Why I’m not voting — and why you shouldn’t either

A day late and a president short

Credit: Jon Tyson

I told you so

I didn’t vote in the last election. I was tired of being stuck with terrible choices each election and “holding my nose” as they say. My family and friends were aghast.

As someone raised in a conservative tradition and by then having become more libertarian, I refused to support the supposed lesser of two evils. For one thing, I had assessed the probability of attempted dictatorship by the Republican nominee as non-zero. And Donald J. Trump was even in the 2016 election a blatant liar, an opportunist on economic policy, and an utter jerk.

Who looks smart in retrospect?

Few things get you in hot water more than taking a minority political position. Few people on either side can listen, and whoa to she who is in the minority in her geography, workplace, or Thanksgiving table.

Of course, the fact that we barely blink at there being two sides — and only two sides — for all political issues is a huge part of the problem. You’ll probably anger those around you if you support a minority view, but your position is accepted as somewhat normal as long as it is part of the received doctrine of at least one of the two major American parties.

But one risks outright ridicule or worse if suggesting an idea that doesn’t have a home at one of the poles of our system. Whatever you think of Bernie Sanders, this reality was at once both his allure and his downfall. Ditto Ross Perot.

The American public does not really want “new ideas.” They want a microset of antiquated ideas — just repackaged for same-day delivery sans GMOs in 4K HD streaming over 5G and with jingles authored by Tyler the Creator. [1]

Plus, when you take a break from political content for several years like I have, you eventually see what those fringe independent friends of yours have been telling you for years: the two parties aren’t as different as they seem.

It’s simply a miracle that the quadrennial repackaging of the same old tropes hasn’t evolved politics in America into a straight-up rager. I’m not an expert on Pan-But-Ex-America-American politics, but I imagine South American elections being more of a fiesta.

How Instagram models and orgasmic photos of infinity pools at boutique hotels on cliffs overlooking the ocean aren’t in every political advertisement right now is either a compliment to American maturity — or clear evidence of this country having a tightly clenched societal rear end. A rigor mortis of the ass. We’re so full of ourselves and our divinely ordained land that it might be our downfall.

Politicians per se and politicos feel the need to pretend that both we and they are entirely serious and austere. [3] Obviously the intent is to convey a responsible nature and altruistic purpose. But opposing parties in two-party systems seem to have some sort of blood pact that prevents them from fast-forwarding to the inevitable conclusion of the repackaging mentioned above.

American Carnival: The future of politics (Credit)

Amor patriae

I grew up in America. [3] I was born to an immigrant father who came to this country looking for a better life. He embraced his new nation more than most of those who were born here. I remember the day he became a citizen like it was yesterday.

I love this country for what it is and what it stands for. All nations are flawed. However, America offers the best chance of humankind for a balance of freedom and equality — while promising perhaps the least chance of authoritarian rule.

No person disinterested in society or our civic duty could decide like I did to go to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis when almost every other option would have been 100x more enjoyable. Subsequently I served aboard ship and as a Navy SEAL in combat.

I know something about duty.

Voting is not a duty

There is a fiction that most of us buy into. Namely, it’s the idea that laws, regulations, and cultural norms are themselves ethically right. But you don’t need to be Immanuel Kant or MLK to realize that ethics and civic practices are two different things, though hopefully they are connected more often than not.

We’ve heard our whole lives that voting is our civic duty. But from whence does this duty spring?

With sufficient population size voting is not actually rational.

Voting is like playing the lottery. Your vote doesn’t meaningfully sway the outcome. You don’t get what you want. And everyone except the winner is worse off.

Meanwhile, the system of democracy (or a republic) should not be confused itself with morality. After all, democracy was supposedly described by Benjamin Franklin as something akin to “the worst form of government… except for all the others.”

Democracy and representative government are based upon allowing the interests of individuals to affect the rules that govern society. Thus, participation is motivated by the degree to which a person wants something coupled with the degree to which he believes he can achieve it through voting.

Otherwise, why bother?

Duty involves sacrifice and benefit to others. Most people are willing to sacrifice exceedingly little for others. As one indicator, the percentage of the population that has served in the military or as first responders is quite small. Weather and traffic dissuade material numbers from voting on election day. And as we established above, voting is primarily about what you want. Even if what you want is a better society for all, you want your specific version of that to the exclusion of all others.

