Responses to Ferguson in a two-party system

As we know, the last few months have been particularly ugly for Americans after the non-indictment results for the cases surrounding the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Consequently, the discourse within mainstream media regarding the issues has been especially ugly.

The most notable aspect of the debates about police brutality is how sharply they fall into a left-right dichotomy. Almost immediately after the shootings, news outlets like CNN and Fox News immediately began dissecting the issue from a two-party perspective.

This immediate sorting into two broad and useless categories dates back a while. In fact, how this debate would play out was decided when our founding fathers drafted the Constitution and decided to implement a majoritarian voting system.

Those that have taken political science courses should be aware of Duverger’s law, which argues broadly that the voting system a parliament or congress implements will ultimately shape its political landscape, with few exceptions.

The law argues that while proportional representations such as in Israel or Germany favor a multiparty system, a plurality system such as ours will ultimately favor a political climate that evolves into a two-party system.

Thus, the seeds of a two-party system were sown when our founding fathers decided upon this rule. Over the last few centuries, our values as a society and our interests as voters evolved as we placed our support behind a very limited selection of parties.

It’s no surprise that, consequently, our culture has evolved to reflect our two-party system. For young people who are becoming increasingly aware of world events, take note: The debates on police brutality in this country are a prime example of how our two-party system is reflected in our culture.

For example, the debate has split into two sides, the “pro-cop” and “anti-cop” sides. The most extreme and vocal supporters of either side aren’t particularly correct about the issue. For example, many conservative columnists and politicians immediately paint protesters as anti-cop, whereas the message that protesters are carrying is inherently much more complex.

However, there are still plenty of journalists who are quick to vilify the police as a whole. Of course, the “pro-cop” side of the debate immediately fell in line with conservatives in the country and “anti-cop” protesters were paired up with liberals. This is partially because media outlets are relying on a time-tested system of framing national issues in a left versus right lens. The reason why exactly isn’t as clear, but we do know that it is a solid, reliable formula and gives the audience a consistent and easy-to-follow narrative.

These damaging partisan blinders steer the American public away from the more complex questions that aren’t easily answered by conservative or liberal talking points. For example, neither the political left nor right can say how we can address the deeply ingrained racial biases that cops carry with them on the job. They also cannot say definitively what types of policies can actually be implemented to encourage police officers to shoot less often.

Harder questions like these cannot be answered with partisan agendas; they will take much more research to solve. While a solution may seem clear, we need to be wary that these apparent solutions may simply be part of the way our respective political parties are presenting the issue of police brutality.

Further, attacking individuals for propagating issues, be it Charlton Heston for promoting excessive gun culture or Al Sharpton for inciting riots, the most destructive acts that have emerged from the police brutality marches rest squarely on the shoulders of those that committed those acts. While we may be quick to point out those people as representatives of a whole movement, it still will not tackle the issue of solving problems associated with police brutality.

A solution to police brutality is difficult to achieve because the problems themselves are incredibly complex. It’s dangerous to us as citizens and beneficial to the media and to our lawmakers to frame national issues in a left-right dichotomy, regardless of who wins per se.

Thus, our desires to be a smarter, more sensitive society should not be informed by the political narrative surrounding Ferguson, no matter how convenient it may seem.