Since the the time of the French and the American revolutions, democracy has been successfully promoted as an ideology, owing to its attractive principles of supporting civil freedom, civil rights and civil governance. Likewise, socialism earned its place owing to its principles of supporting human equality and equal distribution and usage of natural and human resources. However, from ideology to practice, it requires a process of creation of a political system subjecting it to evolution by human and societal experimentation and examination and through a gradual peaceful reform process. Communism with its initial political system is an exemplary socialism which has gone through nearly a century long transformation in China and evolved into a unique socialistic system with unique ‘Chinese characteristics’ formed by absorbing cultural ingredients distilled from several thousand years social behavior and modern society norm.
Chinese Communist system although brought tremendous economic progress to China and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through reform and transformation, it is still not sure to be applicable even acceptable to other countries and societies. On the other hand, the Western democratic system practiced over two and half centuries have also shown successful examples in economic development, however, despite of its vigorous promotion, it exhibits some pitfalls in its partisan (or bipartisan) politics which has been amplified recently as warning signs. Therefore, it is critical for us to discuss these pitfalls in comparison with the single party authoritarian communist system.
The U.S. is the champion of democracy with her 250 years of experience evolved into a principally two-party, two Congress chambers (Senate and House), and three independent branches (Executive, Legislation and Judiciary) system. The system advocates individual freedom, civil rights (citizens’ voting rights especially) and people elected government (all lower level governments except the Presidency being selected by an electoral college not exactly a popular vote system). Inevitably, political parties are formed and function in competition for Administrative, Legislative and Judicial authority to govern the nation. Although multiple parties are permitted, the ultimate result is a two major party system. Under democratic principle, the two parties compete and vie for votes, thus naturally develop into a bipartisan politics with people split in support of the two different parties.
This situation can produce three consequences: First, the government rotates frequently governed by alternating parties. This causes inefficiency in carrying out policies, especially long-term policy; often policies die due to party rotation. Second, people prefer one particular party and let it dominate the government. Unfortunately, for a party to dominate, the party will inevitably focus on suppress the opposition party, for example by administratively and/or legislatively altering electoral zones to keep the opposition party to stay as a minority party. In addition, flood the government (all three branches) with party appointed personnel or party promoted candidates. This tends to make a local government, city, county or state to be dominated (perpetually) by one party, a blue versus red phenomenon in the U.S. Third, the governments are roughly evenly controlled by two parties splitting the locales, government branches into two permanent color, blue versus red. This situation can be peaceful except when major issues occur requiring cooperation, the pitfalls and deficiency will surface. The electoral college vote for the Presidency is one example, the evenly split state will produce a small margin favoring one party and alienating the other party causing half the people unhappy, even violently protesting. This situation happened in 2020 Presidential election.
The partisan or bipartisan politics described above not only produces conflicts and problems in electing government officials, the worse is that it will produce bad political behavior including legal corruption or protected criminal act. These bad political acts tend to be motivated by selfish interest, sometimes, very harmful to others or even damaging on a national level. For example, State A needs oil and gas from energy rich State C, but A needs to have energy pipes passing through State B. But for environmental reason or land price concern or worse partisan consideration, State B passes resolution forbidding energy pipes to pass through. Of course, this is State B’s legal right, but it definitely hurts State C or State A even the nation. Another example, A city needs to overhaul its mass transit system, for budget reason, the project must be carried out in stages by city sections. The democratic City Council (especially bipartisan) is bickering on the implementation plan and does not agree on a budget and construction schedule hence delaying the project for years. In the mean time, the mass transit deteriorates, citizens suffer and budget gets overrun by inflation and inaction.
There are other legal corruptions highlighted the pitfalls of partisan democracy. A small town (surrounded by opposite color government) has a major highway passing through town, the town legislated traffic laws regulating highway speed, category of vehicles, curb stopping rules, light and sound levels etc. etc., any violation gets a hefty penalty requiring cash payment. The police and court system receive a healthy income from the fines to the point the annual budget of the police department is entirely covered by the fines with extra to be shared by the court and town. The town folks have the legal right to do this but it is bordering abuse of authority. Today, the budgets of most police departments in the U.S. depend on fines, citizens have no recourse for such fines simply because legal fees will do more damage. Is this a good governance? This mentality of abusing authority protected by a democratic system is propagating in the U.S. legal system, for example under the Foreign Corruption Practice Act (FCPA) and Iran and Libya Sanction Act (ILSA), the U.S. legal system fined Alstom $772m dollars even jailed executive Brigitte Baudresson in 2013 for Alstom bribing in Indonesia violating FCPA. Recently, the treasurer of Huawei, Ms Shirley Meng was arrested by Canada at the request of a U.S. court for an ex-subsidiary of Huawei violating ILSA. The U.S. legal system (lawyers and lobbyists) is the beneficiary with real harm to businesses legally operating in the U.S. Thus the U.S. judiciary earned the title, ‘Long Arm’ judiciary system.
Political Scientists often say that the practice of democracy requires three conditions in the citizens: adequate economic status, sufficient education level and political brain. This statement has its basis, but these conditions are high orders even American citizens can not match. Unfortunately, the democratic system propagates with its pitfalls. One example is Taiwan where one party is crucifying the other, dominating the three branches, staffing the government with party locals even by creating redundant presidential and executive yuan offices with no regard for budget deficit, so long as one party can suppress the other party and hold on to power. Therefore, we citizens must discuss and understand the partisan (bipartisan) politics pitfalls in democracy to make improvements.