Four summers ago I was golfing with my reasonable, decent Republican friend, and he told me he didn’t like Trump but he couldn’t stand Hillary either. He didn’t tell me who he was going to vote for. I assumed he voted for Trump, and I did not hold it against him, as part of my ongoing effort to understand.
At that time, conservatives had despised the Clintons for a very long time, and for many good reasons (and some bad ones). I used to ask my liberal friends who couldn’t see how reasonable, decent Republicans could vote for Trump: What Democratic candidate would be so offensive to you that it would drive you to vote for a Republican that you’ve loathed for a quarter century, like Newt Gingrich?
But now—four years later—my friend doesn’t seem to have moved an inch.
“I’m not much of a fan of Donald Trump and don’t defend his handling of the COVID pandemic, which has really been a failure of leadership at virtually every level of government,” my friend began a post that concluded, “The sad reality for Americans as we think about the choice ahead of us in November is that we really don’t have any great choice.”
Which set off a predictable series of comments that sounded like the Levy family reading the menu at The Café Tropical:
“Let’s be honest-they all suck!!! No one is for making the country better! You can only vote for which one doesn’t suck worse!! How awful is that?!?”
“It’s another ‘no great choice’ election which seems to be the new trend.”
(We get this on the left, too. I had a fight with my wife last week when she said one too many times how she’s having to her hold nose to vote for Biden, as if the rest of us are too unrefined to smell a fart.)
Everyone points to Biden’s record over five decades of serving in the United States Senate and finds votes and statements and performances that were out of step, short-sighted, tunnel-visioned or shabby. Which is like pointing to the career of a fish and declaring it wet.
I want to ask these people: What would a great choice look like to you? And don’t say “Ronald Reagan,” because he is dead. Don’t say “Bobby Kennedy,” for the same reason.
Look: Everyone who loves the country and can fog up a mirror wants somebody better than Joe Biden or Donald Trump, much as we might argue about what “better” might be. Imagine running into an asshole at a barbecue who told you, “I gotta say, I love both presidential candidates. I’m having such a hard time choosing. Such an embarrassment of riches! Such great guys! Couldn’t you just thank God for leadership like this!?!”
But if you honestly struggle to figure out for yourself whether you’d prefer the bitter, purposely divisive chaos of Donald Trump or the compromised corporate liberal mediocrity of Joe Biden, then I really think you shouldn’t vote, because at some important level, you’re still under 18.
Adults need to sort these things out in their minds. That’s how they become adults. “I have been allowed to do my thinking casually and incompletely, and if I chose, to come to no conclusions at all,” my father Thomas Murray wrote in a book, A Child to Change Your Life. “As a teacher, I must spend much less time in that small, cozy hideout in my head where thoughts are strewn carelessly about, waiting for me to make them into convictions or crumple them up for their lack of logic. Now that I am his teacher, my child will see to it that I no longer just think of my thoughts, but that I say them. And if I don’t he will wrench them from me with his questions. And he will watch to see how consistently, how courageously, I handle their consequences.”
To my reasonable, decent Republican friend, I say this: I believe you have actually sorted these things out. You’re voting for Trump, you’re writing in someone irrelevant or you’re not voting at all.
And that is what, with a post suggesting that Biden and Trump are equally bad, is what you are suggesting your friends do, too.
Why not just say so directly?
Shawn Bannon says
OK … so, lots to unpack here. First of all, to clear up a few things. In 2016, I did not vote for DJT. I wrestled with what to do with my vote because there was no way I was voting for HRC, and my decision was whether to hold my nose and vote for DJT (a man I personally cannot respect on the basis of his character but who — I believed — would advance certain policies with which my beliefs align, such as tax and regulatory reform, and who I hoped would find in the Congress and/or Supreme Court appropriate checks that would prevent him from doing the ridiculous, extreme and even malicious things he seemed capable of) or to write in a candidate I could proudly support even if he/she had no chance at an actual victory. In the end, as I’ve shared numerous times on Facebook, I wrote in John Kasich. It was a vote against HRC and to reject DJT — on a personal level — as the leader of my party and our country.
