Team America: The Case for a Four Party System and ‘Gerrymandering Centrism’

I was delighted to hear Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declare loud and clear that the US is building a “New Liberal World Order“. This is an important diplomatic step that America should take in order to reinforce the post-WW2 peace and in order to counter authoritarian interests. However, as previously blogged here, our domestic American culture is increasingly polarized by conspiratorial elements who are traceable to the influence operations of Russia and other authoritarian cultures. As a result, post-Soviet US politics has become increasingly divided along extremist lines, and American bipartisanship and ‘liberalism’ (in a “John Locke” sense) has all but disappeared.

Until we address our political mess at home and forthrightly take on some tough questions about how to curtail such influence without damaging constitutional protections for free speech,  I don’t see how this theoretically noble and necessary effort to re-entrench liberal power abroad can be credible or successful. Politically and mathematically, it seems to me that one of the best ways to ‘hack back’ against Russian political influence and force rational bipartisanship (without resorting to some kind of centrist authoritarianism in a three party system) would be to abandon the two party system in favor of a four party system which leads to the forced ‘gerrymandering of centrism’. (Maybe this is why the UK has gone this route.)

At the same time as polarizing conspiracism attributable to foreign authoritarian influence in America has increased, politics has become increasingly partisan, uncivil, and divisive. (image via Plos One)

Not that this hasn’t been tried before, and is not without its weaknesses. Nor am I the first to suggest this or that it might be beneficial for the US. However, I think it could be an important concept for restoring some normalcy to American politics if such a transition was well managed. It could have many synergies in destroying conspiracy thinking; or at least reducing its political impact. I am not going to lay out a manifesto here so much as a brief graphical sketch and common sense reasoning why it makes sense. It should be clear to anyone with half a brain that our (American) politics is agonizing, polarizing, and driven by a zero-sum win-lose mentality today.

Theoretically a four party system could:

  1. Allow for a Left + Right coalition in the center; but also not prevent Left vs. Right traditional competition. In a sense it allows for more variance in outcomes but prevents the risk of an unpopular central establishment ‘authoritarian’ party as might happen in a three party system. It will lead to more outcomes through necessity and result in less gridlock.
  2. Promote cooperation. For example, remove ‘nuclear option’ from judicial confirmation process in Senate by allowing easier route to 2/3 voting when a coalition is formed. Again, forcing bipartisanship to achieve any outcome may obviate the logic of a win-at-all-costs political mentality which divides America currently. The outcomes of political decisions will necessarily be more representative of more diverse groups by necessitating cooperation. This may lead to greater public satisfaction with the political process.
  3. Prevent extremists from either the left or right from achieving any political victory without the support of one or both center parties. In a three party system, it would be more likely that extremists cooperate to attack the center. But in a four party system, the gulf between left and right extremists would be increased and extremist party numbers could ideally be such that if they cooperate they will have less voting power than any centrist coalition.
  4. Ideally represent the ‘silent majority’ of non-extremists better than extreme-driven, win/lose, zero sum, game, etc. politics of today. Rationally, centrism (and liberalism) will win most of the time since the centrists will know they are guaranteed to win as long as they align with the other centrist party. It will not restrict other outcomes.

Challenges (to list a few obvious ones):

  1. The development of an issue creating lasting animosity between the center parties, essentially causing a reversion to today’s standard of uncivil bickering. (There may have to be informal or even formal agreements between the centrist groups with acknowledgement that the civility between them will lead to great political power; and as part of those agreements avoid any coalition with extremists which excludes one of the two center parties; in exception of left/right traditional divisions.)
  2. Minimizing the amount of legislation introduced by many parties. Some kind of attrition system / veto system may be necessary to ensure only the most pertinent legislation makes it up for whole-system voting. (Almost like a tournament system for legislative priorities?)
  3. The risk of a public perception that the center is the establishment and is preventing the will of the people leading to decreased satisfaction. (Hopefully obviated by the need for a coalition in center rather than a centrist third party which could be seen as authoritarian.)
  4. Obtaining the ideal party participation balance on genuine ideological grounds (eg. greater than ~25-~33% each of voters for the centrist parties and less than ~25% of voters in each ‘extremist/radical’ party)
Example centrist-dominated four party system. The center can always win, if it just decides to.

Though I wholeheartedly back Pompeo’s project, the current administration has possibly done too much intentionally to destroy any chance of fostering a strong sense of bipartisanship/cooperation both domestically and abroad to achieve this goal. Perhaps that can change over time; or if America can come together over something (assuming the radicals don’t successfully attribute such a precipitating crisis to some kind of ‘Reichstag fire false flag’ — which is again a big Trump risk as far as public perception of his association with ‘pseudo fascism’ goes).

Even if Trump (as perhaps an ideal example of a winner in a two party game) has damaged his chances of forging consensus so badly that he can’t pull off the next iteration of consensus-driven American liberalism — I am hopeful for the future of American bipartisanship, and thus the future of our ability to project our liberal values in the world.


P.S. In order to increase satisfaction with the government I wonder if we could  also consider drastically “packing the Congress” to make it more representative of American ethnic, gender, and political diversity — as well as instituting mandatory background checks with full public disclosure in order to run for Federal office… But those are grounds for different posts.