I Still Love America

An Editorial

I had a plan for this year’s Cat Flag 4th of July blog. I was going to do a fun post about the origins of all 50 state nicknames. I thought it would be exactly the sort of informative, entertaining blog for a holiday that celebrates the nation I was born in, that I live in, and that I love.

Yes, I still love the United States of America.

Now, I am being told that I shouldn’t. That we should tear down monuments to our historical figures, even our Founding Fathers. That the holiday we are due to celebrate in a few days “glorifies white supremacy”. That our nation was founded on slavery and racism, and is rotten to its very core.

June 2020 has been a frightful month. A month that began with riots, vandalism, and destruction that killed several innocent bystanders and devastated business that were already hurting due to the ongoing pandemic. A month where rioters and anarchists were allowed to seize and occupy by force the core of our nation’s 15th-largest city, only disbursed at last once people were shot and killed. A month where it seemed tearing down or vandalizing statues, seemingly any statues, had become the latest fun summer pastime. A month where calls to defund or abolish law enforcement led to a 145% spike in gun sales as scared Americans decided for the first time that they needed to take immediate action to protect themselves.

Yet I still love America.

I love the natural beauty of this land, the wonder of its landscapes and the diversity of its wildlife.

Three environments 3

I love the people of this land, who foreigners often remark are among the friendliest and most genuine people on the planet.

I love our Constitution and the freedoms it grants to me.

US constitution and flag by wynpnt at goodfreephotos

I love the prosperity that we Americans enjoy, having the world’s largest economy by GDP, a very high standard of living, and so much food and creature comforts available so readily that we all get spoiled.

I love our diversity, as more than a million people from around the world immigrate to the United States every year in search of opportunity, bringing elements of their own cultures with them.

Of course, we are not perfect. No nation is. Last month, we got a very real taste of our nation’s imperfections and continued problems. Yet one of the things I love most about America is that we are a people who are always striving to improve and do better.

The police officers charged with the murder of George Floyd are about to face trial. The city of Louisville, Kentucky, passed a law banning no-knock warrants and named the law after Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed during the execution of such a warrant. President Trump enacted an executive order requiring police forces receiving federal grant money ban chokeholds, train officers on de-escalation techniques, maintain a database of complaints about police officers, and maintain mental health experts on staff. The Republican governor of Mississippi just signed a bipartisan bill to redesign that state’s flag to remove symbols of the Confederacy from it.

Meanwhile, it has seemed over the past month that virtually every major corporation across America have made public statements condemning racism and committing themselves to a review of their hiring and promotion practices, with many also donating to civil rights groups.

Are these the acts of a society dedicated to white supremacy? Are these the acts of racists seeking to protect their privilege?

In 1620, 102 men, women, and children aboard the Mayflower arrived in the New World to start a society that was dedicated to being better than the ones they had left behind in Europe and would instead seek to be closer to God.

In 1776, the descendants of those passengers, inspired by Enlightenment ideals, were bold enough to break with the past and start a new nation that would have liberty as its cornerstone.

From 1861 to 1865, the grandchildren of the Founding Fathers shed their blood to secure the freedom of those whose liberty had not been included in the original deal and make America more closely match its founding ideal.

A century later, a preacher who was the great-grandson of slaves decided to take action and lead an effective campaign of civil rights protests to make America keep its promise to those who had been freed by that war that they would be counted as equal Americans.

The history of America is a history of constant improvement, each successive generation always working towards that goal written into our Constitution: “a more perfect union”. This is the history I am proud of.

I still love America.

A Prayer

Black screen

Today, all four of the police officers who were involved with the death of George Floyd were formally charged. We have all seen the sickening footage of Floyd’s last moments in those men’s custody.

We have also seen the news and our social media feeds filled with images of violence and destruction.

Many Americans, rightfully, are calling for justice. Not only justice for George Floyd, but a more just and equal society where the lives of people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others like them would not be taken through such heinous acts.

Yet as they march, there are those who take advantage of the disruption to riot, loot, steal, and destroy, even as Floyd’s own family begs for peace. Those who steal more than 80 cars, some worth more than $90,000. Those who smash businesses and destroy the livelihoods of many who were already reeling from the current pandemic. Those who, in that greatest and most infuriating of ironies, have taken the lives of others themselves. Lives like David Dorn, a retired African-American police officer killed when trying to protect a pawn shop in St. Louis.

