Here we are again — 16 years since a giant douche and a turd sandwich held their first presidential debate at South Park Elementary school — and it seems like nothing’s changed.
When it originally aired in the lead-up to the 2004 election, the now-infamous South Park episode featuring two generic presidential candidates, a douche and a turd, hit my young brain with revelatory force.
Like many Americans, I felt I was being asked to choose between “the lesser of two evils” for president, but I’d never seen my dilemma illustrated in such a crude and hilarious way before.
Now, in the presidential nominees of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, American voters are once again being asked to make a choice between what seems like two bad alternatives.
Given all the negativity we’re exposed to during the election season, it’s tempting to reject the two-party system and pursue some option that doesn’t involve the Douche or the Turd.
Indeed, you’ll find plenty of people arguing that you should abstain from voting entirely or else vote for a third-party candidate.
But before you go rouge at the ballot box, remember that foreign groups are disguising themselves online as American organizations and influencers to spread destructive propaganda and create the illusion of widespread interest in marginalized ideas about voting.
And these outside groups don’t have anything close to your best interests in mind.
They don’t care about the same causes you do.
You might dislike many things about America, but these outside groups actually want to destroy America.
So here are six good reasons to reject the messages that originate on the fringes of American politics — messages that are, in turn, greatly amplified by hostile external actors. Tell your friends, too. And if a Russian troll tries to get you to vote for the Green Party or not vote at all, you’ve got to smack him down hard before other people start to think he’s got a good point.
Because this election year, and probably every election year from here on out, we should all plan on voting for either the Douche or the Turd.
I would vote for the Douche but he’s a liar, and I could vote for the Turd but he’s creepy around women. (Pro tip: You’re not voting for one person, you’re voting for an entire team.)
If you think the election is only about selecting a President, your knowledge of democratic governance is about as superficial as the Mango Man’s spray-on tan.
What you should understand is that with each candidate comes a host of other hangers-on, donors, and political operatives — an entire nation-wide ecosystem, in fact—as well as unelected officials called political appointees who are faithful party members installed into powerful management positions across the government.
This may seem unfortunate at first, but when you take a step back and think about it, in order to run a huge country like the United States you really need this level of widespread support, trust, and coordination as well as a very deep bench from which to draw your governing expertise.
So if you lean toward the principles exhibited by either of the two major parties, you should vote for the person they’ve chosen to be their leader.
This won’t guarantee that all the principles you care about will be translated into government action, but there’s a much better chance your ideals will also be held — or at least viewed respectfully — by the thousands of donors and operatives and VIPs aligned with your favored party, as well as the people who are tapped to become managers in the civil service.
It also means you’ll have a better chance to influence the government and the direction of the party after the election should your chosen pick prevail. Think about it this way: if you speak English with an American accent, wouldn’t you have a better chance of being heard and understood by someone who speaks British English than someone who speaks Farsi?
I think a third-party candidate could really win this time! (Nope. You’re wrong.)
A third-party candidate has never won a U.S. presidential election in history, and nothing about this election is shaping up to be any different from the previous 58.
The closest anyone ever came to winning the U.S. presidency as a third-party candidate was in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt, who had already served as President from 1901–1908, broke with the Republican party and ran for president on a progressive “Bull Moose” platform. Although Roosevelt succeeded in garnering more votes than the Republican party’s nominee, it still wasn’t enough to win the White House.
Someday there may be a viable third-party candidate, someone with a golden touch who ascends Phoenix-like from the ashes, lines up influential supporters as if by magic, and tears down decades of bullshit in a single election cycle. But that time is not yet, and if you’ve contemplated the 2020 political landscape and concluded there’s a real opening, a real opportunity, for a third-party candidate to win big, I would not-so-politely suggest that your reading of the situation is totally fucking pear-shaped.
If you think that door-to-door canvassing, cold calling voters, and “getting the message out” for a third-party candidate like Howie Hawkins, someone who’s never won an election in his life—that’s right, the Green Party is so sophisticated that it’s running someone for President who has literally won zero out of 24 elections as a candidate running for office at every level of government (“the definition of insanity is…”)—if you think supporting a third-party candidate is going to make a difference in 2020, you’re kidding yourself.
It might make you feel better to volunteer and to cast your vote for a third-party candidate. It might feel cathartic.
But the election isn’t about you.