Now, I’m not entirely sure if your letter here is asking what Democrat I could possibly support if not Joe Biden against Trump or if you’re just dogging me for — as you see it — not advocating clearly for one candidate or another in a particular Facebook post. So let’s be clear first about the post in question. It was not simply a post in which I decided to opine about what a no-choice election this is between two terrible candidates. I actually don’t post very much of anything political on Facebook because I understand the futility of engaging people that way. What I posted was an article from the Wall Street Journal about the Obama administration’s response to the H1N1 pandemic in 2009/10 and why people looking to compare Biden’s ability to respond to a pandemic should pay more attention to that history than what happened with Ebola in 2014 for a closer to apples-to-apples comparison with the Trump response to Covid-19. I shared it because I was put off by attempts during the Democratic National Convention to suggest Biden would be so much better equipped to handle a pandemic based on the relative success of the response to Ebola, and I wanted to make sure my family and friends who are parroting that argument better understand why that’s not the right comparison and that — while I don’t think Trump’s done a good job at all — the only difference between his failings and those of the Obama/Biden administration response to H1N1 is that Covid-19 is so much more lethal than H1N1. I don’t mind people voting for Biden or against Trump, but as I wrote in the comment thread that followed that post, I don’t think the history supports the case that there’s much of a gap between these guys when it comes to their capacity for leadership. One is more polished, but they both lie. They both represent special interest groups. They both care more about power than they do people. Neither one is a person I want my child to ever look up to. And for those reasons, yes, I think they’re equally bad choices for president of the United States. If that came across to you — as I believe it did to others who read my post — I’m not sure what your complaint is about my post.
I don’t think it’s my job to shout into the wind that I’m voting for X and other people should, too. To your father’s point, I’m very clear with anyone who asks what I’m about, what I believe and who I will or won’t support for public office. And my 5-year-old son already has a fair grasp of those things; I don’t have any vainglorious need to proactively make sure the rest of the world knows, too. I’m here if folks want to ask. What’s more, I know where most of my Facebook friends stand as well (most, not all, and that’s OK) relative to their politics, and I don’t think any of them need me to tell them they’re right or wrong. I will share information that I think may help folks to separate fact from fiction. And I hope people will make informed decisions when they go to the ballot box, but they don’t need me tell them they’re right or wrong to support who they support.
As for who I’m voting for in 2020, it won’t be Biden and it won’t be Trump. I’ve said this multiple times on Facebook in various conversations. I won’t support Biden because I don’t think he’s a leader at all. I won’t vote for Trump because I don’t believe he’s a good person. So, I will write in a candidate again. May be Kasich. Or it may be my dad. No matter what, it won’t be about electing someone who isn’t on the ballot; it’ll be about rejecting the choices we’ve been given. It’ll be personal for me, as all votes should. It won’t change the election at all, but I will know that I have once again been true to my principles. I don’t need to push other people to do the same; you’ve all got to look in the mirror and live with the choices you make at the ballot box.
But to your question about whether or not I could ever support a Democrat, the answer is absolutely yes. Not Biden. Definitely not Hillary. But if the vote were between Barack Obama and Trump, I’d vote Obama. I didn’t love him as president, but he was a better leader than Trump and a man of infinitely better character. So that would be easy. For that matter, if it were Michelle Obama vs. Trump, I’d probably vote for Mrs. Obama, though I’d want to know more about her own policy positions. I’m sure there are other Ds I’d be happy to vote for against Trump. They just aren’t (and weren’t) on the ballot against him. (Andrew Yang comes to mind as another 2020 Dem candidate I really liked, though I would have needed to see and hear more from him before I made a decision.) Who would I rather see on the Republican side? I liked Mitt Romney in 2012 and would have voted for him over Trump if he’d run in 2016. I liked George W. Bush despite the fact that many on the far-right feel like he let them down. Was he perfect? Absolutely not. Do I think he did what he thought was right, and do I believe he cares about people the way a leader should? Yes, I do. Obviously, I like Kasich, though he isn’t perfect either. I don’t need perfect from either party. I just want better, and I think — as Americans — we all deserve it.
