Support us

Harris Viewpoints: Marc Farinella on Democratic Norms and Our Broken Political Parties

As a part of Harris Public Policy’s coverage of the 2020 election in conjunction with the Center for Effective Government, we reached out to other experts in the field to share their perspective on the 2020 election. These are their opinions and perspectives, informed by their life experiences and worldviews (and do not necessarily reflect the views of Harris).

Democracy in America is in serious jeopardy. As president, Donald Trump took a wrecking ball to the norms and institutions crucial for sustaining democracy. Certainly, his defeat provides some relief for the time being.

But I remain stunned by the fact that more than 70 million Americans were willing to vote to re-elect a president who demonstrated such disdain for the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free press, congressional oversight, the independence of scientific agencies, and the independence of the justice department. He cozied up to dictators, egged on violence against critics and peaceful protestors, and now is refusing to assure a peaceful transfer of power. Given Trump’s obvious and unrelenting antipathy toward democratic norms, values and institutions, the depth and breadth of his support raises serious questions about the future of democracy in the U.S.

But the problem goes deeper. For democracy to survive in the United States, we need two functional political parties. However, both parties are in trouble. Voters in both parties feel disenfranchised and unrepresented. Republicans in particular feel that the political system has failed them. Both parties are serving as a platform for voices outside the mainstream of what most Americans are comfortable with.

Too many Republican leaders have become apologists and enablers for racist, authoritarian and extremist sentiments because their party counts on those votes in general elections or because they themselves are fearful of facing primary election challenges from the right.

The Democratic Party is broken, too. Perhaps it is not yet as broken as the Republican Party, but it may be on a similar path. Like their Republican counterparts, Democratic leaders are increasingly fearful of pushing back on fringe elements seeking to capture control of the party. Many Democratic leaders and candidates are feeling compelled to give lip-service to – or at least not take issue with – unrealistic and out-of-the-mainstream policy proposals in order to avoid running afoul of the activist minority who dominate primaries and who could make the difference in general elections.

To those who care about American democracy and the functionality of our government, we are in a crisis. With our political parties increasingly influenced by out-of-the-mainstream fringe elements, government is increasingly likely to remain paralyzed or even become responsive to the demands of those elements … and support for democratic institutions will continue to erode. This election should have made clear that we better get serious about addressing this mounting challenge to democracy.

About Marc Farinella

Marc Farinella is the Senior Advisor for Strategy and External Relations for the Center for Effective Government at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. He is a former political consultant, gubernatorial chief of staff, and campaign director. He is also a former Chief Operating Officer of Harris.


The news release above was originally published by the Harris School of Public Policy.