One of the most sacred duties we have as American citizens is the right to vote. For whatever holes in the system you might think there are, or mechanisms that stifle the democratic process and keep the status quo intact, the fact remains that we still have the right to vote, and however small our voice may be in a single vote, it is still powerful, and yes — it still makes a difference, especially when raised in tandem with thousands or millions of like-minded individuals.
If you doubt that, just look at the last decade of national politics: the unlikely rise and victory of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and the “almost-wins” of Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke in historically hostile territory, on the left; on the right, the ascendancy of the Tea Party and names like Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz to national prominence, of course culminating in the nomination victory and eventual election of Donald Trump.
Yes, my friends. Your voice matters. When you unite it with others, it matters very much indeed.
In every election cycle, someone talks about “voting your conscience.” Every year, almost without exception, one of the two major party candidates is distasteful in some way to a large portion of their own voting bloc, so there arises all manner of chatter about “voting with your nose plugged” or some odd metaphor like that. For example, most of my friends on both the left and right in 2016 were less than enthusiastic about casting their eventual votes for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and I know many people who voted for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party in protest, citing, of course, “voting their conscience.” I have been one of them, in more than one election.
I want to talk about this idea of voting your conscience for a moment, but well before the general election, as nowis when such a concept really matters. Too often, so many of us wait until a general election to learn anything at all about the candidates, minimally involved in the primary or campaigning processes. Then we love to complain when the guy or gal that gets their party’s nomination — that “I don’t like either of them,” defaulting to the ever-present “lesser of two evils” voting philosophy; or else, if you’re in the brave 4% of non-conformists, garnering the ire of your die-hard party friends and family by casting a protest vote for a third-party candidate.
For me, voting my conscience has to do with acknowledging that I deeply care about politics — which, like it or not, is intrinsically connected to the future of our country — indeed, our entire world. You may not care much for politics, but if you are truly concerned about your “conscience,” you will get yourself involved on some level. By way of metaphor, you can’t just watch the Super Bowl every year and then pretend to know anything about football by complaining about the system, the drafts, the refs, the NFL, the expensive ads, and the teams that made it to the championship.
Voting your conscience begins MUCH farther upstream than November of an election year. Voting your conscience involves two vitally important decisions to engage, the importance of each of which cannot be overstated:
- Vote in local elections and work hard to understand local issues.
The biggest and most important changes in your community happen at the local and state levels, not the federal. It’s easy to get passionate or angry about things happening in Washington, but the reality is that your mayor, city council members, and state legislature members, the judges and sheriffs in your area, your representatives and senators, and the lower courts that make thousands of tiny decisions on issues that never make it to the Supremes — these elections and processes matter farmore than whoever is president. Don’t tell me that you care about politics, and don’t whine about who is on the ballot in November, if you don’t vote in local elections.
2. Get involved in the primary process & get educated on national issues.
I propose that it is not enough to “agree with” a candidate on most issues. It is certainly not enough to “like” a candidate — or to put it colloquially, to feel like you’d like to “have a beer with him.”
We have to be better than that as an electorate.
We have to be smart, and more than anything we have to be good judges of character. I submit that that looks like supporting the candidate that you trust the most. Not the candidate that lines up with your values the most. Not the candidate that is most likable. Not the candidate that says all the right things, or the one that seems the most “electable.” No one thought Trump, or Reagan, or Carter, or Nixon, or Truman, was “electable.” And yet they were.
Not even the candidate that you think will follow through on campaign promises.
Go with the candidate that you trust as a human being, as a leader, the one that seems most to have integrity and character.
Of course, some of that plays into your personal values. I’m not suggesting we simply vote for the Boy Scout of the candidates, however we feel about their politics. But more than anything, whether we can agree up and down the line with someone on the issues, it is vitally important that we have a wiseperson of character and integrity whom we trust to make well-informed and good decisions as the leader of our country.
Alexander Hamilton once endorsed Thomas Jefferson, his bitter rival with whom he had never agreed on anything, against the candidate from his own party, Aaron Burr. The decision cost Hamilton his life, as he died later that year in a duel with Burr. The reason Hamilton gave? Burr had no distinguishable values, no stances on anything. Aaron Burr knew how to play the game of politics. He was likable and noncommittal to hard stances on anything.
This year, in a historically large Democratic primary field, we have a responsibility. Don’t wait until next November to whine about whoever wins the nomination. If you’re a Democrat, get involved in the primary process and seek to understand each candidate on their own merit. If you’re a Republican, Trump is facing a rare primary challenger, perhaps with more to come. There will be two real primaries this year. If you don’t like Trump, but can’t stomach the idea of voting for a Democrat, you have a sacred duty to investigate candidate Bill Weld and whoever else may join him to run against Trump for the nod.
What we need is not more ideologues. What we need is more leaders with character, willing to tell the truth and be honest with themselves, willing to make the hard decisions, with proven track records of wisdom, genuine goodness, and integrity.
Do vote your conscience. But do it earlier, rather than later.
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