I’m not sure I’ve really addressed the central question of your letter here. It seems to me that you’re taking umbrage with the fact that I can’t/won’t — as someone you judge to be a reasonable Republican — clearly see and support Joe Biden as the better choice given what a terrible person we all know Trump to be. What strikes me, though, is the tone. There seems to be a lot of sanctimony here for someone who seems to admit that he (like his wife) is holding his nose and voting for the least-objectionable candidate. I say that with all the love and respect in the world, my friend. I’m not sure you’re aware that that’s how this comes across (or maybe you are, and that’s OK because sanctimony is provocative and blogs ought to be provocative). But since you brought up the examples that we’re setting for our children, at the end of the day, I’ll vote to reject both of these choices because I can’t personally vote for a candidate for president that I wouldn’t want my child to look up to as a role model. I guess my question back to you is what message does it send to your child that you can?
David Murray says
Shawn, thanks much for responding. I’ve had most of my say, and you’ve had most of yours and people can make their own value judgements, as sanctimony is in the eye of the beholder. So my response will be short:
You used the H1N1 issue as rather flimsy hook to express without quite saying so, the suggestion to your Facebook friends that you believe the right thing to do is not to vote at all. (And Shawn, voting for a write-in candidate is not voting at all.)
I didn’t bring the H1N1 thing into it because it really had nothing to do with your larger, half-expressed point.
And I feel a point that provocative in this particular election year—that you there’s so little difference between Biden and Trump that the admirable thing to do by your lights is not to vote—that point ought to be gotten across in those exact words. Not by just harrumphing that there’s not much of a choice.
In this dynamite-charged time, I am asking every time I post anything: What is the purpose of this post? What might be its consequences, and do I want to be responsible for them? If the purpose of your post was to give a little corrective about the way the DNC portrayed H1N1 vs. Covid, then why make the larger point about how both candidates are shit?
And if the purpose was to say they’re both shit, unworthy of any American’s vote—well, then we’re going to need a little more evidence than H1N1.
Finally: What am I telling my daughter by voting for an imperfect candidate? That she’ll always have to vote for an imperfect candidate—for president, for vice president, for senator and for dog catcher. There are a million other ways to influence the political landscape than voting for an imperfect candidate. But when it comes down to voting, Jesus Christ is never on the ballot—and even if he was, by the time the election came ’round, he’d have more shit slung on him than Joe Biden, and people would be comparing him to unfavorably to Donald Trump. The message it sends is that adult life is complicated and if you want to be an adult you still have to participate. (Your child is very small; it’s a little early to be explaining that to him. I watched my teenage child put her hand to her mouth in shock when she heard the Republican presidential candidate talking about grabbing women by the pussy before the last election.)
I do sincerely appreciate your responding, Shawn. This little dialogue is the purpose of MY post, which is to stop seething at conservatives who I like—and try to draw out their real point of view from behind the politically politeness, as I do seem to have drawn out yours. Do you feel clear on mine?
Scott Michaud says
This is a binary choice in America. A vote for someone other than the two candidates on the ballot is a vote for the winner. An astounding 7.8 million voters cast their presidential ballots for someone other than Trump or Hillary Clinton. The two biggest third-party vote-getters were Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson (almost 4.5 million votes) and the Green Party’s Jill Stein (1.5 million voters). But others received almost another 1.9 million votes as well. Every one of these votes was wasted. There was no message. You did not make a difference with your vote, except to say that the two major parties could go on playing without you. And right now, any vote not for Biden is a vote FOR the incumbent.
