Donald Trump’s mushy statement about his acceptance of the outcome of the Presidential election has many up in the air. Such a knee-jerk reaction–driven by a system which has been so successful for so long that people take it for granted–needs to be tempered by a reality check.
First: it’s not the first time the results of a Presidential election in the U.S. haven’t been accepted. Al Gore certainly did not, and the left never has accepted the results of the 2000 election. John Kerry turned his nose up at 2004. The left is fearful that Trump’s supporters will turn to armed insurrection, but problems like that are what the police and military are for, and you should have thought of that before weakening the military and trashing the police the way Barack Obama has. (Remember the admonition of Septimus Severus to his sons: stick together, pay the troops, forget about the rest…)
In any case, it never occurs to anyone that a nominating system that produces two major party nominees going into the final sprint with negative favourable poll numbers is in serious trouble. Part of the angst of this election is the unappetizing choice in front of us. But situations like this are opportunities to take a hard look at why we’re in this mess, and much of the answer to that question is the system we have to start with.
Since these are the days when people come out of the closet on a variety of things, let me do it on this subject: ever since I was a kid, I have never liked the presidential system we have, and always preferred a parliamentary one. This comes from reading subversive books, and in a country where moving a county line is the local equivalent of a military coup, that’s not an easy belief to hold.
Evangelical Christians (at least the ones who haven’t turned into BDS idiots) can look to Israel as an example of a parliamentary democracy. The president is a figurehead and every prime minister has to form a government from a coalition of parties to form a (hopefully) majority in the Knesset. That includes the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. We hear about the orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jewish parties; they get a seat at the table because they elect representatives to the Knesset and, through the wheeling and dealing the Middle East is famous for, get a place in the government.
In a multi-party parliamentary system, conservative Christians (assuming they could pull their act together, form a decent party, and get proportional representation) could pitch the GOP and negotiate on their own. And that’s true with many other groups as well. As it stands now, every four years we have to bet the store on a candidate who may not be the most satisfactory one to represent our interests. If we lose, we’re stuck with the results. People who criticise Christians who support Trump need to think about that; we’re facing the abyss with the other candidate.
And I’m not the only one who has pointed out the rigidity of this system. Matthew Yglesias of Vox did the same thing from a leftist viewpoint in his piece “American Democracy is Doomed:”
The idea that America’s constitutional system might be fundamentally flawed cuts deeply against the grain of our political culture. But the reality is that despite its durability, it has rarely functioned well by the standards of a modern democracy. The party system of the Gilded Age operated through systematic corruption. The less polarized era that followed was built on the systematic disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The newer system of more ideological politics has solved those problems and seems in many ways more attractive. But over the past 25 years, it’s set America on a course of paralysis and crisis — government shutdowns, impeachment, debt ceiling crises, and constitutional hardball. Voters, understandably, are increasingly dissatisfied with the results and confidence in American institutions has been generally low and falling. But rather than leading to change, the dissatisfaction has tended to yield wild electoral swings that exacerbate the sense of permanent crisis.
Voter fraud is certainly a possibility this time around. But the core problem of our system is that the system has delegitimised itself through its own rigidity. We can either fix this problem or hope that our thin blue and green lines will hold when things melt down. But crying about people who don’t automatically accept the results isn’t the answer; changing the system to produce better results is.