Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

October 11, 2016

Voting for the First Principle

 By David K. Shipler

            If you fear and detest Donald Trump, as well you should, but have strong aversions to Hillary Clinton, and if you value your vote as a statement of principle that neither major candidate satisfies, consider this: If you rank your principles in order of importance, the one at the top ought to be the protection of the American democracy, as flawed as it is, against the threats from within.
            The only way to vote for that First Principle is to defeat Trump, and the only certain, practical way to defeat Trump is to vote for Clinton. Not for Gary Johnson the Libertarian or Jill Stein the Green, no matter how attuned their policies are to yours. And not to stay home and abstain. Citizens who fail to vote undermine democracy, too.  
There is little need here to repeat the litany of threats that Trump presents, and which every American who has been paying attention already knows. To his autocratic impulse to ride roughshod over the constitutional system of checks and balances, to sweep away the rule of law, to foster racial and religious hatred, to invite violence against his opponent, to inspire vigilantism at the polls, can now be added his threat, if he wins, to jail his opponent, which he expressed in the second debate. This is the stuff of a banana republic, not the United States of America.
Republican leaders who were shocked, shocked, by his frat-boy, “locker-room” boasts about committing sexual assault against women were holding their fingers to the wind instead of to their brains—or their hearts.
But it is an ill wind that is strafing the country.
It has churned up debris that could take a very long time to settle. Donald Trump has no moral brakes. He has posed a long string of cruel dangers to America. He has caused damage simply by speaking. Imagine if he had governmental power. Clinton, to her credit, is trying to repair America’s image—its self-image and its image abroad—by campaigning on the argument that Trump is not who we are, that we are better than that.
She would be more accurate if she said that Trump is not who we want to be, that we wish to be better than that. For we are part Trump, let’s face it—part bully, part racist, part predator, part McCarthyite, part infatuated with lies that we like to hear. That is part of our national character, as has become obvious, along with our high ideals and our moral yearnings. We need to overcome that ugliness by confronting it and defeating it.
Trump is the embodiment of all that has stolen greatness from America during its history. So the most effective way to demonstrate that we can take a higher road, as Michelle Obama has said (“When they go low, we go high.”) is to vote Trump down so decisively that we restore in ourselves something of what has been lost during this campaign.
A stirring indictment of Trump was published this week by the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, a paper owned by the Mormon church but which never before in its 80 years “entered into the troubled waters of presidential endorsement,” an editorial explained. “We are neutral on matters of partisan politics. We do, however, feel a duty to speak clearly on issues that affect the well-being and morals of the nation.” The paper then called on Trump to step down from his candidacy.
“In democratic elections, ideas have consequences, leadership matters, and character counts. The idea that women secretly welcome the unbridled and aggressive sexual advances of powerful men has led to the mistreatment, sorrow, and subjugation of countless women for far too much of human history. The notion that strength emanates from harsh, divisive, and unbending rhetorical flourish mistakenly equates leadership with craven intimidation. The belief that the party and the platform matter more than the character of the candidate ignores the wisdom of the ages that, ‘when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.’ (Proverbs 29:2).”
Trump’s lewd tape was clearly the last straw for the paper. “What oozes from this audio is evil,” the editorial noted, adding perceptively that it confirmed “Trump’s inability to self-govern.” 
The country needs a cleansing result in this election, and that requires a landslide against Trump. We need to demonstrate to future aspirants for office that no such character will ever succeed in representing us. That means some clear rethinking by anti-Trump citizens who don’t like Clinton and who are inclined to stay home or vote for a third party.
It’s not enough to calculate that your state is so lopsided for Trump or for Clinton, that casting your vote for neither won’t matter. It will, in part because it will undermine the claim he is already making that if he loses, it will be because the system is rigged. That itself will undermine the confidence in the electoral system essential to a functioning democracy whose hallmark is a smooth transition of power. The vote against him has to be overwhelming.
Don’t underestimate the fury of his supporters, especially the many millions of them who are armed. Silence is no answer to this phenomenon, and voting for a third-party candidate who has no chance of winning is a form of silence. In some elections, it’s admirable, for it promotes alternatives that are too often relegated to the margins by the major parties and the press. In this election, however, it is irresponsible.
It is also self-defeating. If you subscribe to the platform of Jill Stein’s Green Party, for example, (and I happen to agree with nearly every position of hers), you have to see that a Trump victory would take the nation much farther from what you want than a Clinton victory would. Trump has promised to tear up the Paris climate accord and promote fossil fuels, violating a central Green tenet. He told The New York Times that he’d like to see Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia get their own nuclear weapons. Neither of those would happen under Clinton.
Paradoxically, then, a vote for the Green Party instead of Clinton—the only candidate standing in Trump’s way—might help Trump in close swing states, and Trump would undermine the Green Party’s own agenda. A good number of voters seem ready to vote Libertarian as a protest of sorts. They, too, might help Trump in battleground states, and Trump is anything but a libertarian. He is an authoritarian.

So let’s be real. Citizens who despise what Trump is and stands for can deliver him a blow only by checking Clinton’s name. If you can’t quite stand voting for Clinton, think of it as a vote against Trump, akin to crossing his name off the ballot before putting it into the box. Wouldn’t that be satisfying?


  1. I sent this piece to my young postmaster - a "Millenial," I guess - a recent graduate, Political Science Major, amazingly enough - who is planning on NOT VOTING! What I love to hear is pundits talking about the possible "disaster" (for Republicans) of their losing not only the Presidency and the Senate, but possibly also the House. Nothing makes me happier than that thought! Can we hear that one again, please?...