Go Ahead: Throw Your Vote Away. No, Really

Perhaps no moment in the history of television has better captured the predominant attitude of each of America’s dominant political parties better than The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror VII.” In part three of that episode, extraterrestrials Kang and Kodos abduct Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, then use what they call “bio-duplication” to give themselves the appearance of being the two 1996 presidential candidates — all in an effort to ensure that one of the two aliens is guaranteed to be elected President. Springfield’s citizens should have been a lot more suspicious than they were when the two are seen doing things like “exchanging long protein strands” (in a way that sure looked a lot like Clinton and Dole holding hands), drooling profusely, and droning on in a monotone voice about “twirling towards freedom.”

At any rate, when their con is ultimately revealed at a public “debate” between the two, people are understandably concerned about their voting options. When one man in the crowd suggests that perhaps he’ll vote for a third-party candidate, Kang replies, “Go ahead, throw your vote away!”

If that response sounds familiar, that’s probably because Kang’s argument is essentially what we’ve heard from teams Trump and Clinton this year: that a (conservative) vote for anyone other than Trump is a vote for Clinton and that a (liberal) vote for anyone other than Clinton is a vote for Trump, and that such votes are therefore “wasted.” I find this argument unpersuasive for a variety of reasons.

First, I do not owe either of these candidates anything. To suggest that, regardless of how I feel, I must vote for one of the two is to get the relationship between candidate and voter completely backward. They owe me a compelling explanation of why I should vote for them, but I do not owe them anything. I certainly do not owe them my vote — to say nothing of my loyalty or my support — when no such compelling reason is put forth beyond, “Well, at least I’m not that candidate!” That Trump and Clinton have both failed to provide such an explanation is their problem, and not mine.

Second, it is utter nonsense to claim that a vote for one candidate — be it Evan McMullin, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or SMOD — is somehow actually not a vote for that candidate, but a vote for someone else. If I were interested in voting for Trump, I would vote for him, just as if I were interested in voting for Clinton, I’d pull the lever for her. Voting for a third option means I’m voting for a third option — for someone who provided a more compelling reason why he or she ought to have my vote. Imagine if I came up to you at breakfast and said, “But by choosing to eat Rice Krispies instead of Frosted Flakes, you’re really choosing to eat Golden Grahams!”

Third, the logic of the “wasted vote” argument typically goes something like this:

  1. It is all but guaranteed that either Trump or Clinton will be the next President.
  2. If you vote for an independent or third-party candidate, the person you are voting for is all but guaranteed to lose.
  3. Your vote will have no impact on the outcome of the election.
  4. You have thus wasted your vote.

I grant that the first part of this argument is true, and even that the second and third parts are probably true as well. But it strikes me as utterly absurd to claim that it is only worth voting if you vote for a candidate who ultimately wins. Otherwise, everyone who ever voted for a losing candidate wasted their vote! (Why, hello, Al Gore voters.) If it is only worth voting when you vote for the winner, perhaps your precinct is located somewhere north of the 38th parallel.

Even if it is true — and I believe it is — that we can be 99% certain that Trump or Clinton will be our next President, and that my single vote will have no meaningful impact on the election’s outcome (also almost certainly true), then that means that the only uncertain outcome that matters much for a dissatisfied voter like me is what I will do. And in that recognition lies a great deal of freedom. It means I can vote for whoever I want. Moreover, what many people who make this argument have probably not stopped to think about is that if voting against the established options is a wasted effort that will impact nothing, then it’s surely a wasted effort that will impact nothing to vote for those choices, too. And I’ve a hunch they probably don’t believe that.

So if you find that you’re unable to bring yourself to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, follow Kang’s advice: Go ahead and “throw your vote away.”

On Some Dangers of Trump’s Continued Rise

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that Donald Trump cannot be stopped, and that his supporters (generally speaking) are all but impossible to dissuade. If they were open to persuasion, this election season would have seen Trump become weaker by the day. Instead, the opposite has happened.

Yesterday, on the Ides of March, Trump went 4-1, losing only in Ohio, where Marco Rubio openly conceded defeat and encouraged his supporters to vote for the state’s sitting governor, John Kasich, who won handily. Perhaps most disappointingly, Trump scored an absolutely astounding blowout victory in Florida, netting all 99 of the winner-take-all state’s delegates and forcing Rubio out of the race.

But vote totals and arcane delegate math is not what I wanted to write about.

I wanted to write a few words which, on their own, won’t mean much. Combined with a larger chorus of warning voices, however, perhaps they will spur an important conversation or two.

