Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Akronist.
“Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.”
–President Abraham Lincoln
Over the last few months, Wandering Aesthetics (my theatre company) has been working on “Rest Stop Political Theatre” one of several #JoyofVoting projects launched by Citizen University with support from the Knight Foundation. For our project, we performed street theatre off the back of a pickup truck in different neighborhoods around Akron. This project put me in contact with a wide cross-section of the electorate. An ardent follower of politics, “Rest Stop” renewed my excitement around the political process. (In no small part because of the diverse conversations I had experienced.) It also made me question my own assumptions about the way I engage others in political discourse.
Now we’ve arrived.
Tomorrow we vote. No matter who wins, this election is going to leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. It has unleashed a deluge of political and personal rancor that we will be wading through for months and years to come.
As a liberal, I am most disappointed by my liberal friends. Not all my liberal friends, mind you. But a sizable portion. By definition (literally!), conservatives are resistant to anything “new.” Often, this means people who fall outside their way of thinking should be regarded with suspicion and, sometimes, unmitigated hostility. Taken to the extreme, this hostility sounds the opening notes of the “Fear-mongers Symphony” – the theme song of this election cycle. (It’s like falling asleep watching a DVD, only to have the menu song play over and over and over again until, in a fit of sleep rage, you chuck your DVD player across the room and switch permanently to streaming content.)
We liberals don’t play that funky music. Our song is more “Hands Across America” than Brahms. We embrace our differences with open arms, including those whose thinking is unlike our own. This–probably more than any other principle– is what sets us apart. No matter how the music sounds, this tenet forms the baseline for every song.
You see, there is wisdom to be found in conservative restraint. At their best, these two ways of looking at the world compliment each other. Liberals drive social progress while conservatives make sure we don’t forget the traditions that serve as our collective foundation. (Just as grandkids help their grandparents realize it’s okay that the sign is both in English and Spanish and grandparents teach their grandkids the secret family recipe that has been passed down for generations.) Liberals jump at the chance to blaze a new trail while conservatives make sure we have a compass, extra water and the most recent news about bear attacks. (Just like grandma.)
However, living in the U.S. I think we all agree that freedom– which both culminates in and is preserved through the act of voting– is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread. While I am personally disheartened by the number of people who support the Republican candidate, I logically understand the appeal of “Make America Great Again” to conservatives who are overwhelmed by our rapidly changing social and economic times. (Because of technology, the rate of change went from logarithmic to exponential.) The appeal of the slogan comes in the “again.”
Yet as much as his campaign makes me experience almost every possible negative emotion, the truly depressing thing is not what he inspires in his supporters (let’s face it: we all knew that animosity has been lurking just beneath the surface within a certain subset of our fellow Americans), but the way it inspires liberals to abandon our principles just when we most need to #RallyTogether. Standing firmly behind our beliefs, even in the face of enormous fear (like the Republican nominee becoming president), shows that our values cannot be bought nor sold nor frightened away through intimidation. Otherwise, we are subjected to the same ridicule we heap onto conservative Christian candidates who are cheating on their wives with “rent boys.”
“Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty.”
–President Thomas Jefferson
Contrary to popular belief, #RallyTogether doesn’t have to mean #ImWithHer. (For the record, I am… so please don’t try and convince me why I should support her. I do.) Being liberal isn’t about what candidate you are voting for; being liberal is about having an open mind and creating space for others. At the end of the day, these are the values we are upholding when we mark our ballot. Yes women’s rights, LGBT rights, African-American rights are essential – and are, very likely, in danger if the Republican candidate gets elected – but serving as the foundation to those rights is the belief that differences are okay and, regardless of those differences, everyone deserves the same freedoms.
Which is why it hits me so hard when I see liberals disparaging third-party voters. In some cases, the vitriol I have seen on Facebook from liberals to fellow liberals is worse than anything conservatives can throw at us. Instead of uniting behind our shared beliefs, these type of attacks are creating a schism between liberals. Why would anyone trust that you could work together when, if they don’t follow your particular mandates, they “are personally responsible for the downfall of America.” (Yes. Someone has said that to a friend of mine who is voting for a third party.) It feels like the same type of bullying we abhor from the other side. Cognitive dissonance allows us disavow this type of divisive rhetoric when applied to minority groups but turn around and apply it to someone with whom we disagree.
