politics right now is not Donald Trump. It’s also not Nancy Pelosi.

It’s the concept of base-driven elections.

In a normal democratic society, the goal of politics and elections would be to convince the most people that your policies are right and that you’re the most capable leader.  

And when you lose, you look back and try to figure out how you can make a better argument the next time, and how to attract more support for your perspective in the meantime.

The US Capitol building on the morning of the State of the Union, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In our system, though, the political parties look back at elections they lost and see the narrow margins and decide they simply need to turn out more of their voters next time and they’ll win.

There’s less concern for changing people’s minds than there is for motivating the people who already agree with them.

This has turned both parties into perpetual anger machines.

And the party machinery loves it because it enables them to self-perpetuate and remain relevant. Instead of serving as the quiet support structure for their candidates, political parties are using fear-based messaging to raise money and fund their efforts to keep people mad enough to turn out to vote.

Instead of good ideas, the political parties offer enemies, and reasons to hate them. Instead of showing progress, the political parties find new and better ways to demonize their opponents.

There is no battle of ideas. It’s all just a contest to see who can get their people to a fever pitch of rage.

This whole process just widens the gap between Americans. There’s no more down time between elections, because everyone is taught to hate each other. The president, whether Republican or Democrat, is not the leader of a nation anymore, they’re leaders of a majority party. And when they do something, even if it’s something the other party tried in the past, it’s rejected by the opposite party. And this rejection trickles down from the party bosses through social media into the angry brains of the people who belong to the warring tribes.

So nothing happens. We stand as a nation in a state of irreconcilable standoff, with one party or the other holding a razor-thin majority. This enables elected officials to make slight changes on the edges of policy, that will then be immediately rolled back once they lose power the next time the tide ebbs.

Our constitutional system was specifically engineered to discourage this type of populist tribalism. We have a divided government, with checks and balances, and with staggered terms in the Senate, specifically to force policies to be the result of compromise so the entirety of the electorate has some say in the governance of the nation.

A law that is passed through our Congress and signed by the president should be a law that the nation, as much as possible, accepts. The only way to get to that place is for people to work together and to compromise.

We have zero-sum advocates on each side of every issue right now. There’s no way forward when everyone thinks the world will end if they don’t get everything they want at once. But the parties drive these feelings, because they get more donations and more power the more anger they generate. And political parties don’t even care about the policy results — in fact, they’re happier if their side fails because the frustration feeds the anger, which feeds the donations, and the whole thing just keeps growing and growing on itself.

We have a system that is predicated on compromise. It doesn’t work without it. As a society we need to start viewing these party structures as the problems they are. As members of political parties, we need to start demanding that the parties butt out of the public debate, and instead focus on helping good people get elected. We need leaders now, not ideologues, and we need to start identifying as stakeholders in a better society, rather than as warriors in a battle where everyone loses.


Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.