Some people whose political views are liberal and progressive say they will not vote in the 2020 US election. They detest Donald Trump and his Republican enablers like senate leader Mitch McConnell; they oppose Trump's policies on most issues–the environment, immigration, health care, voting rights, police brutality, gun control, etc.; but they still say they won't vote. Why not?
One possible answer is: It has to get worse before it gets better. Yes, Trump and co are ruining much that is precious and causing a lot of suffering; but that is what has to happen to provoke revolutionary change. People will only be goaded into action when things become sufficiently dire.
To this, I have two responses. First, if you really believe that, then you should vote for Trump. If you want to see the country driven into a ditch, he's clearly your man! Just look around. Why leave the job half done?
Second, this way of thinking on the left goes back a long way, but it has not delivered. Leftists have been anticipating and calling for "the overthrow of all existing conditions" since The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848. But in the modernized, industrialized countries, it simply hasn't happened. And since most people in these societies now have a lot more to lose than just their chains, dramatic wholesale revolutionary transformation from the bottom up seems unlikely. Significant, continuous reform seems the more plausible option.
The other common reason given for not voting is: It makes no difference who gets elected. The two main parties are as bad as one another. The Dems just wear a velvet glove over the iron fist. They both essentially run capitalism for the benefit of the elite and don't really give a damn about those who suffer from the system. Voting gives politicians the stamp of legitimacy; not voting is a principled refusal to do this.
To this, I also have two responses. First, it's simply false to say that it makes no difference who is president or which party is in power. Try telling that to the hundreds of thousands who have died or lost loved ones during the current pandemic as a result of Trump's vainglorious incompetence. Try telling it to the millions who are currently facing destitution, eviction, homelessness, or bankruptcy because Trump and the Republicans refuse to provide adequate federal assistance. Try telling it to the families torn apart by Trump's immigration policies, to the workers who are now less protected by health and safety regulations, to the citizens who are effectively disenfranchised by Republican voter suppression tactics, or to anyone affected by Trump's rolling back of environmental protections (i.e. everyone). Read an obituary of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and try telling yourself that it makes no difference who sits on the Supreme Court.
Second, to not vote expresses a strange (one could say callous) indifference to the suffering endured by the victims of Republican policies. If you are of a liberal persuasion, you presumably think that we should try to reduce avoidable misery. So shouldn't you use your vote to do this? Sure, Obamacare isn't universal health care; but its repeal would be devastating to millions with pre-existing conditions who will no longer be able to get health insurance. Yes, Obama had a checkered record on immigration; but Trump's policies on immigration are willfully vicious, breaking up families and blighting the prospects of so many young people for whom America has long been home.
Withholding your vote doesn't make a statement any more than playing air guitar makes an actual sound. Ask yourself: what is the collective impact, in practical terms, of each refusal to vote against The Bad because the currently available alternative is Not Good Enough? Answer: it increases the likelihood that the present nightmare will continue. Ask yourself: What would Donald Trump want you to do, given that you aren’t planning to vote for him?
In 2020 the stakes are as high as they have ever been. Like many others, I believe that democracy itself is on the line. Voting in free and fair elections is a fundamental right. Withholding your vote is also a right, of course. It could even be called a privilege. But it is a privilege that, if exercised, may be lost.
A cart full of children from an orphanage is rolling down a slope towards a cliff. A group of bystanders have managed to grab hold of some ropes and cables attached to its frame and trailing behind it. Collectively they haul on these, trying to prevent a catastrophe. You have a choice. You can either grab a rope and lend a hand. Or you can just watch, choosing to withhold your help. After all, there is so much wrong with the world–like carts without safety brakes and kids without parents–that saving the children's lives won't really be doing them any great favors.
But if you think those kids' lives matter, you should help. And if you think anything at all matters, you should vote!
By Emrys Westacott