It’s easy to feel terrified, anxious, depressed, or a mix of all three when we are so surrounded by all this darkness that it feels inescapable. In times like these, I think back to my childhood, watching Fred Rogers on PBS, telling children who were afraid of what they saw in the news.

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Indeed, there are many helpers out there trying to make a positive difference, even now. The same social media that shows broken glass, spray paint, and fire everywhere also shows brave protesters confronting the rioters and looters. This video shows people in New York protecting their Target store. This one shows UFC champion Jon Jones stopping rioters from spraying graffiti. This one shows a police officer from Flint, Michigan speaking to protesters, not in confrontation, but in solidarity.

These recent news headlines have shown us all the bad in humanity. What is far too often lost in that picture is the good in humanity. Right now, we need to see more of the good.

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:8

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” U.S. Declaration of Independence

Brexit: An American’s Perspective

Brexit Image by Marco Verch

An Editorial

Today is the first day that the United Kingdom is an independent nation outside the European Union. Brexit, the term coined to represent the UK’s secession from the EU, took effect last night at 11 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time. This comes three and a half years since the 2016 referendum we covered here on Cat Flag, where British voters chose to leave the EU. Few could have predicted just what a drawn-out mess this process would be. A process that was supposed to take two years would instead keep getting extended and extended, involve two bitter and acrimonious elections, an initial deal that was so thoroughly rejected that a new Prime Minister would have to draw up a new one from scratch, one of the most dramatic and tempestuous moments in the history of the British Parliament as MP’s came to near-blows, and even a case that had to be ruled on by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

After all of that drama, the final withdrawal itself was quite anticlimactic: a 42-second ceremony where two staffers took the Union Jack down from the European Council building.

So, what happened here? As an American who has never been to the UK, I can only speak to what all of this looks like from the viewpoint of a complete outsider. However, sometimes getting an outsider’s perspective can be useful, as when you are in the thick of something so dramatic, one can sometimes fail to see the forest for the trees. So, here’s my perspective on Brexit.


David Cameron official portrait from HM Government

After World War II, there was an idea to link the economies of France, Germany, and other European nations together so completely that a third major continental war would be materially impossible. This led to the creation of several free-trade treaties, that over time evolved into a broader free-trade area across much of Europe. In the 1970’s, as the once-mighty British Empire disintegrated, the UK joined what was known at the time as the “Common Market” in a move that was seen as a way to bolster an economy that was really feeling the impact of decolonization.

Gradually, however, this free-trade area began to evolve into something else. Within Europe’s political, business, and academic circles, the idea emerged that the nations of Europe would be stronger and better off if they integrated more closely and became a proper federation, a sort of “United States of Europe”. This would be good for big corporations, as it meant consistent and predictable laws and regulations that made it easier to do business across the continent. It was also argued that a Europe that spoke with one voice would be stronger and more able to compete with superpowers like the USA, Russia, and China. To this end, the “Common Market” evolved into the European Union, a unique political entity that is technically an international organization but in many ways functions like a national government.

Not everyone was on board with this plan, though. All across Europe, so-called “Euroskeptics” have argued against this push for a federal Europe, either because they don’t want to lose their own national identity, they don’t like or trust the EU’s policies and don’t want to see it gain more power, or they simply don’t see how these plans benefit them. In the UK, separated by the English Channel from the rest of the continent, Euroskepticism was so strong that they refused to join some of these integration projects, such as the Euro. To many British voters, particularly working-class voters, they had been the victim of a bait-and-switch, thinking they were signing on to a trade agreement and instead getting their sovereignty taken away.

Still, the EU has its supporters among the British public, particularly among big businesses and well-educated white-collar workers who see the benefits of being able to trade, travel, and move freely across Europe. Yet Britain couldn’t ignore the Euroskeptics, as they were well-organized and very vocal. The UK Independence Party was formed to campaign for a British withdrawal from the EU, and it was drawing away voters from the Conservative Party. To Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, this was a problem. So, he made a promise: he would hold a referendum on British membership in the EU. He personally supported staying in the EU, of course, but he said he would let the people have a say anyway. At the time, everyone expected this to be a mere formality; the British public would see the benefits of EU membership outweighing the drawbacks, vote to remain within the EU by a wide margin, and drop the issue for the foreseeable future.

