As the United States grew older, it exposed itself to more difficult political issues to grapple with. Strength of government and economy came first as the most fundamental of political matters, and these are the issues that still are held to be the most important areas of policy by presidents, politicians, and pundits today. Looking at how far we have come since then, perhaps Washington was right to warn us about political parties, no matter what they were in the beginning. From just the second round of political parties in the early to mid-1800s, during which Jacksonian Democrats and Whigs reigned, the menu of political controversies expanded exponentially to include: slavery, western expansionism, nationalism, anti-elitism, working class struggles, immigration. Today, we juggle everything from political correctness to gendered bathrooms.
Now, there are some things that must be understood when it comes to the massive amount of political issues we encounter today. Yes, as certain topics became more and more pressing in America, maybe political parties had no other choice but to come in at some point and make their stances clear. And difficult enough as it is to have only two political parties represent positions on a myriad of multi-faceted issues, what really has changed the political air of today is politicization.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, politicization means "the action of causing an activity or event to become political in character." Not only has politics managed to place laws governing so many areas of life people in the 18th century never would have imagined would be political, but politics has also become so pervasive that literally anything can be made into a political statement. These two ideas go hand-in-hand, but does the prior necessitate the latter? I'm not so sure, especially considering the technology of today. Television and movies have allowed us to watch programs and films from across the world, but those industries have always had some push to be monitored – take for example the 1930s Hays Code or film ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America. What really makes politics so accessible and applicable today are the Internet and our devices.
With the expansive and lightning-fast nature of the Internet, anything and everything is available. People can keep up with political movements happening across the globe, read translated texts, chat with people anywhere about policies, voice their opinions with little restraint. We can educate ourselves on any subject from countless angles, and that's one of the reasons I like that we can learn about politics through the web. I admit I learned most of what I knew in my first couple years of political awareness via the Internet, and although I had to learn to take everything I read with a grain of salt and some fact-checking, I understand why the Internet has become such a political place.
Our technological devices offer the amplification of a different side of politics: history and transparency. People can record or take pictures of anything on their smartphones; more and more police are using body cams. Emails, video and audio recordings, and other cellphone data can all be used against someone. Combined with the Internet, it is easy enough to find out just about anything and hold individuals accountable for what they do and say.
And people have. For instance, Weekend 2 of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the wildly popular three-day affair in Indio, California, is currently happening, bringing about another wave of criticism to Coachella's very distant owner, Philip Anschutz. I say "distant" because Coachella is held by Goldenvoice, which was acquired by Anschutz Entertainment Group, whose owner probably spends very little time concerning himself with what a bunch of twenty-somethings in the desert do this time of year. But thanks to tax filings and local press releases, people seem to know exactly where this man stands in politics and have festival goers questioning whether or not to fund someone they do not agree with.
Being able to check the receipts is not necessarily a bad thing, but where should politicization end? I believe quite heavily that politics affects everything and everything affects politics, but that does not mean I feel the need to catalogue every single thing in my life and look into any way it or its components could be related to a political matter. I understand there is a limit that I have to be politically aware but also function in everyday life. This piece from Politico addresses this very issue and gives a great overview of how impossible it is to avoid politics now: your friends on social media, favorite brands, local stores, and beloved celebrities all have something to share. Is that too far?
I would occasionally like some relief from this cold reality – a good movie, a simple trip to the grocery store. After all, if even the parts of American life that unite us are politicized – even baseball and brunch – how do we hold the country together? What do we share when our most innocent pastimes are reduced to partisanship?The politicization of everything is, I feel, irreversible at this point, but this could be the answer to the two-party quandary. Now that everything can easily be construed as political, whether it be where you eat or where you listen to music, can two parties really hold up all these countless issues? As we explore the depth of issues in the 21st century, for instance, not just leaving feminism at voting rights but discussing representation, dress codes, objectification in advertising, media, and entertainment, abortion and inequalities in healthcare, gender-motivated violence, equal pay, and parental leave, can American citizens really be sustained and satisfied by just two parties? Doubtful. Maybe what we need to break the two-party system is not a forceful third party platform but the simple fact that there are too many possible platforms to have.
A general realization of the cons of a two-party system will obviously not be enough to actually bring about multiple, equally-strong parties. The two-party system has been supported by Americans with an amazing consistency, and I can't say that without some serious cultural and structural changes (such as to voting procedures, which I went into in my previous post), we will suddenly have at least three competing parties. However, the 2016 election proved to me that there is something that does need serious changing. It left a bitter taste in almost everyone's mouth, regardless of who they voted for. Seeing the trajectory we are on now, I predict seeing a greater third-party presence in the elections, local and national, in the near future.