This past week, the voting choices of two of the more respected and well-known American public figures of the last forty years were made known. On Monday, it was revealed that former Republican President George H.W. Bush will be voting for Hillary Clinton, and on Tuesday, former General Electric President Jack Welch announced that that he would be voting for Donald Trump.
This means two different figures voting for two different radically divergent candidates. What they had in common, however, was that they each evidenced some deep thought about each candidates before making their choices public. They were not voting just to vote.
When walking across campus last week, I noticed a proliferation of “get out and vote” literature and chalk drawings, all of the sort which one commonly sees aimed at the citizens of this nation every four years. The “Get Out to Vote” movement has been big for years, and celebrities are always urging us to go and vote. Full-stop. Just vote; doesn’t matter after that.
However, there is a gap between voting and thinking, or voting and knowing why you are voting for whom it is you are voting.
In 21st century America, the very act of voting itself is maintained to be a self-evident good. This is something with which I must profoundly disagree. There is little good, and much wrong, with voting just to vote. Yes, voting is a right and privilege of the American citizen. Yes, Americans have died to safeguard you that right. However, merely voting to vote is not enough. To actually participate in your civic duty, you must be able to say why you are voting for whom you are voting.
In 2012, various media outlets ran little videos, which were both amusing and infuriating. Anchors would interview supporters of Obama about how they felt about Romney’s plan to extend the Patriot Act and then, after listening to the erstwhile Democratic voter discuss how much they hated that idea and Romney for proposing it, the anchor would reveal that it was actually Obama’s plan. This same little shenanigan is being done to Trump supporters this year with the same results. No doubt it could be done to many of Romney, McCain, Bernie and Hillary’s supporters with similar results.
It is so frustrating to see videos for anyone who cares about the direction of this country. As a republic, we are not a nation premised on voting, but on voting knowledgeably. These bemusingly clueless individuals are helping to choose the most powerful person on Earth, and they do not know a thing about that person, only that they “like them” or think they are “a good person.” These intangible qualities are not factors which one should vote on. Rather, reason and research should form the bedrock of deciding for whom we cast the ballot.
We are a nation which has devalued political discourse and has abandoned the battle of ideas for the idea-starved ideal of the three second sound bite. We make fun of – or even better – just tune out the Hillarys, Jebs and Romneys of the world with all of their elaborate policies, plans and long-winded but generally well thought out answers in favor of the Obamas, Trumps, Bernies and McCains of the world with their fiery rhetoric and soaring but vague descriptions of a bright and wonderful future.
The American political system has evolved to where we do not vote for people or ideas, but for letters and laundry. The little ‘R’ or ‘D’ next to a candidate’s name on the television or in the ballot box is all we really think we need to know when deciding who to support in any given year. We do not need to know anything else about the candidate, we reason, because we know to what party they belong. Yet, Donald Trump has a liberal isolationist foreign policy position more in line with Bernie Sanders’ than with most Republican statesmen’s, and President Obama has deported millions of more immigrants than both Bush and Reagan did.
You should not vote for or against someone because you personally like or dislike them, or because Buzzfeed wrote a funny article about them or because they are or are not a good public speaker. Instead you should – indeed, to fully and truly participate in civic life – vote based on the great issues of our time before us today.
Don’t vote for Trump because he is not Hillary, or vice-versa. This election season, I urge my fellow citizens to look beyond the letters and the laundry and vote for the candidate who you know will represent you best, not the one who is the most charismatic or promises the most. That is the duty of a citizen in a powerful republic.