Updated: Nov 2, 2020
Make this solemn pledge to yourself
Does not victory for some signify the defeat of others? A seemingly existential election looms ahead, and all eyes are on the outcome. We must all exercise our duty to vote, but its purpose is not to secure our preferred candidate's win. The true victory is the vote itself, not the result. This is the victory to which I call you today, dear reader.
Such a victory affirmation flies in the face of everything we currently experience in the political arena, where the stakes have been raised to the level of good versus evil. Are not so many people engaged in trying to convince others of who they should vote for? The most constructive form would be an honest conversation, in which each side recognizes the legitimacy of the other, but such conversations have all but disappeared. Instead, we are left with people desperately and angrily clutching to their acquired identities. Their vote is determined by their ideology, their religion, their ethnicity, their party, their socio-economic status, their profession, their family, the size of their nose, or this or that. Because such a vote is pre-determined, we might as well call it compulsive.
We have not been called to vote compulsively. Instead, we need sound judgment and discernment in response to the situations that now present themselves. Our identity must be set aside. Regardless of how obvious we think the choice "should be", I suggest reading the best possible defense of the candidate we do not expect to vote for. Some call this technique steel-manning. Consider these words of Walter Lippmann :
"In truly effective thinking the prime necessity is to liquidate judgments, regain an innocent eye, disentangle feelings, be curious and open-hearted."
Then, in the final moments, stop listening to the pundits and the preachers. Turn off the news and silence the media. Sit with yourself for a while (do you know who you really are?) and make your choice. Sit with yourself, and realize that a part of you is playing a role, and another part of you (more discrete) is wise. Listen to that part of you that’s deeply in touch with reality and able to prepare you for it. This is the only part that’s reliable, the part that can confer greater purpose and direction in a rapidly changing world. This is the indestructible center of your being.
Each of us, to an equal degree, has been entrusted with the duty to exercise this profound wisdom. Our individual judgment may be flawed (and most certainly biased), but a valid choice can emerge from hundreds of millions who give it their best shot.
Let us pay our dues to the long and tenuous historical process that has brought us to this hard-won democracy, where a greater percentage of citizens are allowed to vote than at any previous moment in history. The temptation is now great to wish that "all those other idiots" could somehow be deprived of their vote. Given the fact that our modern democracies continue to lead us down a path of probable planetary destruction, I have even flirted with a preference for an enlightened world leader: someone who would radically put an end to the on-going pollution and exploitation. Someone who would overthrow the corrupt plutocracy. After all, what could be worse than our current trajectory?
Things could be worse. Even though our modern democracies have gotten so much wrong, their checks and balances remain safeguards against an elected leader turning sour. If these institutions should ever fail (they are now critically undermined), a strong democratic aspiration will likely revive itself to restore them. Until then, every vote counts, and even the skewed electoral college should not prevent an acceptable democratic consensus from emerging. No, the greatest threat is indeed not the electoral college, but the ingrained habit of "identity voting."
Another danger is of course abstention. If you think your vote doesn't count, why have there been so many attempts to exclude certain categories of people in the past? Men and women lost their lives on foreign shores to defend this right. Surely you can stand in line to cast a vote, so near to home. As an American abroad, it is indeed a fact that my vote will not be tallied on election day. Although the perspective of people rejoicing or weeping without even counting my ballot is a disappointment, this (among many other electoral flaws) does not undermine the significance of my personal suffrage.
Here, then, is the victory vote: to emancipate ourselves from our acquired identity for one single, sacred, solemn moment during which we decide, in the truth of our own individual knowing, which candidate will best serve the collective good.
Not our individual interests, but the common good. If we are unable to distinguish the two, we are not yet victorious. If we are able to distinguish the two, but cannot override our individual interest, we are not yet victorious.
You alone, in your heart of hearts, will know the taste of this victory or defeat.
In a companion post entitled The Election Illusion, I examine the power of seemingly insignificant individual choices beyond the sphere of politics.