Who uses our right to vote to control us.
In Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, he spoke of "government of the people, by the people, for the people". What is the mechanism by which 'the people' provide 'government of the people'? The standard answer is that the people have the right to elect their own representatives in government and thereby govern themselves. That would be fine if the people did, indeed, elect their own representatives - but they don't.
When the people vote, what choices are available to them? The only choices they have are candidates selected by political parties. Thus, control of the government is vested, not in the voters, but in the parties. This arrangement is clearly flawed.
As Robert Michels explained one hundred years ago, political party organizations are subject to the Iron Rule of Oligarchy; they form oligarchic power blocs that become an end in themselves and ultimately transcend the will of the people. When choosing from candidates selected by political parties, voting is an oligarchic exercise, not a democratic one.
A party-based political system is the antithesis of democracy. Instead of uniting the demos - the people - and organizing them to advance their common interests, parties incite antagonism among the people. They dominate by the most basic principle of domination: Divide and Conquer.
Political parties use our right to vote to control us.
Constructive resolution of public issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to recognize the value in the various points of view from the people's perspective. That is impossible for legislators elected to represent partisan interests.
The U.S. is politically divided because perspectives differ. The challenge of democracy is to blend those divergent points of view into a consensus that serves the common good. The purpose of democracy is to elevate the best advocates of the common interest as representatives of the people. Unfortunately for the humans among us, genuine democracy has no champions; it offers no rewards for individuals or groups.
Politicians stepped into the void. They have long known that the path to power lays, not in seeking the best interests of the people, but in building a power base. To aggregate power, they formed political parties that thrive on confrontation. George Washington recognized the danger in this approach and warned us, in his Farewell Address, that parties are "potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government". That is precisely what happened in the United States.
The divisiveness of U.S. politics flows from letting politicians build a party-based political process that intentionally splits the people into opposing groups instead of building a truly democratic process that lets the entire electorate participate in defining the issues the government must address and selecting the individuals best equipped to resolve those issues.
The inadequacy of voting for choices made by others is apparent in our lives. The ability to choose from options provided by others does not give us 'control'. When we're offered options that affect our lives, options that we've had no voice in defining, the ability to choose one of them is neither free nor democratic. As long as our parents control the choices we can make (as, indeed, they should), our choices are not our own. The essence of maturity is learning to make our own choices.
Voting for choices made by others expresses our status as subjects of those who defined our options - in the United States, that's the political parties. That is unacceptable, and yet, thinking it through and trying to convince our peers that it's a problem is tough.
In a representative democracy such as ours, the most vital element is not the right to vote but the right to select the people and the issues on which we will vote. The question is, "How do we accomplish that?"
The key to solving any complex problem is to break it into its elements. Politics is no different. We should not think of 'the people' as a huge amorphous mass which must be 'ruled', we must recognize that 'the people' is a large number of individuals, some of whom are better qualified to represent their peers than others. The moment we see that, it's easy to see that we must devise a way to identify those 'better qualified' individuals and raise them to public office.
Practical Democracy might work. Check it out.