The impending November election was already a poop festival before the events of this week. It has now become a diarrheic extravaganza. Mere days after the worst debate in the history of debates, we now have no idea about the true status of one of the candidates after he completely unshockingly tested positive for COVID-19. Talking heads everywhere are now scrambling to dish out their takes on all of this. To paraphrase the real Talking Heads, well, how did we get here?
The answer begins with a trip back in time, to November 2016. On an otherwise ho-hum Tuesday of that month, the Democratic candidate for President received more votes than the Republican candidate for the sixth time in the past seven elections. For the second time in the past five elections, that meant nothing, as the Republican candidate won the day in the steaming pile of dung that is the Electoral College (are you sensing a theme in this blog? I really had no such intention going in…). But no, the fact that Clinton got more votes but lost is not the point here. Not today. The point is this: both Clinton and Trump each received votes from a little over a quarter of the eligible voting population. Over 40% of eligible voters didn’t cast a vote for anyone – not Clinton, not Trump, not even a third party candidate, not even Mickey Mouse, not even Kanye West.
This is nothing new in our can’t-be-bothered republic. It’s a good year if we crack 60% participation. There is a fair amount of evidence that some of this is due to voter suppression efforts, but that’s not the point either. Not today. For today, suffice it to say that there is no way 40% of voters are being suppressed. So why the hell can’t (or rather won’t) people exercise quite possibly the most important thing American soldiers have died for over the past 244 years? Why can’t we be like Belgium, which saw a voter turnout near 90% in 2014? Do we need to eat more mussels and drink more Stella Artois?
It seems the single biggest reason for not casting a vote boils down to a lack of enthusiasm. Every election, I hear multiple people tell me the choice is between two bad options. The story goes that nobody ever votes for somebody, they only vote against somebody else. For myself, I can tell you I have voted for my candidate far more than against the other in at least the last three elections. But I can also tell you that the motivation to vote against the other candidate would have been enough to get me to the polls in most of the elections in which I’ve participated – which by the way is all of them since I was old enough to vote. Did that sound like I was tooting my own horn? If it did, that’s part of the point too – voting shouldn’t be such an achievement that it could even remotely be interpreted that way.
At first blush, the (un)Presidential debate can’t possibly have helped this situation. Most of the reaction I have seen suggests a further dampening of enthusiasm for voting, and for those who were swayed one direction or another… wait a second, who the hell didn’t know what choice to make before the debate? Even if you consider yourself a centrist, smack dab precisely in between the two extremes of American politics, it’s highly unlikely you don’t lean one direction or another. And if you truly detest both candidates that much, there are always third and fourth party candidates. And while it’s tempting to assert (as I do) that running for President as a third party candidate is essentially public masturbation, these candidates have had a significant effect on a number of recent elections. Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and Jill Stein have all done their share to determine who has ended up in the White House.
So why should somebody who is typically not inclined to vote have a change of heart in 2020? Maybe we need to redefine the nature of voting. In the Amendment posts, we saw how many Amendments were part of the ongoing struggle to expand the right to vote. We’ve spent so much energy on that as a nation that perhaps we have forgotten voting is a duty just as much as it is a right. As critically important as it is to fight voter suppression tactics so people CAN vote, it is equally important for people who CAN vote to fucking DO IT.
That would have been a perfectly good way to end this post, but I’ll add three more statements:
1) If you don’t vote, then by definition you voted for the winner.
2) If you don’t vote, you are helping to leave the future course of the nation to a quarter of the rest of us.
3) If you don’t vote, you get what you deserve. And for whatever it means, what you got right now is 2020.