Thursday, October 20, 2016

The elections of 2016 and 1852

The two very flawed presidential candidates presented as nominees in 2016 result from a divisive two-party system that is long overdue for tumultuous change.  That change is likely to occur over the next two or three presidential election cycles and may result in a major political party realignment such as occurred in the period 1852-1860.

The Democratic and Republican Parties have dominated the political process of the United States for over 160 years.  Two-party dominance over such a long period has resulted in a political system unresponsive to the needs, concerns, or desires of most citizens.  Despite the warnings of George Washington and others to avoid factions, the success of the Democratic and Republican Parties is now largely dependent upon the creation of factions and the exploitation of division.

The Democratic and Republican duopoly is not mandated by the Constitution.  These two parties can be replaced by two others – or three, or four.   If both do not wake up and begin to focus on solving the problems of citizens of the United States in a manner acceptable to a broad consensus majority - they deserve to be replaced.

The republic has seen changes in parties over its history.  We began with no parties.  As the new republic matured there became two dominant points of view.  One called for a strong federal government and the dominance of an elite class.  Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist Party held that view.  Thomas Jefferson’s anti-federalists or later Democratic-Republicans looked more to an agrarian economy, the wisdom of the common voter, and state (as opposed to federal) dominance.

This was the great divide from the start of our Republic until about 1820.   In the election of 1824 the candidates had no party affiliation.  No one candidate had achieved a majority of Electoral College votes.  For the first and only time the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution was invoked and the three leading electoral vote recipient’s names were provided to the House of Representatives to select the President.

After the election of 1824 there was a period of dominance by the Whig and Democratic parties until 1852.   The Whigs were essentially eliminated at that time and their members split between the Know Nothings and the early Republican Party.  In that election and in the election of 1856 the dominant parties ignored what had for decades been the divisive and dominant issue in the country – slavery.   Their failure to address the issue ultimately brought greater and greater division and tension. Their failure to act ultimately led to the Civil War in 1861.

The rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the presidential election of 2016 is a phenomenon that surprised both major political parties and the press.   Two unlikely outsiders at seemingly opposite ends of the political spectrum were ascendant and drew more enthusiasm by far than any of the other candidates.  Trump and Sanders tapped into public sentiment that rejects the economic and political status quo.  Populists, they garnered the support of a large portion of the electorate that is willing to look for answers far outside the political class of both parties.

The failure of the Democratic and Republican Parties to recognize this undercurrent of revolt is reminiscent of the period 1852-1856 when establishment elites, unable to see beyond their personal interests and ideological bents were unable or unwilling to resolve the dominant issue of concern to the population - slavery.  They were blind to the desire of the nation to deal with and conclude the issue.  The present discontent is not focused on single issue as grave as slavery, nor is the tumult likely to be as apocalyptic as the Civil War, but political and cultural conflict is going to increase significantly in the coming years.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the maturation of rumblings that began in the 1980s and 1990s from the likes of John Anderson, Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.  They are the beginning of the end stage of a period of unrest and turmoil that will not be settled by the election of 2016.  Regardless of who wins the election nearly half of the population will be disappointed because the Democratic and Republican Parties have successfully divided the electorate into factions.  Even the supporters of the winner will be discontent because the rancor will not end.  The Parties and the media cannot allow it to end.  It is their lifeblood.


  1. You nailed it Dan. Hopefully no Civil War but maybe some flash fire episodes to ignite the building powder keg.


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