This 2016 presidential race is a hot one. The Democrats have a highly credentialed but not-well-liked candidate, viewed by many as a corrupt insider and untrustworthy. The Republicans have a consummate outsider, a businessman not afraid to toot his own horn, viewed by many as a bigoted authoritarian demagogue. In the outside lanes, we have a former state governor who many think is lacking substance in his platform, and a long-time environmentalist who some view as dangerously anti-science. And that’s not even counting the also-rans from the main parties that still have staunch support.
Your left-leaning friends will tell you that voting Clinton is the only way to stop Trump from becoming president and ending democracy as we know it. Your right-leaning Trump-loving friends will tell you that Clinton is too dangerous and corrupt to allow into the White House and that “[he] alone can fix” the problems in Washington. Your right-leaning friends who can’t stomach Trump will tell you that it’s time to get an alternate voice of the right into view by voting Libertarian.
I have made a pledge this election to stop acting from a place of fear. Some of my reasons won’t speak to everyone, but here’s how I think about it:
The Presidency Is The Tip of the Iceberg – We vote for a president hoping that he or she will singlehandedly change the country. The president has a significant impact on the direction of the country, but Congress decides what actually takes the force of law. The president can only set priorities and set the tone. Your senators and representatives have more impact on your daily life than the president, and your local politicians have more still.
We like simple answers, and we like rooting for a team. The presidential election cycle neatly satisfies both requirements, but it’s the mundane, unsexy city and state politics that determine our actual quality of life. For those of us who cannot accept the two primary choices, I have bad news. Unfortunately, you don’t get to sit back and watch someone else fix everything. The work falls to you. Attending zoning meetings, town halls, state assembly debates. Joining the school board and city council. The work falls to you to be a fully engaged citizen.
You Can’t [Ever] Get [Exactly] What You Want – As my friend Rudi asserted in a discussion, no candidate will exactly match your beliefs. The only way to attempt to get exactly what you want is to run for office. Failing that, there’s a complex horse-trading that has to go on. We vote for a candidate that we know will come up short in one area so that we can get progress in two others. For those that like to choose litmus test issues, please understand two things. First, the current keeps moving regardless of whether you plant your feet in the riverbed. Your abstention does no work to change its course. Second, very few big issues get fixed by a single person, so the best your candidate can do is help you start to dam that river by using their louder voice to build a team to do it. And since even people in the same party don’t agree, it’s pretty hard to build that team.
Net-net, you should continue to advocate for the things you feel strongly about. But abstention due to a candidate being pro-choice, or gun friendly, or having ever uttered the words Black Lives Matter, accomplishes nothing. And voting a litmus test candidate in without doing the hard work of holding them accountable is even worse.
Don’t Panic, and Kill Your Television – News media gets their money from your attention. So like any intelligent system, our media has evolved to get as much of your attention as possible. This means sensationalism over substance and partisan reporting over measured facts and clearly delineated opinions. We all (and I count myself in this number) have to back up from the constant stream of shocking and sensational headlines along with the strident think pieces, and measure how we get our information, understanding what it’s there for. (I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about this a few months ago.) I pay The Economist to inform me, not entertain me, so they do it. They have a point of view, but they make no secret of it, and present multiple sides before asserting an opinion. This measured approach is how we have to learn to take all our information.
Where Is Your Hope? – Christians like to ask each other, “where do you place your hope?” This question is a reminder that we idolize and grant power to things that don’t necessarily deserve it. Christians believe in the sovereignty of a deity that transcends political races and tumultuous events. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t chaos in the world, or that bad things can’t happen if you believe hard enough; we all know that bad things happen to good people all the time. It does mean that I do my level best to help make a better world, and I have to rest in a belief that God will sort the rest out. As such, I can vote my conscience after having researched the candidates free from fear.
I don’t have to vote for Trump because of fear that Clinton will create a godless corrupt hellscape, and I don’t have to vote for Clinton because of a fear that Trump will replace our democracy with fascist cult of personality. I vote my principles, no doubt. However, what makes for good pastoral care or discipling doesn’t always make for good governance in a society with diverse beliefs, so someone’s purported “Christian-ness” is not relevant in and of itself. It only matters in terms of how they approach their life (as an example of consistency between belief and action) and policy. I’d be happy to have an atheist or Muslim or animist president who had a coherent and sensible slate of policy positions that produce a society closer to where I believe it should be.
