The Un-united States of America

On Sept. 17, 1796, the United States’s first president gave his farewell speech. George Washington was greatly revered by the American public then and is still respected by many today as one of the country’s most honest and trustworthy leaders. As he resigned from the presidency, he left his people with words of warning. He spoke of the dangers of political parties and the detriment they would bring to the nation. Now, more than 200 years later, Washington’s concerns have largely come true.

As the stubborn people we are, we did not heed to the wise words of our first president and developed the very thing he sought to eliminate: political parties. Granted, at first they did not cause much trouble. In fact, the power they had was fairly limited, and third parties were easy to form. Teddy Roosevelt, another well-loved leader, formed his own party (the Progressives) in order to run for president. He even ended up winning the popular vote over the Republican nominee, William Howard Taft. It goes to show that third parties were once successful. Unfortunately, the past century has shown the true nature of parties.

Although many identify as “moderate” or “independent,” come voting day, “Republican” or “Democrat” are always the two expected to win, and they are often the only party names that even appear on a ballot. It doesn’t help that several states require voters to register with either party, preventing people from voting for candidates from multiple parties during primary elections (thankfully, Illinois doesn’t fall under this category). One can clearly see the reign of power that the two parties have; with no competition (save that of the other), blue and red are what paint the states after each election. In this day and age, the United States’s government has become a grossly exaggerated game of “King of Capitol Hill” between our two major parties.

Let’s look back to Washington’s speech. One quote in particular leaves me with an eerie feeling: “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” In modern English, what he’s saying is that parties will become so powerful to the point where those in power will have the ability to use the government to their advantage and do away with what allowed them to get there.

Everywhere I look, I see evidence that Washington’s concerns have come true. Several of the ideals of the Founding Fathers have long been thrown out: Like James Madison’s words against the development of factions or how our government is structured today like a direct democracy, not the republic that the Founding Fathers intended. But what is more troubling to me is the growing lack of use for the Constitution. Both parties are at fault with this. In this era, it’s agenda over Constitution. Exemplified through non-declarative war in Iraq and the attempts to stifle the Second Amendment, our parties seem to believe that they are above our Constitution.

And the problem isn’t only in the government itself; it’s all around us. Our devotion to our parties, not to our ideals, has caused a troubling divide in our nation. At school, church, work, and even within families, it is so hard to escape the often repulsive arguments that arise because of extreme party loyalty. It’s painful to watch such a wonderful country fall into the widening hole of divide, and it’s getting worse. The past 12-plus years have seen major growth in this problem. While it has existed long before then, in my lifetime,  the election of former president Barack Obama ignited this issue that is so prevalent today. The election of current President Trump sure hasn’t helped to mend this issue. But I can’t place blame on one person or group of people because the fault falls on all of us.

How do we as a society fix this? Honestly, I’m not sure. In fact, I don’t think anyone knows. The best we can hope for in this case is that both parties completely readjust their platforms and new ones are put in place. Maybe the country will adopt a third major party or a proportional system of government closer to that of the United Kingdom. I can’t say this will solve our problems, however.

But for now, I implore anyone reading this to be civil when discussing politics. Opinions matter; despite how much you may disagree with someone, a variety of ideas is beneficial for society. Let’s not forget that we are all part of this great country.