Shawn Bannon says
@Michael I’ll respectfully disagree. A write-in vote for someone I actually respect and admire doesn’t make a difference in the outcome of an election. It doesn’t make me feel better about the person I’m going to have to stare at behind the presidential seal for the next four years. But it makes a huge difference in the way I feel about the person I see in the mirror everyday. And millions of other people — those who choose to write in votes and those who choose not to vote at all (not out of apathy but because they don’t see their values reflected in any of the candidates) — believe the same. Of course, you’re welcome to see it differently.
Shawn Bannon says
My friend, while I respect your right to interpret my Facebook post any way you like and through a lens shaped and colored by your own political and philosophical beliefs, I’m left to wonder how sincere your effort to understand really is if you’re going to keep telling me what I really intended or what I really meant to say rather than accepting what I tell you was the intent of my post. Yes, I made the point that Biden and Trump are both shit leaders. That was a one-sentence aside at the end of my post. The post itself was about me taking issue with the case being made by many on the left that Biden would handle the Covid pandemic better based on the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola — a narrative that even Mrs. Obama attempted to advance in her convention speech — and ignoring the more applicable comparison that was H1N1. The point of my post was (I thought it was clear, but I accept that you didn’t interpret it as such) that the message being shaped by the left was an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of people who are looking for a reason to think Biden is a strong leader. You call it a “flimsy hook,” but that deception was the very reason for me to post about politics, which is something I don’t often do. And that led me to the sad aside that both of these candidates are shit.
That doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t vote for Joe, and so I didn’t write that folks shouldn’t vote for Joe. If you can look at him in the cold light of day and vote for him, good for you. It doesn’t mean you should vote for Trump, and so I didn’t suggest that folks should vote for Trump. And it doesn’t mean you should either write in someone else or not vote at all. If I wanted to say those things — if I wanted to tell my friends what I think they ought to do with their votes — I would. But I don’t presume that any of them much care what I think they ought to do with their votes. Rather, the point of my post was that instead of letting our misgivings about either candidate be pacified by party spin, we ought to look at all of the information available and then make our choices. Beyond that, it’s OK if my choice is different from your choice, and so on for each of us. In fact, when one close friend responded in support of Biden, I didn’t run him down; I wrote back that we can agree to disagree about whether or not there’s any real difference in their leadership capacity. And when another made a point about Biden having a heart full of compassion, I challenged him to think about that relative to the positions Biden has actually championed in the past, but I didn’t make a case for him to cast his ballot any particular way. I simply challenged him to think beyond the narratives that these people and their campaigns work so hard to feed us.
You call it half-expressed, but I think it’s only half-expressed to you because it doesn’t put me into a box with which you’re comfortable. Neither does my write-in vote, which you poo-poo as a non-vote but I take seriously as a matter of principle. I’m fine with voting for imperfect candidates; we’re all imperfect, and I can encourage my son to look up to imperfect people. But I wouldn’t want him to look up to either of these two candidates (just as I wouldn’t have wanted him looking up to HRC when she was the choice in 2016), and so I won’t compromise myself to vote for either of them, regardless of the fact that I won’t change the outcome of the election. Again, you’re welcome to interpret that as you like, but so long as you’re telling me what I really mean — and this is a problem with public discourse, in general, that I hope you tackle in your forthcoming book — I don’t know that you’ll ever truly be capable of understanding where I come from politically and philosophically.
Now, see, the difference between us is perhaps that I’ve come to accept that I can’t make people understand or agree with me, and so doing so really isn’t a goal to which I aspire. I recognize that in the age of social media, everybody wants a voice, but few really want to listen. As a society, we tear people down because of what we believe they meant when they said or posted something, even when they tell us that isn’t at all what they wanted to convey. I’m not talking about the baseball announcer caught saying something terrible about homosexuals when he thought his mic was off. We do it all the time to people simply because someone has a perspective that isn’t our own. My Facebook post was exactly what I intended it to be. It was intended to challenge the narrative in the hopes that it would lead some folks to think more critically about what they’re hearing and what they believe. And, yes, I tacked on a one-sentence lament that out of 330 million people in the country, these two are the choices we’ve got for president. But you’re attaching more meaning to that one sentence than I packed into it. If you want to read more into my post, you’re absolutely welcome to do it, but wherever that leads is not where I told you to go; it’s where your own interests, beliefs, biases and assumptions take you.
