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Amash and the threat to the Two Party System

July 8, 2019

On July 4, 3rd Congressional Representative Justin Amash announced that he was leaving the Republican Party. This announcement has received a great deal of local and national media attention.

Much of the coverage about Amash’s decision to leave the Republican Party refers to his opinion piece from the Washington Post, but most of the coverage is speculative and doesn’t raise larger questions about the two-party political system that dominates US electoral politics.

WZZM 13 ran an interview with Amash on July 5th, an interview that did step outside the normal partisan boundaries, an interview that is worth watching. 

In this interview, Amash talks about his decision to leave the Republican Party, his response to the Trump administration and partisan politics. Party politics was one of the questions he responded to, by saying:

What frightens me is people turn into zombies. They go to Washington and they will be telling me stuff privately that is very different from what they say publicly. And I believe you have both parties now falling in line with their respective leadership teams almost 100 percent of the time because they are scared of their leadership teams and they scared of what will happen back home with their primaries and from people at town halls or social media. And that is a very dangerous place for our country to be in. I don’t think we want a system where people just follow one person, follow the leader of their party on everything.

In some ways I agree with this statement from Amash, since the goal of both the Republicans and the Democrats is to have power, not to do what the public really wants them to do.

However, after having written numerous articles about Rep. Amash over the years, I haven’t seen much indication that he operates outside of the systems of power that control electoral politics.

For instance, we all know that from the beginning of when he first ran for the 3rd Congressional seat, Amash has relied a great deal on the financing of the DeVos family and other sectors of financial power, such as Club for Growth. All one has to do is to look at OpenSecrets.org and you can see where his campaign money has come from since 2009.

If one looked at Amash’s voting record, one can see that he doesn’t always vote with the GOP.  This is partly because Amash prides himself on being a libertarian and a constitutionalist, but it also has to do with the fact that the 3rd Congressional seat has been a fairly safe seat for Republicans for several decades.

In the interview with Amash, he doesn’t really challenge the two-party system, rather he says that people just need to be more engaged and more educated about the political process. In the end, Amash believes that representative democracy works and that is what he wants to demonstrate as a political independent.

These sentiments by Amash are, in my opinion, naive, since they don’t take into account just how corrupt the political system is. Here is a short assessment of democracy in the US from the late historian Howard Zinn.

This brief assessment from Howard Zinn, is explored in great detail by the political scholar Sheldon Wolin, in his book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Wolin states:

The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed. This has come about, not through a Leader’s imposing his will or the state’s forcibly eliminating opposition, but through certain developments, notably in the economy, that promoted integration, rationalization, concentrated wealth, and a faith that virtually any problem – from health care to political crisis, even faith itself – could be managed, that it, subjected to control, predictability, and cost-effectiveness in the delivery of a product.

Wolin goes on to talk about the function of elections within this managed democracy, saying:

If the main purpose of elections is to serve up pliant legislators for lobbyists to shape, such a system deserves to be called “misrepresentative or clientry government.” It is, at one and the same time, a powerful contributing factor to the depoliticization of the citizenry, as well as reason for characterizing the system as one of antidemocracy.

One addition observation from Wolin, is worth citing.

Unlike the Nazis, who may accurately be described as control freaks obsessed by the need to rule everything, American rulers prefer to manage the population as would a corporate CEO, manipulatively, alternately soothing and dismissive, relying on the powerful resources of mass communications and the techniques of the advertising and public opinion industries.

The last point by Wolin, echoes the analysis of Alex Carey, author of the book, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty. Carey  makes the following observation about the 20th Century:

The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

Carey’s point is spot on, as it relates to the United States, even before Citizens United. It is important to recognize that powerful class interests have always dictated the US political system, whether it was the capitalist class directly running for office or having proxies (candidates) run for office in order to represent their interests.

If Amash thinks that by simply leaving the GOP that he will now have a greater opportunity to change the political system, then he is delusional. Granted, the US political system needs to be radically altered. In fact, one could argue that what needs to change is an entirely new system of governance, one that is based upon self-governance and direct democracy.

As long as we submit to being governed, especially by representatives, the state will shift back and forth as needed between majority rule and tyranny – two expressions of the same basic principle.

We need to develop better forms of governance, forms that are rooted in cooperation, autonomy and radical self-determination. Developing such radical forms of direct democracy are urgently needed. In a globalized world, democracy is simply the operating system of the gated community promising equality and self-determination while legitimizing repression and xenophobia.

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