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Rep. Justin Amash: The Two-Party System Needs to Die

The libertarian congressman says the internet is poised to destroy politics as we know it.

"Hopefully, over time, [the] two parties start to fall apart," says Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) in an interview with Reason recorded last week at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas. "I can go straight to Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere and tell people exactly what I stand for."

First elected in 2010, the libertarian congressman helped co-found the influential House Freedom Caucus, sponsored bills to cut spending and defang the National Security Agency, and took an active role in the successful effort to depose John Boehner as house majority leader.

A critic of executive power and champion of constitutionalism, the Grand Rapids native is a thorn in the side of Donald Trump, serving as one of only two GOP co-sponsors of a bill calling for an independent, investigative commission into the president's Russia-related behavior. He frequently calls out the administration on social media, and is on the receiving end of a White House call to get primaried.

This interview was recorded on July 21, 2017. A transcript is below.

Cameras by Justin Monticello and Meredith Bragg; edited by Mark McDaniel. Graphics by Bragg.

Music: "Calling (Instrumental)" by Dexter Britain (http://www.dexterbritain.co.uk). Creative Commons.

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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Matt Welch: We're recording this on Friday afternoon. A lot of stuff has happened in the last 36 hours in Washington having to do with President Donald Trump. He gave an interview with The New York Times in which he said, if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn't hire Jeff Sessions, because Jeff Sessions recused himself of Russian investigations, he called into question the integrity of a lot of people in the Justice Department, kicked the tires on potential pardons for his kids or other people in the administration, and generally is starting to put pressure on the special counsel, Robert Mueller, "Don't get too far out of your lanes" and this type of stuff.

As someone who co-sponsored one of the two Republican ... Co-sponsors, if I know this right, of a bill in Congress to investigate the or set up a special commission, what's your general reaction to this behavior over the last 36 hours?

Justin Amash: It's typical, it's not anything new. So it didn't surprise me, and I think that the President doesn't really understand how the Justice Department works, and that he really needs to keep some distance from these investigations. But, it's Donald Trump, and he's gonna do what he's gonna do.

Welch: What if he fires Robert Mueller? Is that a constitutional crisis? You study the Constitution more than most of us sleep or breathe. When does it become a constitutional crisis? Is that the point ... If he pre-pardons somebody close to him, is that a constitutional crisis?

Amash: I don't know the history on pardons, and whether that would be a major problem constitutionally, but the president has a lot of authority to fire people within the executive branch. So, setting aside the constitutional concerns, because I think you can at least make some arguments, I don't know whether they hold water ... Setting aside the constitutional concerns, there are ethical concerns, there are rule of law concerns, so we want to make sure that when a president is in the White House that he's living up to all of the ethical standards, that he is allowing the system of justice to work itself out the way it's supposed to work without interference. And there are those concerns. So I don't want to go the constitutional route yet on this kind of thing, but certainly there are rule of law and ethics concerns.

Welch: If he does do something like that, does that kick in a remedy as far as you're concerned? Should there be some action that hasn't been taken so far taken as a result of that?

Amash: Well, there are always political consequences. So polling numbers will change if people think that the president can't be trusted. There are those political realities, and you'll have more and more Republicans who are uncomfortable with the way the White House is operating. So, I think over time, that's probably what will have the biggest impact here. Whether it will impact the president's behavior over the next few years, I don't know. But it might have an impact over the next election cycle.

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  • Mark22||

    Parties themselves need to go away; there is little reason for them today. And in the US, there is a good chance that this will happen.

    The US is actually lucky in that parties have relatively little power compared to Europe. In Europe, parliamentarians are completely dependent on their party for campaigning, financing, and jobs, and they often have no other careers to fall back on. That means that in Europe, party members have to vote the way the party tells them or else face devastating consequences.

  • Calidissident||

    I'm skeptical they'll go away. People are too tribalistic and our system favors a two-party system.

    You do bring up a good point about Europe, although their systems are also mostly more friendly towards multiple parties.

  • Mark22||

    You do bring up a good point about Europe, although their systems are also mostly more friendly towards multiple parties.

