The Morality of Voting: Democracy is a Messy Business
For me, voting is an issue of morality. I don’t think we should explain away voting as merely a civic duty or exercise or right. When we vote, we are actively working to change our society or to protect its present state. Any decision that impacts the fabric of our social conscience — what we will and will not tolerate, what we view as good and bad — is a moral decision, plain and simple.
So, that brings me to the moral quandary that is the 2016 presidential election. Realistically, we are looking at a Trump-Clinton race. I know, it don’t make no sense, but it’s time to face facts. I’m pleased to say that my colleagues have offered some interesting arguments about our candidates, particularly the Donald and good ole’ Hill. But I think we’re missing the point here.
This presidential election has less to do with who will win — because, frankly, our choices leave us up a creek without a paddle — and more to do with what the election indicates about the current state of our society and the direction it is moving. This presidential election is about whether or not Americans are willing to learn from their history.
Right now, Americans are angry. This ire is warranted; after all, the American political machine is a nasty thing that stagnates our institutions. There is a gap, however, between American outrage and American action. This is nothing new.
Americans, in order to convey their disaffection, have resorted to the most accessible tool they have: voting. Now, what’s wrong with that, you ask? Isn’t this a great triumph of democracy? Well, no, actually, it isn’t. Americans have resorted to wielding the power of the vote only because it is easy, which gets at the crux of the matter for me.
There are three fundamental problems with the American citizenry: we oversimplify, we demand convenience and we are impatient. The 2016 presidential election is a manifestation of these inherent issues. Here’s the present American collective thought in a nutshell:
(Oversimplification) “The establishment” has failed us and purging our government of the “bad guys” will ameliorate the conditions that have gotten us to this point.
(Demanding convenience) We’ll simply vote our anger out in all of these fancy primaries. We won’t alter our understanding of civic engagement. We won’t do any of the work that is necessary to overcome the hurdles our nation faces. We’ll just vote — because visiting poll booths is easier than other methods — and act like that’s enough.
(Impatience) We will push to the forefront the loudest, most audacious fringe candidates because we don’t want to wait for the change we demand and we want to show what’s what. We want our political system to change overnight. Loud and extreme leads to immediate change.
I’m ashamed of my country, readers. This isn’t a triumph of democracy. No, what’s happening right now is a tragedy of democracy — an abuse of it!
Americans cannot neglect their political system and then explain away the systemic failings as a result of the crumbling infrastructure of our institutions — as if our political apparatus decided for itself to go to the dogs. Our institutions are defective because we have allowed them to deteriorate! We can’t just blame politicians!
Where have Americans been? That’s what I want to know. Where were Americans when our political parties were polarizing, when ideologues were allowed to radicalize them and the media was allowed to institutionalize the resulting public divide? Where were Americans when Fox News and MSNBC were permitted to kill nuance and indoctrinate viewers with nice, neat absolutes, no matter how fatalistic? Where were Americans when issues and policy demanded knowledge, not surface-level description?
Where were Americans when they should have been going to local political party meetings and demanding answers for why they were being given crappy choices for candidates? Where were Americans when they should have been actively engaging in candidate recruitment and commanding that 30-year incumbents be dethroned so that government is less about government and more about our democracy? Where were Americans when primaries could have actually meant something?
I’ll tell you where Americans were. They were taking the easy way out.
We have no one to blame but ourselves, and we are getting what we deserve.
As a professor of mine often says, democracy is a messy business. Well, morality is a messy business, too. And voting is an issue of democracy and morality, so it’s as messy as messy gets.
Voting, like all moral issues, is the sum of its parts. And there are a lot of antecedent parts to voting, because voting, readers, is not enough on its own — moral issues cannot be oversimplified or made easy or approached impatiently.
There is volunteering and party building and donation and fundraising and community collaboration that should precede our voting. Most importantly, however, there is knowledge; historic, civic, policy and issue knowledge are our strongest democratic tools.
Voting is empty without knowledge. Knowledge cleans up the mess of our democracy and our morality. Knowledge means we do not vote for a man merely because he promises free college or to make us winners.
With my morality and knowledge in tow, I cannot, at present, justify casting a vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
Among his many faults, Trump has a facile understanding of policy, and it is not enough to surround yourself with competent experts. That is a slippery slope, and to anyone who disagrees, I ask: Are you drinking cherry or grape Kool-Aid?
Clinton is a liar and an opportunist. She will abandon any of her centrist ideas and hyper-liberalize her agenda for political expediency. I don’t always agree, but I know what to expect from President Obama. I don’t know what to expect from Clinton; she is a chameleon and her mendacity is what renders her most dangerous.
Like many other dispassionate truth-seekers, I’m still figuring out what I will do on November 8, 2016.
But to those angry Americans making waves, I say: Your uninformed, blind fury is killing our democracy. You are not making a point; you’re merely taking us farther down the rabbit hole. If you’re going to vote in an upcoming primary, let it be because you’ve reconciled for yourself the morality of voting, let it be because you’ve put in the work, let it be because you’ve pursued knowledge to the ends of the earth.
Knowledge and logic should dictate the ballot you cast, not indignation.