It is an understatement to say that Americans are frustrated with our two-party system and the dysfunction that seems to define our politics in recent years. Polls reveal that the public has an unfavorable view of the two major parties, many Americans consider themselves to be “independents,” and the Congress is wildly unpopular. At the same time, the parties and Congress seem to be unable to come together to effectively address either the structural challenges of the political system or the issues facing the nation, and studies reveal that the gap between Democratic and Republican voters is growing. Despite all this, the major parties seem to be here to stay, as third or minor parties still struggle to field electable candidates for most any office. What is going on? Are these new trends in American politics? And how did it get so bad?
This lecture analyzes the development of the political parties and the nation’s historical experiences with political dysfunction. Rather than dissecting particular policies, the focus will be on how the power of Congress and the President has changed over time and what that has meant for American society. The lecture will close with reflections for how we can improve leadership in future years.