That’s not what happened.

See, there was a huge disconnect between the UK’s political leadership, who thought the benefits of EU membership were obvious, and the working-class voters who saw it as a project of uncaring elites who didn’t listen to their concerns. I commented about this at the time. The result was so shocking that not only did Cameron immediately resign, so did the leaders of the pro-Brexit faction, as they didn’t expect to win and had no idea how to make Brexit a reality.

This was the first mistake.

Mistakes were made

Broken glass image by Tiago Padua


Those Vote Leave leaders who were campaigning for Brexit, even if they didn’t expect to win, should have had a plan. They should have stepped up when the results came in and said, “Yes, we will deliver what we promised to the British voters.” Instead, the task of actually getting the UK out fell to Theresa May, who had been an outspoken opponent of Brexit. Because that makes sense.

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union allows EU member states to withdraw after negotiating an exit agreement with the remaining members or, barring that, automatically once two years have passed after triggering the secession process, unless everyone agrees to extend the deadline. The reason for this is that the EU has many nations around its periphery that have some sort of special agreement for cooperation on trade, travel, justice, and human rights. Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein are part of a customs union that allows free trade and travel with the EU, but this forces them to be bound by EU law in many policy areas, and as non-EU members they have no say in those laws. Countries like the Ukraine and Turkey, that seek to join the EU in the future, have special free-trade agreements that help prepare them for entry, but they have to agree to “harmonize” their laws with the EU. The EU negotiators wanted to slot the UK into one of these existing relationship categories, but all of them had some sort of deal-breaker for British negotiators, such as forcing the UK to continue allowing uncontrolled immigration from the EU or to accept the jurisdiction of EU courts.

At the same time, while the majority of British voters clearly wanted to leave the EU, the majority of British businesses clearly didn’t, and wanted to somehow preserve their access to EU free trade. At the same time, there were concerns about how all of this would affect Northern Ireland, that part of the island of Ireland that is still part of the United Kingdom but is claimed by the Republic of Ireland and spent much of the latter half of the 20th century suffering from sectarian violence over this issue. The Good Friday Agreement that ended the violence had the end of a hard border between the UK and Ireland as one of its stipulations, but without a special Brexit deal with the EU, such a hard border would have to be reinstated. Some feared that this would lead to sectarian violence returning to Northern Ireland, something that all parties agreed would be bad.

May’s government laid all of these concerns out in a document issued in February 2017 as a rough guide to their plan for the Brexit negotiations. In April, seeking to strengthen her hand by securing public support for her position from the voters, she called an early election. The result of that election was that her party actually lost seats in Parliament, giving her the literal opposite of a stronger hand. Now, she would have to negotiate with the EU with a hand tied behind her back, with no guarantee that Parliament would approve any deal she reached.

So, let’s talk about her deal, shall we? By 2018, May had a plan for Brexit: the UK would try to stay inside the EU’s free-trade area and stick to EU rules and regulations (remember, as a non-EU member, they would have no say in these rules). Several ministers in May’s government straight-up resigned after hearing this proposal. Undeterred, she brought this proposal to the EU, with the two sides adding a “backstop” plan for Northern Ireland that would basically leave it in the EU in all but name until the two sides sorted out how to handle the UK-Irish border.

This plan basically did little more than the bare minimum needed for May to say she “delivered Brexit” without actually changing anything, while still technically not even “delivering Brexit” for Northern Ireland at all. Not only was this rejected by Parliament, it was the worst defeat by Parliament of a Prime Minister’s bill in British history. Now, most people would have seen such a staggering defeat and thought, “Man, I really messed up. I should probably go back to the drawing board and try something else.” Instead, she brought her exact same deal before Parliament again, and was unsurprisingly defeated again.

Now, at this point in the process, that Article 50 two-year deadline was approaching. May knew this, and was using it as a tactic to force everyone to comply. News stories like this one warned about the supposedly horrific consequences of a Brexit without a deal, and she hoped that fear would get Parliament to back down and give her what she wanted. But the MP’s saw right through her plan, and instead voted to reject a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances, forcing her to beg the EU for more time. This would soon become a recurring pattern, as the Brexit deadline was extended again and again.

