Last week Justin Timberlake, of “Can’t Stop The Feeling” fame, got in a bit of trouble for posting a selfie while voting in Tennessee, where he grew up and still owns property. It’s not legal in every state to post photographs while inside voting booths. (In case you wanna copy your bro, here’s a handy guide to which states allow it.) Monday his wife Jessica Biel voted and then posted her own selfie—after voting.
At first I thought, That’s absurd! Voting is a privilege! Take dem selfies! Especially if you’re as cute as Justin! But, not to be all Debbie Downer, upon further inspection I’m not so sure it’s a great idea for the general public to get their voting encouragement largely from social media or Hollywood stars.
Why? The Founding Fathers had a few ideas on this. They might sound outdated, but given this year’s nominees, they couldn’t be more pertinent—or radical. Even though they’re old, we can apply them still today.
Is Voting a Right and a Privilege?
Every four years, I’ll say to friends and family, with a Minnesota-nice smile but a stern tone: If you fail to cast your vote, you forfeit your right to complain. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have an actual right to complain, but you get the sentiment: If you were too lazy to vote, why should you bellyache about what the president does?
For years, I’ve held to this general adage, and always encouraged everyone I know to vote. Around Election Day, since I graduated with a minor in political science, my phone and e-mail blow up with requests about how to register, who to vote for, and whether it’s even important. I’ve always responded with links about voter registration, an article about each candidate (and my two cents), and People have died to preserve your freedom to vote. Not everyone gets to. Please vote.
Then 2016 happened. More precisely, two of the least-qualified, most fraudulent, hypocritical people I’ve seen in my short lifetime are now vying for president on behalf of both major parties. If elected, one would be a precursor to a dictator, the other, a closet socialist (I’ll let you decide which). That sound you hear is the Founding Fathers rolling over in their graves.
How did either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump get this far? The people, you say. We the people, who so badly wanted a perfect union, we started applauding populism and socialism until they found their way in human form onto the debate stage and now into our ballot boxes.
So for some reason “we” don’t seem to be as informed as I thought “we” were. No wonder some of the Founding Fathers only thought landowners should vote! They have skin in the game.
Frankly, the thought of the average person voting with little information, or voting because she saw a selfie on social media of a Hollywood star, now sounds a little scary. Wasn’t there a plan for this? How could Thomas Jefferson let us down so badly?
The Founders Prevented a Democracy For This Very Reason
Since we adults are all allowed—nay, encouraged—to cast our ballots on Election Day, people have the general misimpression that the United States is a democracy. “Cry Me A River,” as Timberlake would sing: we are not. The people, while they cast their vote, don’t directly elect the president. That’s what our Electoral College does. We vote for people who will vote for the president. It’s called a republic, and it’s based on what the Romans did eons ago, well before Alexander the Great conquered Persia.
The Founding Fathers thought it a better system over the Greeks’ democracy, where people voted directly, since Greece generally fell into tyranny. That’s the tendency of mob rule: to create chaos by ruling according to their passions, then begging a dictator to take over and restore order from the chaos. Since we kinda do both democracy and republican rule, some people will call America a democratic republic.
If you really are into all these technicalities, consult your local political science professor, and he will “Rock Your Body” with the details. (Sorry, Timberlake has some great hits, and we need them during a time like this.) Point being, as this history professor blogs:
For that reason, the founders of this grand American experiment believed a small coterie of talented, capable, virtuous people should make the political decisions on everyone’s behalf. In other words, you should have elections so that the citizens may choose the best and brightest from among their ranks to go forth and rule the nation. Politicians should sacrifice their own personal gain for the honor of putting the nation’s best interests ahead of their own, thereby expressing the principles of what they termed ‘republican virtue.’ And after a brief stint in government, a politician should return to private life, to be replaced by the next generation of talented, virtuous, honest American citizens.
If we have these electors we elected, who elect the president for us, does our vote count? Yes, technically “electors are pledged to cast their votes in accordance with the popular vote,” although this doesn’t always happen.
This sounds like a pretty good plan—as if the Founding Fathers predicted the Clintons and Trumps of the world running for president and tried to keep the people from directly electing that themselves—but unfortunately it doesn’t remove these two terrible frontrunners from the ballot. And we still have Justin Timberlake with his illegal selfie, and people like myself, encouraging people to vote, for God, country, and personal responsibility.
So What Should We Do?
There are mixed opinions on this. Some people just don’t care and don’t vote. Some people, often libertarians, will refrain from voting altogether if they don’t care for the candidates available. Their logic: Even though I have the freedom to eat dessert, does that mean I need to, especially if the extra calories may be bad for my body?
I see that analysis, and I raise you. There are millions of people living in countries where they are unable to express a negative or contrasting opinion to that of their ruling regime, let alone cast a vote for a politician they support. True, some people in these countries do not want to vote, and certain cultures fail to be an ideal place for the seed of democracy to grow. I’m far from a George W. Bush “everyone needs democracy” groupie. But statistics do show that freedom tends to pave the way for democracy, and democracy paves the way for a country to thrive, with few exceptions (like China).
While not everyone believes people in the United States have died for our right to vote, it’s true. Whenever the security of the United States is threatened, our freedom, our republic, our ability to do anything—including vote—stands in jeopardy. To fail to vote is to spit in the face of our armed forces, who remain ever vigilant to protect us, and to shrug in the face of our enemies, who would willingly remove our freedoms from our grasp.
As John Jay said, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
The great Daniel Webster thought it was good for our kids to see us exercising this responsibility: “Impress upon children the truth that the exercise of the elective franchise is a social duty of as solemn a nature as man can be called to perform; that a man may not innocently trifle with his vote; that every elector is a trustee as well for others as himself and that every measure he supports has an important bearing on the interests of others as well as on his own.”
This doesn’t mean people should vote for whoever Timberlake voted for, even though he may have brought “Sexyback” to voting with his illegal selfie. Hollywood stars, your ignorant brother-in-law, and social media aren’t the only places to get informed about the candidates.
If you don’t own a house, vote like you do. By that I mean: Do it with the seriousness of someone who has some skin in the game—our armed services protect that right with their lives. If you sincerely don’t like anyone on the ballot, you’re always free to write someone in. Let’s hope in 2020, the people of the Founding Fathers’ republic can finally cast their ballots for someone and sing with all their Timberlake tenor: it’s “Not A Bad Thing.”