It’s about the success of our country and everyone who lives in it, and you insult the intelligence of tens of millions of Americans when you convince yourself that your vote for a useless third-party candidate demonstrates you’re morally superior and better-educated than those who cleave to the traditional system.
I want to vote for the Green Party because they’re against war and I’m against war and the Republicans and Democrats both like war. (Pro tip #2: You shouldn’t vote based on one issue, and even if you do you’re probably comparing apples to oranges.)
By casting your vote for president, you’re just not voting for one issue.
You’re voting to address every issue faced by our nation.
Let me say this again: you may be tempted to vote based on how much you care about one issue, but if you don’t take a moment and think about all the things at stake, you’re not doing your civic duty because you’ve construed your mission as a voter too narrowly.
By comparing the two parties in one area and then rejecting them both because they seem too similar, you’re probably also falling into a logic trap known as a “false equivalency.”
Because the human brain is basically hardwired to make quick, judgmental decisions based on a superficial level of information — what Nobel-prize-winning sociologist Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 — anyone, no matter their level of actual intelligence, can easily fall into the false equivalency trap. It’s only by thinking more deeply, more completely, that we can engage our more advanced cognitive processes — System 2 — and arrive at a more well-informed decision.
Russian trolls love engaging System 1 and seeding your brain with false equivalencies because it increases your distrust of American leaders and democracy in general.
Political operatives also love these false equivalences because it tempts you to vote for a spoiler candidate (e.g., Ralph Nader, Ross Perot) who has no chance of winning, thus funneling potential votes away from their opponent — who you would have voted for if your brain had not been short-circuited by misinformation.
It’s true that both Republican and Democratic administrations have launched military operations in foreign countries, for example. But ever since the Vietnam War ended in the 1970s, no Democratic administration has actually launched a full-scale foreign invasion the way Republicans did three times in the Middle East between 1990 and 2003. So believing and thoughtlessly repeating that “Democrats are just as warlike as Republicans” is absurd based on a reading of the record.
Yes, if you don’t like conflict then the Democrats aren’t going to meet all your needs. But what’s the alternative? The world is still a dangerous place, and sometimes military action — not all-out war the way Republicans do it, but some type of physical violence — is needed to prevent bad situations from becoming worse.
The two parties are basically the same. (Are you fucking kidding me?)
You could be smart in some ways but if you’re making this statement it’s because you don’t know much about American history and politics and you’re trying to compensate for this lack of knowledge by dismissing everything with a wave of your hand.
If you look at the parties from the perspective of human failing — corruption, sex scandals, gaffs, the shameless pursuit of power, hypocrisy, incompetence — the parties do look pretty must the same. But this sort of fallibility is unavoidable because it’s goddamn human nature.
Do you really think that issues related to human nature wouldn’t arise with a third party at the helm?
Do you really believe that abstaining from voting or doing a write-in for Bilbo Baggins makes you a pure-hearted hero while everyone else is a blue-pill-sucking sheep?
The whole reason we vote every two years is that if there’s too much human failing and not enough legit governance, we get to change that shit up.
Although you may be frustrated about certain challenges that neither party has been able to effectively address — corporate corruption or foreign military intervention, for example — this doesn’t mean the parties have the same approach or that nothing can be done in the future.
If you don’t like the Supreme Court after four years of a Republican administration, you really won’t like the Supreme Court after another four years. Meanwhile, you might actually be able to maintain your current level of disappointment with the Supreme Court if a Democrat takes the White House this fall. I know that’s not totally inspiring, but it should be all the evidence you need to acknowledge that no, the two parties are not the same. Not even close.
Nothing good has come out of the two-party system, it’s just a dumb ping-pong game. (Again — are you fucking kidding me?)
Women’s suffrage, the national park system, beating Hitler, increases in the literacy rate and wide availability of higher education, landing on the moon, environmental protection, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, winning the Cold War, the Internet, tremendous leaps in medicine and the cracking of the human genome, the rise of Silicon Valley…
I could give you many more examples to the tune of We Didn’t Start the Fire, but you get the point.
If you find yourself tirelessly repeating that America is a failure, trying to come up with a negative to counterbalance every positive (“yeah but we had slavery… yeah but we can’t figure out single-payer healthcare…”), you’re probably doing the false equivalency thing again and WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU, ANYWAY? You’re the kind of person who’d watch Jesus walk on water and then complain because His pants got wet.
Sure, an election cycle or two or three can pass in the history of our country without much progress apparently being made, but you’re unreasonably cynical and kidding yourself with pseudo-intellectual nonsense if you think the country hasn’t added any value to its citizens or the world under its two-party political system.
