Many citizens say they are tired of the extreme left and extreme right of political parties driving the national agenda. The American people often express a desire for a third party or at least viable alternatives to the current two-party system. Voters regularly give voice to the hope that somehow partisan gridlock in Washington will end. Fixing our badly broken and perpetually problematic political process is easy. The hard part of actually bringing about such a transformation to our nation’s politics however, will require Americans to let go of the ultimate fear — the fear of losing power.
Analyst and author Jeff Greenfield took on this topic in the context of the once promising presidential prospects of former Starbucks executive Howard Schultz. Greenfield posited, “Americans say we want a nonpartisan leader. But in times like this, we love to fight even more.”
Greenfield suggests that the more divided the country appears to be, the less likely the American people are to actually pursue another way. He said, “For those looking beyond two parties, groups like ‘No Labels’ note that Americans seem to yearn for an alternative. Gallup reported last October that 57 percent of Americans would welcome a third party. That’s roughly the same level of support as it was almost two decades ago, at the start of the century.”
In other words, nothing has changed because when the country is divided the fear of losing power becomes too great. During the 2016 presidential election, this fear was on full display. While neither candidate Hillary Clinton nor candidate Donald Trump achieved passionate support from the center left or center right of their parties or the country, the common justification for voting was “fear of the other side.”
I often heard those who had determined to vote for Trump express that they didn’t like anything about him but, the fear of Clinton as president appointing a Supreme Court Justice loomed so large that they justified pulling the lever for Trump. Conversely, many Democrats expressed exhaustion and exasperation from the Clinton-cronies political machine, and felt the former Secretary of State had not been honest but the fear of a Trump presidency led them to vote for the lesser of two evils.
As citizens we also have to ask, “What are we afraid of?” We complain and criticize our elected officials for their timid, fearful approach and yet we never hold any of them accountable. Incumbents are reelected at a rate of about 94 percent each cycle. Are we voters afraid to hold them accountable for fear we might lose power or influence in Washington?
To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, "Of all the liars in the world, the worst are your own fears."
The test for the American people is to quit believing the lies of fear.
Again, according to Gallup, over half of both Democrats and Republicans wish their party were more moderate. Yet the “party purity tests” persist while the loud and strident voices from both ends of the spectrum drive the news cycle and shape the national narrative.
As Greenfield noted, “In this context, ‘centrism’ is less a coherent political argument than it is a wistful hope, more aspirational than concrete. Americans say they want something and someone to cut through the political morass in the same way that Americans say they want more in-depth news and documentaries on TV, and more green, leafy vegetables on their plates.” Will anyone show the kind of courage required to change the conversation?
None of this is to say that a third party or even multiple parties would instantly change the rancor and rhetoric currently found in America’s politics. It is worth questioning what we as citizens have, in fear, become all too willing to accept in our current political power structure. Both parties have regularly and repeatedly raised the fear-mongering-moniker that, while we may not like a particular candidate or elected official, casting a vote for anyone else ensures the “evil other party” will take power.
Trump just launched his reelection campaign with a fiery and highly fear-focused rally in Florida. The 23 Democratic candidates seeking the nomination have regularly regaled the fearful theme that the country just can’t survive four more years of Trump. These highly partisan political approaches will not put the nation on a path toward better days.28 comments on this story
Robert F. Kennedy said, “Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it.” It doesn’t appear that there are very many currently on the path. As citizens we should get on it and blaze a trail for politicians and elected officials to follow.
We must challenge our political leaders to demonstrate behavior that lives up to what they profess to believe. As Marilyn Ferguson put it, “Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom.” Our true commitment to freedom will be revealed not by what we declare in fear, but by what we bravely do in spite of fear.