A House Divided, or a House Party?

by Mikel Ham

The 2016 presidential race has reinforced the belief that America’s current political party system is flawed, at best. Two factions, often seen as polar opposites, dominate the national discussion on every issue, while smaller parties and independent voters are left disenfranchised.

To choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, in the minds of many voters, is to choose the candidate they see as the lesser of two evils. The question is, how long can voters choose the lesser evil, before there is no distinction between the two? And how can the voices of all be heard, so that, perhaps, there could candidates who aren’t evil at all?

Two Parties, and a House Divided

The biggest issue with bipartisan voting is it creates an “us or them” mentality; congress will destroy a bill, regardless of its merit, for the sole reason that it was brought forth by the opposing party.

Bringing a bill in front of Congress is almost like selling a used car. Representatives and senators will write the bill with way more in it than what they want to accomplish, in order to be “talked down” to what they actually want.

Given the kind of partisan bickering and lack of cooperation seen over the last decade, is it any wonder that most Americans say they’re independent, rather than claiming to be a Democrat or Republican?

Important Issues are Being Ignored

Consider healthcare, a major issue frequently debated by both Republicans and Democrats. Who doesn’t want affordable health care for the entire public? Who doesn’t want the sick and disabled to be cared for? By taking the desired end results into account, bills that support these issues should, in theory, be highly desired by both parties.

Instead, we see gridlock.

For a long time, the Republican right has taken a position against socialized medicine, which runs a hard line against the party’s corporate backing. From the free market perspective, if the government is going to move from subsidizing industries to actively socializing them, many large companies will lose out on existing profits and control of the market. If the government provides healthcare to its citizens, then how would the private sector compete?

There is nothing wrong with a free market—but it shouldn’t cost someone $900 just to go an emergency room.

In fact, the free market for medicine is fairly new in American history, only starting during WWII—since the country could not fund both the war effort and the population’s medical needs, the private sector emerged to fill the gap. Healthcare is a great example of a public need that has been privatized, and needs to be reigned back in by government.

Most people would probably agree that there are problems with the current healthcare system in the United States, even if they can’t always agree on how to fix them—58 percent of Americans support single-payer healthcare, for example, and public opinion of the Affordable Care Act is all over the map.

But healthcare is only one issue—what about the cost and quality of education, military spending, or paying for maintenance of roads and bridges across the country?

It seems that on every major problem facing the United States, Democrats and Republicans can’t see eye to eye. If the two dominant parties in our system can’t agree on what’s best for the country, and are in fact operating largely out of spite for each other, then how can we trust either party to choose candidates for the Presidency?

Decision 2016: Who Chooses the Choosers?

As it stands, the 2016 presidential campaign has been loud, and ugly. What started with over 23 candidates and some of the most caucus participation in history, is ending in email scandals and comparisons of hand size. Two candidates remain, each one appealing to voters as being less toxic than the other.

But has it all been sound and fury, signifying nothing?

The primary elections are already flawed systems, where the popular votes have no direct effect on the outcome. Each party has a convention, where delegates chosen at the primaries and caucuses meet and cast the final vote to choose the final nominees—and that doesn’t even consider superdelegates or contested conventions, mechanisms where parties can override the popular vote altogether.

So, what about votes in the general election, where we choose from the party nominees?

The Electoral College is set up so that the electors are private parties, and while they usually vote along the lines of the party that chose them, they have no obligation to do so. Electors who vote opposite of the party that selected them are known as faithless electors.

The most surprising and little known thing in regards to electors is that the ability of the public (or more practically, political parties formed from groups of the public) to vote on electors is a tradition, and not a rule.

The original right to choose electors belonged to the state government, and still technically resides there. It wouldn’t make sense in a logical world for the person receiving the most popular votes to not receive the delegate votes that decide candidacy or seat of office, but it has been known to happen multiple times in history.

The most recent case was in 2000, when George W. Bush was declared the winner over Al Gore, even though he had approximately 540,000 less popular votes.

Other instances include Adams in 1824, with 38,000 less votes than Jackson; Hayes over Tilden in 1876, with 250,000 less votes; and Harrison’s victory over Cleveland in 1888, with 90,000 less votes in the popular election.

Fewer Choices, Louder Voices

Another issue is that, when thinking of the primaries or the general election, only Republicans and Democrats come to mind. Where are the independent parties? Why do they have no representation? Why is it that you can only vote in the primary if you register as a Democrat or Republican?

