The electoral process in the United States is dominated by money, power, and mainstream media boundaries on ‘responsible’ discourse. This domination is expressed in different ways. The influence of large donors is felt in shaping party platforms and the positions of candidates, perhaps most obviously in securing pledges from candidates of unconditional support for Israel, and by refraining from any fundamental criticism of the military budget or the workings of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. Both political parties are subject to the priorities, interests, and beliefs of political and economic elites that often ignore the wishes of the citizenry as expressed through public opinion polls. Mainstream media, and its editorial pages and TV anchors, generally reflect and respect this bipartisan consensus that has set boundaries on political discourse that are rarely violated, and create a media bias supportive of things as they are, especially with respect to fundamental issues.
These tendencies are most pronounced and evident in relation to foreign policy where progressive critics are rarely access so as to participate in public debates. Media and Congressional views are shaped by a consensus that is managed by ‘deep state’ forces inhabiting the U.S. bureaucracies in the intelligence, defense, and diplomatic sectors, and reflect deference to money, power, and media. The working of this anti-democratic, choiceless political process is evident in recent treatments of Iran and China, and to a lesser extent, Venezuela and Turkey. There is no consideration of policy alternatives that would lead to greater peace, justice, and respect for different governing styles and development approaches. This foreclosure of alternative ways of relating to the world are recently most evident in the U.S. approach to Iran and China. Relations with Iran are unnecessarily provocative, and might moderate somewhat if Biden defeats Trump, but not fundamentally. With China, a slide toward geopolitical confrontation is favored by both political parties as reflected in the presidential campaigns, and might be more aggressively pursued if Biden wins, assuming that Trump does not effectively obstruct the transfer of political power.
A second cold war would be costly for humanity and disastrous for the United States, at a time when national policies, resources, and diplomatic efforts should be seeking global cooperation, global solutions to global problems, and attend to serious deficiencies in domestic infrastructure. The COVID crisis highlighted the shortcomings of national antagonisms in the face of a global health challenge that could have been greatly mitigated by a more cooperative international approach based on the recognition that ‘we are all in this together.’
Given the 50 separate federalist units that constitute the United States, there was an understandable concern during its entire history about political fragmentation, which led to making it burdensome procedurally and economically to organize political parties. The two-party framework is further reinforced by the media tendency to exclude third party voices and positions such as the Green Party from national debates. Also, even legislative participation is almost impossible as the minority party candidate must win by a majority in any electoral district unlike other countries where a 5% or 10% of the vote qualifies the party for representation, and greater diversity in the annals of government, but in some circumstances great confusion. Perhaps, most important of all, is the widely felt sense that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote as the only meaningful candidacy is that of one of the two dominant parties.
In recent decades, the bipartisan consensus is served well by keeping minor parties at the outer margins of policy debate. It makes the consensus appear to be the only reasonable political option. This is misleading and discourages citizen participation by those who dissent. In reality, there is more questioning of American priorities with respect both to global militarism and predatory capitalism than is apparent, but such questioning only gets broader attention at some progressive online publications and websites. It will take a movement rather than electoral outcomes to challenge these structural characteristics of the American political system, which must culminate in the revamping of both political parties and the shattering of the bipartisan consensus, whose origins are rooted in the World II struggle against fascism and the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union. The consensus lingers in the 21st century after the Soviet collapse, taking the form of launching ‘the war on terror,’ responding to ‘the clash of civilizations,’ and now supporting the prospect of a new cold war or a regime-changing approach to Iran.