With the arguably most contentious and least popular presidential election in recent memory just around the corner I have decided to celebrate Halloween the spookiest way I know how, looking into the severe systemic brokenness of our American political system.
Now before I begin I need to say that a few things.
First off, this is not an article that is going to take any sides. There is more than enough blame to go around here on all sides, including sides that no longer exist. We are not talking about acts of corruption, graft, pandering or any of the other accusations that all parties like to throw against their rivals as though that were not simply business as usual in the halls of power. We’re going to be talking about the flaws that are built right into the system, the inefficiencies that sit right out in the open and we accept because that’s how things are done. They don’t have to be. We’ll get to that.
Second, this is probably going to be a long one. When I started looking at things to include in this article I kept finding more things to get mad about. Who would have guessed? So, expect at least a three, maybe a four parter out of this. I’m not going to commit to one or the other since part one will be posted before I write part two and, who knows, I may get on a roll.
Third, I’m going to be talking a lot about the election cycle and the Electoral College. I will be explaining some things as I go along but it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on some of the more esoteric aspects of the process. To that end I have to recommend the videos of CGP Grey on YouTube, particularly these;
Be wary though, Grey’s videos are like information potato chips. Between three and ten minutes long there always seems to be enough time for, “just one more”. I have lost hours on that channel, but at least now I know how the Vatican governs itself. I didn’t know I wanted to know that but now I can’t believe that I was satisfied not knowing.
OK, now with the preamble out of the way let’s get into the meat of it.
Why is the electoral system broken?
Note, I didn’t say, “how”, but “why”. We’ll get to how. The why is actually very simple and it will bookend the issue nicely when I come back around to discuss what can be done to fix the system later. The why is the same why that comes up over and over again whenever I visit a company and look to streamline their systems, vestiges of older systems. In this case however the vestiges are the entire core of the system and they are 229 years old.
When the Founding Fathers first laid out the blue print for what would become the United States times were different in ways that are barely conceivable to those of us living today. Back then information traveled, at best, at the speed of horse, of possibly boat if your town was boat accessible. Today, I was able to look up when the Electoral College was founded on my phone, with my off hand, while making my coffee with cashew milk. I would have died in seconds in 1787. But that simple fact created an informationally dispersed population. News could take as long as three days to travel from Boston to Philadelphia, longer in unfavorable conditions, and the only thing spreading at viral speed in that area was yellow fever.
Yet even then America was a massive emerging country with over a million Square km and 2.4 million people. Also, up until that point, while Democracy as a concept had been practiced in various forms (from possible proto-democracy in Mesopotamia and India up through Classical Greek Democracy and into various semi-Democracies like the Irish Tuatha, the Icelandic Althing and the Ibadite Muslims) it had only been successful in very small scale areas. With those hurdles before them, and still wanting to create a country ruled by the will of the people, the Founding Fathers in their brilliance created Representative Democracy and the Electoral College. At the time it was the perfect compromise between idealism and realism.
Today it is the source of nearly all the BS the floating around the election cycle.
And it doesn’t have to be that way. The greatest thing the founding fathers ever did, wasn’t representative democracy, it wasn’t the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, it wasn’t even conceiving of America itself. It was recognizing that times change and writing into the very fabric of our society that the Constitution is a living document. Constitutionalists can argue all they want what the Founders would think of today and how we have deviated from what they wrote, but it doesn’t matter. They gave us the tools to chart our own course. To change with the time, and we have, 27 times. OK, 26 times, the 27th amendment sat in purgatory for over 200 years, that’s not exactly changing with the times.
Yet, with these tools we cling to these old and clearly inefficient system. Why? Is it tradition, clinging to the past out of worship for such forward thinking visionaries? That would be weirdly disrespectful. The truth is actually probably more basic then that. Systems exist to propagate themselves. That’s not an official definition, of course, but time and time again we see that dynamic systems change only as much as is needed to ensure that they can continue to exist, even life itself is a system driven by the mechanism of genetic material propagating itself through generations, evolving in tiny increments over vast periods to keep the instructions for the system moving forward.
Social power systems are even worse for this. They tend to be set up such that any significant changes must be initiated from the top down. In other words, the system can only be changed by someone who has been rewarded by the system existing as it already is. And that is why large scale changes never seem to come. You can fiddle around with window dressing all you want but the core will always hold.
Unless we, the people, finally make it clear exactly how fed up we are of this shit.
Well, that went longer than I expected, and that’s just the why. Next time we’ll look at the how all this is wasting your time and money, and after that what can be done about it. You see this isn’t just about impotent rage. There is hope. Just remember when you go to vote. The hope isn’t with them. It’s with us. They’re just the help and sometimes they need to be reminded.
See you all soon.