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There are at least three ways to think about how independents could have influence on American politics and American society.

First, there are independents who get elected to office by voters who chose them over Democrats and Republicans, as well as Democrats and Republicans who choose to switch their political identification to independent once they are in office.

Many scholars have argued that independents do not represent one ideological perspective, such as centrism. As a result, independents who reflect diverse ideological points of view would have a voice in Washington. Everyone ranging from Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, Angus King, Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin to independent and third-party presidential candidates Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, Cornel West and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would fit into this camp of independent politicians.

Second, voters who identify as independents could create a political movement which aimed to transform American politics. Along with getting new laws and regulations established, including ranked-choice voting, nonpartisan redistricting committees and open primaries, independent voters could work with independent politicians to change the system. Indeed, they could vie for the leadership role and overtake the Democrats and Republicans.

These independents, voters and politicians alike, would establish a multiparty democracy and end the controlling, suppressive elements of the two-party system. The authors of "The Independent Voter" (Thom Reilly, Jacqueline Salit and Omar Ali) would broadly fit into this camp.

Third, independents could elect enough independent politicians to create a third force on Capitol Hill, which could force the Democrats and Republicans, especially in the Senate, to negotiate with them. This is a variation of Charles Wheelan's "fulcrum strategy" (from "The Centrist Manifesto"), which is focused on the Senate where 60 votes are needed to pass major legislation.

I have supported a fulcrum strategy, though not with Wheelan's "centrist party" strategy but with a strategy that calls on independents from diverse ideological perspectives to join together once elected in order to form an Independents Caucus. I call this view "tripartisanship."

The first strategy above works within the political system. The second strategy seeks to fundamentally change the political system and put independents at the helm. The third strategy seeks a middle position: It aims to change the political system by creating a third force in Washington, but it does not seek to put independents at the helm. Instead, it seeks to give independents a seat at the table with the two major parties, which it nevertheless recognizes will have more power than their caucus will have.

Yet having five to six independents in the Senate could provide sufficient leverage to not only generate legislation that will pass on critical issues ranging from immigration to entitlement reform, climate change, gun safety and child care. It could also integrate vital input from the independent members themselves.

This approach does not seek to alter the 18th-century Madisonian structure of Washington politics, but it does seek to alter the duopoly that has developed since the late 19th century and that has become entrenched in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Unlike the first camp, independents in the third camp would be united as a group in an Independents Caucus that would have considerable leverage; in the first camp, in contrast, independents would be spread throughout the capital (even the White House) without occupying any shared space for negotiating with the two major parties.

The middle position, which aims to achieve tripartisanship rather than bipartisanship, is more realistic and measured than the other two approaches.

In this regard, it falls into the pragmatist tradition of American history, one that is associated with philosophers ranging from John Dewey to Richard Rorty and presidents like Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln, according to the late Harvard historian David Donald in "Lincoln Reconsidered," had firm commitments to moral values embedded in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Yet he was a master pragmatist when it came to directing his generals and negotiating with the leaders of the Confederacy and members of the U.S. Congress.

Even as we struggle to preserve our democracy, tripartisan as opposed to bipartisan ideals should be pursued in the years ahead. Like Australia, which has seen the rise of the "Teal Independents," the U.S. can witness the rise of the "Tripartisan Independents."

But it will take innovation, money, creativity, some new election laws, and a spirit of compromise and creative synthesis among citizens, organizational leaders and politicians themselves. Our future can be ours if we but choose and unite high ideals with smart, pragmatic choices.

Dave Anderson ran for Congress in 2016 in Maryland, has taught political philosophy at the University of Cincinnati, Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University, and is editor of the interdisciplinary volume "Leveraging" (Springer, 2014).