The government may not have accomplished everything you wanted. But again, it’s not about you.
American progress — like all of human history — isn’t a straight line. It’s a process, an ebb, and flow. Stuff builds up behind each dam until it breaks. And you should strongly consider going with the flow than against it, however sluggish and eddy-filled that flow might sometimes seem.
I’m just opposed to the idea of two parties. People should have more choices. (There’s no evidence this would make things any better or that it would even be sustainable.)
The two-party system is an American tradition. And it will likely stay that way. Even in historical cases where a third party had the potential to form, a realignment occurred before the next election cycle so that when voters queued up in November they were again given two major parties to choose from.
This DOES NOT mean there will always be Democrats and Republicans. There have been, in fact, six major political parties since the founding of our nation.
Indeed, if American history and tradition is any guide, even if you fought really hard to build up a third party to rival both of the existing parties, by the next election cycle that third party would probably absorb (or be absorbed by) the existing party it was closest to on the political spectrum. So after all that, you’d just be back to a two-party system again.
By fixating on the absurd idea that three or four or five is somehow better than two, you’re also conveniently ignoring the evidence from other Western democracies that too much choice can actually create more fragmentation, more gridlock, and more disagreement.
I hate to break it to you, but practically every democracy in the world is drowning in debt, flatlining on growth, and suffering from massive demographic and structural problems — and many of these nations have more than two major political parties.
So a multiparty system is not the silver bullet it’s made out to be. It’s just an excuse for pretending that some utopian system exists just over the next horizon, distracting you from focusing on doing your best within the framework that exists currently.
I volunteered for/donated to/supported the party of the Douche or the Turd in the past and I got burned. (OK, but what did you expect to happen?)
I’ve given you six good reasons to vote for one of the two major parties, but as promised, I’ll give you a great reason to go your own way.
But before I let you go, let’s take a moment to clarify what a political party is.
Not what you think a political party is, or what you want it to be, or what it should be, but what a political party actually is and what it means when you send in your voter registration form and choose aside.
A political party — and this is my own definition — is an organized group of people who seek to wield political power, who are frequently united by ideology, and who attempt to establish a party discipline among their members.
The first two (political power and ideology) are usually self-evident, but it’s the third aspect of discipline that many people don’t quite understand. For example, many true-believers on the left remain surprised and outraged that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) kneecapped Bernie Sanders in his bid for president in 2016 and probably in 2020 as well. But why is this surprising? Although Bernie was mostly aligned with the Democrats throughout his career in Congress, he was never actually a party member. He was an Independent. This is not a trivial point. To seek the nomination of a party you never belonged to is nothing short of a hostile takeover. Of course, the DNC fought back. Think about it: if you were on the Board of your neighborhood association and someone from a different neighborhood barged into your Board meeting and demanded that you elect him President, your Board would have to admit that it was doing a pretty terrible job to put an outsider in charge even if he was generally friendly.
A political party isn’t a democracy. It’s a hierarchy. Political parties are like the mafia. They’re controlled by a few powerful members at the top. There are skeletons in the closet. Everyone has dirt on everyone else; you can’t blow someone up without getting blown up yourself in return. There are secret conference calls to which only the elite operatives are given access. I don’t even know how it all works, but it does. And any gesture toward democratic process and free speech — like giving far-left congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a low-ranking but popular newcomer to the Democratic Party, a 60-second speaking slot at the recent Democratic nominating convention—is a token of goodwill rather than an entitlement.
In this hierarchical model, when the primaries are over and the party has selected its leader, everyone in the party is supposed to fall in line. And if you don’t — if you’re constantly agitating for a radical shift in the platform, speaking badly of candidates and party members in mixed company, and trying to foment rebellion from within—you may well find yourself left out of important meetings, your money and volunteer time graciously accepted but your ideas brushed aside. Indeed, you’re lucky that disappointment is all you will experience in America when you publicly criticize your team members at the wrong moment because you might not be very happy (or even alive) right now if you were a Communist Party member in China who was dumb enough to criticize Xi Jinping after he was elected president in 2013.
Failing to grasp the essential nature of political parties as hierarchical and operating on discipline isn’t your fault. We live in a free country, so why wouldn’t our parties also be free? Not only has relentless peer pressure convinced many Americans that they should register as a Democrat or Republican, but many people sign up to join a political party under the mistaken notion that it’s part of their civic duty and that it’s supposed to confer some kind of moral value.