The same sentiment is echoed in comments like: “This is not a game or a drill. We cannot, in THIS election, vote in a vacuum, without considering all that is at stake and those things are REAL. We must all vote Democrat, top down. We CANNOT afford any more Republicans or bags to get seats down ticket!” I understand the sentiment. However, if you drill down into this statement, this is what is really being said: “Our freedoms are at stake! So we must relinquish our freedom because the other side is just too terrible.” Which makes voting nothing more than a shell game. What does defending individual rights matter if, when push comes to shove, we cannot tolerate someone exercising their rights? As far as I can tell, there has never been and never will be a “right time” to vote third party. Instead of a robust, passionate debate about why Clinton is the best candidate for the job, liberals are resorting to fear-mongering and perpetuating the “us against them” mentality that has gotten us to this current moment. In order to protect our country, the Republican candidate is an “enemy” who needs “defeated” at the polls. The same kind of “you’re either with us or you’re against us” propaganda that pops up during wartime. Manipulating people to forgo their freedom of choice through fear is the beginning of despotism. There will never be a “right time” to vote third party because there will always be another, greater threat to fear.
“Those who are willing to trade freedom for security deserve neither freedom nor security.”
Americans are abysmal at voting. “The U.S. ranked 27 among developed countries with only 53.6 percent of its voting-age population casting votes in the 2012 presidential election. Meanwhile, Belgium, the top-ranked country, had 87.2 percent of its voting-age population vote in its 2014 election.” (Harvard Kennedy School Review) Still, we liberals fight very hard to allow greater access to the polls. Yet, we tell people their votes are “wasted” or “throwaway” if they support third party candidates. However, “conflicted voters, especially those holding negative views of both candidates, are likely to skip voting altogether.” (The Atlantic) Likely, instead of getting someone to vote for your candidate, if you succeed in changing someone’s mind, it’s more likely they’re just going to stay home and, possibly, disengage with the political process entirely. The U.S. doesn’t need more apathetic citizens– we need citizens who are more engaged. And third party voting could have long-term benefits. History shows, “if Republicans or Democrats notice a third party getting traction– that is to say, 8 or 10 or 15 percent of the vote– they’ll start co-opting its issues.” (The Atlantic)
In our zeal to elect Clinton as the first female president, let’s not become the authoritarian figure we want to avoid. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from a speech by Abraham Lincoln and see you after the election – when we can begin to rinse the bitter hint of acrimony from our lips:
“Many free countries have lost their liberty, and ours may lose hers; but if she shall, be it my proudest plume, not that I was the last to desert, but that I never deserted her. I know that the great volcano at Washington, aroused and directed by the evil spirit that reigns there, is belching forth the lava of political corruption in a current broad and deep, which is sweeping with frightful velocity over the whole length and breadth of the land, bidding fair to leave unscathed no green spot or living thing; while on its bosom are riding, like demons on the waves of hell, the imps of that evil spirit, and fiendishly taunting all those who dare resist its destroying course with the hopelessness of their effort; and, knowing this, I cannot deny that all may be swept away. Broken by it I, too, may be; bow to it I never will.
The probability that we may fall in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me. If ever I feel the soul within me elevate and expand to those dimensions not wholly unworthy of its almighty Architect, it is when I contemplate the cause of my country deserted by all the world beside, and I standing up boldly and alone, and hurling defiance at her victorious oppressors. Here, without contemplating consequences, before high heaven and in the face of the world, I swear eternal fidelity to the just cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life, my liberty, and my love.
And who that thinks with me will not fearlessly adopt the oath that I take? Let none falter who thinks he is right, and we may succeed. But if, after all, we shall fail, be it so. We still shall have the proud consolation of saying to our consciences, and to the departed shade of our country’s freedom, that the cause approved of our judgment, and adored of our hearts, in disaster, in chains, in torture, in death, we never faltered in defending.”
– President Abraham Lincoln, Speech, Springfield, Illinois, Dec 20, 1839