Earlier this month, we watched fireworks and ate hot dogs in celebration of our nation’s Independence Day. On July 4th, we were not just commemorating the founding of America but the genesis of a revolutionary political philosophy. In an era of monarchy and despotism, the Founding Fathers had the audacity to establish a republic, an untested form of government, replacing the privileges and power of the hereditary elite with individual freedom and equality before the law.
Of all the rights emphasized in our Founding documents, none may be as significant as the right to vote. The absence of such a right was, after all, one of the catalysts of American anger towards the British. “No taxation without representation” was a primary rallying cry for the revolutionary cause. Given the immense importance placed on the right to vote by the Founding Fathers, we, as Americans, should never depreciate the ability to choose our leaders.
Unfortunately, today more than ever, the right to vote is being devalued. Not only does nearly half of the voting age population fail to vote in presidential elections, but this year in particular, many of those eligible to vote are dreading it. Instead of embracing their right to vote, they are resenting the choice they have to make in November. And while America has historically been dominated by a two-party system, the candidates have never been as disliked as they are in this presidential election. According to a poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the two candidates with the highest unfavorable ratings since 1984, when CBS first began running such a poll. 52% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton, while 57% hold an unfavorable view of Mr. Trump. When people say they will be voting for the lesser of two evils in this election, they are not exaggerating; Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton truly are perceived as evil.
A considerable number of conservatives, including family members and friends of mine, are planning to vote for Donald Trump by default. They perceive the voting process as strictly binary and view Trump as the only alternative to Hillary. Many of these people voting for Trump genuinely despise him or disagree with him on a wide range of issues. This is a problem. While there will never be a perfect candidate, one should at least be able to vote for a candidate they reasonably like.
Some may say that choosing the lesser of two evils is a necessity in American democracy, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Senator Ben Sasse may have said it best when he tweeted, “Why are we confined to these two terrible choices? This is America. If both choices stink, we reject them & go bigger. That’s what we do.” He is absolutely right. We should never feel confined, especially when exercising one of our most important freedoms.
Sadly, many people feel confined, especially by their traditional political loyalties. This is because politicians all too often emphasize the importance of towing the party line. In reality, party loyalty can be quite dangerous. While it is certainly acceptable to belong to a party, party affiliation should in no way entail blindly abandoning principles in order to concede to a party’s nominee. Unfortunately, that is exactly what many prominent conservatives are doing. Former Senator Bob Dole demonstrated such a sad phenomenon when, in an interview with NPR, he justified his endorsement of Trump by saying, “I have an obligation to the party. What am I supposed to do? I can’t vote for George Washington.” Too many conservatives share Sen. Dole’s sentiments. What these people fail to recognize is that prioritizing party loyalty above one’s principles directly contradicts the Founding Fathers’ vision for this nation. One does not have, as Mr. Dole suggested, “an obligation to the party,” but rather an obligation to America. We, as Americans, are called to be people of principle, not all-obedient subjugates of a political party.
The reality of the situation is that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will win the presidency. The two-party system is alive and well in America, and leaves little room for candidates from other parties to have any serious chance. Nevertheless, one should never feel compelled to support a candidate due to the perceived inevitability he or she will win or be a serious contender. In this cycle, there are other options. One could vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. Many find the Libertarian Party’s emphasis on fiscal conservatism appealing. Additionally, Gary Johnson has experience in the executive branch of government, having served as governor of New Mexico. Although I, personally, am on the conservative end of the political spectrum, I understand there are many people on the Left searching for a progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton. For such people there are also options, namely, the Green Party. If all else does not satisfy, there is, of course, a write-in option.
Our Founding Fathers did not declare independence only to have us choose between two unsatisfying presidential candidates. Vote for someone who you want to vote for, not for someone you feel gross voting for. But above all, exercise your right to vote. A third party or independent candidate may not have a chance of winning, but treat your right to vote with the dignity it deserves. Walk into the voting booth with pride, not dread. After all, if you’re voting for the lesser of two evils, you’re still voting for an evil.