Current political system doesn't foster progress
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One of my Indian friends once told me that two things immediately come to his mind whenever he tries to follow American politics: confusion and inefficiency. I was quite taken aback by his candid remark. I thought, how could the political system of a world leader, a country that is synonymous to terms like democracy and development, be tagged with such words? His subsequent explanation was interesting.

The political system of US is, in-practice, a two-party system where Republicans and Democrats are the only two competitors in the political ring. Though both parties claim they are party of freedom and liberty; on one hand there are the Democrats who want the freedom to make choices at an individual level (e.g. abortion, LGBT) but want intervention at a government level (e.g. big government, union).  

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While on the other hand, we have the republicans that wants freedom in making choices at a government level (e.g. small government, no-tax) but no freedom at individual level (e.g. anti-abortion). On inefficiency, he pointed out that the per-capita spending of candidates on a typical presidential election, in terms of time and money, are far more than any of the executive election of any developed country.

A couple of years after that memorable conversation, I shifted to the U.S. for my academic research. I then began to witness a number of incidents that allowed me to better comprehend and find reasoning behind this seemingly confusing state mentioned by my Indian friend.

Both the republican and democratic parties have a very long, meaningful and proud history. Although history can serve as an important reference for future strategy, one must not forget that it is a mere record of events and thoughts that were the outcomes of certain conditions prevailed at that point in time. By no means should history be taken as a guiding principle or a cookbook of the future for a society or a nation. For a political system to remain relevant, it must adapt to underlying dynamics of the changing times.  

One important dynamic that has been taking place is the shifting of economic activities from agriculture sector to service sector. This phenomenon has been accompanied by the spatial shift in the exodus of rural youth to urban dwellings, triggering massive urbanization and demographical shift.

This is happening not only at spatial but also at a temporal level. Rural agriculture sector employees are now aging, whereas big groups of young generation is now heavily associated with the service sector.

Rural setup is closely knitted with a traditional top down information flow, having comparatively low level of digital technology penetration. Therefore, emerging issues are handled with a more conventional approach either with rejections or with slow adaptation. This leads to people at the rural set up disliking government interference and being more favorable of following social norms and traditions. Whereas in urban setup information flows from every direction.

City dwellers are exposed to not only co-habitats that have moved in from different parts of the country but are even challenged by different global cultures everyday. Therefore, they are more open to emerging and sometimes conflicting issues and challenges. Urban areas are also unbounded from traditional thinking and societal norms, as young population prefers having the freedom to make individual choices.

However, the competitiveness nature of an urban setup does not guarantee success. Having to often face failure, urbanites often like to have a safety net and don’t mind having the social security provided by the government. Although, this may not be the case for those who have managed to prosper, as they often tend to negate government interventions. Thus, explaining the confusion portion mentioned by my Indian friend on the U.S. political system.

Another source of confusion and inefficiency of U.S. politics could be attributed to the aggregation of issues, a side effect of the political setup of the society. For example, a farmer standing in a field might have concerns about changing seasons and rain pattern and worry about climate change, but he will decline to express his perspective, as it does not follow the conventional views of his political party, which he agrees with on other issues such as governance, federal debt, gay rights, immigration, education, religion, etc.

The party may resonate with majority of his beliefs/issues, or simply a few of those that seem more crucial than the climate change issue, and thus the farmer supports the party even though he may have a different view about climate change. Hence, a person is voiceless, which has become the tragedy of the current U.S. political system.

Climate change is just one example. Such aggregations are affecting a number of other issues, particularly the emerging ones. This situation illustrates that the political system has to evolve to a new level that does not rely on a party of politicians but directly embraces each and every citizen in decision making. Business decisions are now being made based on the needs of an individual customer with the help of technology, particularly IT.

Digital revolution has already given a voice to each and every citizen instantly. It is now time to harness digital progress to revolutionize the political process based on “Issues based Decision Makings” rather than the current situation that relies on selecting representatives of political parties with the hope that these representatives will make sensible decisions for the voters. A new political system has to be emerge. Many of the current institutions need to be demolished and new ones need to be created. It is a long process that cannot occur overnight but it is time to initiate the process in order to explore the options.

Competition is the underlying driving force of progress. The current political system of the U.S., which is based on in-practice two parties, is neither competitive and nor efficient enough. If the U.S. political system is not competitive enough for progress, its global leadership role will not only be challenged but could also be sidelined. History has shown that civilizations and systems in zenith were surpassed by other competitors and decayed when they could not deal with emerging issues. This is a big stake not only for the U.S. but for the whole world as U.S. is the ultimate symbol of progress and freedom for the human society.

Mukesh Dev Bhattarai, Ph.D researcher at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.