Credit where credit is due, May was persistent. She tried to put her deal before Parliament for a third time. This time, however, John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, denied her, saying long-standing Parliamentary precedent has held that one can’t keep bringing the same bill to Parliament again and again as it is a waste of Parliament’s time. To force the issue, May made some minor edits so that it would technically be a different bill. It still didn’t pass. Only now, belatedly, did she resign.

Starting over

Restart image by Anders Sandberg

The problem with May’s premiership is pretty clear. She had a particular vision of what she wanted a post-Brexit UK to look like, and was determined to make that vision come true in spite of every glaring evidence from all directions that nobody in the UK wanted it. Those who opposed Brexit wanted to somehow stop it, either with a second referendum or just straight-up ignoring the referendum results, since it technically was a non-binding vote anyway. Those who supported Brexit saw May’s plan as tantamount to a non-Brexit “Brexit”, giving in to the demands of the other EU leaders and to big business while making the UK, in Boris Johnson’s words, “an EU colony”.

Speaking of Boris Johnson, he was the one who managed to take over as Prime Minister after May. A Brexit hardliner from day one, he was disgusted by the years of pointless political wrangling and promised to get the job done. However, he was like May in one regard: he wanted to leave a no-deal Brexit on the table. By the time he took office, another deadline was looming, and Parliament wanted to ask for yet another extension.

This is where things get even more complicated, and now I have to talk about the British constitution. For generations, there has been an understanding between Parliament and the reigning monarch that he or she can only suspend Parliament “on the advice of the Prime Minister”. This is normally done for a few reasons, and one is to allow an incoming government to get its affairs in order. These sorts of traditions are recognized as being part of the UK’s “unwritten constitution”, they are just sort of how things are done.

When Johnson went to ask the Queen to suspend Parliament, however, many saw that he was suspending it for a very long time, and doing so startlingly close to the Brexit deadline. Many put two and two together and suspected he was deliberately trying to weasel out of having Parliament scrutinize his negotiations with the EU. The British supreme court agreed, and ruled his actions unconstitutional, something that is very rarely done in British law as, again, its constitution isn’t a written document like the one in the United States.

So, Parliament forced Johnson to ask for one last Brexit extension, and Johnson, seeing how this Parliament had treated May and now himself, called an early election to allow the voters to decide what direction Brexit should take. When the vote came in, his party won one of the largest landslide victories in decades. The British public clearly was on Johnson’s side and wanted Brexit done.

Get it done, Johnson did, as the final withdrawal agreement was, at last, approved by Parliament and the EU. There is still more negotiating to be done, however. Technically, the UK is now in a “transition period” that will nail down the finer details of the relationship with the EU. During this time, the UK will still act as though it is an EU member in terms of travel and trade until December 31 of this year. The Northern Ireland question was resolved with a new plan where instead of keeping it in the EU or putting up a hard border, goods going into and out of Northern Ireland will be checked at the ports, with tariffs charged only on goods destined for Ireland but not on goods that will be staying in Northern Ireland.

Brexit coin image from Deutsche Welle

The British mint is issuing 50p coins with a commemorative design in honor of Brexit

Personally, I think this transition period is something that should have been part of the agreement from the beginning. The big sticking point that was dragging on the negotiations was that May wanted to get both Brexit and a new trade deal done at the same time. I have long felt that these should have been treated as two separate issues, as Brexit is ultimately a political concern and the trade deal an economic one. Brexit was about the British people reclaiming their national sovereignty and independence, something that many felt much more strongly and passionately about than business regulations or tariffs.

Yet I’m not surprised by how dramatic the last four years have been. The EU has a vested interest in “punishing” the UK for leaving. The UK was the second-largest net contributor to the EU budget, and furthermore, the EU has to be worried that after Brexit, other countries might follow suit, threatening the EU’s very existence. At the same time, the Brexit vote was a close one, and many in the UK wanted to stay in the EU. These anti-Brexit voices were going to try to derail the process as much as possible.

Even with these factors in mind, though, it is truly embarrassing that it has taken this long for the choice of the British people to be respected. This has been a lesson in what happens when the elites of a society are so disconnected from the ordinary people that they don’t understand what the people want or need. Hopefully we Americans can learn a thing or two from this.

The Fracturing World of Streaming

An Editorial

I suspect Hulu’s days are numbered. Here’s why.