    That's not actually a good thing. Under the US system, communists, socialists, theocrats, authoritarians, and fascists end up at the fringes of the major parties. In Europe, those groups become splinter parties that often hold the key to forming a governing coalition.

  • Fk_Censorship||

    What keeps them from becoming splinter groups in the American system, holding the key to their party's legislative success? A McCain can achieve great ends and hold his party hostage.

  • Mark22||

    What keeps them from becoming splinter groups in the American system,

    I have no idea what you mean by "splinter groups". We were talking about parties. Are there more than two parties in Congress? No.

    holding the key to their party's legislative success? A McCain can achieve great ends and hold his party hostage.

    McCain is a senile, evil prick. But he is an individual, making his individual choices. He isn't sabotaging anything on behalf of some political party.

  • Pyrrho21C||

    The idea of a 'governing coalition' makes sense only in the context of a Westminster-type system. In the U.S., if the Republicrat oligarchy didn't block the formation of other parties, you would have parties in Congress combining to get a specific bill passed and then recombining for another bill...assuming enough of them could agree to establish a majority, and if they couldn't that would hardly be a bad thing. And then the President has to sign it...

    The great thing about a multi-party system a la Switzerland is that it doesn't sustain the absurd fantasy that the fact that one party gets a majority of the vote means that 'the people' have given it a 'mandate' to implement any and every of the crackbrained planks in its platform. Every issue has to be debated on its own; there are none of the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink package deals that our system keeps spewing up.

  • Mark22||

    Every issue has to be debated on its own; there are none of the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink package deals that our system keeps spewing up.

    You don't know what you're talking about. In parliamentary systems, the decisions are often not debated at all, they are decided via horse trading between parties in back rooms, and then parliamentarians are forced to vote the way the party tells them to.

    A particularly poignant example of this is Germany's 1933 Enabling Act that made Hitler dictator.

  • Jickerson||

    Yeah. authoritarians are just fringes right now, which is why we have government thugs violating people's constitutional rights in airports, countless unnecessary wars overseas, unconstitutional mass surveillance, the drug war, and so on.

    What is and is not extreme is subjective, and even if something is extreme, that doesn't mean it is bad. In our current system, libertarianism is on the fringe, not authoritarianism.

    Let's not pretend that our two-party system is anything other than a poorly-thought-out abomination.

  • Mark22||

    As an immigrant who has experience actual authoritarian systems, let me put it in simple terms: you are an idiot. This crap has been going on in Europe and under parliamentary systems forever, and people don't even notice, let alone complain about it.

    Yes, for all its problems, the US political system is head and shoulders above the corrupt, barely democratic systems of Europe, both in its operation and in its outcomes.

  • Jickerson||

    As an immigrant who has experience actual authoritarian systems, let me put it in simple terms: you are an idiot.

    If your only defense of America's authoritarian policies is 'But at least we're better than these other guys!', then you effectively have nothing useful to say. The fact that X is better than Y does not mean that X is good or above criticism. The fact that X is less authoritarian than Y does not mean that X is not authoritarian. You are the idiot here.

  • Mark22||

    I'm saying that you are so pampered and ignorant that you don't even know what authoritarianism is.

  • Jickerson||

    That applies far more to you than it does to me, retard. Using the 'X is better than Y so X is good!' fallacy demonstrates a supreme lack of critical thinking skills on your part. You even admitted that the US has problems, which seems to me to be an admittance that the US has (*gasp*) authoritarian policies. You just proceed to cower behind the 'Well, at least we're not those guys over there!' excuse.

    Continue being a useful idiot, you reprehensible cretin.

  • Peter Verkooijen||

    The main problem with European multi-party parliamentarian systems is that governing coalitions are formed after the elections, in backroom deals between party elites.

  • Mark22||

    That's not just true for coalitions, it's also true for policy and legislation. Legislation is usually created by "stakeholders", meaning special interests groups. And the set of candidates people can vote for is also decided by parties. And if particular candidates lose their elections, parties often still can get them into parliament via various forms of "wildcard" seats that get assigned proportionally.

