Voting, Thinking and Blaming

Historically, the “turnout” statistics of eligible voters for presidential elections in America is abysmal. It generally ranges about 55%, Of course, not voting is a choice as well. But this year is proving to be very different with more than 90 million votes already cast, around two-thirds of the total case in the last election, and it’s not yet Election Day.

A while back, I wondered whether there would be a huge turnout or this election would be a huge dud. It appears that I’ve got my answer. Much of it comes from the efforts to register and motivate demographics that traditionally didn’t bother to vote, particularly the 18 to 29 cohort.

Some comes from the effort to re-enfranchise groups that were forbidden to vote, like people with prior felony convictions. And then there’s “the push,” the effort to energize potential voters to get off their butts and actually do it, whether by physically going to votes or putting a ballot in the mail.

Voting is a civic right. It differs from other rights in the sense that we can’t do it at our leisure or when we decide that now is the time to exercise this right. We do it when there’s an election and in accordance with the rules for voting. Unlike the right to free speech, which we exercise at will, voting is a right to be exercised within a civic framework. As it happens, that framework is happening now.

And from all indications, Americans are finally exercising that right to vote. They are mailing in. They are showing up. They are voting. As well they should. For better or worse, this is our country and the candidates are the people who will have enormous influence over our lives and futures. Regardless of which candidate you favor or why, every American who can vote should vote.

About a week ago, I received an email about a webinar to instruct people how to vote by mail. There have been videos, including one by President Obama, instructing people how to manage their mail-in ballots. It’s entirely understandable why this is needed and why it’s happening, as it’s important that ballots be submitted correctly so they aren’t rejected for failing to adhere to the instructions. After all, an otherwise legitimate vote that’s rejected for failure to be completed properly is no vote at all.

Yet, this raised the cloud in front of the silver lining of a huge voter turnout. If someone lacks the capacity to fill out a ballot without video instructions, are they up to the task of offering a vote on our next president? And lest anyone think this is one-sided, the same could be said, perhaps moreso, of anyone stupid enough to think blocking a bridge and highway with trucks and infuriating thousands of people is a smart way to get them to vote for the geniuses’ candidate.

There is no intelligence test to vote. No voter will be asked to name the three branches of government or even their two senators. The right to vote is ours as Americans, even if influenced by a crude and ignorant candidate who lies shamelessly or a candidate who spouts empty platitudes and is running on the “I’m not the vulgarian” platform. No one is required to justify their vote. They just get to vote.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, as fear gripped the nation that big money PACs would exert an undue influence over our political knowledge, I argued that this was a test of our democracy.

It’s not like we don’t know that these influences exist and are being used to manipulate public opinion.  Some may reflect legitimate, fact-based opinion.  Others may be flights of fantasy, deliberately deceiving us into hating those they want us to hate.

Democracy takes work.  Nobody promised that it would be easy to maintain a free nation without getting out of the recliner, except for bathroom breaks during commercials.

That was back in 2010, before we routinely got our civic information from social media. Some wag on twitter made a funny last night.

Two nights before Election Day, an important reminder: If your candidate doesn’t win, it’s because you, personally, did not tweet enough.

Social media is in a frenzy, with warring tribes attack each other’s twits as if that’s some sort of substitute for voting and will certainly change the outcome. Granted, people are passionate, if not hysterical, as election day approaches, and they are politically engaged, even if politically ignorant.

We have become a lazy people.  We sit on the couch and wait to be told what we think.  We can stand up for ourselves any time we want.  We can laugh off hate-filled messages or facile manipulation, knowing that it’s just some special interest trying to spin our heads around.  We know what they are doing.  We can choose to be smarter and better than to blindly accept it.

The only force more powerful than unconstrained corporate cash is a knowledgeable and thoughtful citizenry.  Maybe this is the kick in the butt we need to resume our rightful place in the democratic process.  It’s entirely up to us.

We get the president we deserve, “good and hard” as Mencken wryly noted. We’ve become less lazy than we were in 2010 in that people are finally exercising their franchise, playing their part in the political process that decide who will shape their future, for better or worse. But have we become energized enough to exercise our right to vote for good reasons?