In reality, as I’ve suggested above, political parties are not created primarily for the public good and have nothing to do with civic duty. Voting is your civic duty; belonging to a political party is not.
You probably already know this, but do you really understand it?
Have you really truly acknowledged that all those hangers-on, wealthy donors, political operatives, and political appointees follow the marching orders of party leaders because they seek power, influence, and money?
If you already know all this, if you were a good soldier for your party and if you got unfairly burned, if you find the other party repugnant — i.e., switching sides is not an option— then you really and truly are justified in abstaining, voting for Luke Skywalker or Elvis, or going with that third-party candidate who seems to match your values but has zero chance of winning. You trusted a party to take care of you and it didn’t. You have every right to be angry.
On the other hand, if you’ve been confused about what being a registered party member truly means and you’re willing to acknowledge that your expectations were way too high if you’ve had a blindfold over your eyes and now you’re starting to see things for what they are, here’s your first potential call to action: register as an independent so you won’t be part of the primary voting process, stop participating in party activities and efforts, stop repeating party propaganda and stop giving money. Make this your protest vote. Disengage from the party and party politics to reduce your expectations and resolve your moral crisis. You can be a good American and a good person without being a card-carrying party member. Be an Independent. Be proud of it.
Corollary to this: stop thinking you can move the needle on the national level and look to see what you can do here and now in your own community. The tremendous reach of the two-party system, with assistance from the mainstream media, has in some ways tricked us to imagine that national politics from the primary season all the way up to the general election is all that matters. Nothing could be further from the truth. One or both of the major parties may reach all the way into your community, but at the local level, there are still plenty of problems that fall through the cracks. Here’s where you can create a niche to reflect your beliefs, build a coalition, and a get better return on investment for your limited resources. Once you’ve reframed your expectations, I bet that casting a traditional vote for “the lesser of two evils” during the general election will seem less stressful and morally fraught because you’ve already worked hard within your means to make a difference. So just go out and do it. Participate in the tradition, the ritual, and then get back to the real work.
Second potential call to action: go the other way without stars in your eyes. Become a card-carrying, marching-orders-following solider for party leadership with the explicit goal of helping your career, making money, networking with powerful people in the party, obtaining a political appointment that uses your expertise, and/or advocating for an issue you care about. Run for office as a party member. Become a regular donor. Look for the intersection between your beliefs and your own success, but don’t be so idealistic that it stops you from learning the ways of the party and of the world. Be open to compromise and new perspectives. Cast the widest net that your morals will allow. It may take a little while to start understanding how things are done, but if you’re a skilled and loyal soldier you may find yourself well rewarded. If you seek to move the needle in your party’s platform and influence the national conversation, this is the way to do it.
And by the way, voting for the “lesser of two evils“ is kind of the whole point of democracy.
To bring things full circle at the end of an already-long article, let’s go back and revisit that terrible feeling of having to vote for the “lesser of two evils.”
What’s so interesting about this feeling is that America’s founders — the framers of the U.S. Constitution — knew this feeling too and understood, quite correctly, that if you’re a citizen who wants to have a government you’re going to have to accept some level of evil.
Whether you vote for the lesser of three evils or the lesser of five evils won’t make a whit of difference. “Evil” is what happens when fallible, ambitious human beings attempt to bring order to a society full of other fallible, ambitious human beings.
I put “evil” in quotes lest we risk drawing another false equivalency. This is because the Founders knew that great human suffering often follows when power is vested in the hands of an unelected monarch, so they settled for a new system of governance that created mechanisms to limit the amount of evil possible, tamping the evil down into a three-branch structure of government with checks and balances that could lead to incompetence or benign neglect or corruption but that was still a far cry from permitting the literal evil of monarchy-style governments like Saudi Arabia and North Korea where not following the order of the King is immediately punishable by death.
The two-party system isn’t satisfying.
It’s not energizing.
But it’s reality, and if there’s an objectively better way to strike a proper balance between personal ambition and the public good, nobody has yet figured out the way to bridge the gap to that future state without tremendous upheaval and bloodshed.
So if you’re disappointed with the parties and their leaders but haven’t been directly injured by them, it’s time to again hold your nose and participate in the great American tradition of writing history.
This election and every election from here on out, do your civic duty and vote either Douche or Turd.
Then get on with your life, enjoy your freedom, and find some way to really, truly make a difference.