Hulu was founded as a joint venture between multiple big media companies as an answer to the rise of Netflix, the independent DVD rental-by-mail service that quickly transformed itself into an innovator in the new market of videos streamed online, offering movies and TV shows for subscribers to watch anywhere at anytime. Hulu, being owned by the likes of NBC Universal, Fox, and the Walt Disney Company, had an advantage in securing the streaming rights to a vast library of television programming, as it was owned by the very companies that produced those shows. Netflix, in contrast, has to continually negotiate the streaming rights to the films and TV shows it offers, apart from their own original programming that they make in-house.

Then, Disney bought 21st Century Fox, and as a consequence of that merger, they now own a 67% share of Hulu, with NBC Universal’s parent, Comcast, agreeing to basically let Disney run Hulu outright and promising to sell its remaining 33% share in five years. So, okay, Disney owns Hulu now, what does that matter?

Disney is planning to launch its own streaming service on November 12. Disney+ is a service that will take advantage of the massive size the company has grown to in recent years, to offer not only Disney films, but also movies and TV shows from Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Fox, and even National Geographic. At the same time, Comcast is going to slowly pull NBC Universal’s content off of Hulu to start their own streaming service that is expected to launch next year. Basically, Hulu is going to be made redundant, and from Disney’s point of view, if it merges Hulu with Disney+, it is guaranteed a massive subscriber base from all the former Hulu subscribers, and will inherit all of Hulu’s own original programming as well. It just makes sense to me that Disney would want to do this.

Disney and NBC aren’t the only big media companies seeking to claim a piece of the hot, new streaming market. WarnerMedia is also launching their own streaming service, HBO Max, also arriving next year. CBS already has its own service, CBS All Access, offering the channel’s TV lineup and some original shows, most notably the latest versions of Star Trek. In a way, I am starting to feel sorry for Netflix, the innovator that started this rush, now constantly losing programming to its competitors as the big media companies pull their libraries off Netflix to put them on their own, rival streaming services. No wonder Netflix has made a huge push to increase its in-house library.

In fact, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, and other streaming services have another crutch they have to overcome. The FCC has repealed net neutrality in the United States, and so far attempts to have Congress reinstate it have stalled, in spite of wide, bipartisan support for net neutrality among the American people. I have written about net neutrality on this blog before, but to summarize, it is the principle that internet providers have to treat all data that users want to access equally. Without it, ISP’s can legally throttle streaming speeds and charge higher premiums for access to certain internet services.

Well, AT&T owns WarnerMedia, and Comcast owns NBC Universal. Is it any wonder these companies want to get into the streaming business? Think about it – they can force people who want to stream movies and TV shows on Netflix or Amazon or Disney+ to pay higher prices for a “premium internet package”, but allow people who use their own in-house streaming service to use it at no extra charge. So long as they are up-front about it and not deceptive, that’s perfectly legal now.

Speaking of cost…

In general, streaming services are not free. Netflix runs up to $15.99 a month. CBS All Access will run you up to $9.99 a month. Hulu’s ad-free version costs $11.99 a month. CuriosityStream, a niche streaming service offering documentaries about science, nature, and history costs $19.99 per year. Amazon Prime Video requires an Amazon Prime subscription, which currently costs $119 per year. At least Crunchyroll, a streaming service for anime, actually is free – though if you want to remove ads you have to pay $7.99 a month. The more streaming services you sign up for, the more expensive it gets. Many Americans, myself included, have gotten rid of cable and now mainly use streaming for entertainment, but it is really easy to end up paying enough in your monthly streaming service bills to equal a cable bill.

And it’s not like Disney+, HBO Max, or the new NBC streaming service will be free, either.

When the streaming market was new, everyone had Netflix and Hulu and that was about all anyone needed. Now, streamers have to pick and choose which streaming services they want to subscribe to, and so these companies have to compete with each other on what their service offers viewers to watch. There are literally websites that exist to track which movies and shows are on which services, and these have to be updated regularly as contracts expire and new ones are negotiated.

Hence, the push for more streaming-only original content that is linked to a specific service. Do you want to watch the upcoming Star Trek: Picard? Better sign up for CBS All Access, then, as you can’t watch it anywhere else.

