Dear family and friends: I will not announce my vote. Don’t ask me. (Don’t ask me how much my house is worth either, or my wife’s weight, or my mom’s age. 🙂 ) But not due to some archaic sense of propriety.
In the last US presidential election, I announced my vote for the independent candidate, Gary Johnson (after promoting the idea of a Bloomberg independent candidacy). I couldn’t possibly vote for Obama; I didn’t want to vote for Trump. Due to pressure from family and friends – most of whom roared for Hillary and despised any Republican, and then Trump as candidate – I felt the need to publicly declare where my vote went. (As a voter in Nancy Pelosi’s district, and a life-long Democrat, I had for years taken pleasure in being the *only* vote against her, and doing so very publicly. But that was different, provocative and fun. And of course my vote meant – and still means – very little in a district which has voted 90% Democrat for decades.)
Four years ago, American politics were already polarized. Now the situation is absurd. If I say a positive word about Kamala Harris or Joe Biden, my social media feeds or WhatsApp thread or group discussion erupts in angry remonstrations. If I say a positive word about Trump (or Netanyahu for that matter), I’m eviscerated from the opposite side. (Glad to say I have real friends, and online friends, across the political spectrum.)
When I vote (in US or Israel elections) I try to combine an evaluation of the policy prescriptions of a party/candidate, the actual record of an individual‘s and party’s acts and accomplishments, and the caliber of the people around and advising the candidate and likely to be in positions of influence, all in addition to the personality, background, record and caliber of the candidate him/herself. I am extremely disappointed in the quality of the candidates of both parties this year in the US, as I was in our last election.
Why are our democracies incapable of producing leaders who are not only intelligent and telegenic but moral, articulate, accomplished, aware, strategic, sensitive and strong? Obviously, we all recognize that leaders are at base human, and therefore fallible. I’m not looking or hoping for perfection. But from a time when our leaders were at least on balance good people and working for the betterment of their society (so I guess we overlooked their foibles, even their personal immorality, let alone those policies we disagreed with), we seem now to have arrived at a time where the ‘leaders’ of political parties are either the loudest most obnoxious public figures, or the most cynical professional politicians, or the most telegenic/popular media icons (even with no experience) who are captive to the radical activists of their parties, who push/pull them into the most extreme of positions, either because they’re pursuing specific agendas or that’s how you win elections.
So with that disappointment in candidates, I’ve been unsure I could even participate this time. And it would be so much easier to just not vote, since I’ve always shared (at least with family and friends) for whom I’ve voted, and in this go-round I’ll be eviscerated by either or both sides, depending on how I vote.
But I’ve decided I have to vote, which is my civic responsibility and a privilege I’ve always cherished and taken seriously, as a US citizen. To the best of my ability I will follow the line of reasoning above to guide me to cast my ballot for the candidate/party who can at the very minimum do the least damage in these challenging times, and perhaps even achieve at least some of the policy goals they declare which I support.
But I will not tell you who that vote goes to. Not because that is also part of our cherished democratic tradition, the secret ballot; but due to the incredible invective showered on anyone who doesn’t agree with you or vote the way you think they should. It doesn’t matter which candidate for president you deplore or adore. I won’t ingratiate myself with you nor antagonize you, nor give you the satisfaction of knowing I’m with you or against you. Precisely because I know that is what your reaction will be.
I’m not afraid of how it will affect our relationship; if you allow politics to affect our relationship, it was doomed already, as it was if you allow religion or philosophy or family dynamics or other “issues” to influence our friendship and love and sense of kinship and connection. But I am deeply concerned over the descent into personal acrimony and political hostility I’ve seen in individual and communal exchanges, online and in person, and so on principle I refuse to play this game by these new rules of “us vs them”. The constant MSNBC/NPR vs FOX/WSJ, Dem vs Rep, Right vs Left, Religious vs Secular, young vs old, conservative vs liberal etc. presentation of a world of dichotomies doesn’t just do an injustice to the complexities of modern reality and the issues we all face; it’s actually boring.
And do not patronize me nor flatter yourself by pretending you know for whom I vote. I am an independent thinker who will decide for myself what I see as in the best interests of my country. I have voted for Democrats, Republicans, independents and Mickey Mouse over the years (don’t get me started on how many Left, Right and Centrist parties I’ve voted for in Israel.). My priorities may not be the same as yours, just as my opinions may not be the same as yours. You are welcome, even encouraged, in the spirit of open debate, to try to persuade me around to your position on any given issue; you are not justified in presuming that yours is the only logical, reasonable, fact-based or moral approach to our complicated world.
Whoever you are – if you are reading this, you are probably either a family member or a friend, or a contact on social media, or at the very least someone who cares for Israel if you’re reading it on the ToI site – we most probably share real concern over recent events. And although my perspective may be slightly different regarding whom we should hold responsible for the deterioration of civil discourse in US politics and the increasingly divisive nature of American society, I’m sure we both wish for not only a resolution to current crises but a return to a sense of national unity and purpose and a politics of cooperation and collaboration.
Suffice to say I’d sum up like Shakespeare, a plague on both their houses (actually a pretty timely expression, sadly). But when I send in my ballot, I will not tell you which party or candidate I vote for. On principle.