So I recently read this post by Benny Vimes, that reflects an anti-democratic sentiment that I’ve been seeing more and more recently. Essentially, it’s the idea that people ought not vote for the candidate that they most want to see elected or that they think best represents them, or the policies that they most want to see implemented, and instead should vote on some semi-objective criteria to produce the “right” results. First, Vimes talks about Brexit:
When the effect of an action is increased power for a majority group and negative consequences for oppressed groups, it doesn’t matter what the purported reason for that action is. If your policy, action, or vote has racist, sexist, or ableist impacts then it doesn’t matter what your intention is – you are responsible for the oppressive impacts of that action. It doesn’t matter that pro-Brexit voters think of themselves as not being racist, they supported a racist action with racist impacts and that is what matters.
So, if people really did think that Brexit was better for Great Britain for reasons that themselves weren’t racist, they shouldn’t have actually voted for it because some of the reasons or effects might be racist? There is a point to be made here that people who vote have to own up to all of the consequences of their choices, and so all of the reasonable consequences of that vote, but a) that doesn’t include what other people do in response and b) might well include them deciding that, for them, the benefits outweigh the detriments and so, even with those negative consequences, the right decision for them is to, in fact, vote to support the policy. Remember, democracy is based on people voting for their own self-interest, and for what they would like or what they would most like to see, which means ultimately what they think most benefits them. Because otherwise there is no reason to give people a vote at all; the only thing that any person can be seen as being more qualified to assess than the policy-making experts is, in fact, their own self-interest. Sure, one can argue that instead of just acting on simply self-interest they should really advocate for the society they want to see, and racist/sexist/whateverist society is not one they should want, but all that means is that they should be Enlightened Egoists, not that they should be altruistic in their votes and put groups other than theirs and people other than themselves first. And in most Constitutional democracies, the smarter move is, in fact, to just vote how you want and let the legislative bodies and Supreme Courts decide if the policy is, ultimately, unfair to a particular “oppressed” group, and thus oppressive itself.
But a case might be made for direct action, where your vote explicitly supports a specific policy or candidate. Yes, you are responsible for the consequences of that decision. But Vimes goes on to include more cases than that:
Tomorrow the United States will finally conclude a long election process. A Donald Trump presidency has the potential to be the most actively oppressive presidency in memory. A vote for Hillary Clinton is the only action that can have the effect of avoiding that future. Any other action – voting third party, refusing to vote, or writing in a candidate – has the effect of increasing the risk of an oppressive future. While Clinton’s policy positions and record may not match yours, or my, preferences perfectly, it is the EFFECT of our votes that matter. A third party vote, for example, may have the effect of putting into power a fascist demagogue no matter what the voter’s intention may be.
So, Vimes includes deciding that you simply cannot support any candidate, as well as deciding to support the actual candidate that you would like to see as President of the United States! Democracy is all about each individual deciding what they can and can’t support, and voting accordingly. Vimes here is insisting that if a voter decides that they’d rather vote for someone else than the Democratic candidate that the problem is with them rather than with the political party that couldn’t give them a candidate that they feel that they can support! This is a recipe for political parties always denying that they need to actually represent the people, but instead merely winning through — valid or not — fear-mongering about how bad the other candidate is, which was a major factor in the Presidential campaigns this year, as both sides spent as much if not more time saying how risky and dangerous and scary and corrupt their opponents are as opposed to talking about how good they were going to be.
If you think that a third party candidate is better for the country — even if they won’t win — and if you think that you simply can’t support any of the candidates, that is not your problem, and voting according to those principles is not you doing something wrong. Voting according to those principles and assessments is the heart of what democracy is! Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to vote according to their conscience and not yours. Democracy is all about you voting on the basis of your own views, and arguments like this seek to take that away from you slowly, insidiously, until you end up voting based only on what they say you should consider, instead of based on what really matters to you.
(Note: if you are really worried that Trump will be very, very oppressive and think that voting for Clinton is the right thing to do to prevent that, and you can live with the things that she will do other than just being Trump, that’s perfectly acceptable. Just don’t let anyone tell you that you’re the one who’ll be responsible for a “Trump win” if you don’t. You won’t be. That will go to those who vote for Trump, and the Democrats for not running a viable alternative to Trump.)