The primary system, in and of itself, ensures that voters will get the extreme right or the extreme left candidates running for office. Rarely will voters be presented with middle-ground candidates, willing to compromise across party lines and ideals, and this further alienates voters who themselves are not far right or far left.

With no third-party candidates able to step in when the major two parties’ only mission is to shut each other down, the system can only produce legislative gridlock. With no third-party candidates to challenge the distribution of electoral votes, the system guarantees the victory of the same old tired politics over progress—you have two choices, they were the same choices four years ago, and no one is going to be happy.

People seem to vote based on party lines because, in their minds, the established parties are simply the way it’s always been. What most people don’t realize is that the modern two-party system was never meant to exist; many of the founding fathers, John Adams among them, were against such a system. In a letter from Adams to Jonathan Jackson, Adams stated:

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader and converting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our constitution.”

Two parties constantly fighting leave an ideologically barren political landscape in their wake. Independent voters and third parties could help to break up the deadlock, but only if voters understand that they can challenge the system and are active in taking that challenge to the ballot box.

The Republic Remains

If we have established that there is an issue with the current two-party system, how do we, as a country, go about resolving it?

The answer is simple in theory, if difficult in practice. Americans reside in a democratic republic. Our government is of the people, by the people, for the people—in many ways, that mentality seems to have been lost.

If Americans refuse to vote based on party lines, and vote instead based on the issues, they show the party leadership that politicians can’t just campaign as polar opposites of each other, and instead will have to do more to entertain the policies and positions of the other side—work together, or be out of work.

If Americans show they are more willing to vote for a third party, instead of voting for the most extreme candidates from the far left or far right, they tell party leadership that there is an expiration date on the platform of slinging mud across the aisle—play nice, or the people will choose another player.

The people can change the kinds of candidates put in front of them during elections, and they can change the tone and course of policies, by being active and reminding politicians who they’re supposed to represent.

 

Mikel Ham is a 25-year-old writer and military veteran, working towards becoming a teacher. Contact him at mikel.ham54@gmail.com

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What’s On? Star Trek: Beyond

By Daniel J. Durand

Beyond average. That may sound unexciting, but let me explain.

The rebooted Abrams universe left a lot to be desired for Trekkies who fell in love with the main timeline of the series, and it’s hard for any individual film to stand up to the decades of TV and movies that made up the Trek legacy.

The first of the reboot films was, in my opinion, awful—lens flare and explosions do not a Star Trek movie make. Into Darkness wasn’t much better, essentially a mutated remake of Wrath of Khan, despite promises to the contrary made by Abrams early in production.

The latest iteration of the Star Trek franchise had a lot to make up for. As it stands, while Star Trek: Beyond had some quirks, but I am happy to say that it went far beyond my expectations, and was a solidly good movie.

What Sparked?

First the good news: this movie was not cheesy, nor did it focus on weird romantic tensions or explosions like Star Trek 2009, and character development took on a much more prominent role in Beyond than it did in the previous films.

With the Enterprise crew now three years into their five-year exploratory mission, Kirk is beginning to feel disconnected by the isolation of deep space—there is little structure being so far away from civilization, every day feels the same, and it’s hard to stay grounded.

As he celebrates his birthday, Kirk realizes that he has now outlived his father. Having built his career around living up to his father’s Starfleet reputation, he now must set a reputation of his own. Kirk applies for a promotion to vice admiral, and recommends Spock be promoted to captain of the Enterprise.

Spock, meanwhile, has his own struggles. Since the destruction of his home planet Vulcan, and with the remainder of his people scattered across the galaxy, Spock feels that he owes a reproductive duty to his specie, and breaks off his relationship with Uhura.

Not long after his breakup, Spock is met by two Vulcans, who inform him that his counterpart Ambassador Spock (Leanord Nemoy from the original Star Trek continuity) has died. Spock now must choose between his life in Starfleet, or his sense of obligation to fill in the void left by Ambassador Spock’s passing.

We see Spock’s feelings come out a couple of times in the movie: when he tries to talk to Kirk about his decision to leave Starfleet, but can’t find an appropriate time; and during a conversation with McCoy, when Spock says he intended to reconcile with Uhura. Spock has come a long way since the up-tight, conflicted young man prone to weird emotional outbursts seen in the first movie, and it shows.

