In his farewell address President Washington warned about the dangers of political parties. The Reign of Terror had ended just two years earlier so the partisan use of guillotines was well known to his audience.
Let me now… warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party….
The alternate domination of one faction over another; sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissention; which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. — But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. — The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty…
[The party] agitates the Community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
Until last year the warning about foreign influence and corruption seemed archaic. Maybe it was possible in the early days of modern nation states, but who could have imagined this level of usurpation by a nation that was so recently our biggest foe?
It’s not just the serious questions about contacts between Russian government and intelligence agents with surrogates like General Flynn and Paul Manafort. It’s also very much about Trump’s overt admiration and sympathy for Putin as well as his belief in their moral equivalency.
There’s one more relevant warning from President Washington’s farewell:
It is important likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country, should inspire caution, in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.
The Nature of Affiliation
I have been an unaffiliated voter for almost my entire adult life. That means I haven’t been able to vote in primary elections by most state rules. Some might blame me for not participating in party politics and being unwilling to get dirty. And I do question my obligation in that regard from time to time. But I am always led in a very different direction. I aspire to be more like Ammon Hennacy as described by Utah Phillips:
Ammon taught me, as he did, to treat his body like a ballot. My body is my ballot. And he said, “Cast that body ballot on behalf of the people around you every day of your life, every day. And don’t let anybody ever tell you you haven’t voted.” You just didn’t assign responsibility to other people to do things. You accept responsibility and see to it that something gets done.
Because I believe that party politics are intrinsically damaging to the Republic I have a duty to speak out against them, not pick a supposedly lesser evil and thereby perpetuate a greater evil.
The nature of affiliation, etymologically, is of a child to parent. Filial obedience is implied by the party affiliation. Inevitably the needs of the party are placed ahead of the needs of the country. The failure of both parties to prevent Donald Trump’s presidency is clear. Reform might bring us a better Trump the next time, and I’m not content to vote for a better Trump.
I have begun a movement of formal disaffiliation and rejection of partisanship. We need independent disaffiliated citizens rising up in every state to take back government for the sole purpose of reshaping elections to weaken the power of the ruling parties by:
- Establishing non-partisan commissions to redraw district boundaries and end gerrymandering
- Ratifying the National Popular Vote Compact
- Implementing ranked choice voting
We can fix the infection of partisanship that has corrupted the Republic, but we need to be willing to cast our votes with our whole body, every day. The politics of expediency that led to Trump vs. Clinton has utterly failed. Roll up your sleeves, citizen.