I’m not sure if that’s going to get us to a place of understanding, but in the end, if it helps you to stop seething at folks, I’m happy to engage in the conversation.
Mark Ragan says
Stop wasting the infinite space here on the web.
Anyone who argues that Hillary Clinton would have caused more damage to our institutions and our Democracy is so deranged that it isn’t worth the trouble.
These people are cult followers, David. There is simply no point debating them.
Whether it’s the pussy-grabbing tape, the 22 women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment, the attempt to shake down the Ukraine, or Falwell’s wife screwing the pool boy: Trump’s base will never, ever get it.
And now they say Biden is the same? It’s so laughable it defies a response.
There’s nothing we can do but help pay their psychiatric bills. Better to start a GoFundMe page than argue with them.
We can only hope to defeat these Trump folks in November; and hopefully, defeat them so decisively that we needn’t tire out our fingers responding to their ludicrous false equivalence arguments.
Grab a beer and watch their convention, Dave. Perhaps Trump will repeat his assertion that satan-loving, pedophilic Democrats, led by Hillary, have reopened their sex trafficking pizza parlor.
David Murray says
Mark, Shawn doesn’t consider himself a Trumper and I’m trying to find dialogue where dialogue can be had. As for this conversation, I’m following your old man’s advice about why editors don’t write comments to letters to the editor: “We’ve had our say, let the reader have theirs.”
(Of course, editors have their ways. Remember when Crescenzo put a headline on a letter taking us to task for making light of injury by fire: ‘RR reader hot under the collar.’)
I do think it’s only responsible to post Shawn’s original Facebook post so people can judge what I said about that:
“I’m not much of a fan of Donald Trump and don’t defend his handling of the COVID pandemic, which has really been a failure of leadership at virtually every level of government. But I was bothered by those during the week of the DNC who carefully chose to make comparisons between the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola and this administration’s response to COVID given that Ebola does not really spread very easily and even Fauci said in 2014 that an outbreak in the US was ‘very, very, very unlikely.’ For a more accurate comparison to Trump and COVID, it’s important to look at the last administration’s response to the H1N1 pandemic of 2009-10. This Wall Street Journal piece provides better perspective, along with a truly alarming quote from VP Biden’s former chief of staff. And the sad reality for Americans as we think about the choice ahead of us in November is that we really don’t have any great choice.”
And here’s the WSJ column:
Shawn Bannon says
I wonder if Mark recognizes the irony of running an organization that purports to advance best practices in the field of communications while so openly dismissing and demonizing those who don’t share his world view. His job must be pretty easy these days. Ragan Communications Best Practice No. 1: Don’t bother to communicate to those who don’t already agree with you. Best Practice No. 2: Instead of trying to win others to your point of view through logic and reason, cast aspersions and suggest that those who disagree with you are mentally unstable. Cool.
Mark Ragan says
There is no communication issue here. I couldn’t be clearer. This country is inches away from re-electing a tyrannical monster who has no respect for the Constitution and our institutions. How many times must he demonstrate this to you before you get it? How thick headed and ill-informed can you be? Do you not read the headlines?
Anyone who seriously suggests that Biden and Trump share the same ethical and moral universe is so ignorant and delusional that no amount of polite conversation will help.
That is clear communication.
Have I minced too many words for you?
You and the rest of Trump’s enablers are 100 percent responsible for the multiple traumas this country is facing. And you don’t get off easy by talking out of both sides of your mouth: You are either for our Constitution, for our Democratic principles or you are for The Creature and the devastation he is wreaking on humanity.