Legally, anyway

This forces people to pick and choose what programming is worth paying an extra $10-$20 a month for, and many will miss out on films and shows they my have otherwise enjoyed because the price tag is too high. People will end up segregating themselves by preferred streaming service, only seeing shows available on other services when visiting a friend’s or relative’s house. The streaming market is fracturing as we speak, and at least for the foreseeable future, will continue to do so. What impact will this have on what films and TV shows get made, or on how audiences respond to them? Only time will tell. However, it will have an impact, and a big one. Of that, I can be sure.

Why Democrats and Republicans?

An Editorial

It’s April of 2019, so naturally, everyone is gearing up for the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Already. I’ve discussed before why our presidential election cycle here in the U.S. takes forever, but today, I wanted to look a little deeper at an often-overlooked aspect of American politics that we often don’t appreciate, until something happens that reminds us about it.

See, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is currently looking at the possibility of running for president, but not as a Democrat or as a Republican. He is looking at pursuing an independent run for office in 2020. This got me thinking about the fact that America has been politically dominated by the same two political parties since the mid-19th century. The Democratic Party is the oldest continuously-existing political party in the world, and the Republicans are also among the world’s oldest. Why those two parties? What has kept them in power for so long?

Well, I think there are a couple of factors at play. The first one being:

How Americans Vote

Most elections in the United States are decided by the oldest, simplest, and easiest to understand election system in the world, known to political scientists who study these things as “First-Past-the-Post” or FPTP. Under this rule, whoever gets the most votes, wins. Simple, right? That sounds fair.

Or it does, until you consider this scenario:

  • You have three candidates running: Jill, Jane, and John. Jill is liked by faction “A”, Jane is liked by some people from faction “B”, and John is liked by other people from faction “B”.
  • When the votes come in, Jill wins 40% of the vote, Jane wins 30%, and John wins 30%. Under FPTP, Jill wins.
  • Notice, though, that 60% of the votes cast were for candidates supported by faction “B”. This means that even though the majority of people support “B”, they are now going to be ruled by “A”. In essence, the minority won.

This is called the spoiler effect, and it is a major factor in the logic of voters when they go to the polls in countries, like the U.S., that use FPTP. Voters don’t want to “waste their vote” on the candidate that they actually support if he or she has no chance of winning, so they will instead vote for the candidate who is most likely to win that lines up most closely to their political beliefs.

Now, I personally think that the spoiler effect is a bit overstated. Clear-cut scenarios like the one I presented are rare. People are complicated, politics is complicated, and voters’ political agendas are very personalized and not likely to overlap neatly. A more realistic scenario is that of Ross Perot, who ran for president in 1992 and 1996, both times as neither a Democrat nor a Republican. His message was popular with a wide swath of Americans, and he pulled in liberal, moderate, and conservative voters. I have heard people argue that he “swung the election” to Bill Clinton in each of those races, but that is a really hard claim to prove. If he hadn’t run, who knows how many people who ended up voting for him would have instead voted Democrat or Republican? Perhaps Clinton would have won regardless, perhaps not.

Still, the spoiler effect does matter, as it matters in the minds of voters as they decide for whom they should cast their ballots. In this way, FPTP creates an environment that favors a two-party system: one big party on the political left, and one big party on the political right. Third-party and independent candidates in an FPTP system like Perot (and perhaps Schultz) have a much more daunting challenge, as they have to break voters out of the mindset of worrying about the spoiler effect.

So, that’s part of the answer. However, FPTP does NOT guarantee that the same two political parties will remain the “big two” indefinitely. In the FPTP-using United Kingdom, the Labour Party overtook the Liberals as the main party of the left in the 1920s. More recently, Canada, which also uses FPTP, saw their main party of the right, the Progressive Conservatives, completely collapse in the 1990s, eventually replaced by the Conservative Party of Canada. Even here in the United States, there were a number of political parties that rose and fell before we Americans settled on the Democrats and Republicans. So, how did those two manage to solidify and entrench their power so completely?

The Civil War

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln, the first-ever president from the new, antislavery Republican Party, was elected. Almost immediately, the country broke apart into a war between the states, north vs. south. When the war ended in a Union victory, the Republicans claimed credit for abolishing slavery for good and reunifying the nation. That’s why their nickname is “the Grand Old Party”. Many Union veterans, freed slaves, and former abolitionists remained faithful Republican voters for the rest of their lives, as were many early feminists, as Republicans led the way in winning the right to vote for women.

