There is near unanimity amongst Americans that its two-century old political system is badly broken. Partisan gridlock is paralyzing the federal government, while the rest of the world is moving forward on a broad front of issues which increasingly put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. Public outrage is falling squarely on the growing political polarization between the Democratic and Republican parties, as the ranks of independent and third-party affiliations are swelling. Even though the public’s blame is asymmetrical (aimed more towards the GOP’s Tea Party wing), the real culprit may be America’s de facto two-party system that evolved into being through circumstance rather than design.
The dysfunction in Washington, D.C. is so prevalent now that it’s difficult to point to any major legislative act since 2008 that passed without a bitter partisan confrontation. Currently, efforts to craft a reasonable gun control bill are being effectively torpedoed by the Gun Lobby despite strong public support that arose in the wake of the Newtown shootings. The American people – left, right, and center – overwhelmingly believe politicians are not representing the best interests of the nation. Such populist discontent is unsustainable. If it is allowed to continue, the replacement of democracy in the U.S. with an illusory form of autocracy is a forgone conclusion. The allure of pragmatic efficiency will be impossible to resist.
While some contend this erosion of American democracy is deliberate, there’s little doubt it is occurring. If the United States were to discard one of the greatest gifts ever given to human civilization, courtesy of its Founding Fathers and The Enlightenment, it would be committing an historic travesty of justice.
Various measures to avert this outcome are already underway which mostly focus on getting the corrupting influence of money out of our political system. However, other avenues should also be considered to provide as many viable alternatives as possible.
The logical alternative to America’s troubled two-party structure is transitioning to a parliamentary system. Although no form of democracy – or government for that matter – is perfect, parliamentary systems have distinct advantages that could alleviate the nation’s political morass:
Parliamentary systems are the most prevalent application of democracy, and therefore, are the most proven.
Parliamentary systems are generally more stable and less prone to corruption.
It is quicker and easier to pass legislation in parliamentary systems.
Parliamentary systems are not tied to, or are burdened by, regular election cycles.
Parliamentary systems distribute power more evenly.
Parliamentary systems are better suited to demographic and ideological diversity.
It is this last point which is really applicable to the U.S. While America has always had periods of extreme ideological divergence, it has never had as much cultural diversity as it does now. The nation is rapidly evolving from its White Protestant majority roots into an eclectic mix of ethnicities and spiritualities. The mechanisms of government must allow these varying groups legitimate representation, else it risks ignoring Abraham Lincoln’s warning that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” America’s two-party system fundamentally depends upon a level of compromise between Democrats and Republicans for it to work, but unfortunately, that kind of cooperation is now gone.
A parliamentary system in America would allow the viability of multiple parties each having closer philosophical ties to its respective constituents. The right-wing Tea Party, left-wing progressives, and independent centrists, for example, could establish their own political representation and break free of the patronizing shackles which bind them. Governing would be achieved through working coalitions rather than through involuntary compromise. And to those two-party stalwarts who insist upon a president in place of a prime minister, South Africa is a constitutional parliamentary republic headed by an executive president.
 See: Schmidt, Steffen W., Shelley, Mack C., Bardes, Barbara A (2008). “American Government and Politics Today 2008-2009”. Wadsworth Publishing Company. Retrieved 2010-11-22. And: MICHIKO KAKUTANI (book reviewer) American Creation (book by Joseph J. Ellis) (November 27, 2007). “The Timing, Luck and Lust Behind the Forming of That More Perfect Union”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-07. “… the standoff between the Federalists and their opponents, which led to the modern two-party system;”