“Not to decide is to decide.” – 1960’s Motto About Taking A Stand On Viet Nam War
I hear a lot of talk among Americans about not voting in the coming election.
The argument is, “I don’t like any of the candidates – I’m disgusted with the whole thing. So, I’m not voting.”
I want to plead with anyone considering this course of inaction to choose otherwise.
Only four election cycles ago, a paltry five-hundred some votes were the difference between a President Gore and President Bush. Five hundred some votes decided The President in a country of three hundred twenty million people. Do you really want to abstain a President into office?
Ok – we all get it. Our Democratic System has given us this time around two candidates with record-setting unfavorables. Both the major party candidates seem vulnerable to criminal prosecutions during their first hundred days in office. We have never faced a President attempting to pardon himself or herself once convicted during their administration of a crime committed before it began. The President’s power to grant pardons for convicted offenses is only forbidden in cases of impeachment: there is nothing to prevent a President from pardoning himself or herself of crimes. How bizarre would that scene be? A President would likely be impeached if convicted of – say – sexual assault or obstruction of justice: but before Articles of Impeachment could be voted in by Congress, the President would grant him/herself a pardon that expunges the conviction. So we would have a “country of laws” in which Impeachment might be blocked by a convicted lawbreaking President standing on the idea “we are a nation of laws, and according to the laws of this country, I am not under conviction for any crime.”
We may face a strange and strangely familiar future, to be sure. Hillary Clinton’s husband gamed out his own Impeachment process with his strategy team, and understood he would be convicted in The House, but in The Senate, all would vote along Party lines, and there would not be enough votes to confirm The House verdict; and that President Clinton was willing to let the country suffer the distraction, and spend the millions of tax-payer dollars to hold the bicameral trial – and let it go all the way to the end-game, simply because that President Clinton knew at the end, the law would enable him to escape conviction through pure politics, despite everyone knowing he had been proven to be manifestly guilty.
However – the pendulum of moral civic incumbency has now swung toward us, as America’s citizenry.
John Kennedy once said, “We must live in the world that actually is, not the one we wish would be.” Neither Harrison Ford playing James Marshall, nor Martin Sheen playing Jed Bartlet, will be appearing on our ballots. We now must be adults – we now must make the choice from among the actual choices our system has provided to us.
We have to face the sobering truth that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are “outliers.”
Both Major Party Candidates are accurate representations of the values and platforms of their Parties. Granted, they are somewhat caricatures personally – but their Leftism and Rightism are within the broader boundaries of their respective teams. Along with their widely acknowledged cartoonish qualities, come the overt negatives of realistic portraiture. Hillary’s long tenuous relationship with legality despite being an attorney and sworn officer of the court is deflating to anyone with commitment to law and order – and Donald’s mercurial nature and grade-school speech patterns naturally give any thinking person pause about making him the Leader of The Free World. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are who they are as non-mainstream candidates, simply manifestly unequipped to be America’s Chief Executive; but all these are the choices our American Democracy has yielded through an accurate primary season in which the Parties chose whom they chose. We had over a dozen Republicans and Bernie et al among the Democrats.
Donald and Hillary won the primaries. They showed up – and now, must we.
It is certainly deflating to see a Presidential Candidate who could plausibly wind up convicted of criminal or criminally negligent defiance of US Security Laws, and or obstruction of justice through destruction of subpoenaed evidence on above a Nixonian level, and more. It is equally unpleasant to contemplate a President who might go on a binge of personal destruction against anyone who asks him a question he doesn’t like, as he did from the get-go with Megan Kelly in the first Republican Debate of the primary season (see my earlier blog, “The King Who Would Be President”), and others later, or indulge such rage on the world political stage.
Our present choice-set is less than ideal: but many have been the times the Presidency has been served such real-world non-ideals. It is little known that the most-admired President in our history – Abraham Lincoln – won his party’s nomination by outright election fraud. That’s right – Saint Abe stole his party’s nomination. Lincoln and his crew knew the majority of the tickets for the nominating convention had been purchased by his opponent, who had a far larger fiscal war chest than did Lincoln, and that those delegates would shout the loudest acclamation of their nominee, thus gaining him The Candidacy. So – Lincoln and his crew stayed up all night before the convention, printing counterfeit tickets to the event, and then arrived early in the morning, taking all the first places in the admitting lines – and thus, filled the auditorium with Lincoln-acclaimers who had stolen their seats from their legitimate owners who had paid for them. This act of manifest theft gave us the author of The Emancipation Proclamation and The Gettysburg Address. Knowing this – would anyone with even a smidgen of concern for human rights really want someone other than Lincoln in the White House between 1861 and 1865?
