The realm of American politics is currently grappling with a confluence of challenges that have left it in a state of disarray. In the quest to improve American politicsand navigate this turbulent landscape, prominent scholars, commentators, and experts have offered their insights.
This article explores the observations and recommendations of a diverse group of voices in American politics. From Yuval Levin's reflections on coalition building to Geoffrey Kabaservice's analysis of the Republican Party's transformation, and from Sarah Longwell's commentary on the dynamics within the House of Representatives to Joanne Freeman's historical context, these perspectives shed light on the path to improve American politicsand achieve less dysfunction in the nation's governance.
The disarray engulfing the House of Representatives has been a cause for concern. Yuval Levin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, believes that this chaos, including the removal of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, reflects a culmination of trends that have repudiated coalition building in American politics.
Levin states, "The removal of a sitting speaker, Kevin McCarthy, was the culmination of several related trends that have amounted to a repudiation of coalition building in American politics." This seismic shift can be attributed to an era of partisan polarization and geographic sorting, where Americans increasingly reside in politically homogenous communities.
Levin argues, "The rules of our politics should be designed to counteract our worst vices, not to reinforce them," suggesting that reforms, particularly in the party primaries, are crucial to restoring a sense of unity and purpose to improve American politics.
Levin also highlights the prevalence of narrow majorities in American politics. He notes, "The average House majority since 1995 has been just over 30 seats," a stark departure from historical averages. Such narrow majorities, according to Levin, empower the fringes of American politics.
He points to Kevin McCarthy's removal, a result of power centralization in Congress and mounting pressure from members for legislative outcomes to strictly adhere to partisan goals. "The members who rebelled against him claimed to want regular order in the House, but they also insisted that legislative outcomes must conform to strict partisan goals."
This trend underscores the urgent need for reevaluating the role of Congress in a modern political landscape.
Levin draws attention to the shifting expectations of Congress. While traditionally seen as an arena for negotiation, today's polarized political culture often treats bipartisan deals as betrayals of principle. Levin observes that members of Congress are increasingly inclined towards "performative outrage" rather than constructive negotiation.
He asserts, "The most powerful electoral incentives nonetheless militate toward the more populist, performative view." This shift in focus not only weakens the coalition-building process but also destabilizes Congress, making it challenging to address critical issues effectively.
US Capitol Building with many people outside.
One potential avenue for reforming American politics lies in reevaluating the primary system. Norman Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, emphasizes the Republican Party's role in contributing to the current political chaos.
He traces the origins of the chaos back to the self-proclaimed "Young Guns" - Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy - who recruited tea party radicals in 2009, hoping to harness their anger for political gain.
However, this strategy backfired, leading to the co-optation of these radicals within the party. Ornstein observes, "Their expectation was that once these tea party radicals were in the House, they could co-opt them. Instead, of course, they were co-opted."
Yuval Levin suggests that reforming the primary system is essential to mitigating political polarization. While returning to the old system of party professionals selecting candidates may not be feasible, Levin proposes exploring alternatives within the primary system. He believes that implementing ranked-choice voting in primaries could be transformative.
This system would "compel politicians to feel accountable to a broader swath of voters," even in safer districts. Levin presents the case of the Virginia Republican Party's successful use of ranked-choice voting in 2021 and highlights that Republicans have strong reasons to consider such reforms.
Ranked-choice voting, Levin argues, is essential for congressional primaries, as the dysfunction in the national legislature affects various constitutional aspects. However, he acknowledges that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for American politics. Levin concludes, "There is no silver bullet for what ails our politics," emphasizing the importance of state-by-state experimentation with voting reform methods.
While risks are inherent in such experimentation, maintaining the status quo poses perils that are increasingly evident.
Seth Masket, a professor of political science at the University of Denver, delves into the populist takeover of the Republican Party. He identifies a key characteristic of populists: their inclination towards "payback."
Populists believe in punishing those who cross them, whether they are Democrats or fellow Republicans who they deem unfaithful. Masket notes, "People who cross them need to be taught a lesson," and this includes both Democrats and Republicans who fail to align with their ideology.
Former President Donald Trump has consistently demonstrated this penchant for payback. His rationale for encouraging House Republicans to impeach President Joe Biden is rooted in the belief that "they did it to us."
Masket suggests that a second Trump term would have been focused on settling scores and purging the executive branch of those deemed disloyal. This vengeful approach to politics is not limited to Trump but extends to other populists like Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Lilliana Mason, an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, identifies underlying processes contributing to political disarray. She highlights the rise of an extremist far-right movement within the Republican Party, which has encouraged anti-pluralistic sentiments and rabble-rousing.
