In the American form of democracy (as it currently exists) we have presidential elections every four years. These elections are generally dominated by two main parties (Democrats [Blue] and Republicans [Red]). There are other parties as well, usually referred to as “Third Parties”. The general consensus among the American public is that the only parties that can “win” are the Democrats or Republicans.
If some poor soul (let’s say a guest at a dinner party) makes the tragic mistake of mentioning that he or she is really not satisfied with the Republican or Democratic candidates and is considering voting for a third party instead, then this person’s social status immediately plummets and they are seen as inferior to the rest of the (more enlightened and dutiful) guests. That’s just how it works in America. If you don’t vote for the Red or Blue team, you are seen as an outsider and probably a delinquent.
The two party system seems to lead toward two extremes ferociously trying to bring balance to the opposite position. This tends to make opposing positions increasingly more extreme every four years.
One can imagine this balancing act taking place on a two legged stool. While it is not impossible to find balance on the two legs of the stool, it takes a considerable amount of concentration and thought. Inconveniently, these two pastimes are not as common among free people as one would hope.
The American experiment of government can be a great learning opportunity in many ways for future democracies, but one of the main ways in which it is especially educational is in the relationship between the electoral process and the media.
The American people have a strange affinity for entertainment. In reality it is one of our largest exports, and probably the most influential. Even our presidential elections have begun to blur the lines between government and entertainment. This is perhaps the most impactful of trends in America today.
There was a time when presidential debates consisted of hour long speeches, and thirty minute rebuttals. They now consist of minute long statements and thirty second soundbites (presumably to accommodate shorter attention spans). The same trend is clear in film and TV, cuts between shots are quicker, scenes are more colorful, and fantasy more prominent.
As long as a democratic people can distinguish between entertainment and reality, their government can do the same. When the distinction becomes less clear to the public, dissolution in the government will likely follow.
An objective observer of the American electoral process might ask something like: “Why don’t more people vote for a third party if the two main parties are becoming more cartoonish in their extremity?”
It seems to me that the only reason American citizens don’t do so is that they have been told (by media outlets or by their peers) that a third party can’t win, so there is no point voting for one. If someone suggests that they will vote for a third party anyhow they are met by the increasingly common phrase:
“You're Wasting your vote”