observations and opinion
Voting your conscience, is very often an immoral act
The US Presidential election of 2016 was bound to deliver some ugly results, and in the last seven months, the world has begun to witness them. If you somehow haven’t paid attention yet, don’t worry – there’s more coming.
People wonder, “how the hell could this be happening?” The answer is that millions of people voted for a terrible man, and not enough people voted for Hillary Clinton – the only candidate who could have beaten him. At the same time, those who voted also returned Republican majorities to both the US House of Representatives and Senate.
That is how America got here. The voters did it. And they did it, because they believed that their votes were their own – that the only consideration to weigh in voting, was what they believed, wanted or preferred.
What they did not understand is that their vote, was not truly their own.
People had many reasons to vote for Trump. The deplorables really like him – they like his bigotry, his appeals to their sense of entitlement and self-pity, his bluster. Regular Republicans had all the information necessary to know he was a fraud, but voted GOP because that party represents their critical concerns (lower taxes, inhibiting abortion, whatever). And it seems likely that several million Democrats, or more leftist voters, opted for Trump, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein or didn’t vote at all, because of their distaste for the Democratic standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton.
Whatever the reasons to vote for Trump, a third party or not vote at all, those reasons all sprout from the same root: the belief that one’s vote is one’s own. That the decision rested on what they believed, wanted or preferred.
There are things in life that we can do, which belong only to us and which may be disconnected from other concerns. One’s taste preferences (food, clothes, sex, etc) and one’s thoughts are ours alone. However, how we act on those preferences is not immune from outside consideration. Whatever my taste, I am not permitted to eat your dog. Whatever your style, you likely cannot report for work naked. Whatever goes on inside a pedophile’s head, it cannot go on out in the real world.
We would all agree with that and yet, when it comes to voting – a community activity with vast implications – we allow people to behave like unbridled dog-eating, nudist pedophiles. We don’t just allow it, we applaud it. “Vote your conscience” we say, fully aware of of the absence of conscience in many skulls.
It is one thing to recognize an adult’s right to vote without conditions (it would be nice if everyone DID recognize that right), but it is another entirely for voters to behave like they’re in a vacuum. They’re not. While they may enter the voting booth alone and do the deed in private, what voters do with their rights has huge implications. Someone ought to tell them that they are not, in reality, alone when they vote.
To put it simply, while each of us may be “entitled” to vote, with that right there come some reciprocal obligations. One duty is to be informed. Another is to get over oneself and face the facts: as with the rest of life, politics does not offer perfect choices. It usually offers a selection of human, imperfect, flawed and talented options – amongst whom we must choose.
Those choices aren’t made in isolation, either. I could readily catalogue the things about Hillary Clinton which aggravated or concerned me (I could also catalogue – have in fact catalogued – her merits). The question in voting is not merely whether I “like” Hillary Clinton or any other candidate, but who I like more – or less – than Hillary Clinton.
When we cast a ballot, it is not in the dreamscape inside our heads. The ballot lands in a real voting box or machine, is read by a real human being and counted up along with millions of other real ballots in the real world. Thus while I might want to vote for a brilliant hybrid of JFK, Taylor Swift and John Lennon, the real world presents me with different options.
In most democratic elections, the contest will amount to “the one with the most votes wins.” In a two-party state like the USA, we know there will be two candidates with some potential to come in first. In other places there may be a greater number of competitive options, but the principle is the same: someone will win and the other(s) won’t.
In such a system, voters will very often confront a range of really unattractive options. Such was the case in the USA in November 2016, when the majority of eligible voters thought so little of Donald Trump that they voted for someone else, or didn’t vote at all. At the same time, millions were so uncomfortable with Hillary Clinton, they voted for someone else or didn’t vote at all.
Where the voters failed themselves and everyone else, was when tens of millions didn’t decide between the two most electable options (Trump and Clinton) but instead, decided that the election was about the ideas inside their own heads. Those people voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, wrote in names of their favourite non-candidates like Bernie Sanders or John McCain, or just didn’t bother going to vote at all – because they weren’t in love with the options or just don’t care what happens around them.
If you need medical treatment, there may be several drugs which can help you. Each will have side effects. None of these are happy choices, but they are necessary ones in the real world. So too with voting – very often it demands some pretty damned unhappy choices between imperfect options, each with its own side effects.
It has been argued on this page, that casting a ballot (or declining to) because there are unattractive options, is not so much “an exercise of one’s democratic rights” but instead, a grotesquely selfish act. Indeed, it is pretty much an abuse of one’s democratic rights to vote (or not vote) based solely on one’s ideals, beliefs or desires.
The only responsible way to vote, is to do the math: who is running, who has a chance to win and which among those is the better person to hold the office? If that means my favourite candidate has to be abandoned for an acceptable one – in order to stop a terrible one – that is not a depressing, sad fact, but rather a reality I must acknowledge and deal with. Because that is how democratic elections work.
When people don’t acknowledge reality and deal with it, you know what they do? They vote for Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore, electing George W. Bush. They vote for Gary Johnson instead of Hillary Clinton, electing Donald J. Trump. They roll a joint and smoke it, instead of going out and voting to “remain” in the European Union – and wake up the next day with Brexit.
The objection to this, is that people “have a right” to vote as they choose. True, but the mere existence of a right doesn’t make every exercise of that right equally wise or moral. Many dislike the choices foisted upon them by the political parties and so turn away in disgust. Understandable, but how many engaged with those parties in choosing candidates?
Some may be keenly disappointed that their preferred candidates fail (Bernie Sanders’ fans, for example) but for them to invest so much effort in the work of democracy, just to drop out when they don’t get their favourite choice, is stunningly irresponsible. For a committed and informed Sanders voter to shun Clinton, because the latter was imperfect, may have been a “democratic right” but it came very near to treason, when you look at the results.
To live in a dream, is to be asleep. In voting, we will often face unpleasant choices. To insist only on what we want, instead of facing reality, is to be a poor citizen and to be no patriot at all.
You may own a gun, but you don’t get to fire it anywhere, anyway, anytime you like. You may have a car, but you don’t get to choose which side of the road to drive on. You may have unpleasant appetites but you don’t get to cook the neighbour’s cat or screw the neighbour’s 12 year old.
We’ve passed laws about that stuff. We won’t – we should not – pass laws about how to vote. Instead, we have to figure that out ourselves. We have to learn that voting is not just a matter of satisfying our own desires. It is making the best available choice among the available options. Sometimes, that will be hard, but it will always be necessary.
Yes, you may have a perfect right to vote like a fool, but that doesn’t make it right to do so. Rights come with responsibilities. If you don’t know that, you are a petulant child in grown-up clothes. You are just like Donald Trump, actually.