In George Washington’s farewell address, he warned his fellow Americans against the poisonous influence of political parties. Today, his words seem prophetic: 

“Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally. ... It 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. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.” 

Now, nearly 224 years after this address was given, each part of that warning has come to pass. 

Our lawmakers are distracted by their party loyalties. They spend more time mudslinging, and less time passing legislation that will benefit all of their constituents (not just those found in their party). Instead of using time during hearings to listen to witnesses and learn the facts, they use it to exalt themselves and their party, hoping to get the perfect soundbite, while simultaneously attempting to silence any information that may be a threat to their agenda. Meanwhile, they subtly or blatantly indicate that the other side is a danger to our democracy.

Communities are filled with animosity of one party against the other, spreading false “alarms” of the dangers of the other side. There are social media groups, blogs, articles and speeches declaring that the Democrats or the Republicans want to do one thing or another that will lead to the demise of America. Fear tactics are used in these instances to ensure party loyalty and reelection. As a result, some citizens launch verbal or physical attacks towards their fellow citizens who display loyalty to the other side. 

The problem can be summed up in one short sentence: People have become more loyal to their party than to their country. 

Lastly, the door to foreign influence has been left wide open. Between meddling with elections and using social media accounts to spread disinformation by bots originating in other countries, we have become a sitting duck to foreign influence. 

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The problem can be summed up in one short sentence: People have become more loyal to their party than to their country. 

What is a solution? Perhaps limiting the power of the parties by opening up an avenue for third-party candidates to win elections. This requires reevaluating election rules to include reducing the requirements of the number of signatures needed for a nonparty candidate to be on the ballot in each state, implementing ranked choice voting so third-party candidates have an equal chance to win, repairing lobbying and ethics laws and mandating full transparency on campaign spending, so that candidates can rely more on voter dollars and not be beholden to interest groups and, lastly, abolishing gerrymandering.

Perhaps with these changes we can become the country that George Washington envisioned: a country less influenced by the passions of the parties and more loyal to the Republic.

Erin Nielsen has a master’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution and has worked on multiple independent campaigns throughout the country.  

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