Parliament in U.S. could combat polarization


By Boswell Hutson

It goes without saying that last Tuesday’s elections defined a seismic change in American politics, at least for the next two years. The Republican party seemed reinvigorated after a presidential defeat in 2012 and powered its candidates to victories throughout America in states where Democratic senatorial candidates have previously seen consistent success, such as Louisiana and Colorado.

But Americans also went to the ballot box with some very liberal intentions, leading to the raising of the minimum wage in all five states where it was on the ballot and the legalization of marijuana in two others (and the District of Columbia).

Despite the country’s forward-leaning tendencies on ballot initiatives, the reinvigoration of the Republican party has left the country in a very perplexing political atmosphere. While this mixed ideology is part of what makes America unique, it isn’t optimal for passing laws.

As many who follow the news probably already know, last week’s election allowed Republicans to take control of the Senate, as well as retain a hold on a majority in the House of Representatives. This means that, once again, the United States has a divided government.

This isn’t anything new; a stark divide in the policies of both Democrats and Republicans has created deep political polarization across the country, perhaps indicative of Congress’ approval rating of 8 percent.

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After seeing these results, I couldn’t help but wonder what an American political climate would look like if this stark divide wasn’t present, or even more radically, wasn’t allowed. At first, this sounds outlandish because this is America, and freedom of choice, especially electoral choice, seems to define us.

But there are other options — a parliament, for example. Nearly all major powers throughout Western Europe (and the world) operate using parliamentary systems, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and many other developed nations.

In most parliamentary systems, citizens only vote for who they want to control the legislative branch of government, and, in more cases than not, a single party then controls the branch. The party that wins then fills the legislature with as many delegates as they proportionally received in votes.

In America, we vote for our leader directly, leading to the possibility of a president from one party and a legislature from another, as it currently does. In a parliament, the legislative party with the majority of the votes chooses a leader (usually a Prime Minister), and, thus, the possibility of gridlock is much lower. In this system, the party who receives a smaller portion of votes is still present in the government, just to a lesser, proportional degree.

In the United States, perhaps a parliamentary system could stop the political infighting that has plagued the last decade. Only one party would be in power at any given time, and, thus, policies would have a much easier time being pushed through Congress.

This, in turn, would lead to increased accountability on the part of political leaders because finger-pointing and accusatory rhetoric wouldn’t really be valid. In the event the majority party dissatisfies the public, a vote of no-confidence could be issued, and the ruling party could be changed relatively quickly. For this reason, most parties would probably avoid extremes so as to not receive votes of no-confidence.

Of course, the chances the United States would swiftly change electoral systems is ridiculous; it would never happen. I’m not advocating for a vast political revolution.

But I am saying that the infighting and political stalemate that grips the government in the United States could perhaps be reduced with a parliamentary electoral system in which countries are forced to have a leader and a legislature from the same party. Policies wouldn’t be mired in stagnation.

Maybe we wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of Republican and Democratic infighting causing another government shutdown, as it did in 2013, or countless other issues, as they have been for what seems like all of recent memory.

With a parliamentary system, we could hold leaders accountable for their policies because the party in power could no longer simply blame the opposing party if its policy isn’t adopted.

If parliament passed an extreme anti-abortion law, for example, opposition from more than 50 percent of the country could overturn the party in power, with hopes the next group of leaders would overturn the law.

This would lead to a more trial-and-error form of government. I’m sure errors would occur more frequently than triumphs, but at least we would get some sort of notion of what works and what doesn’t. Then maybe the cold grip of political polarization and apathy wouldn’t dominate the nation, as it did this past election day, and maybe, just maybe, Congress’s approval rating would soar into double digits.

Boswell is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].