A President’s Day Reflection
The Two-Party System as a Hindrance to America’s Development
President’s Day provides an opportunity to reflect upon the great men who have led our country since George Washington was unanimously elected as the first president of the United States in 1789. As we reflect on the anniversary of George Washington’s birth this past week, we should consider his advice to Americans before he left office on March 4, 1797. President Washington stated, in his farewell address in 1796, that a partisan spirit “serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”
Today, it may seem impossible to conceive of a United States without our two distinct political parties: Democrats and Republicans. Intentionally leaving political parties out of our founding documents, the Framers worried that factions would divide this new nation in the same way it divided England during its civil wars in the seventeenth century. Alexander Hamilton event went so far as to refer to political parties as “the most fatal disease.”
Washington and his fellow founders firmly believed that unity, not division, is what would allow America to move forward as a nation. In order for the democratic republic to survive, there needed to be a sense of unity between all people and a desire to see America flourish. Washington was not alone in his skepticism of a strict two party system. In fact, many other presidents openly spoke about their discomfort with potential divisions among the American people.
In 1958 John F. Kennedy spoke at Loyola College with a call for all people, regardless of political persuasion, to work together to create a better America. Kennedy stated: “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past – let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” While not explicitly calling for a revolution of the party system, Kennedy certainly called for bipartisanship and cooperation not only from members of Congress, but also from everyday Americans like you and me.
Just a few weeks ago, President Trump, in his most recent State of the Union Address, echoed a similar message we heard from President Washington and President Kennedy. President Trump challenged the 116th Congress to “choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.”
Three very different presidents provide Americans with a similarly-based message, seen across parties and time periods in our country, yet, our party system remains the same. Not only does the media frame most political problems as conservative vs. liberal, but also our third parties who do run for office, are often blown out of the water due to lack of funding, support, or a combination of the two.
Although we have largely failed to follow President Washington’s advice, Americans still have the opportunity to combat our divisive political culture by engaging, discussing, and desiring to understand our fellow Americans, no matter if they prefer red or blue when they visit the ballot box. When it comes down to it, political parties are at best helpful markers, and at worst a hindrance to community development and understanding.
By taking the time to remember all of our presidents as we celebrate George Washington’s life this February, we all have the opportunity to be grateful for this nation and the principles behind its founding. Values of patriotism, liberty, and equality don’t need to be confined to one party. Despite the divisive rhetoric alive in our culture among members of both major parties, Americans have the opportunity to stop and question if our two-party system does more harm than good to our nation as a whole before strictly placing themselves in one camp or another.
We thank President Washington, President Kennedy, and President Trump, as well as all of our other great leaders, for their willingness to serve this nation to the best of their abilities by representing all Americans, regardless of party affiliation.
Maggie Dever is a senior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies and living off campus. She is a southern belle who hails from North Carolina. Please reach her at Mary.M.Dever.firstname.lastname@example.org.