Over the last couple of weeks it is hard to watch the American election and not feel like at the presidential level (at least) there has been terrible failing of their system. Polling broadly suggests that both parties, somehow, managed to nominate the least liked candidates in their history. It's as though they wanted to see what a LBJ vs. Nixon match up would look like in 1976, though those comparisons are far too charitable.
When I think of the Americans I know I have a hard time seeing them in either of the candidates purporting to represent them. Obviously there is a difference of degrees here. Clinton's checkered past as a career politician, as was recently written in the Huffington Post, is likely exacerbated by the fact that she is the first woman to run for president. I think that's a simple excuse and more could probably be gleaned from the long public life and her husband's presidency. Clearly, by far and away, it is the Republicans who have disappointed their electorate.
Conservatives and critics of the Obama administration have valid opinions that should be voiced in the public sphere without being subsumed by sexual assault allegations and tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. The transformation of the Republican Party over the decades has left a growing segment of the electorate without a coherent voice. That all said, I have written previously that Donald Trump is clearly speaking for a segment of the American public and those who dismiss them do so at their own peril.
Perhaps as America becomes a majority minority nation one must consider if the two-party system still serves them well. Previously there were strong factions within the parties, i.e. moderate New England Republicans, Dixiecrats, etc. While on a national level the parties were not necessarily consistent the local variation allowed for political competition to a certain extent. With a diversifying population and interests it is hard to imagine that two parties can successfully encompass them all. For instance, on a political compass calculator Hillary Clinton is considered a right-of-centre politician. Yet the Democrats have to find a way to bring in the most left-wing element of the country within that tent.
How different would America look today if they used a different electoral system? What if they used a run-off system, like France? The country as a whole could choose rather than a slim slice of voters in primaries/caucuses. What if they had a parliamentary system? Would a Socialist Party under Bernie Sanders, and Green Party be prepped to form a coalition with centrist Democrats under Clinton while the Trumpists, Tea Party and Republicans are pushed to the opposition?
In a sense political parties have no obligation to anyone but themselves. Yet in a two-party system the static nature makes their failures a much greater risk. As much as I hope 2016 is an abject lesson to the parties in America I fear it will be one more point on their downward trend.