In this week's episode of You Don't Have to Yell, Lee Drutman - Senior Fellow at New America and host of the podcast Politics in Question, discusses his new book, Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy In America (Amazon). In his book, Drutman outlines the history behind America's devolvement into partisan trench warfare, the consequences of it, and shows what examples we can pull from history to find our way out.

You can listen to the full episode below, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or whatever other kooky platform you get your podcasts on.


Show notes

There was a time, believe it or not, where the biggest complaint about America's two major parties was that they were virtually indistinguishable from each other. In the 1950s, the Republican and Democratic Parties were composed of ideologically and geographically diverse individuals who won elections largely on their local brands, running on largely local issues (see YDHTY, Episode 6: "Why Does the US have a Two-Party System" for greater context).

While, at the time, Americans lamented the homogeneity of politics, their representatives in Congress also managed to produce far more landmark legislation with far fewer (read: zero) Supreme Court challenges than we see today.

Around the time of the Civil Rights Era, the parties began to realign into two ideologically distinct, geographically separate factions - with Republicans representing largely white, Christian voters in rural areas and exurbs, and Democrats representing more culturally diverse, socially liberal voters in America's urban enclaves. 

The result, as Drutman describes it, is the "Doom Loop", where two political factions of roughly equal size seek total control over the other, compromise is punished by both the national party and the base, and any victory from the opposing party is considered a threat to the nation itself. Given the outcomes of this cycle are either one party rule or civil war, the real threat this nation faces is allowing it to continue.

Drutman pulls historical examples from both America and overseas to show how similar political crises have been successfully resolved to make government more responsive and functional, helping readers map a way out of the current situation. His chief recommendation is moving to a system of proportional representation, where representatives in Congress are allocated in proportion to the popular vote, as opposed to the current system where the person who wins one more vote than second place takes all.

Such an initiative could be written off as too large, however history shows that significant reform can happen when elected officials are presented with consistent public pressure and with an understanding as to how a given reform is a more attractive alternative than the status quo.

Current predictions for the status quo include a delegitimized presidential election which could be decided by a delegitimized Supreme Court, so a less attractive alternative seems highly unlikely. All that remains is for us, as voters, to do our part.