On the one hand, the newspaper of record has told us everyday for the past four years why Darth Cheeto is literally Hitler. In contrast, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has endorsed President Trump, the first time it has supported a Republican presidential nominee since 1972, largely because it views the threat of progressive reinvention of American greater than one concededly repugnant man. This isn’t to say you should go one way or the other, but you should consider both before deciding. No one can make you think. No one will require proof of thinking before allowing you to cast your ballot. Thinking is hard and can make your head hurt. Still, think.

Every eligible voter should exercise the civic right to vote. Every eligible voter should make the effort to vote wisely, whatever that means to the voter. Like it or not, there will be an outcome and it will affect your lives. Blaming isn’t going to change that.

26 thoughts on “Voting, Thinking and Blaming

  1. Hunting Guy

    Robert Heinlein.

    “When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you’re using force. And force, my friends, is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.”

    “The America of my time line is a laboratory example of what can happen to democracies, what has eventually happened to all perfect democracies throughout all histories. A perfect democracy, a ‘warm body’ democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and self-restraint of citizens… which is opposed by the folly and lack of self-restraint of other citizens. What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it… which for the majority translates as ‘Bread and Circuses.’”

    “If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for … but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong.”

    1. Rengit

      Some anarchist on Twitter in 2020: “Silence is violence”

      Heinlein if he were on Twitter in 2020: “Voting is violence”

  2. Hunting Guy

    H. L. Mencken.

    1. Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.
    2. A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.
    3. A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.
    4. Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
    5. Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.
    6. Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.
    7. Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
    8. Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.
    9. If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.
    10. For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
    11. The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
    12. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

  3. Bruce Coulson

    “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

    Winston Churchill

  4. Jeff

    That’s an interesting Calvin and Hobbes strip. Did you have an alternate working title for this entry before it was posted?

      1. Jeff

        Just early in the morning and I was stupid. I’ll try not to shit up your comments section in the future, my apologies.

  5. L. Phillips

    My father’s comment from behind the local newspaper the day after a municipal election many years ago, “I guess idiots are entitled to representation, too.”

  6. B. McLeod

    So, of course, I did vote, sending in my evil mail ballot so many days in advance that even the most extensive potal sabotage is unlikely to stop it.

    That said, there is yet little reason for optimism. It has become quite evident that the vast majority of my fellow citizens have resolved to vote for an old, white, overtly racist, corrupt man, who stands plausibly accused of sexual assault.

    We won’t get much in this election, because standards and expectations have been lowered to the point where the voters of both major “parties” have compromised most of their alleged principles to elect their favored racist, old, crooked, rapey candidate. It isn’t a question what we will get, but only which one.

  7. Anthony Kehoe

    I know you hate personal anecdotes so feel free to trash. I’ve been able to vote since I got citizenship in 2007 so this is my third presidential election. Wanted to point out that naturalised citizens are probably the only Americans that did have to take a test to have the right to vote. Plus they registered us to vote on the day of our ceremony (Maricopa County, AZ). 🙂 Also:
    1) Voting is rather easy, compared to Ireland. Single Transferable Vote makes our system in the US seem quaint. So many things to choose from, though; finding out about the couple of dozen judges and other items on the ballot is hard, even with the Internet.
    2) I’m sick of robocalls, youtube ads, flyers telling me how to vote. How do people even figure out how to put trousers on every day?
    3) Living in districts (local/federal) where there is no alternative choice for representative other than one party.

    1. SHG Post author

      My telephone is set to reject robocalls. It’s a blessing. You’re right about naturalized citizens, and they tend to be far more knowledgeable about American governance than those born here, who only take history and civics in school.

  8. John Barleycorn

    The broken “test our democracy” link was one of your best inadvertent Easter eggs yet.

    Especially considering this: “It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for.”

    But that doesn’t mean I am going to go buy a trunk full of BiC Lighters to rubber-band to the first load of Crayola Crayons eight-packs I will be loading into my tricycle baskets tonight.

    It should be interesting to see how long the lines are this year because I only have enough colored wax in stock to reload twice this year and I sure as heck hope I don’t run out before my pastrami on marbled rye!

