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October 28, 2020Culture

Karen Swallow Prior: Voting for Neither

Author and Professor Karen Swallow Prior on voting third-party in the upcoming election.
Karen Swallow Prior: Voting for Neither
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Candidates for office should be evaluated based on what they want to accomplish and how they will do it. On this basis, I cannot vote for either Biden or Trump.

While I am not a single-issue voter, the protection of human life and dignity tops my hierarchy of political concerns. Neither Trump nor Biden addresses these matters consistently, holistically, or satisfactorily.

For me, as well as for many other Americans, abortion is a social justice issue. In aiming to increase abortion access and funding locally, nationally, and globally, Biden and the Democratic Party’s position is so extreme that it is out of step with the majority of Americans, even most who are pro-choice. Some will assert that the decline of abortion rates which followed a peak in the 1980s is the direct result of Democratic policies and that, therefore, laws regulating abortion are not the most significant factor in its reduction. Perhaps this is so. However, the most important function of the law is to protect human life, dignity, and rights. Tragically, U.S. law has failed to do this too often throughout history (and even today). But such failures are all the more reason to ensure that this primary purpose is fulfilled. Just as racism, for example, must be fought in hearts and laws, so, too, human lives must be guarded by both. Conversely, while refusing to elect a racist won’t in itself end racism, it sure does help. Likewise, abortion will not be reduced by electing one who champions it. I will eliminate for consideration a candidate who does not support this basic function of the law.

President Trump, on the other hand, switched from being pro-choice to pro-life while running for president in 2016. Even so, his record on abortion since then is mixed, especially when considering this year’s increase of government funding for Planned Parenthood and its record number of abortions. While Trump has delivered on his promises to nominate conservative justices to the Supreme Court — whose philosophies about constitutional interpretation are seen as a necessary pre-requisite for overturning Roe v. Wade — he has not shown himself to be pro-life or pro-family in other meaningful ways. He refused to condemn China for its horrific, ongoing, human rights violations of Muslim minorities being kept in concentrations camps. His reckless and inconsistent messaging about the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly contributed to a record number of deaths this year. The 545 children whose parents have been missing for three years after being separated by Trump administration policies have been, essentially, orphaned. Moreover, as I’ve stated before, it is impossible to cultivate a truly pro-life culture while advocating for and living a lifestyle of adultery, sexual abuse, and promiscuity — or while failing to repent for such immorality in the past.

I refuse to throw one group under the bus (I choose that metaphor carefully) for the sake of another. We cannot build a just, peaceful society by sacrificing some for the advance of others.

Consider the national crisis on race that has been building for four centuries. Trump has exploited, leveraged, and amplified racial divisions by employing language that signals values that have helped maintain longstanding social structures built by our racist past (and present). Even his simple failure to take every opportunity to denounce white supremacists straightforwardly and unequivocally is inexcusable. Biden’s record is less alarming, yet even half a century in public service has not been enough time to establish a clear, strong record on racial issues; his legacy on these matters is weak at best, as even his own running mate, Kamala Harris, pointed out.

The records of both Biden and Trump on these paramount issues fails to meet even a very low bar. But beyond that we must consider not only a candidate’s record and policy positions, but also how a candidate achieves those aims.

Biden has a history of repeatedly misrepresenting himself and others. In 1987 and again last year, Biden was found to have plagiarized substantially in his speeches. These incidents continue a pattern that goes back at least as far as law school where he has admitted to plagiarizing in a paper. Biden has also been caught inflating his academic credentials. And while an allegation of sexual assault that occurred while Biden was a senator has not been strongly substantiated, his odd habit of being handsy with women and children is so frequent that a series of YouTube videos is devoted to collating these incidences. At least eight women have stated publicly that Biden’s inappropriate behavior crosses the line.

The means Trump has used to achieve and leverage power is in another category altogether. The President is a textbook example of a demagogue, a leader who appeals to the masses by tapping into common fears and prejudices and employing false promises and disinformation to gain power. One of a demagogue’s primary tool’s is gaslighting, a form of manipulation which includes reversing then denying previous words and actions, making it difficult to distinguish truth from lies. His campaign’s recent Trump Pride event is just one example of his penchant for quietly playing both sides of an issue, in this case, LGBT concerns, to curry support.

Trump is the embodiment of the Nietzschean will to power that replaces truth within a postmodern mindset, the very worldview Christians used to warn about. Because he operates in a post-truth reality, truth isn’t even a category, and thus lies can’t exist. Policies and positions are for Trump as ephemeral and spontaneous as a tweet, and Twitter is the platform he frequently uses to announce declarations that are walked back as quickly as they are posted, to bully political opponents and foreign leaders alike, and to spread disinformation so often that the site has had to develop new rules to accommodate his antics. His stories evolve and change like the ebb and flow of the tide. Trump has stated that his net worth depends not on the facts of dollars and cents and tax returns, but on his mood on a given day. Indeed, he ran for and won the office of president based on a self-made myth about being a successful businessman when verifiable figures show his businesses and debts are in ruins.

If I vote for Biden, I will be complicit in abortions on a mass scale.

If I vote for Trump, I will be complicit in cementing a worldview in which the ends justify the means, power replaces truth, and thus the very truths by which we define and understand ourselves as human are at stake. Trump’s sins aren’t only the personal kind. His most grievous sins are against the polis, that is the common good of our life together.

Every time I state my refusal to vote for either major party candidate this presidential election, I get pushback from both sides—each claiming that my refusal to vote for one candidate is a vote for the other. I understand how the math works. But voting is a moral and civic act, not an algebraic one.

Of course, no candidate is perfect. Yet when the two major parties nominate candidates for the president of our nation that fall below the basic threshold for any leadership position, voting for a third-party candidate puts it on record that neither party can take members of certain groups for granted.

We have the candidates we have because so few eligible voters vote in the primaries, and barely a majority of eligible voters even vote in the general elections. It is shocking that in 2018, for example, the U.S. ranked 31st of 35 developed countries in voter turnout, reflecting a decades-long decline in voter participation. This is why it is crucial for those of us who will not vote for either of the two major party candidates to show up anyway and cast a vote for (or write in) a candidate we can support. The failure of too many for too long to vote this way is exactly why we ended up where we were in 2016. And where we will surely end up on November 4, 2020—regardless of which major party candidate wins.

I’ve been told that voting third party is a privilege. I solemnly agree. I am using my privilege to vote for a future America, one in which we have more morally and politically acceptable major party candidates. We can do so much better. But we won’t until we demand better by not settling for the unacceptable choices we have now. I don’t know why God would bless us unless we do.

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Karen Swallow Prior: Voting for Neither