There is no wishy-washy in-between space for you to occupy.
Shawn Bannon says
Mark, you think *I* enable Trump by not voting for his opponent — a man who may not be as abrasive as the president but who also doesn’t share or reflect my values when it comes to the policies or special interest that he has championed through his 5 decades in Washington; that’s rich. If you wanted people like me — people who didn’t vote for Hillary but don’t particularly like Trump — to vote for his opponent, you and your party should have nominated a more appealing candidate. Instead, you nominated a man whose name is synonymous with Washington politics … a man who offers nothing other than the fact that he isn’t Donald Trump. And that’s just not good enough. The really funny thing here, though, is what you don’t realize … that it’s *you* and not me who enable Trump. Your derision for anyone who doesn’t see the world the way you do is what elected Trump. People didn’t vote for Trump because they love him; they voted for Trump in 2016 because it was the biggest F-U they could imagine to all of you who have been looking down on the rest of the country for decades. I told David this the day the p*ssy grabbing tape leaked, when he thought that was the end of Trump’s 2016 campaign. It didn’t make a dent because you and your ilk have treated everyone else like trailer park trash for decades, and Trump was the natural — possibly inevitable — response. You didn’t get it in 2016. You clearly don’t get it in 2020. You folks have screamed at and tried to run down anyone who doesn’t see the world your way, and you’ve failed to even try to understand or build bridges; instead, you keep looking down on and firing shots at Americans with a different point of view. I’m not going to engage with you further because you weren’t interested in a conversation when you commented on this blog yesterday or today, and you’ve clearly never been interested in a conversation with anyone who doesn’t share your world view. But what I will do in honor of this little exchange is make a bunch of donations to Republican candidates in your name. And despite the ugliness and vitriol you’ve brought to this discussion, I’ll wish you well no matter who wins in November.
MK Rouse says
Wow! probably shouldn’t chime in on this thread but I can’t help but noticing what a white-male privileged, entitled response Mr. Bannon is expressing. For all the complaints on the libertarian and republican fronts about “entitlements” no one seems more entitled than someone who believes they are entitled to just the right candidate. Writing in a candidate (or sitting out an election in protest) shows a lack of patriotism and civic responsibility during this critical juncture in our democracy. It’s no time to be wishy-washy and call it “principled”. This is the time to ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country and this year, more than ever, it is to remove a malignant cancer from the executive office This election is just too critical to cop out on. The people Mr. Bannon would vote for (or at least consider voting for)…John Kasich, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama… are asking you to vote for Joe Biden. Mitt Romney, for whom you say you would vote (and for whom I DID vote in 2012) voted to impeach this President. That is a call to action. Your perfect candidate isn’t on the menu so this year you hold your nose and do what’s right to remove the rancid, poisonous incumbent off the table. You can write in your dad in 2024 if every candidate isn’t up to snuff enough for you, unless Trump runs again and then you can vote for him by not voting for him and save face in your mirror.
Shawn Bannon says
How very 2020 to attempt to delegitimize an alternative view by tagging someone with the privileged white male label. Facts: I am white. I am male. And I acknowledge my privilege insofar as I have not shared some of the same difficulties in life that others have. I didn’t make any of that so, and so I won’t feel guilty or apologize for it. Another fact: I am entitled. NOT to the perfect candidate. Rather, as a free American, I am absolutely entitled to cast my vote in accordance with my conscience … and to do so without any regard for what you might think of my patriotism or sense of civic duty as a result. Folks on the left are throwing tantrums over folks like me — people who don’t like Trump but who won’t hold our noses and vote for Biden because he doesn’t reflect our values or our aspirations. What maybe you don’t understand is that I can thoroughly dislike Trump and still not believe he’s destroying the country. Do I find him repugnant as a person? Yep. And he’s done plenty I don’t like as president. But is he responsible for all the ills we face or the fact that our country is so fractured? Hardly. We were a nation divided long before Donald Trump began tweeting from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
So I don’t like him as a person, but as president, I’m generally satisfied that the worst of his attempts to affect policy have been checked by the Congress, Supreme Court and even his own military leaders, who have super-slow-walked things like his efforts to ban transgender individuals from the military. Like every president, he has pursued policies I don’t like and policies that I do (mostly related to taxes, regulation and trade). And so, for me the bottom line is that I’ll be disappointed with either of these candidates, but I can live with either of them, too. What I can’t and won’t do is support either one of them with my vote.