    AND the weather is gonna be peddle friendly nice, so it does indeed look like I will be able to fly both my Anthropologist’s For Apathy and Smiley Face flags.

    I guess the only question that remains this year, will be footwear?

    And to think, A few short years ago I never would have even considered the possibility of needing to ponder whether or not perhaps lacing up my top of the calf Danners for the election day ride might be a necessary practicality.

    FUCK IT!! Helmet-less in sandals it is…. Breaking with tradition is just silly.

    See you out there… and whatever you do, don’t forget to be extra nice to the apathetic anthropologists and if you are lucky enough to find yourself with a brand new eight pack of crayons tomorrow, don’t forget to slap your “I voted” sticker on it and stash it in the attic.

    Those gems are gonna be worth a pretty penny one of these days, no mater who is “president”….

    1. Guitardave

      JB, I’ll send you a nice new $10 bill in a lovely Christmas card if you get someone to snap a picture of you in full regalia, peddilin’ that trike, flags a flappin’ in the wind, crayons sticking out of the basket…man, the image would be truly majestic!
      Then I’ll make it poster size, with meme style captions, above…”IF HE CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU”… and below “GET OUT AND VOTE, DAMMIT!”
      I think it’d be worthy of MOMA, or at least a magazine cover…

      1. John Barleycorn

        Thanks for the offer Dave and a crispy new ten dollar bill with Mnuchin the Munchkin’s signature on it would be mighty symbolic. It would also make for a wicked photo smoothly but crisply siting there partially tucked under the worn out two dollar bills I tip with, resting on the formica countertop.

        Very tempting, and it certainly would cover my pastrami on marbled rye tomorrow, including the sales tax. Except for my traditional ordering of an extra pickle and extra side of mustard with my sandwich.

        However, I am gonna need all of my videography and photo archives* to spice up the SJ transition posts as well as hold enough of that material back to have a ready reserve of stuff to pepper in underneath our esteemed host’s weekly columns after he sells me the SJ URL.

        Which may be sooner than you think, especially since he has a “plan” if there is not a “peaceful” transition of power come January.

        Either way with the transition of power deal; I think he may have “exposed” his plan/s this morning by linking a WSJ opinion article.

        So that new Murdoch gig he is lobbying for (which is gonna be a shoe in, even without me writing him a reference letter- and I cant believe he didn’t think of it sooner) in conjunction with the check I am going to cut him for the SJ URL ought to make for a pretty smooth transition for him.

        So, you might get your “proof”** poster sooner than you think…

        And don’t you worry GD, in the Anthropologists for Apathy we have Generals, not Admirals symbolically working out of Ogallala.

        *Habeas Harley is a mighty fine steed, but wait until you see the tractors and the paint job on the tricycle. And did I ever mention, in the SJ back-pages, that I once jumped out of an airplane over the Kingdom of Tonga with Diva who came to fame in the 70s? Could be time to invest in a new PA system GD, because when the General takes over SJ we are gonna have quarterly parties throughout the republic.

        **Photos of the the Shadow Docket Tricycle an me- without a mask even- are out there, even though AP only picked it up once in the last 15 years. Which could give you something to do this afternoon, if you are without patience, but your and everyone else’s time would be better spent watching Brazil again before dinner and then settling in to watch Lonesome Dove all night after dinner so nobody oversleeps.

          1. John Barleycorn

            Aye, aye, Admiral!

            I will endeavor to keep it somewhere between mashed potatoes and wet concrete until you cash the check, as long as you promise to keep your weekly guest columns pointed upstream.

            You stay safe out there tomorrow and you better start exercising the arteries that run through your temples, because you wouldn’t want to blow one of them out if you have to implement your “plan” in January.

            In the meantime, if you need me to put in the word with Murdoch let me know….

  9. Erik Hammarlund

    Yup.

    Everybody blames someone else, and says whatever they think they “need” to say to get the results they like.

    Heck, I live in Massachusetts, home of a LOT of politicians who strongly want to “repair democracy.” Or so they claim. Though oddly enough, they don’t seem too concerned about the state in that regard: I voted for multiple *unopposed* Democratic candidates today, despite something like 1/3 of Mass. voting for Trump in 2016.

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