Exhibit Context

Elections and the candidate debates that precede them are lauded as a time-honored tradition of American democracy, allowing for the free and open exchange of ideas and the ability of the public to have a voice in our governance. Yet many public voices have repeatedly questioned the efficacy of voting as a true expression of freedom and democracy, and the legitimacy of official debates to represent the full range of viewpoints beyond the established political party platforms. This exhibit provides an introductory glimpse at some of the marginalized and dissident voices that have spoken up over the years—those who have taken a critical stance on the state of democractic governance and questioned the ability of the general public to truly impact the functions of the state.

This exhibit was originally meant to correspond with the Presidential Debate scheduled to take place at the University of Michigan in October, 2020. Its purpose was to examine historically grounded, legitimate questions around issues such as voter suppression, as well as enduring philosophical critiques of, for instance, the possibilities for genuine debate within a culture of ideological and discursive hegemony.

The exhibit was organized well before the events at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Those events were incited by claims of widespread voter fraud and election “theft” orchestrated by government officials. Crucially, official investigations determined that all such claims were either unsubstantiated, outright fabricated, or ruled to be without merit in courts of law. The critiques offered in the exhibit focus on expanding democracy, pushing it to be more representative, rather than destroying it, as the rioters attempted to do. 

Nevertheless, we, the exhibit’s creators, understand that the events of January 6th might color how one reads the artifacts and attitudes presented here. Indeed, behind both the Capitol siege and some of the political dispositions explored in this exhibit lies a sense of distrust in certain systems. We hope this exhibit will stimulate critical thought, honest self-reflection, vigorous dialogue, and thoughtful action, rather than violent behaviors like those seen at the Capitol.

Third Parties: Alternatives to the Hegemony of the U.S. Two Party System