Being Part Of The Inevitable

Protesting by not voting or voting for an opposing candidate is a good way to make things worse

I have a question for you. Do you generally make choices by deciding for or against? That is, is your choice the result of elimination of other choices or the result of determining an optimal choice — optimal meaning best under the circumstances. I realize, of course, that in some cases there are many choices (i.e., restaurant menu) and in others (i.e., presidential election) there may be only a couple of choices. With multiple choices, either an optimal choice or the survivor of choice elimination can work, although it’s also possible to start with elimination and then make the optimal choice from the remainder. With a choice from two possibilities, one can decide by determining the optimal choice or the worst one.

I’ve been pragmatically pondering this as a result of the current presidential process, in which many supporters of one candidate are considering not voting at all in the general election instead of voting for the other candidate from the same party if that individual is the successful nominee. Some have even threatened to vote for the opposing candidate from the other party. As a pragmatist, I find this level of decision-making to be pointless.

It’s already bad enough that so many citizens don’t even bother to vote, as if the value of living in a true democracy is trivial and unimportant. Complaining about the quality of governance but not voting is no different than sitting in a car with the windows up on a sunny day and complaining about the heat. The same applies to not voting because it won’t make any difference. Actually it does make a difference, but enough people not voting makes the contention that it doesn’t self-fulfilling. When it comes to making the system work, those who don’t vote are the real problem (noting that low-information voters really shouldn’t vote because ignorance is antithetical to democracy).

Protesting by not voting or voting for an opposing candidate is a good way to make things worse. After all, one of the candidates is inevitably going to become president, a senator or a representative, and that could be far worse than voting for a candidate who may not be your first choice but is far less objectionable than his or her opponent. No candidate is perfect and one may easily disagree with some of their views, but competence, intelligence and experience will ensure far better results overall than allowing someone without those qualities to occupy a position with considerable responsibility for the well-being of citizens and their greater good.

Being in the process of voting is really the only reliable method of making a difference. Yes, in a democracy a majority may sometimes elect someone you don’t consider suitable, but that may be the result of so many who could have voted for your preferred candidate simply not voting. This is how so many extremist, obstructionist members of congress are elected to office in off-year (non-presidential) elections. Those who insist that the two major political parties are basically the same are either abysmally ignorant or in some weird form of denial. The differences are profound and largely represent two very different approaches to governance, only one of which is actually functional in terms of real-world issues and solutions.

It used to be that the two parties, while having substantial differences, would still work together for the greater good. But one party has become so distant from its former more moderate place along the political spectrum that actual governance has become close to impossible, leaving voters frustrated and angry. Anger is okay, but not particularly useful as a solution. Voting, however, is quite effective when enough citizens choose to participate. Rewarding bad behavior by not voting is an absurd response; it’s what created the problem in the first place and cannot fix what is now wrong. How is this not obvious.

The conundrum of making government work better is that while governance requires expertise and skills that only exist from experience in governing, voters who distrust both government and candidates with sufficient knowledge and wisdom in governance will be most likely to vote for candidates who have none of these qualities. Although not a majority of the electorate, without mainstream voters participating, these voters can elect candidates who are hostile to the role of governing in general, have extreme positions and are not interested in moderation and compromise. It’s like hiring a coach who hates sports. Democracy cannot function from outside the political center.

When some want to shut down the government, refuse to consider presidential nominations, ignore judicial decisions and undermine constitutional principles, democracy edges toward authoritarian rule. Democracy exists only as long as those who govern abide by the rules and recognize their obligations to govern responsibly. Voters determine how governance exists. Not voting gives the ability to determine the role of government to those who are least likely to comprehend or care about democracy as we have always assumed it would exist. It can’t happen if everyone votes.