The prospect of a presidential race between the two most unpopular candidates in American electoral history should give us serious pause to reflect upon the inherent precariousness of any democratic system.
On the one hand, democracy protects a people from the whims and excesses of despotism by creating a system of accountability and popular will. On the other, it places power in the hands of the masses, who may be uninformed and easily manipulated; as Robert A. Heinlein once wrote, does history record any case in which the majority was right?
A lot of people seem to agree. Even now that the outcome appears inevitable in both primary races , opposition to the status quo has grown so intense that, in both parties, the voices of pragmatism are being drowned out by the battle cry of revolution.
Each rebel camp is a bizarre mirror-image of the other. On the Republican side, the party orthodoxy is rejecting the presumptive nominee for being indifferent to its values and unfit to lead. On the Democratic side, a surging upstart movement rallies around an untethered independent while decrying the corruption of the party orthodoxy itself.
Both insurgent groups are threatening to turn to third-party candidates. Leaders on both sides are warning that such a move would be political suicide, and history supports their fears. Third-party campaigns backfired for Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Strom Thurmond (nearly) in 1948, Ross Perot in 1992, and Ralph Nader in 2000. So isn’t it better to vote for the lesser of two evils than to give away the election by grasping at straws?
That’s a good question.