I’m an Independent. I’ve never belonged to any political party and, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I don’t know if I’d want to be a member of any party that would have me. At least, not the major parties as they currently exist. They are at present, big businesses that pedal notions without motions, bluster without muster, and platitudes without latitude. Now that the 2016 major party conventions are in the bag, the expected talk is swirling about the supposed irresponsibility of being an Independent and voting independently. The rhetoric is especially spirited in this cycle because we’re dealing not in degrees of likability, but degrees of dislikability for the Democrat and the Republican candidates for the Presidency.
While there’s a lot to be said about collusion between the Democrat and Republican parties to create and maintain oligarchy disguised as democracy there’s a more illustrative point to be made in this cycle from their internal dysfunction. The #NeverTrump and Bernie crowds respectively are loud and vocal about their distaste with candidates their parties have nominated. While internal disagreement is a natural phenomenon, and a key part of any democratic process, many have taken note of the ferocity the defeated factions have shown in their dissent.
Some even go so far as to announce their intentions to vote for the other major party’s candidate–and while I can imagine a Republican deciding that Hillary Clinton is a safer bet than Donald Trump based on experience in the political arena, I have a hard time wrapping myself in the logic of burned Bernie supporters deciding that Trump is better than Hillary. Nevertheless, there exists a vocal group in both parties putting forth a multitude of cherry-picked facts to string together a rationale for just such courses of action.
Conversely, there are those who are willing to compromise and accept the flaws of their party’s steward as a fair price to pay against the failures of the opposition’s candidate. To wit, there are Republicans who are willing to accept Donald Trump because they believe Hillary Clinton to be the greater evil and Democrats who are willing to endorse Hillary because they fear a Trump presidency.
The overarching theme of these rationals and stand points is that the goal of an election is to cast a defensive vote for the lesser of two evils. This assumes that anyone running for office is, not a flawed human being with good intentions and a particular set of experiences, perspectives, and skills, that qualify them to lead and advocate but instead, a power hungry villain whose existence can be tolerated only in the sharp contrast of some greater evildoer. While I do subscribe to the notion that government is a necessary evil I refuse to stand for a “lesser” evil from a choice of two. There are other candidates, other parties, and the option to write in anyone I choose for office. There are far more than two choices.
When I present this information to die hard party members they often find ways, directly or indirectly, to tell me that I am naive, irresponsible, or unrealistic. Their arguments are framed around the formal fallacy of affirming the consequent asserting if I don’t support one candidate then I am to blame for the other winning. Specifically, I am told that if I do not vote for Hillary Clinton then I’ll be at fault for Donald Trump’s ascendency to the Oval Office. I must ask those who make this argument to check their premises. The only people to blame or applaud for any candidate winning office are those who support and vote for them. My vote is not a defensive measure, it is a gift of confidence, and it isn’t owed to anyone. Especially not the “lesser of two evils” for whom I have little or zero confidence.
It is imperative that we move away from the “binary mindset” that besieges American politics and American thinking. The world is wider than Democrats and Republicans, right and wrong, black and white, American and unAmerican, and so on. It is full of possibilities, dialogues, and opportunities to build an ever greater world.
Our democracy has become so fixated on the binary that many subscribe to the existence of an American “two-party system”. There is no such thing. We have a bicameral legislature to represent the people and the states, three branches to separate the powers of government, and free and open elections to decide who executes the will of the governed. The Constitution did not afflict our elections with two highly limited choices–monetizing governance did.
The only way we can institute real change in this country is to break free of the mindset that some large political corporation is owed your vote. It is your right to award your franchise to anyone whom you feel is deserving and withhold it from any and all unworthy candidates.
The kind of thinking that promotes the defensive “lesser of two evils” vote is just as plagued by the democratically fatal binary mindset of “win/lose” as our elected officials, who succumb to it at every opportunity for progress. We’ve become so entrenched in the idea of the uncompromising win that we’ve demonized solutions and understanding, which are the spirit of democratic debate and the purpose of representative democracy that serves the whole. While we put all these efforts into winning against each other, we have failed to prosper together and to prevail together.
While no candidate will ever be perfect. We have to work to find, support, and engage with the ones who best align to our vision of a better tomorrow, not away from those with a contrasting vision. The more representative voices we find, the better they’ll be able to work towards an America that works for everyone, not just one or two prepackaged sets of ideals and goals. After all, the motto on our money is “E pluribus unum” not “E duo unum”.
To those who believe that a vote for a third party candidate is a “wasted” vote, I humbly disagree. I think a vote cast for a lesser evil over a wider representative body is a wasted opportunity to bring from many, one. It is not naive to expect a cosmopolitan body politic to produce a cosmopolitan governing body. It isn’t irresponsible to vote my convictions, nor is it unrealistic to expect complicated social problems to be approached from varied standpoints with thorough, forward thinking solutions. When the moment finally comes and the ballots must be cast, we’ll be alone in the election booth, with no one to answer to but our consciences. No one will know what we did individually, but what we did collectively will define our course. We’ll have to sleep at night knowing that we voted in favor of our hopes, not in opposition of our fears, and that we’ve lent our confidence to the cause of greatness and not in middling relativism.
I know I sleep better when I invite dreams, not when I avoid nightmares.