Additionally, the gamification of politics has incentivized politicians to prioritize attracting attention through chaos and conflict, rather than focusing on governance and compromise.
Jennifer Victor, an associate professor of political science at George Mason University’s Schar School Policy and Government, delves into the structural issues plaguing American politics. She emphasizes that the erosion of democratic values within the Republican Party is a result of electoral and governing institutions ill-suited for modern American politics.
Victor underscores the need to restrain or quash recalcitrant factions within the Republican Party and advocates for improved systems of representation.
Victor argues that improved representation requires fundamental changes in how representatives are elected and how parties are organized. She highlights promising approaches such as enlarging the House, implementing multimember congressional districts, ballot reforms, and constraining election funding.
While these changes may require significant reforms and persistence, they are necessary to address the inherent inequalities and dysfunctions in American politics.
Joshua Zeitz, a contributing writer for Politico Magazine, posits that one of the most significant problems in American politics is the Republican Party itself. He contends that a functioning constitutional democracy requires at least two political parties willing to accept electoral outcomes and engage in negotiation. Zeitz states, "As was the case 160 years ago, the 'problem' in American politics is not American politics, per se. It is one party — its leaders, its base."
Zeitz points out the challenge posed by factions within the Republican Party that prioritize minority rule over cooperation. He notes that this faction seeks to hold the country hostage and disrupt government operations if their demands are not met. Furthermore, mainstream Republicans have often aligned with far-right elements, exacerbating the political divide.
Zeitz argues that until the Republican Party recommits itself to the principles of constitutional democracy or is replaced by a viable conservative alternative, American politics will remain broken. The road to less dysfunction in American politics requires a reevaluation of party dynamics, the promotion of compromise, and the recommitment to democratic principles.
Cornell William Brooks, former president of the NAACP and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, offers a unique perspective on the state of American politics. He contends that while the political system is broken, the culture of democracy remains robust. Brooks highlights the emergence of activism among young people, marked by an intersectional analysis, coalition building, and a sense of urgency, particularly regarding climate change.
Julia Azari, a professor of political science at Marquette University, challenges the notion that American politics is inherently broken. She argues that what is occurring in the House is recognizable, with three political parties maneuvering within a two-party system. Azari suggests that the dysfunction arises from the drive for minority rule and the failure of a bipartisan majority to support Kevin McCarthy's speakership.
Jeff Greenfield, a network television analyst and author, offers a perspective rooted in simplicity. He asserts that there is virtually no behavior or misconduct that carries a political cost within the Republican base. This behavior, which began with Donald Trump, continues to shape the Republican Party, with its base embracing anything and everything Trump represents.
Greenfield emphasizes that this lack of limits or standards has led to the emergence of far-right figures like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, immune to traditional consequences for their actions. The Republican Party's loyalty to Trump and its willingness to embrace radical elements create an environment where compromise and governance take a back seat to performative politics.
People holding signage marked "Make America One Again"
American politics grapples with a multitude of challenges, including intense partisan polarization, legislative deadlock, and a breakdown in constructive dialogue among elected officials.
Restoring coalition building in American politics involves revisiting the rules and systems that have contributed to polarization, reforming party primaries, and promoting compromise over ideological rigidity.
The primary system exacerbates political polarization by incentivizing candidates to cater to their party's base, discouraging compromise, and leading to the election of more ideologically extreme candidates.
Ranked-choice voting can promote accountability, encourage politicians to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters, and reduce the negative impact of safe districts, ultimately fostering a more functional political landscape.
Addressing the dysfunction in Congress requires structural reforms, such as revising the rules governing legislative procedures, reducing the influence of fringe factions, and rethinking the allocation of power within the institution.
Despite the challenges, there is hope for the future of American politics. Reforms, civic engagement, and a commitment to a more inclusive and accountable political system can pave the way for a brighter political future.
Extremist influence in American politics has contributed to the erosion of bipartisan cooperation, leading to gridlock, government shutdowns, and increased polarization.
Grassroots activism plays a pivotal role in holding elected officials accountable, advocating for policy reforms, and shaping the direction of American politics toward greater transparency and responsiveness.
In conclusion, American politics faces multifaceted challenges that require comprehensive solutions. From the need to revamp the primary system and address partisan polarization to the importance of ranked-choice voting and structural reforms, the path to improving American politics is marked by complex but necessary steps.
As scholars, commentators, and experts continue to dissect the issues, the ultimate goal remains the restoration of a functional and representative democracy that serves the interests of all Americans and helps improve American politics.