I’ll say it more plainly. Evangelicals, this one is for you. Stop putting your hope for the realization of a more Christian-valued world in the presidency, and recognize that people who aren’t Christians have to live here too. We are not called to create a Christian government or force people to share our values. We’re called to model a better society through our actions and treatment of each other and those not like us, and thus spread the Good News through love, not human law. Clinton’s Methodist church attendance or Trump’s recitation of “2 Corinthians” tells us nothing about what they actually believe or will do for issues Christians believe are important. Their policy platform, their substantive speeches, and actions while in office for those that have held office are a better view into that. So ask yourself, if you didn’t believe that one political party was inherently more “anointed”, more Christian, would you support the candidate at the helm based on what they said and did? Or would you look for someone else?
So, on to the question that no one asked: Who am I voting for?
I voted for Sanders in the primary. I wanted a more progressive agenda to be set for the Democratic Party, and I think he was successful in leading that charge. However, from where I stand today, I am endorsing Hillary Clinton. Here’s why.
She Knows The System and Has Experience – Trump asserts that “no one knows the system better than [him]”, but he has never held government office. Anyone who has seen the sausage made knows that government is a completely different animal, and many a man (and a few women) have tried to cut through with a business mindset only to discover it’s not quite so simple. Clinton has served as a US Senator, Secretary of State, and has something no candidate in history can boast: an 8 year internship for the Presidency as First Lady. You’d better believe that a woman with her intelligence and ambition observed as much of the conversations and processes as security and decorum allowed when her husband was president.
Among the eligible candidates, I also think Clinton is the one who is most likely to put Supreme Court Justices, federal judges, and Cabinet members in place who will move the country closer to where I think it should go. Clinton’s politics are to the right of mine to be sure, but of the eligible candidates, she’s most likely to be able to engage in the negotiations required to get at least some of these candidates through a Congress that’s likely to continue to be hostile. Unlike Obama, I expect she’d have the full support and unity of the elected members of Congress from her party.
She’s Not Exceptionally Corrupt – That sounds like faint praise. However, given the chief objections to Clinton, this is important. The Clintons have been subject to scrutiny for decades. Everything she’s done or been near has been put under a microscope. To be fair, very few people who rise to the levels of power she has do so with clean hands. Ultimately, though, I’ve seen no evidence that she will bring a higher level of corruption to Washington than what already exists. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that this is going to be some new kind of administration, with unprecedented levels of corruption.
Third Parties are built from the Bottom Up – Bernie Sanders has an important vision. Gary Johnson is championing libertarian values that are a good check on the size of government. However, the presidency, while powerful, is a limited position, as I mentioned earlier. Both Sanders and especially Johnson presidencies would be marked with inter-branch gridlock. For a third party in particular, Democrats and Republicans would likely form awkward alliances to thwart policy suggestions that both disagree with. Even if not, the Democrats and Republicans in Congress still propose the laws. Without a strong popular mandate, a third-party or outsider president would have little ability to influence.
If you really want to see third parties get stronger, run for local office as a member of one. National offices are mostly filled from the benches of state assemblies and city halls. Your future Libertarian or Green champions of the future will have similar stories to the candidates we know and love (or hate): runs for local office followed by service to the state in some capacity followed by a run for a national seat. Progressive “Berniecrats” (who would merge into the Green Party if it were more robust) and Libertarians have to have their eye on the 2036 election and start building their bench now. I actually hope they do; their voices are much needed and if the Republican Party devolves into a nationalist party with a whiff (or more) of white supremacy, more conventional conservatives will need a place to go to continue to raise their critically useful alternative points of view.
In closing, by all means, vote your conscience. Make sure your conscience, however, is fed from principled action, research, and realistic expectations of a candidate, and not fear. Conservatives who are against Trump should send a message to a party that is leaving them behind by voting for Johnson. Progressives who dislike Clinton are free to make another choice or no choice at all, though it’s not clear to me that Clinton would be more hostile to progressive values in practice than the other eligible candidates. Regardless, please do show up for your downticket races and local candidates and make choices there.
None of us are getting a pony, I’m afraid.