'Heir to party royalty' (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

November 9, 2023   7 mins

Everyone knows the United States is in steep decline — except perhaps for its political leadership. The US Congress went without a speaker for the greater part of last month, seized for the umpteenth time by anti-statists. In the Senate, only death brings the opportunity for new leadership. Meanwhile, President Biden seems unfit to lead a pub shuffleboard team, much less the most powerful military in the world. As we stand on the threshold of potentially the most dangerous global conflict in generations, how should we understand the character of this former superpower? A doddering two-party cartel? A one-party monopoly with two bickering heads? Both labels offer descriptive merits. The one designate, though, that no longer applies is “functioning liberal democracy”.

In this regard, the US has far more in common with its southern neighbour than it would ever like to admit. For more than 70 years, Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (the “PRI”) controlled the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. Ostensibly, the country was a democracy except for one problem: the PRI won — literally — every national election from 1929 to 2000. During this time, serious challengers to its hold on power would be found not-so-mysteriously murdered. Even social and political reformers working within the PRI itself would end up dead.

Together, the Democrats and the GOP have ruled the US since the country’s Whig Party dissolved in 1854 — more than twice as long as the PRI’s reign in Mexico. Admittedly, the twin towers of the American party cartel do not murder their opponents as the PRI did in Mexico. However, US politicians and their fourth-estate minions have other means of preserving social control. In the most Anglo-Protestant of ways, US elites use shame and public humiliation as their central tool in maintaining power.

Like small-time criminals, deviants are placed in the stocks of the national media to have their reputations tarred and sullied. A message for all to see: stay off our corner. If you want power, play by our rules — or else. It’s no accident that the most commonly used words and phrases associated with Robert Kennedy, Jr. by the mainstream media this last year have been “conspiracy theorist” and “anti-vaxxer”. Any challenge to the two-party cartel will be met with immediate character assassination and sustained attempts to rally opprobrium.

Henry Wallace, George Wallace and Ralph Nader were all treated by the American establishment as nothing more than deviant lunatics after their third-party runs. The reputational destruction process has been so thorough that it took 70 years for even the country’s academic Left to reconsider the legacy of Henry Wallace after his 1948 Progressive Party bid against Harry Truman —who Democratic Party bluebloods replaced Wallace with as FDR’s heir apparent in a shadowy backroom deal. Wallace was expected to accept that betrayal and fade quietly into the night. When he refused, cartel leaders unleashed their dogs. As with the PRI’s iron rule of Mexico, challengers to the US two-party cartel are technically allowed. However, the twin towers of American politics have established barriers to third-party recognition so high as to make the effort almost pointless.

After Nader’s 2000 Green Party presidential run witnessed dozens of arena-sized rallies — including a packed Madison Square Garden — the two-party cartel sensed danger. In the years that followed, whether “red” or “blue”, nearly every state in the union began exponentially raising the threshold of voter signatures legally required to gain ballot access.

Nader’s presidential bid received less than 3% of the national vote in 2000. However, he was universally blamed by Democratic Party apparatchiks and their national media allies for Al Gore’s narrow defeat. With tremendous message discipline, the Left-wing of the country’s fourth estate has held to its “spoiler” narrative for nearly a quarter of a century. And in exchange for respecting the cartel’s territory (i.e. the state), Americans have historically received a prosperous middle-class existence with affordable homes, automobiles, higher education, and general upward mobility. But in the 21st century, that compact has broken down, without the emergence of alternative political avenues.

Today, the views of average citizens and “mass-based interest groups” have almost no impact on legislation. A recent study — with more than 1,700 variables — found that economic elites dominate the policy process in the US so thoroughly that average citizens and activist groups ultimately have “little or no independent influence”. Put another way: people without wealth and connections no longer have any representation in American politics. Party politics is little more than elaborate theatre formulated to make proles believe they have a voice.

It has been fascinating to watch celebrity presidential candidates — Robert F. Kennedy Jr, Cornel West, Marianne Williamson — all having to face up to the fact that there’s no effective method of challenging this cartel. Independent US media is stronger than ever, but older generations (who vote in the largest numbers) still have almost no exposure to it. Even if outsiders are willing to sacrifice their reputations on the altar of “speaking truth to power”, all avenues to getting new ideas into full national circulation are barricaded. The positive media attention Bernie Sanders’s insurgent 2016 presidential campaign received was a fluke. Trump and Senator Sanders were provided with hundreds of hours of “earned media” on cable news, and even mainstream talk shows, only by virtue of party elites’ vainglorious overconfidence in Hillary Clinton. That mis-step will not be repeated any time soon.

