State state of the two party system is…

Not good.

Jay Rosen with an excellent post on what he sees as the biggest problems we’re facing these days and he starts out with a succinct, trenchant analysis of the threat to democracy posed by the current GOP:

1. We have a two-party system and one of the two is anti-democratic. 

The Republican Party tried to overturn the results of a free and fair election. When that failed it did not purge the insurrectionists and begin to reform itself; rather, it continued the attack by other means, such as state laws making it harder to vote, or a continuation of the big lie that Trump actually won

By “anti-democratic” I mean willing to destroy key institutions to prevail in the contest for power. This is true, not only of individual politicians, but of the party as a whole. As (Republican) and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson writes, “For the activist base of the Republican Party, affirming that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential contest has become a qualification for membership in good standing.” A qualification for membership. 

Journalists had adapted to the old system by developing a “both sides” model of news coverage. It locates the duties of a non-partisan press in the middle between roughly similar parties with competing philosophies. That mental model still undergirds almost all activity in political journalism. But it is falling apart. As I wrote five years ago, asymmetry between the major parties fries the circuits of the mainstream press. 

We are well beyond that point now. Now we live in a two-party world where one of the two is anti-democratic. Circuits fried, the press has to figure out what to do. I spend a majority of my puzzling time on that. 

2. The GOP is both counter-majoritarian and counter-factual. 

This is different way to come upon the problem stated in 1.) above. By “counter-majoritarian” I mean the Republicans see themselves as an embattled — and overwhelmingly white — minority who will lose any hope of holding power, and lose their status, unless extraordinary measures are taken to defeat a sprawling threat to their way of life. 

This threat comes from almost all major institutions, with the exception of church and military. It includes — they believe — an activist government opening the borders to immigrants, Black Lives Matter militants destroying property and intimidating police, a secretive deep state that undermines conservative candidacies, “woke” corporations practicing political correctness, big tech companies tilting the platform against them, a hostile education system with its alien-to-us universities, an entertainment culture at odds with traditional values, and the master villain in the scheme, the mainsteam media, holding it all together with its vastly unequal treatment of liberals and conservatives. 

These are dark forces that cannot be overcome by running good candidates, turning out voters, and winning the battle of ideas. Which, again, is what I mean by counter-majoritarian. Something stronger is required. Like the attack on the Capitol, January 6, 2021. 

Stronger measures include making stuff up about election fraud, about responsibilty for the attack on the Capitol, about the safety of vaccines— to name just three. A counter-majoritarian GOP thus implies and requires a counter-factual party discourse, committed to pushing conspiracy theories and other strategic falsehoods that portray the minority as justified in taking extreme measures. 

The conflict with journalism and its imperative of verification is structural, meaning: what holds the party together requires a permanent state of war with the press, because what holds the party together can never pass a simple fact check. This is a stage beyond working the refs and calling out liberal bias. 

Basic to what the Republican Party stands for is freedom from fact. For it to prevail, journalism must fail. There is nothing in the playbook — or in Playbook — about that. 

Not good, indeed.  To add insult to injury, Waldman writes, “Republicans think they won’t pay a price for assaulting democracy. Here’s why.”

Let’s not beat around the bush: The Republican Party has pretty much lost its mind. In the time since the 2020 election, rather than trying to make a new start after the disaster of the Trump years, it has become more radical and more extreme. Most important of all, it has emphatically and comprehensively rejected democracy itself.

Now here’s the scariest part: There’s almost no reason to believe that this will hurt the ability of Republicans to win elections and take back the power they’ve lost.

Polarization is the reason — but that dry political science term doesn’t properly convey the danger it contains.

If you’re like many Americans, you probably think there’s almost nothing your own party could do that would make you vote for the other party. But your conception of “what my party would do” is limited by what it has done, or even contemplated doing, in the past. When you imagine your party going “too far,” you probably think of it nominating a presidential candidate you don’t like or pursuing a misguided policy objective.

But that’s not what’s happening right now with the GOP. They are not just abandoning any commitment to democracy, they’re preparing an outright war on the American political system. And so far there’s little evidence that they’ll pay a price for it.

By preparing to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her leadership position specifically because she refuses to parrot the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, House Republicans have put that lie at the center of their party’s identity…

In today’s Republican Party, polarization doesn’t just mean there’s almost nothing the party could do that would cause its support to collapse. It means there is literally nothing it could do.

That’s not to say there aren’t some independents and even moderate Republicans who have abandoned the GOP, driven away by Trump and what he represents. In 2018, they helped Democrats take the House, and in 2020, they helped Joe Biden win the presidency.

But the GOP’s base remains sizable enough that they’re always in a position to win, even with those defections. And at the state level, they not only hold the bulk of the power, they’ve gerrymandered state legislative seats so ruthlessly that in some places it’s essentially impossible for Democrats to take control no matter how resoundingly they win the support of the electorate.

So show me the Republicans in Washington who will lose their seats for being too supportive of Trump and the “big lie” of the stolen election. Who are they? The combination of gerrymandering, geographical sorting and polarization means there are almost none. The party can get steadily more unhinged and more implacably opposed to democracy, with consequences for its electoral fortunes that are temporary at most.

All it would take to return them to complete power in Washington is an ordinary midterm election followed by an economic downturn in 2024, whereupon whichever cynical extremist they nominate for president could sneak into the White House.

We keep waiting for the moment when the country says, “Now you’ve gone too far, Republicans,” and sends them into oblivion. But the truth is, they see no reason to change the path they’re on. And they might be right.

If you don’t think democracy is under serious threat, you just aren’t paying attention.  Hopefully, more of the media at least, are recognizing just how damn serious this is.  

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to State state of the two party system is…

  1. sam b says:

    Hopefully, in addition to the media, more primary voters will become aware of this and insist that their candidates for us senate races give their position on the issue of overriding importance for addressing the threat to democracy which is the filibuster. I dont think any of our current candidates in nc have gone on record with their view on this. frustratingly, they have given their positions on shockingly few issues at all.

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