  • ||

    I agree. I'm fine with having parties. But they should not be recognized as any sort of official status in our elections or government. No "straight vote" option. No party labels. Nothing.

  • OM Nullum gratuitum prandium||

    Both parties need to succumb.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Havne't read the transcript yet, but the simplest solution is to elect the three highest vote recipient candidates in each district, and then have them proxy the votes they won instead of one vote per rep.

    That ought to break the stranglehold of the two party system immediately. The next step is for all the non-D non-R parties to step up their funding, which would follow naturally, and I do mean naturally; it will be rough for a few election cycles, but the popular $$$ will flow to the popular third parties,

    Two parties will probably always be bigger than most just because most people want to back a winner and will perceive any other votes as being thrown away. But it WILL bring other voices into legislatures, and it will force the big parties to be more realistic and not just extreme ranters.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Gee, I've never heard that sentiment before in this place.

    Um, how do you accomplish it? Johnson 2020?

  • Fk_Censorship||

    Weld 2020?

  • jonnysage||

    Lead by example Amash. Quit the Gop.

  • Red Twilight||

    Well, start the movement by becoming an Independent.

    Oh wait, you do that, and the RNC dumps your ass, leaving you to fundraise yourself. Nah, better off being a Republican, it is not like you have any firm principles or anything

  • John C. Randolph||

    it is not like you have any firm principles or anything

    Oh, fuck off. Amash is the only representative since Ron Paul who sticks to his principles.

    -jcr

  • Sevo||

    Red Twilight|7.29.17 @ 3:15AM|#
    "...it is not like you have any firm principles or anything"

    A lefty talking about principles.
    What a laugh riot.

  • Cloudbuster||

    check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

    That's really supposed to by your job.

  • Pyrrho21C||

    Ceterum censeo factiones esse delendas.

  • Jahfre Fire Eater||

    I love hearing people's views on "The RIGHT number of parties theory."

  • Peter Verkooijen||

    The two-party system will never die. There can be realignments. The GOP under Trump has realigned as an authoritarian nationalist big government party.

    The only way to a more libertarian future in America is still via capture of the GOP.

    Justin Amash, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse and libertarians have to prepare for a 2020 primary challenge against the trumpkins. Trump will be too old and too damaged for a second term anyway.

  • Red Twilight||

    There is a way to a more libertarian future. Elect libertarians to Congress. Not Republicans that reason.com Republicans posing as libertarians identify as such.

    Drumpf will be too old and too damaged for a second term anyway.
    Yeah, whereas he is of sound mind today.

  • Jahfre Fire Eater||

    Just elect people who can't get elected....sounds so simple. ;-)

  • Red Twilight||

    which is telling.
    libertarians cannot win the battle of ideas, something that they pride themselves on
    shows how unpersuasive libertarianism is.

    when you have lie to win, your ideas are shit.
    isn't that the charge against the two parties?

    basically libertarians here are sucking their own cock. Republicans, that is.

  • Jickerson||

    The two-party system will never die.

    If there is enough support for major reforms of our awful voting system, it just might.

  • Red Twilight||

    First elected in 2010, the libertarian congressman

    Bullshit, he is a Republican congressman. Not only does it say so on his website, he acts like one. Here, from your own interview

    Welch: What if he fires Robert Mueller? Is that a constitutional crisis? You study the Constitution more than most of us sleep or breathe. When does it become a constitutional crisis? Is that the point ... If he pre-pardons somebody close to him, is that a constitutional crisis?

    A libertarian would answer: Yes. Especially one who claims to have studied the Constitution and history. Instead, he answered

    I don't know the history on pardons, and whether that would be a major problem constitutionally, but the president has a lot of authority to fire people within the executive branch. So, setting aside the constitutional concerns, because I think you can at least make some arguments, I don't know whether they hold water ... Setting aside the constitutional concerns, there are ethical concerns, there are rule of law concerns

    Yet another Drumpf cock-holster trying hard not to get primaried. Fuck that guy!

