randombio.com | commentary
Friday, March 4, 2016
Antidisestablishmentarianism in the Republic of BananistanWhat would be needed to fix our electoral system?
rump supporters hate the establishment, which makes them disestablishmentarians. Their opponents have a policy of antidisestablishmentarianism.
That insight is of no consequence whatsoever, and I only mention it because this may be my only chance to use that word. Now I'm just hoping to hear a report about my favorite disease: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilocovolcanoconiosis. Is it, may I ask, covered under Obamacare?
Anyway, with the quadrennial Scylla and Charybdis season coming up, we're once again asking how we can stop our gradual slide to a banana republic. Many pundits, from Mark Steyn to Francis Fukuyama, have speculated about how nice it would be if we had a parliamentary system instead of our two-party electoral system. I discussed the advantages myself here and here. Instead of libertarians, conservatives, socialists and Raëlians all being disenfranchised, in a parliamentary system we could let a hundred parties bloom.
The advantages are obvious: if one party becomes moribund, or if a candidate is under criminal investigation by the FBI for mishandling state secrets (mind you, I'm not mentioning any names here) another party would seamlessly take its place. It eliminates the risk of the two decades in the wilderness that faces a party when the voters decide their candidates would all look better in orange jumpsuits.
The risk is all the more acute when one party is taken over by statist centrists like Donald Trump, who is more like G.W. Bush than most of his fans like to admit. Another party has no ideas at all, unless you count Madeline Albright's theological pronouncement that being a female counts as a platform.
The term banana republic, of course, refers to a country's exports. But we use it as a shorthand for a country run by corrupt statist personalized dynasties. There need not be any bananas in the Republic of Bananistan (which suggests a really cool tune for a new national anthem). If Hillary gets away with revealing state secrets because of her privileged position in the government, that would move us a step closer.
In such a place, people become apathetic and fatalistic. When they vote, they tend to vote for a strongman, hoping he'll clean it up by brute force. What he does instead is turn into a tyrant. If the country's lucky the military stages a coup.
In a banana republic, many secretly hope to be invaded by the United States of America. There is only one country where that is impossible, and you could say that puts us at a distinct disadvantage.
No political system can guarantee the absence of corruption. But our system is unique among democratic republics in that we can get stuck with a leader whose views are abhorrent to 49.9% of the electorate. The only recourse is for that 49.9% to stuff Congress with members of the opposition. This is a formula for gridlock.
A parliamentary system is more flexible and more moderate. Under a parliamentary system the government is built from a coalition formed in proportion to their popular support. Evolution is built in; if one party becomes too extreme or inept it goes extinct (unless, of course, the voters want extremism, gridlock, or ineptitude).
What is the minimum change in the Constitution it would take to get us out of Gridlocktopia? At first glance it appears that it might require the complete collapse of governmental legitimacy. Although this might be the course before us, it would probably be too chaotic for most people's taste.
Maybe we could use the primary system as a sort of virtual parliamentary system, with, say, people voting for GOPA, GOPB, GOPC, or GOPD. The winner would be required to form a coalition cabinet with the winner of DemocratA, DemocratB, or DemocratC in proportion to the number of votes in the seven parties. This would elevate the primary elections to be the way we formally pick our leaders and their government.
A constitutional amendment would be needed for that to be official, and that's our dilemma: if we can't trust the voters to pick a good candidate, how can we trust them to mess around with the Constitution? But we could achieve the same effect by making it a new tradition. The advantage is that we could see if something works before making it a law. That would make a nice change.
1. Note added (Mar 20, 2016): I'm not saying gridlock is necessarily bad, just that it's a formula for it.
2. Although I still think my original idea of throwing all the politicians into a volcano is worth at least a try.