Meanwhile, Reconstruction in the south was, to say the least, controversial. The more radical faction in the Republican party wanted to protect the rights of African-Americans while punishing white southerners for daring to rebel. Democrats, on the other hand, argued for reconciliation with white southerners and turning a blind eye to discrimination and violent attacks against the African-American community. As for why America didn’t try reconciling with white southerners while also protecting African-Americans, well, the only man who advocated for such a plan had been shot in Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth.

White southern voters remembered the Republicans as the party of the Union, the party of the war, the party of Reconstruction. So, they became the most reliable Democratic voters in America for generations. The southern states were known as the “Solid South”, as it was said the Democrats could nominate a dog or a lamppost and the south would vote for it. In many parts of the south, the local Republican Party organization simply ceased to exist. For generations, the divide set by the Civil War became the main divide in American politics, as the Republicans and Democrats coasted off of the feelings towards their respective parties by those who had been most directly impacted by it.

That’s why, in 2016, 89% of African-American voters supported Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump… wait, what?

Hang on. Left me look at the 2016 election map by state:

Looks like someone has some explaining to do.

The New Deal and the Southern Strategy

One of the side-effects of the divide between the Democrats and Republicans being based on the Civil War, was that both parties had liberal, moderate, and conservative wings. The divide between the parties was NOT based on ideology, at least at first.

Then, the generation that had lived through the Civil War started to grow old and pass away, and their children started to grow old and pass away as well. Over time, as the memory of the Civil War faded, people just weren’t as married to the political parties of their parents and grandparents anymore.

The first sign of a major shift came during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many of his New Deal policies brought economic aid and benefits to impoverished African-American communities. This brought hope to a large section of the population that had been denied it for generations. FDR also appointed African-American leaders such as Mary McLeod Bethune to important political positions. Gradually, the younger generation of African-American voters were pulled toward the Democrats.

This caused some tension within the Democratic Party, which was still the party of Jim Crow segregation in the South. Yet President Lyndon B. Johnson, himself a white southern Democrat, pulled together a cross-party coalition that passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many conservative white southern Democrats were so upset by what they saw as a betrayal by their own party, that they formed a new political party, the American Independent Party, that ran the outspokenly pro-segregation Alabama Governor George Wallace as their candidate in 1968.

Many see this as the tipping point, the final break between the former Solid South and the Democrats. But that’s not entirely true. Many white southern Democrats from that generation stayed lifelong Democrats. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) has the distinction of having fought against both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Iraq War. In fact, in 1972, George Wallace ran for president again, but this time as a Democrat, with one of his opponents in the Democratic primary being none other than Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to serve in Congress.

Still, as the Democratic Party grew more and more openly liberal, the Republicans grew more and more openly conservative. The Republican leadership recognized that this was creating an opening to attract southern conservative ex-Democrat voters, so they pursued “the Southern Strategy” to get these voters to switch to the Republican Party.

The Southern Strategy involved keeping northern Republicans who were taking advantage of a more mobile society to move to states with less snow in the winter loyal to the GOP, while also attracting socially conservative voters in the south to the Republican cause. It was started, in earnest, by Richard Nixon, through specific policy initiatives and careful messaging-management (sometimes referred to by his opponents as “dog-whistling”) and was continued by Ronald Reagan’s outspoken support for evangelical Christian voters in the Bible Belt. Today, the transformation is complete: the Republicans are the party of America’s conservatives, and the Democrats are the party of America’s liberals.

There are a few lessons to take away from this. First, that the reason that the Democrats and the Republicans have remained in power in the United States for so long is largely due to their flexibility, adaptability, and tactical thinking. The Democrats and Republicans of today are nothing like their mid-19th-century ancestors at all, and they have survived by being willing to win no matter what the cost.

That leads to the second lesson, though. Ultimately, neither political party actually cares about you. They only care about winning your vote if it will win them the election, and as we have seen, they are more than happy to just dump one demographic of voters to attract another if they think it will win them power. So, my advice is not to vote for any particular political party because you are “supposed” to because of your race, religion, gender, class, age, orientation, career choice, region of the country, or anything else. Vote based on which political party or candidate will actually bring YOU the most benefits or bring about the changes YOU want to see in America. Because at the end of the day, your own conscience is all that should matter to you when you fill out that ballot.