In past election seasons, well-meaning liberals and conservatives alike have found themselves saying things they will later regret, such as “I’m excited about John Kerry!” or “George Bush understands things!” You don’t even believe these things. So why did you ever say it?
Tribalism and bunker mentality reign supreme during election season. Dreading the consequences of a victory by the “other” guy, both liberals and conservatives fall victim to their psychological defense mechanisms, and voters of every stripe forget their principles. Whether you’re a liberal worried about climate change or a conservative fed up with government corruption, you understand that our government has lost its ability to put good ideas into action - if it ever had such an ability. Approval of congress hovers around 9%-13%. For comparison, King George III had 15%-35% support in America at the start of our revolution. We hate our government, but sometimes we hate the other party even more.
During election season, most of the energy of the “Thought Leaders” in our mainstream media - TV pundits and newspaper op-ed columnists - goes into crafting polemics against the opponents of each Thought Leader’s favored candidate. To be sure, there is always plenty that is offensive and worth decrying in any prominent political candidate: somewhere along the line, the system weeds out any and all candidates who aren’t corrupt. The problem with these commentaries is that they give the impression that maybe only one of the two candidates is corrupt. They encourage us to embrace our tribalist tendencies. The bunker mentality soon follows. In this way, Americans are distracted from a crucial and fundamental truth in American politics: all our politicians are corrupt and will continue to be corrupt until their bosses - us, the voters - make it unprofitable for them. Each election season that voters turn a blind eye to their preferred candidate’s corruption, corrupt practices become more and more normalized. The result is an America that is a thoroughly corrupt - an America that I, for one, cannot continue to support in good conscience. In the light of day, Americans seem to agree, as reflected in the 10% support of congress. Without a Protest Party, though, there is not much one can do.
While most Thought Leaders take a partisan stance that ignores the fundamental truth of American corruption, there’s another strain of punditry each election season. Quite a few commentators over the years have gotten so fed up with the system that they declare their desire - or even their expectation - for a viable third party to emerge. However, our system is designed to marginalize all minor parties in ways that simply cannot be overcome (more on this in a future column). Some commentators who have recognized this fact have written that they still won’t vote for a major party; their consciences simply won’t allow them to vote at all. This sentiment might appear unseemly to those who are in the grips of the tribalist partisanship that infects our electorate each election season. However, utter disgust with our government is not at all a fringe sentiment in an America where only one person in ten approves of our congress.
Despite their disapproval, over half of eligible voters vote in presidential elections, and over 95% of them vote for one of the two major parties. This is not surprising when one considers the futility of doing anything else. Voting for a minor party has proven ineffectual, and while declining to vote may feel like a good way to declare the system illegitimate, in reality nothing is more disempowering than not voting. I think people will be excited for the opportunity to cast a vote that is both strategically sound and true to their principles. What could be more satisfying than telling off our corrupt political parties while amplifying our voices?
The Protest Party, with its appealing simplicity, intriguing versatility, and “Kingmaker” potential, is designed to capture the imaginations of the commentariat and to create a compelling storyline that the media will find profitable to cover (profitability being key for corporate media). What we as supporters of the Protest Party need to do this year is to ensure that, when an op-ed columnist inevitably sits down to research his anti-Partisan “This System is Broken” column, they will notice existence of The Protest Party idea, take a minute to consider it, and mention it in their column. The recent creation of this blog and website is a big step in that direction, but I will need a lot more grass-roots support to ensure that the Protest Party will not go unnoticed. I hope you’ll help.