The 2016 election saw some 59.3% of the voting eligible population cast a ballot in one of the most divisive elections in generations (this amounts to just 54% of the voting age population). Almost 100 million individuals eligible to vote decided to ignore the election and its potential results, content instead to disregard basic civic obligations and allow the lives and well-being of friends and loved ones to be determined by someone else.
To those people I ask: What the hell is wrong with you?
Why do you sit out elections, especially one that saw a pompous and ignoble demagogue draw on racial resentment and fear of a diversifying America to slander and somehow defeat one of the most qualified candidates to ever pursue the presidency?
Are you happy in your ignorance and political apathy?
Do you enjoy being disinterested in policies that directly affect you and those about whom you care?
There is no reason to sit out elections. There is no reason to at least pursue an elementary understanding of the complex issues facing our society. It’s your duty as an American citizen; when the government derives its powers from the consent of its citizens and turns to them for legitimacy, prerogative, and power, each individual must fulfill the most basic obligation to a democratic society – casting an informed ballot.
Your Vote Matters
Maybe you believe that your vote doesn’t matter. Well, you’re wrong. Presidential elections can be determined by the slimmest margins. Donald Trump won because of 80,000 votes across three states (for perspective, that’s about how many people attend a Green Bay Packers home playoff game). In those states, around 7.8 million decided not to vote. If only a small fraction had decided to care about their country, the country might not be losing credibility among our allies, wouldn’t be having a debate about the virtues and vices of Nazism, and wouldn’t be considering spending tens of billions of dollars to trap people in a country.
That’s just the 2016 election. In 2000, George W. Bush won Florida by hundreds of votes in an election where millions decided their purposes were best served by keeping their asses planted to their couches. Senator Al Franken won his first election by scores of ballots; representatives across the nation wait for days on end to see whether the slimmest of slim leads hold as officials finalize ballot counts. Mayoral races can be decided by dozens, if not fewer, votes.
So obviously your vote matters. It may not be decisive, but what a ludicrous thought process – and logical fallacy – to think voting is pointless simply the odds of being the decisive vote is astronomically slim. What a foolish all-or-nothing mentality!
The Results Matter
Maybe you, dearest non-voter, in your incredibly political ignorance, somehow think that the election results don’t matter, that policy wouldn’t actually change. How wrong you would be! Perhaps pay attention to the news and the candidates and you will see the folly of your feelings.
Each election at all levels has incredible local and national repercussions. Trump’s election nearly cost 22 million their health insurance. His victory enabled Neil Gorsuch, a justice to the right even of Clarence Thomas, to ascend to the Supreme Court, where he will likely stay for 30 years; this, especially when coupled with the likelihood of Trump appointing another justice, endangers any number of political objectives, including the right to an abortion and the ability to not be discriminated against simply for being gay.
And if you think that special interests simply control politics through immense donations to political entities and thus your vote doesn’t count, then you just furthered that hole in your foot because with Neil Gorsuch on the bench, Citizens United likely isn’t going anywhere. Hillary Clinton pledged to appoint a justice who wouldn’t support the precedent.
Blessed non-voter, did you hear that Trump ended DACA? Did you know this imperils some 690,000 educated and hard-working adults who came here, through no fault of their own, as children and who have called America – and America only – home? Your vote could have saved them from the now ever-present of deportation.
Or perhaps you’ve heard of the First Amendment, which protects all religions from discrimination or government favoritism? Well, had you voted, you could have prevented a man whose Islamophobia shocks the American conscience from trying to ban the religion from entering the country simply because he’s irrationally frightened of people who look different than him.
On countless obvious issues, voting matters. Slim margins erased by simple action can dramatically change the course of the nation. Doesn’t that matter to you?
You Should Know What’s Going On
My valued non-voter, could it be that you don’t vote because you don’t know the issues? Of all the reasons mentioned, that would be the best. We don’t want your uninformed opinions deciding important outcomes.
But you do realize that can be changed, right? That you can decide to spend, say, 30 minutes a day reading (real) news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, or Politico to learn about national happenings? That through these outlets you can learn of an election’s stakes and become conversant in policy considerations such that you can cast a useful ballot?
So, why don’t you? Do you not understand the importance of policies that shape how 320 million live their lives? Or is it simply too hard to understand the complexities?
Well, tough luck there, buddy. Politics ain’t easy and if you want to be the American citizen our Founders hoped to craft and which foreign observers long touted as the instruments to a just and equal society, unlike so many in Europe, you need to put forth some effort. You need to embrace complexity and difficulty and do your best to understand such issues.
It’s imperative that a democratic society be filled with those willing to put in the effort needed to make informed decisions that hold lawmakers accountable and shape national political discourse in such a way that we don’t condescend to the levels of simplicity that corrupt actors can exploit and manipulate in their searches for power (only when we expect/demand high levels of sophistication because we have high levels of sophistication can we thoroughly vet candidates to weed out those preying on fear or emotion, not logic built from a deep understanding of public policy).
So, get off your ass and be an American. Learn about the issues. Study candidates. Use logic. And, most importantly, come election day, vote.