When Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats — who frequently split up to 90 percent of the votes between them during the Cold War era — fell to a combined 50 percent support in the federal election in September, alarm bells went off across the Atlantic.
The New York Times saw “messier politics” and “weaker leadership” ahead. The Washington Post feared a period of “limbo” as a result of Germany’s “Dutchification”. Harold James, a professor at Princeton University, lamented that Germany had acquired “the most destructive features of politics in neighboring countries.” The consequences, he argued, would be “complexity,” “endless negotiations” and “inevitably complicated coalition agreements.” Damon Linker, a columnist for The Week, predicted forming a “stable” government would be “challenging” and “decisive action” more difficult.
Some people never learn. We saw the same reaction after the European elections in 2019, and again when Stefan Löfven lost his parliamentary majority in Sweden this summer. Yet Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and liberals were able to quickly form a working majority in the European Parliament and Löfven remains prime minister.
Germany’s liberals and Greens — who can help either the Christian Democrats or Social Democrats to a majority — have already done a deal between them, clearing the biggest hurdle to a three-party coalition. Negotiations are now underway. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Party leader, could become chancellor in a few weeks. So much for the “limbo” we were told to expect. Read more “Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany”
Another political crisis in Europe, another chance to beat on multiparty democracy.
It’s not like the two-party systems of America and Britain are crisis-free, yet journalists in those countries have a tendency to find complex causes for their own political problems while reducing continental Europe’s to “fragmentation”.
Today’s example: Bloomberg, which argues the “turmoil” in Sweden “reflects a shifting political landscape” and this is a “warning to other countries with key elections looming — like Germany and France — where fractured politics have also upended old alliances.” Read more “Political Fragmentation Isn’t the Problem”
Regular readers know I’m not a fan of two-party democracy. It reduces politics to simplistic either-or choices. It encourages parties to radicalize their supporters and appeal to the extremes rather than the center. Multiparty democracy, by contrast, engenders moderation and compromise.
Multiparty democracies are superior on almost every metric: their voters show higher trust in government and each other; their electoral systems are more responsive to changes in public opinion; their economies are more competitive and their societies less divisive.
The rise of new parties on the left, right and center has created new opportunities in Spain: a left-wing minority government that usually relies on the support of Basque and Catalan separatists in Congress, but on rare occasions takes votes from the far-right newcomer Vox (Voice).
Sometimes bad people do good things. Spain’s neo-Francoist party Vox (Voice) has given Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez a majority for his plan to spend Spain’s €140 billion share of the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund.
Vox had criticized the plan for its “opaque” oversight during a debate in Congress, but when it became clear the conservative People’s Party (PP) would vote against it, the far right spied an opportunity.
“We regret that in the worst moment of these 42 years of democracy, PP is not the opposition but the absolute destruction,” a Vox spokesman thundered.
That’s a little rich coming from a party that wants to reverse Spain’s democratization in important ways, including by abolishing regional autonomies, teaching a more Franco-friendly version of twentieth-century history in middle schools and weakening women’s rights.
American centrists are optimistic. With Republicans likely to retain control of the Senate for at least the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency — unless Democrats manage to flip not one, but two Georgia Senate seats in January — a new era of bipartisanship may be on the horizon.
Joe Manchin, the conservative Democratic senator from West Virginia, tells The New York Times he sees a “golden opportunity to bring the country back together and for us to work in the middle.”
James M. Curry and Frances E. Lee of the moderate center-right Niskanen Center argue unified government is overrated. Most legislation is passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Scott Lincicome of the conservative anti-Trump website The Dispatch finds that the economy tends to perform better when the parties split Congress and the presidency. Fortune magazine agrees.
Democrats in the United States were hoping for more than a simple victory over Donald Trump. Polls had suggested they could win in a landslide.
That didn’t happen. Joe Biden decisively beat the president by more than six million votes, or a margin of 4 points, but Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives and failed to take the majority from Republicans in the Senate.
Donald Trump’s presidency has exposed and exacerbated fundamental weaknesses in American democracy. He must be voted out in November, but that won’t be enough.
If Democrats gain power, they must make five reforms to restore fairness, restore balance between the three branches of government and reverse the polarization that has made it impossible for the two parties to compromise on everything from climate change to gun laws to health care to immigration:
Lee Drutman, a political scientist, argues in The Atlantic that America has become the rigid two-party system its founders feared.
The authors of America’s Constitution wanted to make it impossible for a partisan majority to ever unite and take control of the government, which it could then use to oppress the minority.
The fragile consent of the governed would break down, and violence and authoritarianism would follow. This was how previous republics had fallen into civil wars and the Framers were intent on learning from history, not repeating its mistakes.