Donald Trump is About One Thing: Power

Trump, as I said, may indeed be unstoppable. But that, in my mind, is all the more reason to state what Trump is about.

Trump, as a movement, has nothing to do with any policy of any kind – conservative or liberal. That is why neither conservative pleas nor liberal brow-beating have put any dents in his support. I’m not even sure that, as many an op-ed in recent weeks has argued, Trumpism is about “anger,” broadly defined. That Trump voters are angry seems more like a symptom than the disease.

American voters appear to be afflicted with an acute case of idontcareus politicus. For understandable reasons, a large chunk of voters have all but given up on both major political parties, and the political system in general. Instead, many of these voters care a great deal more about the National Football League, American Idol, The Bachelorette, and Kim Kardashian’s latest airheaded thing. In television’s Land of Make Believe, what will get people to plop down on their couches for an hour or two is what ultimately drives every meaningful decision. And in a discovery that will shock precisely zero people, it turns out that money, sex, conflict, and power are some of the most potent drivers of couch-sitting.

Who better to run for president in such an age than the star of a staged “reality” television show that was about nothing if not money, conflict, and, above all, power? For voters too disenchanted with the political class to think meaningfully about public policy, this is an easy vote: “Sure, I’ll vote for the angry man with a lot of money whom I’ve only ever seen doing awesome, powerful things like firing people on a ‘reality’ TV show. There. I’ve done my civic duty.”

But ignorance is not a bliss, and laziness is no substitute for duty.

If The Apprentice demonstrated only one accurate thing about Donald Trump, there’s a case to be made that it’s his unabashed obsession with power.

Perhaps you’ve managed to convince yourself that that’s not so bad. Perhaps, like one of Trump’s recent endorsers, Ben Carson, you’re telling yourself that even if Trump turns out to be an absolute disaster, then, hey, “we’re only looking at four years.”

But we aren’t just looking at four years. We are looking at a potentially irreversible combination of corruption, decline, and decay.

Power Corrupts

Lord Acton is famous for having said that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” His argument is often misunderstood. A lengthier look at part of his letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton reveals a large part of why Trump is so dangerous:

But if we might discuss this point until we found that we nearly agreed, and if we do argue thoroughly about the impropriety of Carlylese denunciations, and Pharisaism in history, I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position, like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan. Here are the greater names coupled with the greater crimes. You would spare these criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them, higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice; still more, still higher, for the sake of historical science.

The standard having been lowered in consideration of date, is to be still further lowered out of deference to station. Whilst the heroes of history become examples of morality, the historians who praise them, Froude, Macaulay, Carlyle, become teachers of morality and honest men. Quite frankly, I think there is no greater error. The inflexible integrity of the moral code is, to me, the secret of the authority, the dignity, the utility of history. If we may debase the currency for the sake of genius, or success, or rank, or reputation, we may debase it for the sake of a man’s influence, of his religion, of his party, of the good cause which prospers by his credit and suffers by his disgrace. Then history ceases to be a science, an arbiter of controversy, a guide of the wanderer, the upholder of that moral standard which the powers of earth, and religion itself, tend constantly to depress. It serves where it ought to reign; and it serves the worst better than the purest.

In other words, Acton argues that power tends to corrupt our ability to accurately judge the deeds of the holders of power. Behavior we would never tolerate in our families and friends is often too-easily excused in powerful people, and for no other reason than that they are powerful.

Implicit in this argument is the assertion that power tends to corrupt us. As we make excuses for powerful people’s misdeeds, we become tainted by them in ways that are difficult to reverse.

So when Trump supporters dismiss his daily deceptions, his boorish behavior, his winking at racism, his tolerance of misogyny and physical abuse, his disdain for freedom of speech, his encouragement of violence at his rallies, his childish and thin-skinned petulance that can’t bear the slightest criticism, his obvious obliviousness of the world outside his own head, his refusal to stick to a position – any position – for longer than it takes to send a Snapchat, his overt corruption and embrace of crony capitalism, his intention to force soldiers to murder innocent women and chidren, or his obsession with “win win win” at all costs, they debase themselves, place all of our hard-won freedoms at risk, and make it increasingly difficult to reverse course.

