In just a few days the American people will go to the polls and cast their votes to elect the 45th president of this United States. Despite our apprehensions or hopes for other options, there are only two viable candidates. The president-elect come November 8, or soon thereafter, will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald J. Trump. That is the hard, cold reality. It is time for Americans to face the facts, accept this, and deliberate on how they will fulfill their political duty.
When considering our options, we need to realize that we are not only electing two different individuals to lead the country, but an entire branch of government. The president doesn’t execute the laws of the land single-handedly. He appoints a plethora of cabinet members and department directors that do the day-to-day governing of a third of the government, the most powerful branch.
He or she will nominate secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veteran Affairs, Homeland Security, the attorney general, etc. When we elect a president, we need to think of all these departments and how their work, and the regulations they pass, affects the area of the country they administer.
Both candidates will bring incredibly different people to head those departments and do the job of governing the nation. The outcomes of those choices will have radically different outcomes in the next four or eight years. We are not only choosing an individual but a team of people that share a particular ideology: conservative or liberal.
Voting Is a Pragmatic Decision
Further, since there are only two viable options, our choice ought to be between those two. One must discern the pros and cons of the platform each individual endorses: what is he or she proposing to do, and how it will affect the day-to-day lives of average citizens? Most importantly, how will that affect the day-to-day life of you, your family, and your community? How will education policy affect it, health policy, foreign policy, energy policy, tax policy, environmental policy, financial policy, and yes, also, one must consider what impact that person’s character will have on the people of the nation.
Once you do the job of deliberating on those pros and cons, you will find one is preferable over the other, even if only slightly. Considering their radically different positions, claiming that both are equally bad or equally good is not a reasonable position to take. It is one’s duty as a citizen, and one’s moral responsibility, to vote for the one that will be the better of the two options, all things considered, for the common good of all citizens.
If in your deliberation you come to believe Hillary is the better choice, then you are morally obligated to vote for her, as bad as she may be, and as much as you may dislike her. If you believe Trump and his team will be better, then you are morally obligated to vote for him. Either way, one’s vote is not an endorsement of the corruption or misbehavior of either. It is a prudential choice between two unavoidable and unfortunate alternatives.
Considering this, voting for a third option is not a morally preferable choice but one that escapes the difficulty of the decision. In essence, voting for a third option is tantamount to saying that the decision between the two is so difficult that we must escape it altogether because we don’t want to even give the impression that we agree with either of them.
Making Hard Decisions Is What People of Character Do
I understand that hesitancy. It is hard to have people think that we somehow endorse a person speaking disrespectfully about women, or that we endorse someone with no moral scruples. But if the intention of our decision to support either candidate is with the best interest of the common good in mind, then we need not shy away from what others may think. The common good is more important than our image. The good of the nation is more important than our feelings towards a particular person.
Sometimes forces bigger than us come into conflict. Such forces can overwhelm us, and our actions may seem insignificant in light of such great evil. Combating those forces will require a certain fierceness from us. It will require facing decisions that we would rather not face—ugly decisions that will test the content of our character and the principles for which we stand.
A soldier going into battle cannot choose not to fight. Choosing to escape the fight is not only dishonorable, but it serves no purpose in battle, nor in defending the lives of those he loves. No soldier wants to go out and kill as many people as he possibly can, and no soldier should want to. But the soldier must make that decision. He must reach down into that savage instinct to protect what is his own and overcome the enemy for the purpose of the common good, for the purpose of protecting the rights, liberties, and lives of those he loves.
The task of the citizen is harder than that of the soldier in one sense. That of the citizen requires more deliberation about what the common good is and how to achieve it. But once that is determined, then fight they must. Not for themselves, not for their image, but for their posterity.
The Third-Party Candidates Have Not Been Vetted
If you are still not convinced that voting for a third-party candidate is a morally inferior option, I would like you to deliberate on one question, and a thought experiment. Considering that our two viable candidates offer significantly different policy proposals, it seems reasonable to suppose that the opposition to either has to do with their character and not their policies. How can you determine that the character of a third option is better than either of the two?
I understand that it is hard to see how it could not be, but can you say with any degree of certainty that your candidate’s character has been properly vetted in the way that the long process of campaigning vets a candidate so that your support for him is grounded in fact and not perception?
The history of presidential elections has demonstrated that a candidate’s character is not properly vetted, regardless of how many previous public offices they have held, until they are at the final stages of a presidential campaign. Unfortunately, the skeletons in the closet are brought out when a candidate is a threat and when it hurts most. This would put the supporter of a third-party candidate in the uncomfortable position of arguing that ignorance of someone’s moral character is better than the knowledge of another’s, as bad as it may be.
Finally, let me share a thought experiment a friend was kind enough to provide. Suppose you have two individuals standing in front of you over two trap doors. Both of those individuals want to do you harm. After careful investigation, you find that the person over the first trap door is going to punch you and the person over the second is going to shoot you.
You have the power to choose what trap door is opened. If you choose the door under the first individual, that person will fall through the door, and you will get shot by the second. If the second door is opened, that person will fall through the trap door, so that you will be punched by the one remaining. If you decide not to choose either of the doors, one will open at random so that you will either be punched or shot.
Notice that out of the three options, the morally superior choice is the second door, because it mitigates the harm done to you. You will make sure that you get punched and not shot, increasing your chances of survival. Given that one of the two individuals will in fact harm you, allowing the decision to be made at random or by someone else is not a morally superior choice.
Like every thought experiment, this one has its limitations. However, its main purpose is to show that given two unavoidable outcomes one has the moral duty to choose the one that will do the most good, or the least amount of harm. Given the unavoidable fact that either of the two nominees will be president, one has the moral duty to choose the one that will do the most good, or the least amount of harm.
In my own deliberation, I have come to conclude that despite his misbehavior Trump and his team will be better for the common good than Hillary and her team. However, I have written what I have above being careful not to push in any particular direction because I think this to be the deliberative process every citizen should go through regardless of whom he or she chooses in the end.