Polls show a majority of Americans have no desire for either Biden or Trump to represent their respective parties again. Regardless, in both cases an edict of T.I.N.A. has been proclaimed — there is no alternative. Neither party’s breadwinner displays any willingness to participate in their organisation’s own democratic nomination process, and maybe not even in inter-party debates next year. This represents another ignominious trail-marker in the country’s slow-motion dissolution. Elites have become so self-consumed — and their political machines so cynical — they don’t even bother keeping up with the charade of a democratic process.

Biden will be one candidate despite the majority of Americans (including Democrats) believing he is too old. To avoid embarrassing their king, even RFK, Jr. — heir to party royalty — was not granted access to the Democrat’s presidential debate stage. Meanwhile, Trump does nothing but insult his competitors for the GOP nod. Like a modern-day emperor, the orange man looks on from his balcony while the patricians carry out a stage battle for the nomination below. Plebes can enjoy the momentary drama, but everyone knows how the story ends. Trump vs. Biden — the rematch.

Since Trump arrived, factional battles between the country’s political towers have turned reckless, if not entirely unhinged. Russia-gate and “Stop the Steal” represent a foolish first for American politics — both towers of the US political system publicly challenging the integrity of the electoral process; something Al Gore did not dare, even after the Supreme Court handed George W. Bush the election in 2000. At this point, the cartel’s entitlement to rule is so great, neither side believes it should ever leave power — no matter their record in office. Not coincidentally, Americans’ individual identification with both parties is at an all-time low (and the desire for new ones at an all-time high). Those numbers will only rise as Boomers begin to pass away.

Never in the country’s history has anyone used a third-party presidential bid in an intelligent and, dare I say, Tory way — patiently building a 50-state party step-by-step and conceptualising the project, not as a two-year publicity campaign, but a multi-generational endeavour. Taking on, arguably, the most powerful political cartel in world history isn’t going to be so simple as running someone for president and hoping they somehow trick-shot their way into national leadership. It reflects the general insanity of American politics that reformers refuse to acknowledge this obvious fact. RFK, Jr’s support is currently showing at over 20% in some polls — a staggering figure for a candidate operating outside the two-party cartel’s dictates. However, without a sustained third-party apparatus intent on playing the long game, the only thing independent presidential bids in the US can accomplish is providing false hope that democracy exists.

What could finally snap Americans out of their stupor, and force them to demand release from their century-and-a-half-long political prison? The PRI’s reign in Mexico held until reformers were delivered a final straw in March of 1994 — the murder of presumed next PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. Many believed the beloved social development secretary, might not only reform the PRI but become the “next Lázaro Cárdenas” — president in the Thirties and a beloved national figure, something akin to the Franklin Roosevelt of Mexico. Could Colosio replicate Càrdenas’s programme of popular reform? Millions of Mexicans were excited to find out. Then, after a speech in Tijuana — with his takeover of the PRI appearing imminent — Colosio was found shot in the head by a .38 Special.

In the aftermath, legions of national and international reporters searched for evidence of a conspiracy. Altogether, it was enough to push for real institutional reform, leading to the breakup of the PRI’s monopoly on power. Less than six years later, Vincente Fox became the first non-PRI president of Mexico in the modern era. Last month marked another key moment in the country’s healing process. Current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador publicly admitted that Colosio’s murder was in fact a “state crime”.

Could it be that all the mounting corruption, dysfunction, and geriatric bogarting of political leadership in the US culminates in such a violent tragedy, utterly tarnishing voters’ perception of the integrity of their electoral system? Probably not, though the summer riots of 2020 and January 6 are evidence of violent discontent brewing on all sides. Despite the country’s love affair with its mythical 1776 revolution, the US two-party cartel will not end with another “tea party”, nor a proverbial storming of the Bastille (as the Left fantasises). More likely, it will end with states breaking off from the union in an attempt to escape the country’s monstrous federal debt — more than $100,000 for every American.

The bleak financial future Gen Z and Millennials face combined with yet another obscenely expensive war — paid for on the national credit card — will trigger a series of events that delivers the final blow to 50-state America and the two-party cartel that rules it. The impact of the coming war in the Middle East — both in terms of lives lost and the trillions borrowed to fight it — could be higher than any conflict the US has fought since the Second World War. At the current rate, interest payments alone on the money borrowed to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated to total $6.5 trillion by 2050. Add to that the cost of a potential new conflict including forces from Iran, Turkey, and even Russia? The effect will be devastating and irreversible.

There is simply no money for another lengthy military engagement in the Middle East. Britain, in essence, lost its 13 American colonies along the Atlantic coast by taxing the colonists to repay debts incurred to fight the French and Indian War. Financing wars, even necessary ones, often topples regimes. No empire is too large to ignore its debts. And the United States is long overdue.

B. Duncan Moench is a scholar of American political culture and a Research Fellow at Heterodox Academy in New York.