A Donkey, an Elephant and Something Else

Many people know that there are two parties in the United States, the Democratic and the Republican parties, and they are both fighting for power. The symbol of the former is a donkey; the latter, an elephant. And so it is — but not exactly. In the United States, attempts have been made to change this system on more than one occasion.

At the end of the 19th century, the Populist Party challenged the system when it was founded by those who opposed monopolies and the subordination of democracy to financial and industrial capital. They represented the interests of farmers, and demanded taxation of wealth, creation of state granaries and regulation of agricultural supplies and prices, and they campaigned under a slogan of fighting against elite domination.

In the election of 1892, their presidential candidate, James Weaver, received 8.5% of the popular vote and the electoral votes of four states. Nine states elected populist governors; they sent 45 congressmen to the House of Representatives and five to the Senate. The “elephants” and “donkeys” came to their senses and quickly “stole” the party’s slogans and its activists. The Populists nominated presidential candidates five more times, but unsuccessfully, and in 1913 they faded out of the political system.

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party competed in elections with Democrats, Republicans and Socialists. Democrat Woodrow Wilson won, and Roosevelt came in second with 88 electoral votes from six states and 27.4% of the popular vote. Republican William Taft won eight electoral votes, and socialist Eugene Debs secured 6% of the popular vote.

A new Progressive Party was founded by Robert La Follette; in 1924 he received 13 electoral votes and 16.6% of the popular vote. Meanwhile, the emergence of another political party in the United States became more and more tangible. In 1971, a new player entered politics, one which has increasingly become accepted in the past 10 years. What cannot be denied to its supporters is self-irony. And in politics nowadays, that is sometimes even more important than bestial/brutal seriousness.

Moreover, in 1972 only 3,674 people voted for Libertarian presidential candidate John Hospers, but in 1976, there were 172,553 votes for Roger MacBride. In 1980, Ed Clark received nearly 1 million votes; in 2008, Robert Barr more than 500,000; and in 2016, Gary Johnson received 4 million votes.

In the 2020 election, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, a professor at Clemson University and the only female U.S. presidential candidate on the ballot, received 1.7 million votes. This was less than in previous elections, but more than the last one. Her campaign slogans included, “Real change for real people!” along with “Let her speak!” and “Break free from big government!” The Libertarian Party’s name is accompanied by an explanation that it is “the party of principle.” But who are they? And what are their goals, ideas, and proposals? The documents that explain them are available online, but it wouldn’t hurt to list their main principles here.

Respecting the rights of the individual, libertarians believe, is the key to prosperity. In their opinion, no one should be obligated to sacrifice their own rights for the benefit of others. They defend each person’s right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome activity and the diversity that freedom brings. “The world we seek to build is one where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power.” And this is not a matter for the distant future. They want to live in such a world now.

Speaking about the philosophical foundations of libertarianism, it is worth recalling Ayn Rand’s concept of Objectivism, Max Stirner’s “The Unique and Its Property,” Ludwig von Mises’ words about the right to choose both the brand of soap and the party so as not to become a “pawn in the hands of the supreme social engineer,” and “private property as the foundation of freedom” by Friedrich von Hayek. And also Adam Smith, the Austrian School of Economics, Henry George, David Friedman, Murray Rothbard with his anarcho-capitalism, Noam Chomsky and other prophets of libertarian socialism, and many others. In the libertarian worldview, the state is not necessary. But it probably is. And if so, it is because it is needed for those who produce tangible and intangible goods.

Their main values are the right to life, freedom of speech, property and peace. They reject the death penalty, coercion, censorship and surveillance, interference with property, sexual and family relations, and the upbringing of children as long as they are protected from violence. One of the guarantees for upholding these rights is the possession of firearms and the impunity of self-defense.

Their platform also includes environmental protection measures; eliminating government control over the cost of energy distribution and production; repealing the income tax and the introduction of voluntary funding of social services; decriminalizing prostitution; and lifting restrictions on emigration. Other points relate to defense, foreign policy, crime and ensuring citizens’ involvement in governance. At the same time, they would abolish that form of governance if it violated the freedom of the individual, and bring in a form of government that would protect it as effectively as possible.

In 2020, 652,261 Americans were registered voters with the Libertarian Party, but three times as many voted for them. It is in third place in terms of its number of supporters and has one member of Congress, more than 100 members of state legislatures, county and city government and other elected bodies. And their numbers are growing.

While Donald Trump, trying to protest the election results, destroys the authority of the U.S. political system, and Joe Biden prepares a mop and bucket for cleaning house, many recognize that Americans seem to have chosen not between Democrats and Republicans, but between Trump-style chaos and a semblance of normalcy.

Judging by disputes on social media, there are Trump fans in Russia. But there are Libertarians too! In 2008 they established a party here. It has not yet been registered and went through a split in the fall. Now there are two of them. What do their members think of their U.S. counterparts? One of their leaders, Boris Fedyukin, is interested in the practices and arguments proposed to solve the problems of their country, as well as the studies of the Cato Institute, which have been available in Russian since 2005. At the same time, the political context and issues in Russia and the United States differ so much that he does not regularly follow the successes and failures of his colleagues. But, I am sure that the result of this year’s presidential election in the United States is important for the whole world.

Biden has secured enough electoral votes to become president, representing those who see Trump as a threat to democracy. After all, Trump has established a body of fans and supporters not so much from the Republican Party but his own, who see in him a fighter against immigration and welfare state initiatives, which they consider “leftist.”

They say that Trump intends to run again in 2024, relying on those who want to protect the white bosom of America from dark and yellow seeds and make it a white island, closed to people beyond the southern border and removed from world problems. Trump speaks of the crisis of the party system in the United States as a phenomenon. And a crisis, if anyone has forgotten, brings new opportunities. These include opportunities for emerging parties. Do the Libertarians have a good chance of becoming one them? I won’t rush to answer, but they are.

“What’s good about them?” their fellow Americans ask. “They want to abolish taxes. Then where does the money come from for schools, police, firefighters or an army? They want to rescind social services for the elderly, the poor, the sick, etc. They say, do it yourself or you’ll die. Well, did Rand forego Social Security and Medicare when she was sick?” Does that sound reasonable? But the question, I think, is not about “what’s good” in a party. Rand, taxes, pensions (Russian libertarians, by the way, protested against raising the retirement age) — these are not important. Real politics prompts us to reform both programs and practices. The question is what alternatives to current political models do citizens propose and how can they change them.

Politicians and scholars mostly agree that the party system in the United States has not kept up with the country’s pace of development. And it is important to understand the conditions which the new policies from such development create. And by the way, this applies not only to America.

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