Vote Your Conscience

It's a common refrain among Republican and Democratic candidates running for office that they wish to bring "unity" to the country and that they will fight for our "common" good. Then, when they win an election with 51 percent of the vote, they claim to have a "mandate" from the "people" to govern and proceed to mow down the political opposition with whatever weapons they can muster.

The sad truth is that few if any politicians ever bring the people together in "unity." No president since George Washington has ever received a unanimous vote in the Electoral College. In one sense, this is because it is human nature to disagree, but it is also because the very structure of our political system engenders disunity, not unity. Our second president, John Adams, said this about the formation of political parties in the U.S. in a letter dated October 1780:

"There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution."

One need ask, what exactly did Adams dread? He does not clarify what he means in the letter, but today one can certainly imagine what he might have feared. America is becoming increasingly polarized, so much so that Party Loyalty is beginning to even define people's marriage choices. According to NPR, in a 1960 Stanford University study, only 4 percent of Democrats and 5 percent of Republicans said they would be "displeased" if their son or daughter married someone who belonged to the other party. The Pew Research Center reports that that in 2010, 33 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans would be "somewhat or very unhappy" if their child married a member from the opposite party. The Founding Fathers, who began the Constitution with "We the People..." would surely not approve of such trends.

The Pew Research Center has unearthed another revealing finding. In an election year in which people are deeply dissatisfied with the choices presented to them (41 percent of the population believes that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would make a good president), many nevertheless are voting for one or the other out of fear that the other candidate will be elected if they do not. Half or more voters on both sides are voting "against" the other candidate more than they are voting "for" the candidate they are favoring. For tens of millions of Americans, this election is about what people do not want rather than what they do.

Is this really what "democracy" has come to? Why should we be content with voting for the "lesser of two evils?" And why must we kow-tow to the political "tribes" of Democrats and Republicans that have dominated American politics for far too long?

We Americans have lived so long with the Democratic and the Republican parties that we have trouble conceiving of any other kind of political arrangement. I remember, however, as a graduate student at Oxford University being fascinated by the political discussions that surrounded me during the hung parliament in the U.K.'s national election of 2010. In that election, both the Conservative and Labour parties failed to secure enough seats in Parliament to take control of the government. What ensued then was dramatic political theater, as the third-largest party, the Liberal party, agreed to form a coalition with the Conservative party across ideological lines. I marveled then at such compromise, so foreign now to our own land, and wondered why we could not do something like this here.

Of course, I recognize that our political structure is very different from the parliamentarian one. But who is to say that the development of a robust third or even fourth party that matched in strength the parties we already have would not do America great good? Congress has perhaps never before had so much difficulty compromising. Could that be because we have only two parties that drive the partisan message "if you're not with me, you're against me?" Might not a system that forces parties to compromise with and make alliances however tenuous with other parties be a good thing for such a divided land as ours?

Moreover, in this land of supermarkets where we have an incredible array of products to choose from, why do we think that we are stuck with only two choices in each general election? All of us are complex individuals, with a mix of "conservative," "moderate," and "liberal" positions (whatever those categories may mean). Neither of the two dominant parties nor its candidates represent all of my positions. Why should I not be able to choose a candidate that more closely represents my positions rather than forcing myself into the mold of one of the two dominant parties?

But all of this is just "pie in the sky" thinking as long as Americans continue to vote out of fear of the "other" candidate winning. It is not enough for a few of us to vote like this; we must convince our friends, our neighbors, strangers even, that they can and should vote for candidates who they can truly support. We must vote in the millions and tens of millions without fear in order to avoid the dreaded stigma of being a "spoiler" voter in this election. Only in great numbers is there strength enough to break the stranglehold the Democratic and Republican parties have on this country.

So, I present you who are reading this with a challenge. Rather than casting our vote out of fear of the "other" this election, let's be true to our consciences and write in the candidate of our choice. If that means choosing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, fine, vote for them. But if you are like half of the electorate this year and want neither of these people to be president, then stop settling for the lesser of two evils.

Choose a candidate you love, and vote your conscience.