  • Stanllow||

    Whatever it is. When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers

  • Longtobefree||

    Of course, if all political contributions were outlawed, the two party lock would be broken.
    The supposed reason for political contributions is to allow the candidates to have there political opinions heard by "the people".
    That can be accomplished by providing a government hosted web site that allows each level of candidate a certain amount of room. Two pages for congress, three for the senate, four for the president, whatever. The same amount for any candidate. No editing allowed, put out what ever the candidate wants. Now all the candidates have their political philosophy available to the voters. Require that the page be populated at least 6 weeks before the election to allow all the pundits to 'clarify' what they really meant, provide analysis, and point out differences with past actions, then vote. Ideally, not allow the page to be populated more than ten weeks before the election!
    To deal with those who may be a bit technically challenged, 'request' that all non-broadcast news organizations read the position documents, un-edited, at least three times in the 10 to 6 week period before the election. If they choose not to do so, or make any changes, yank the press passes until the next election, or forever.
    The broadcast stations can be required to disseminate the information or loose their license. Local libraries can make the information available to those with vision / hearing difficulties.

  • Longtobefree||

    Now everyone in the country know what the candidates stand for, and can vote as they wish. All parties have true equal access to the voters.
    Now that no candidate needs political contributions, they can be arrested for bribe taking if they get any money from anyone at anytime.
    And anyone can take out ads for or against any position, but as commercial advertising, subject to silly things like truthfulness. Free speech and all that jazz.

  • Longtobefree||

    Like a political candidate, I cannot be limited to an artificial number of characters.

  • tlapp||

    Obamacare maybe the best tool to facilitate the demise of the 2 parties. One gives us a horrendous bill, the other plays Keystone cops because they are afraid of it. You would hope the ineptness of both parties would bring people around to the idea of less government involvement in health insurance as well as other issues.

  • Eman||

    Just guessing based on the past, but I doubt that's going to be what happens.

  • Longtobefree||

    Not at all.
    The democrats, and those who vote for them do not see Obamacare as a horrendous bill, so they will continue to turn out to vote for more of the same. And will fully support single payer as the fix for any perceived issues.
    The republicans, on the other hand, will stay home in droves, because they cannot vote for any democrat, and now cannot vote for any 'proven to be incapable of leading even when in complete control' republican.
    So beginning in 2018, until the collapse of democracy in the USA,the statists have secured inevitable victory.

  • jack1478||

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  • Eman||

    This headline sounds like its probably a threat of some kind. Where's preet when you need him?

  • buybuydandavis||

    Kevin Williamson @NRO disagrees! That's not what needs to die!

    From his article Chaos in the Family, Chaos in the State: The White Working Class's Dysfunction

    The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.
  • Glide||

    I enjoy that this was a long political discussion with essentially zero political strategy and zero campaign cliches. Amash isn't perfect, but damned if the guy doesn't actually believe in what he votes for.

  • Longtobefree||

    There is only one party, the democrats. As recently shown, those we jokingly refer to as republicans are actually the 'only slightly left of center' wing of the democrats.

  • Azathoth!!||

    I really wish this childish nonsense would end.

    "I'm not winning!!! Change the rules!!!"

    There will always be a two party system.

    Because no one made it. It's what happens.

    The idea that all would be well if there were more than two parties, or if there was ranked voting or proportional voting or direct voting or whatever scheme academia insinuates is 'better' somehow exists because a certain ideology needs strife, needs a gullible public to tear apart institutions and leave power vacuums they can slip into.

    Look at the two party system in England--the Tories and Labour, in Canada--the Liberal Party and the Conservative party, in Germany--Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, in France, the Socialists and the Republicans--but there are other parties, small ones just like here.

    We wind up with two parties in charge because people tend to gravitate towards a center, and because that's where the most people are, that's where the largest parties sit.

    And it will always be this way--unless people can be convinced to adopt one of the new voting systems.

    Those are designed to deliver one party rule under the guise of still having elections--notice how Republicans got shut out of recent California congressional elections? But the rhetoric sounds so good!

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