Utopias involve tradeoffs, and every voter wishes fiat to determine how everyone else will sacrifice to make his own personal dream for humanity possible.

Maybe elections are a kind of masturbatory form of dictatorship. We play at governing.

Will it really matter anyway?

When debating between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, one must come to the conclusion that her vote will help her favorite win office and that that person can give her what she wants (even if her aims only benefit others).

In this case we have the following choices:

Trump

A person with executive and private-sector experience who lies incessantly and egregiously, attacks his own team, alienates almost everyone, opposes free trade, encourages crony capitalism, mishandled coronavirus, calls veterans and those killed in combat “losers” and “suckers,” and cares only about what thing: himself.

Biden

A person with zero private-sector or executive experience who believes in fairy-tale economics, plays the race card, may very well pack the Supreme Court, will (in my opinion) be weak on foreign policy, shows no evidence of being intelligent, lies plenty (albeit less than Trump), and is also out for himself (albeit probably less as well).

I think it’s at least reasonable to argue that the pros and cons between these two guys might cancel each other out. The likelihood of us being better off as a people 4+ years from now could be a wash.

It might be tempting to vote for Biden because he’s “so nice” and “cares so much,” but don’t delude yourself. Politicians are primarily out for #1.

It also might be tempting to do whatever it takes to get rid of Trump, but be careful not to overweight data on Trump just because he’s been in the spotlight. Conventional wisdom has it that reelection bids are always a referendum on the incumbent vs. a comparison between two candidates. [4]

Meanwhile, if history is a guide, the world is probably not going to end regardless of who wins. Republicans thought that Clinton was the end of the republic. Then Obama. Same with Democracts and Bush 43. Then Trump.

With either person, there’s a Congress, a Supreme Court, 50 states, an economy [5], and seven or so billion non-Americans out there.

We’ll probably be okay.

Madison and Hamilton were worried about factions and the power of the presidency

Voting can be immoral

Exercising a positive choice in favor of an unethical option is immoral itself. For instance, if there is a vote between commit genocide against one ethnicity or doing the same to another, does there really exist a “lesser of two evils”? I suppose you could vote for whichever one would result in the least victims, but are you morally obligated to exercise your choice?

Of course not. In fact, some ethical scholars and even more of our historical heroes would argue that the exact opposite is true. Exercising a choice here involves the voter in an act of evil. Choosing a wrong, even if the choices are limited, is an endorsement of that wrong. It corrupts the voter himself.

Just as important, choosing between hurtful options endorses the system that produces such a choice.

The presidency was never intended to be as powerful as it became in the 20th century, and our founders hoped to avoid a party system like we have today. Our options today are terrible ones. Neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump are deserving of the office of chief executive for our country. The fact that these are the options we have is deeply concerning, as it may imply that our system is ill equipped to deal with future crises and massive changes that technology and societal evolution will bring.

I refuse to choose. This is my duty.

And a year from now I may just say: I told you so.

More like this

Check out my full podcast episode on this topic — #45: Free Radical :)

About the author: Sri hosts The Warrior Poet podcast, a show on the philosophy of leadership based on his experience in the SEAL Teams, at Harvard Business School, on Wall Street, and in tech. Shows every Monday. Follow him on Instagram @sri_the_warrior_poet and @sri_actually.

All the way wet (aka the footnotes)

[0] “All the way wet”: Something an instructor might say to students at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.

[1] Watching all of this through bluelight glasses of course

[2] Not sure who is worse between the two sets of subjects of this sentence

[3] Remember that place with the hanging chads and Katherine Harris? It’s called Florida. That’s where I grew up.

[4] Granted, Trump has hogged more of the spotlight with his belligerent tweeting, etc. This probably makes this election even more of a referendum on his first term, making Biden’s job much easier.

[5] Most economists agree that presidents only affect economic growth to a small degree.

Not Siri. Sri (shree'). Navy SEAL, podcaster, machine learning, father. Trying to understand jazz. Trying to find huevos rancheros.

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