Elections

You Don’t Owe Your Vote to Anyone

Voters wait to cast ballots during the presidential primary election in Milwaukee, Wis., April 7, 2020. (Daniel Acker/Reuters)
No one should be bullied into supporting one candidate or another by pundits who can’t be bothered to make substantive arguments for their positions.

Election years bring their own unique array of annoyances. When the most powerful office on the planet is on the line, partisans become more unbearable than usual, our televisions and laptops become inundated with ads, and our social-media squabbles increase in both volume and intensity. With Donald Trump up for reelection, 2020 has been and will continue to be exceptional in this respect.

Like the last election, and the one before that, this is the “most important of our lives.” Because of its importance, many in the pundit class have decided that you, the voter — sweet, innocent, stupid you — are incapable of making this consequential decision for yourself. But there are two problems for these pundits. The first is that they cannot make your choice for you. The second is that they are competing with other pundits, pundits who would have you vote for evil. To win, they need to make you feel bad enough to agree with them prior to November 3, and they need to be more forceful in their condemnations of any who disagree with them than their counterparts on the other side of the aisle.

Fox News mainstay Geraldo Rivera, who said Trump’s “critics were much more right than I” after Trump urged Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) and other members of “The Squad” to “go back” to their home countries last summer, has changed his tune now that Election Day is mere months away. On August 6, Rivera declared that “there are reasons to vote against Donald Trump. If he loses though, I’ll blame Republican traitors.” The candidate who gave Americans reasons not to vote for him would not be to blame, you see; it would be the fault of the “traitors” who took notice of those reasons and reached an informed decision to either stay home or vote against him.

The same sort of argument is common among the “traitors” to which Rivera was referring. Tim Miller of The Bulwark has decreed that “everyone who doesn’t support Biden has something to do with Trump.” By Miller’s logic, it’s not Joe Biden’s responsibility to appeal to conservative and moderate voters; it’s those voters’ responsibility to support Biden. Tom Nichols, a Never Trumper who is Twitter-famous for being Twitter-famous, is especially vexed by those conservatives who have resolved not to vote for either major-party candidate, but would, he suspects, prefer that Trump win. On Twitter, Nichols imagines how a conversation with one of these voters might go: “‘Fine, you’re not voting. Do you have a preference about how this election will go?’ And the bullsh** answer is: ‘My hands are clean’ which is a way of saying ‘Of course I do, but I’m ashamed of what it is.’”

I’ve never understood the fetish for increasing voter turnout. Voting is both a right and a responsibility; it should be easy for all Americans. But each additional vote is not some kind of victory for democracy; those who care enough to show up should and those who don’t should stay home. The sanctity of each individual vote, on the other hand, should be sacred. Americans who head to the polls should not allow themselves to be bullied or shamed into voting one way or another. Pundits of all stripes have increasingly fallen back on such tactics instead of working to persuade people to their side. Their understanding of who owes what to whom is backward: It is the job of candidates for public office to appeal to voters with their values, policies and behavior, not the responsibility of voters to get in line to prove their righteousness to Tom Nichols or Geraldo Rivera.

That supporters of both Biden and Trump would call you complicit in the other man’s victory if you decide to write in a candidate or vote for a third party should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of their arguments; they can’t both be right. This November 3, Americans should do what an earlier, better version of Ted Cruz told them to do in 2016 and vote their conscience.

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