God, history, the universe – whatever you want to call it – seem to make things work out such that the person we need sits in The Oval, despite the human warp of their natures or paths there. John Kennedy was a C student, an entitled brat, and womanizer – and he literally saved the world with his dispassionately lucid handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Harry Truman was a failed haberdasher who followed the most capable modern President ever to hold the office, becoming President only because the People’s choice died in office; and Truman was so lightly regarded many in the Washington elite called him, “His Accidency” and joked that “To err is Truman.” Yet – Truman is now one of the most admired Presidents in our history, and he won re-election with a strategy demonstrating sheer political brilliance.
Winston Churchill told us, “Democracy is the worst system of government on earth – except for all the others.”
While the witticism is genuinely funny, the observation is deadly serious.
Democracy is hard, unwieldy, disorderly, and even chaotic.
So – is it ethical to “sit this one out?”
Imagine seeing Hitler’s Nazi Party gathering steam in 1936 Germany, after he and it had been voted into power in 1933 by a legitimate election you sat out ––– you were a German Jew or Gypsy or Slav or some other kind of person Hitler had openly targeted for extinction in Mein Kampf as one of the non-Aryan “mongrel races” – but you stayed home, and several other millions did the same, out of dismay that someone like Hitler had plausible access to the Chancellor’s post, and the other choices were not sufficiently comfortable? The catastrophic errors Germans made by the millions in regard to the Nazi ascent into power were:
(a) they did not take Hitler’s stated programs and goals in Main Kampf seriously.
(b) they did not take his already-demonstrated behaviors seriously.
(c) they did not take their own responsibility to choose their leaders seriously.
The German electorate’s perfect storm of negligence resulted in the the loss of fifty million lives and over a decade of hell on earth we now call by the compact monikers “The Nazi Reich” and “World War II.”
So – to the many Americans talking about not voting, please consider the following. Imagine telling a veteran who gave his legs and arms to protect your right to vote, that you are sitting this one out. Imagine telling the wife of an American soldier slain in Afghanistan in his early 20’s, with two toddlers to raise on her own in his absence, that the coming Presidential choice is – just too unsavory, or too hard. We who live under the cloak of Liberty paid for with so much blood, life, and quality of life owe it to every man, woman, and child who ever laid down any of these precious things to protect this right, to use it.
Not to decide is to decide.
A paltry five-hundred some votes were the difference between a President Gore and President Bush. Five hundred some votes decided The President in a country of three hundred twenty million people.
Your one vote is not your one vote. You are one among a growing many.
I am no huge fan of either one of our Main Party choices. I also face realistically that neither of the two non-Main Party candidates is anywhere remotely close to qualified for the Oval Office.
So – I am going to vote for one of our two main choices.
Firstly, I am going into the voting booth saying the Jewish blessing for seeing a miracle. We live in a country in which transfer of power is peaceful, and we choose our leaders. Then, I am going to make the choice that seems to me to be in the best interest of the nation and the world. I am also going to keep in mind that the same American Democracy having put Richard Nixon into the Oval Office was also able to remove him from it when it became necessary to do so. No President of ours has ever been permanently above the law. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “No lie can live forever.”
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both immensely accomplished people asking us to give them a job for the next four years. That is all.
We still have a Free Press. We still have a Senate, and A House of Representatives, and a Supreme Court. We still have “The Two Man Rule” preventing any President from giving a unilateral and unstoppable order to launch nuclear weapons. The Secretary of Defense must agree with the launch directive in order to move to weapons release, and the order has to move through a chain of command to result in actual launch.
In sum – we have a System. It is called, a democratic republic.
That same System that protects us has given us the choice of either Hillary or Donald for our next President. It is not a permanent choice: it has a four or eight year shelf-life, and it is impeachable and removable under the right dire circumstances.
It is time to honor The System and its honorable slain and harmed Defenders above The Candidates.
It is also time to count – to matter.
One’s power cannot count if one does not use it.
If a mere six hundred of the right people choose not to use it – history might be changed.
For anyone to count – that one must vote. And only four election cycles ago – less people than one Caribbean cruise liner’s passenger list picked the Leader of The Free World for eight incredibly crucial years, including the “Nine Eleven” era.
The choice is hard – but that is what has fallen to us as Americans.
It is our duty not to flee from, but rise to such a moment – and vote.
The moment will pass. The Republic must endure.
May God bless America.
Bruce L. Cohen 20 October 2016