Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
We all remember the ever-popular saying in 2016 when people who liked neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump still showed up to the polls to vote for one over the other: “They’re the lesser of two evils.” Now in 2020, we’re hearing “vote blue no matter who.”
There’s this notion that we should be so committed to beating Donald Trump that even if you voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary — who is about as far left as you can get amongst the candidates running — and he lost, you should vote for someone like Mike Bloomberg for president. But when a former Republican known for his racist stop and frisk policy and sexist, transphobic remarks is supposed to be the better option simply because they’re on the Democrat side of the ballot, political parties have no meaning.
Maybe they shouldn’t, though. Or at least not as much meaning as we like to give them.
I’ve encountered many people who say they just check the box at the top of the ballot including local propositions and political offices to indicate they’d like to vote Democrat on the entire thing. While I’d probably end up with an identical ballot anyway, something still rubs me the wrong way about aligning yourself with a party so much that you don’t even read through each policy and each candidate.
I feel like this strong need to attach yourself to a partisan label is why so many of us feel like we can’t have a single civil conversation with someone on the opposite side. I’m guilty of this. As soon as I hear “Republican” or “conservative,” my defenses go up. Some of this is for good reason, since the typical conservative stance on my existence as a transgender person is that I don’t actually exist, but still.
The label is so strong that it’s harder for me to talk to a self-identified Republican who doesn’t even like Donald Trump than it is to talk to a supporter of Bloomberg, someone just as bad as Trump in many respects. We hide behind these labels, using them as justification for why we support this person over that person. We should be interrogating why we support a candidate based on why we support their policies and why, fundamentally, we think those policies are just. If we break things down into simpler terms without buzzwords that shut down a conversation before it even begins, perhaps we’ll get somewhere.
The Golden Rule is a great example of this: Treat others how you want to be treated. Imagine you’re in elementary school, playing with your Littlest Pet Shop toys and your classmate Tommy wants to join, but he has no Littlest Pet Shop toys. You let him play and you share. You treat him how you would want to be treated because if it was you who had no Littlest Pet Shop toys, surely you’d want to be included.
What if we made things that simple all the time? If we examined politics with the Golden Rule as our lens instead of our party, I think a lot of people who wouldn’t agree based on candidate preference might come to the same conclusions. Every person deserves good healthcare that doesn’t boot them out of their apartment when they pay the hospital bill instead of their rent. Our country should help people fleeing natural disasters and war. We shouldn’t allow any discrimination whatsoever toward people who are different than ourselves. Why? Because what if it was you? Me? Our families? If we can imagine how we would want to be treated, we reveal where our values as human beings lie. From there, vote accordingly instead of checking the Democrat box every time just because you really liked Obama.
According to the Knight Foundation’s 100 Million Project, around 100 million eligible voters didn’t cast a vote in the 2016 presidential election. They also found that the average nonvoter has a 77 percent chance to be registered to vote but has an unfavorable view of both parties. I’d imagine if you’re looking at a seriously deep and stigmatized trench between political parties and trying to decide which side to choose, yeah, you’d probably hate both. But if you can put on a blindfold and play a hot-or-cold game toward the side your personal values align more with, it might not be as difficult. In my humble opinion, following the Golden Rule and general human nature would land you pretty far left, but that’s neither here nor there.
The point is, our values should speak louder than vast, meaningless labels that despite their lack of meaning pin us down in a way that doesn’t allow us to budge. Using these values, our human intuition, we can vote not out of subscription but out of will.