And as much as I respect John Kasich and others who have endorsed Biden, I recognize that these folks have made careers of making political calculations and compromising their principles … and that they have their own agendas and scores to settle. I don’t fault them for it, but I won’t vote the way anybody tells me to vote if my conscience tells me to do otherwise.
You can think what you like, seeing this election and these candidates through the prism of your world view. I respect that even though I imagine we disagree about a lot of things when it comes to principles, politics and policy. What I find most telling about your position, though — and the position of so many of you who have been screaming that the sky is falling since election night 2016 — is that you’re actually attacking me because I have high standards for determining who gets my vote instead of reflecting on why the left has nominated such a lackluster candidate who could barely clear the lowest of hurdles — a man who has nothing to offer apart from the fact that he just isn’t Donald Trump. It’s fine if that’s enough for you. You’re entitled to vote for Joe whether he legitimately excites you or whether you’re just holding your nose and voting against Trump. I celebrate your right to vote however you feel moved to vote. But I’m going to remain committed to voting my conscience, as is my right, not matter how wishy-washy you or others may think that makes me.
Corey Stevenson says
Speaking (or rather, writing) as someone who neither lives nor spends very much time in the United States, even I can say that the past four years have felt like the longest and most mentally exhausting years of my life. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to actually be in the thick of things. Not because I so thoroughly disagree with the policies and behavior of Donald Trump and, for the most part, the Republican Party as a whole (though to be clear, I absolutely do), but simply because of the chaos this administration has caused and, by all appearances, willfully promotes.
Though the state of American politics affects me only peripherally and largely only from the perspective of foreign policy, the fact is that NO ONE can completely ignore the bull in the china shop. Had I any say in the matter at all, I would be doing everything in my power to show that bull the door. I would be looking at every available option that would in any way improve the situation or mitigate the damage. Let’s make this animal metaphor more on the nose: Better an old, meandering donkey that doesn’t do much of anything than an angry, senseless elephant who doesn’t care who he hurts.
That being said, I’ve always taken some issue with the idea that protest votes amount to a dereliction of civic duty. In Canada, where I live, we have had our own share of elections with, shall we say, less than sterling choices. In a recent Provincial election I also considered the position of a protest vote or, in the case of the laws governing our electoral processes, the right to present myself and have my desire to abstain formally counted.
I was met with the same arguments regarding the futility of this gesture not to mention the strategic damage it would surely cause. In the end, I did cast a proper vote because I concluded that the potential negative consequences of abstaining in that particular election far outweighed my statement of principle. So, I voted against something rather than for something, which is never ideal but sometimes necessary.
Still, I cannot completely give up on the idea of protest voting. It seems to me that the only reason that writing in a candidate or abstaining does not work as a profound and meaningful political statement is that too many of us lack the courage of our convictions. Let’s assume that we all voted our conscience in an election where all candidates were unpalatable. Surely, there must be a tipping point where the scope of voter dissatisfaction overcomes electoral process. Surely, a party that wins an election with say 10% of the vote cannot legitimately be given a mandate to govern in an election where 60%, 70%, 80% of the electorate flatly rejected all the options. What is the threshold? Where does process collapse under the weight of democratic crisis?
Perhaps that is naïve, idealistic. Perhaps it could never happen like that.
Still, if we only had the conviction.