Some Hastily-Written Thoughts on Super Tuesday, Young Conservatives, and the State of the GOP

If you’re a 30-year-old conservative, the first general election in which you were eligible to vote was in 2004. That year, an increasingly-unpopular George W. Bush beat the weakest Democratic Party nominee since Michael Dukakis to win a second term – a term marked by scandal (even if largely blown up, and in the case of Dan Rather, wholly fabricated, by an opposition media establishment), two intractable wars spinning out of control, an increasingly alarming budget deficit, and an economy-crippling financial crisis that paved the way for the most liberal President in a generation.

And somehow that 2004 election is probably the brightest moment in your adult political life.

Sure, there was the 2010 midterm election, when the Republican Party gained a commanding majority in the House of Representatives. But Democrats held on to the Senate for another four years, ensuring no meaningful portions of a Republican agenda could move any further than Harry Reid’s desk. In 2012, Mitt Romney – whom you may not have even wanted to receive the Republican nomination, but for whom you voted, anyway – was trounced by the Obama political machine.

Two years later, Republicans strengthened their hold on the House and gained a majority in the Senate. But all that was evidently about as useful as a screen door on a submarine, what with a set of apparently weak-willed congressional leaders and a petulant President determined to damn the torpedoes – and the Constitution – by wielding a pen and a phone whenever he didn’t get his way.

Even the Supreme Court, which has supposedly leaned rightward this entire time, has been a disappointment. From Kelo to Obamacare to Obergefell, it’s easy to look at the past decade and conclude that a “living document” is more likely to have a Supreme Court justice’s ear than a dead one. And the recent death of the most vocally-constructionist justice on the bench does not exactly engender warm feelings of optimism for the court’s future.

In the popular culture, the press, academia, and speeches from the President of the United States, you are painted as a backwards, greedy, racist, sexist, homophobic, overly-religious, gun-obsessed, violence-enabling, rape-culture-fostering, un-American Neanderthal. And that’s just in the more respectable corners of “polite” society.

If you were not already developing Nihilistic, Chicago Cubs-fan-levels levels of despair before the 2016 presidential campaign got into full swing, you almost certainly are now. The Republican Party should have been poised to capture the White House this year. Democrats are openly flirting with a Vermont Senator who proudly carries the banner of Socialism while the party’s preferred pick is a crook who is the subject of multiple FBI investigations about the cavalier manner in which she handled classified information while trying to hide it all from her boss, the American people. The recession continues to drag on, the job market is lousy, foreign markets are showing signs of distress, and the sitting President has abandoned even the pretense of giving a damn about it. This was the Republican Party’s race to lose.

But if you’ve learned one thing in your political life, it’s that if Republicans can find a way to louse something up, they’ll do it with more gusto than Pete Carroll refusing to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch one more time. Rather than pick from one of multiple qualified and electable presidential contenders – Perry, Jindal, Walker, Rubio, Paul, Bush, Cruz, Fiorina, Kasich – Republican primary voters instead searched high and low for the least qualified and least electable man willing to feign allegiance to conservatism for a few months, and pretended he ought to be given the keys to the nation’s nuclear codes.

Floridian Marco Rubio and Texan Ted Cruz have put up a good fight against New York’s “short-fingered vulgarian” con man who fit the liberal caricature of conservatives so perfectly that even the most true-believing liberals have got to be reeling. Their efforts have been stymied by the so-called “Jersey Judas,” Chris Christie, who, in an apparent effort to reprise his 2012 election-altering Obama embrace, determined to endorse the serial bankrupter. No sooner had the New Jersey governor done so than he was dispatched like an old shoe and left to stare into the void during an other-worldly Super Tuesday press conference at which his new boss threatened the current (Republican!) Speaker of the House.

After Super Tuesday, the young Senators’ electoral windows have narrowed considerably. Talk of a cage fight that lasts all the way to Cleveland’s August convention sounds adventurous, but probably futile. Even if one manages to wrangle the nomination from Trump, what reason is there to believe that a damaged, fractured GOP can keep Hillary Clinton from returning to the White House?

You needn’t have the political instincts of Octavian to know that, barring a political miracle, the Republican Party may very well be doomed. A bigger question for the Oracle is whether there is any meaningful future for conservatism at all in America. Is a viable third-party or independent candidate waiting in the wings to make a March 16th announcement of his or her candidacy? Can he or she siphon enough votes from both Hillary and Trump to force the House to decide on the next President? Doesn’t it tell you something disconcerting about the state of conservatism – and state of the union – that these are questions that merit serious consideration?

If there is a silver lining on this cloud – if somewhere in more than a decade of nearly constant feckless political leadership, electoral disappointment, and cruel twists of fate there is even the faintest glimmer of hope – you can forgive young conservatives for refusing to believe it.