Why I’m voting

A map to winning my vote — not just in this election, but every time

In speaking to friends and relatives who are choosing to vote Donald Trump this year, I’ve found that our most major disagreements haven’t been around his character. They’re around his principles, and I’ve found that my underlying principles and assumptions are radically different to theirs.

The issues facing the United States, and every country, are bigger than any one election. They’re bigger than any personality or circus-like election season. So I thought I would lay out why I vote the way I do — a sort of This I Believe for the election season. I would love to read yours.

Everyone has the right to a good life. No matter your place of origin, your religion, your gender, your ethnic background, your sexuality, your social context. This is my core principle. In every country, but particularly in the richest country on earth, ensuring everyone can live well is a moral issue. Equality of opportunity and support for all should be core values of our society. Sometimes, achieving equality of opportunity means giving more help to one group than another, and that’s okay.

We need women leaders. Women continue to be discriminated against in virtually every aspect of life, to the detriment of all of us. Leadership is just one example. Only 3–4% of CEOs worldwide are women, yet they are statistically more effective leaders than men. There are a host of social issues keeping women from these positions, from women’s health to family issues. Many of them are patriarchal culture issues that have been fought against for decades, and will be fought against for decades to come. Policies like equalizing maternity and paternity benefits are examples of positive incremental change. I also believe that the services provided by organizations like Planned Parenthood should be provided as part of widely-available, government-provided infrastructure that everyone is able to take advantage of.

Social issues are economic issues. Primarily they’re humanitarian issues, but even if you’re a Scrooge who only cares about the impact on yourself, you should care that income inequality hurts economic growth. A widening gap in society hurts everybody. Similarly, having universal healthcare would be cheaper than not (health insurance is a brutal system that forces people who earn less to pay more). Supporting infrastructure like libraries, community centers and even public art have measurable benefits. And as we move from an industrial age to an age of knowledge-based work, having free access to education creates a workforce more able to be productive in the 21st century.

Social infrastructure is vital. Half of the population of the United States counts as poor or low income. Most Americans will fit into that bracket at least once during their lives. America’s social programs lift millions of people out of poverty. Imagine if they weren’t continually stunted. Take homelessness: in the entire country of England, an average of 498 people sleep on the streets every night (2007 number; PDF link). In the US in 2014, that number was 578,424. If we were proportionately in line with the English number, just under 3,000 Americans a night would be sleeping rough.

Unions have a crucial part to play in capitalism. The ability for working people to organize and amplify their voices allows them to better counterbalance the interests of the large businesses they work for. The decline in union membership has contributed to the fall in wages for everyone. Not every union is perfect, but the concept of unions is important and should be protected.

The environment is a social issue, too. The time for having petty arguments about climate change is long gone. The destruction of our natural environment also disproportionately affects the poorest people around the world. Renewable energy, efficient new technologies, controls on industrial use, and domestic behavior change all have an important part to play.

We should stop institutionally murdering people. There are two visible kinds of institutional murder in America: the death penalty, which is literally that, and extrajudicial killing by its police force. Beyond the human rights implications and the loss of human life, both create a hard stop to the judicial process. The death penalty happens to be ruinously expensive — and for every 9 people killed, 1 person on Death Row is found innocent. And every person shot by police is someone who cannot get a fair trial.

In Iceland in 2013, there was a national day of mourning when a police officer shot and killed someone for the first time in its history. Meanwhile, the Washington Post police shootings tracker lists US police as having killed 807 people this year at the time of writing (24 fewer than this time last year). And of course, the racial balance of those shootings is unsettling. Black Lives Matter is entirely justified.

The justice system is discriminatory. Nixon’s aide John Erlichman on the War on Drugs: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Today, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, disproportionately for drug-related offenses. Do our current drugs laws actually help people, or are they present to enforce discrimination? I’d argue the latter. Everyone should be treated equally under the law, and laws should not be created for the purposes of discrimination.

Surveillance is a freedom of speech issue. Surveillance creates what we call a “chilling effect” on free speech. If we want a society with freedom of expression at its core — and I believe this, too, is a social justice issue, as it guarantees the right of underrepresented people to have a voice — we cannot have ubiquitous surveillance. Domestic surveillance is unconstitutional, but I also think blanket international surveillance should be classified as an act of war.

Freedom of religion is freedom of thought. I’m not religious, but I don’t care if you are. You should have the right to your belief system. Discriminating on the basis of which religion you adhere to is fundamentally at odds with freedom of expression.

Government should be secular and have a bias towards freedom. We should have had marriage equality decades ago. It’s inconceivable to me that a woman’s right to choose should be an issue. These are both fundamentally religious issues. If you don’t want to get married to someone of the same sex, or perform those ceremonies in your church — fine. If you don’t want to support abortions — fine. (You’ll be on the wrong side of history, but go ahead.) But no government service should have those biases. It should use facts and established science to inform efficient and focused policy. Government must serve all, and anyone who works for the government should be prepared to do so.

Everyone is connected. We should not disproportionately care more about the effect we have on domestic citizens. We simply don’t have that right, and by prioritizing our own needs over the needs of others we create global inequalities that make us less safe. Indiscriminate droning, surveillance and unequal trade deals all lead to a path where we are resented internationally.

Freedom of movement is beneficial. Immigrants don’t steal jobs; they represent a small but disproportionately positive effect on economic growth. By the way, did you know more people move from the US to Mexico than the other way around? The fears around Mexican immigration are racism, pure and simple.

We should be ashamed of having the largest military on Earth. We account for around a third of the world’s military spending; twice as much as the next country. That is obscene. It is something to be ashamed of. I don’t mean be ashamed of the men and women who are in the service: they are skilled people making great sacrifices on our behalf that must be respected. Particularly given they are disproportionately people from lower income communities where joining the military is one of their only viable options. Much of the money that goes on military spending is spent on bloated insider contracts with private companies. I would like to see those resources and that effort poured into international aid, domestic infrastructure, and services that help create a more peaceful world with many nations of equal standing. An America that strives to lead the world through force is not an America that promotes peace and democracy. And we should never put military lives at risk in the name of profit.

“Big government” vs “small government” is a red herring. The idea that low taxes are inherently beneficial is simplistic; people living in countries with higher taxation often have a better quality of life. Focused government is more important. A higher proportion of our tax dollars should be spent on social programs to improve peoples’ lives, vs military spending. It’s ludicrous that we shy away from social programs at home yet pour tax dollars into violence overseas. Imagine if a viable way for someone to serve their country was to help create infrastructure and support people living well — creating a good life for themselves in the process.

I believe the only viable candidate in this election is Hillary Clinton. I am voting for her, but I also believe in holding her, and the government as a whole, to task. It is not a given that she’ll support all these issues, and part of democracy is holding our elected representatives to account.

Disagree with me? I’d love to have a conversation. You can click to respond below.