Even some of the lesser bridge crew members get some much-needed attention—McCoy gets in on the action during a chase scene toward the end of the movie, and has a few good one-liners, and Scotty shows off his famous charm when we see him casually enjoying a cup of tea, purposefully looking the other way while his engineers bang on equipment in a manner that has to violate Starfleet regulations. Sulu has a daughter, and Chekov, we discover, is a fan of Scotch, much to the surprise of his shipmates.

Granted, some of the developments or one-liners are tongue-in-cheek references to the original series, but what’s important to note is that for the first time, it doesn’t feel like the cast of reboot-Trek is trying to emulate Trek Original Recipe—instead, they’re standing on their own.

At the same time, we do see a lot of nods to the original timeline left behind by Old Spock’s travel to the past in Star Trek 2009. As a long-time Trekkie, it was really nice to see the history of this newer timeline tied back to the old one—without giving too much away, I was ecstatic when the crew finds an old NX-class starship, complete with archive footage of the previous crew in their Enterprise-era uniforms. Props go to Simon Pegg—he spent hours going over Star Trek fan pages and talking with Trekkies online when he wrote the script, trying to tie the movie in with established continuity and lore as much as possible.

While the previous paragraph may not mean much to newer fans, it was refreshing to see the franchise reaching out to older fans again—a lot of us felt like the unwanted step-child back in 2009, and Abrams was kind of a jerk in interviews when talking about the old show and wanting to cut the old guard out in favor of a newer, edgier Trek.

What Sputtered?

While I praised character development before, the flatness of other characters stood out.

Uhura misses out on the treatment her fellow officers receive, and doesn’t really add much to the story other than a plot point for Spock’s arc. In fact, she acts a lot more like Princess Leia than a Starfleet officer, spouting platitudes like “Unity is strength!” to the main villain, Krall, and insisting that her captain will rescue her.

Even Krall and his allies are pretty much a blank slate until the last 20 minutes or so of the movie. All we know about them is that they’re aliens, and for some reason they hate the Federation enough to kill a lot of people.

When a movie withholds details about the plot or characters to build suspense, it can keep the audience hooked, looking for any clues they can find and wanting more. Not so in Beyond, where at each point details may reside… we simply don’t get them, and the scene cuts away.

Which brings me to another problem with the movie—it feels rushed. Not the whole movie, but the first 20 minutes at least, which have us jump settings three or four times, and again at later points where it would have been nice to have had a split second longer to enjoy the scenery.

Case in point: when the crew docks at Yorktown, a massive new starbase packed with skyscrapers and a giant, spiraling city-scape, we get only a brief pan shot that moves too quickly to make out any detail, and when Yorktown first appears on the main viewscreen of the bridge, the camera pans from Kirk exiting the elevator, to the viewscreen, and then straight back around to the bridge in one unbroken movement. We see the characters visibly reacting to how awesome the artificial planet in front of them is, but we barely get to see it ourselves!

There was probably more here that was cut for time, but I felt like I was watching the movie at 150 percent speed, and that speed increase also took away from some of the realism of the computerized graphics.

In fact, the computer graphics failed to impress in more than one instance—space battles looked a lot more like the Star Wars prequels than Trek film, since hardly any seemed to have been made with practical effects or models. As for aliens, while there were many played by actors in full costume and makeup, the realism of those aliens sharply contrasted with the ones who were put in with green screen.

Enterprise and Deep Space 9, two series that pioneered a lot of the digital effects used in the franchise back in the 90s and early 2000s, did a much better job of blending digital and practical effects, and it was sad to see that go when Beyond had so much more money to work with than either series.

Parting Thoughts:

While there were a few quirks this time around, Star Trek: Beyond does a lot more to reconcile between old and new fans, while simultaneously developing its main cast enough to truly stand on its own.

Also, to be fair, I have to say that even the original series took a while before it gained its space-legs, and in a lot of ways, the franchise didn’t really start to pop until Wrath of Khan was released.

The Abrams universe had a lot to prove, and while it still hasn’t completely won me over, it came surprisingly close with this installment—Beyond is to new Trek as Wrath was to old Trek, and I’m actually excited to see where the franchise will go from here, especially with a new TV series on the way.

I give Star Trek: Beyond a B-plus. Points are lost for the weird scene-jumping and pushing so many character details to the final reel, but overall, there was clearly a lot of effort put into getting this one right, and it’s a good movie that I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

 

Daniel Durand wants to cosplay a Starfleet captain. Ask him for details at ddurand.specialprojects@gmail.com