By Marcus Johnson
We often hear that things take too long to change. That it is the fault of politicians in Washington who can never agree on anything, who don’t care about anything except reelection. We often overlook the true constraint: the political system itself.
Our political system is often misquoted as a “democracy”. We don’t live in a democracy. We live in a republic. If we lived in a democracy, we would each have an individual vote on every political issue. That is not the case. We elect officials to take care of the voting for us, and we have to hope that after we elect them that they have our true interests at heart. If we lived in a true democracy, change would be easy—a simple majority vote. But in our constrained republic, change is difficult, taking years, sometimes even decades, to truly take effect. For example, African Americans started the civil rights movement shortly after World War II, but it wasn’t until decades later when successful legislation was realized. But that was a different political era. So why does today’s political discourse still produce little actual change?
Politics today is highly individualized and highly polarized. It is also heavily funded by big businesses that hope to protect their interests through politics. So politicians are increasingly forced to rely on big business for funding and support instead of their own political party. This individuality leads to greater polarization, as political parties weaken and aren’t able to promote moderates and keep their members closer to the center. So we are left with a system where, today, politicians are forced to be more extreme and respond to corporate interests in order to be successful. These are the same corporations and individuals who are benefiting from the status quo and resisting change.
Besides the facts of today’s politics, there are also structural constraints to change, such as the separation of powers that our country prides itself on. With the competing power structures in government, it assures that major change is almost never easy or smooth. The President has to convince Congress to sign onto major legislation, and if it’s the other way around, the President has the power of veto. And still later, the Supreme Court has the power to declare legislation unconstitutional. Oftentimes, even the threat of these roadblocks can impede meaningful change.
So how can we create an atmosphere where political change is more readily available? First, a system other than the two party system, where ideas and power are consolidated, would be ideal. Next would be to eliminate a congressional roadblock, such as the filibuster, which kills many bills before they even begin to breathe. The expansion of presidential power since Franklin Roosevelt has helped to create a government where change is easier to access, but it can still be a painstakingly slow process.