18 February 2016

On protest voting

Living in Rhode Island does clarify a few things for me.

Allow me to be perfectly clear up front, though. Rhode Island is a wonderful, beautiful state, small as it is. Old things are valued here, particularly old architecture. There is a marked æsthetic appeal to Benefit Street that warms my Tory heart. There is a strong sense of community particularly among the immigrant populations: the Italians, the Portuguese, the Arabs are all very tight-knit, and even the elder Yankee caste stick strongly to their own in ways which I find admirable. People here are remarkably polite - just today I was called ‘sir’ at the public health clinic where I went to have blood taken. But living in this state very quickly dissolves any notion that your voice matters in the democratic sense. Nothing in Rhode Island is so futile as voting in state or national elections.

Allow me to explain. Because we are so small, and because we are politically so homogeneous, no candidate on the national stage in either party, in their right mind, would bother to campaign here – not even a five-minute stop on the road from New Hampshire to South Carolina. Our state goes with regularity not only to the Democratic candidate, but to the establishment Democratic candidate – and there’s literally nothing I with my vote can do about it, whether by voting for a non-establishment Democrat, by voting for a Republican (even if I were so-inclined, which I’m not) or by voting for a third-party candidate. Even our state primary comes so late in the day that we have exactly zero influence (collectively, as a state) on the outcome of the nomination process.

Which, I suppose, is why the charges from the Clinton machine that votes for Bernie (let alone votes for a third-party candidate) are selfish forms of ‘white, young, privileged’ self-indulgence which will wreck the Democrats’ chances in the general election and therefore ruin the country, rankle me so much. For one thing, the supposed ‘privilege’ of Bernie supporters just simply doesn’t exist. Frankly, the reason so many of us are ‘feeling the Bern’ is precisely because we’re not ‘privileged’, and we’re getting sick of all the SJW doublespeak that Clinton supporters and, for example, Daily Beast contributors try to shove down our throats. But more importantly, the entire thrust of that argument is simply irrelevant to someone living here, where the Democratic establishment practically owns the state – and what’s worse, the Clinton supporters know perfectly well that their candidate has machine backing, and rub it in the faces of those the machine doesn’t benefit anyway.

It should be clear by now that even though I can’t in good conscience support any of the mainstream candidates for the Presidency, I do have my preferences. I’m convinced that on foreign and particularly economic policy, Sanders would be a far, far better president than Clinton – he has certain conservative (or rather, ‘progressive’ in the word’s right sense) instincts about the direction of our society that CS Lewis would have admired. I’m equally convinced, however, that on cultural issues, Sanders would be just as devoted as Clinton is to a Panglossian acceptance of our reigning hedonistic ethic. Trump makes certain realist, protectionist and pro-limits noises in his interviews that I can’t help but agree with – the problem is that he’s a tawdry demagogue whose national-security policies are inimical to human dignity. And to a one, the rest of the Republican candidates for president are such preening, atavistic, tone-deaf head-cases that one hesitates to describe them accurately for fear of being accused of caricature.

There are, to be sure, better and more important forms of civic engagement than voting, which in fact is probably the least important thing one can do. But in this case, from my current political vantage point, the only purpose it can possibly serve is as a form of protest. I’ve toyed with the idea of not voting at all, but that sends the wrong message and unfortunately affirms the quarter-educated politically-minded, of my parents’ generation in particular, in their contempt for my generation in particular. Thus, I’m tending to look toward candidates with populist and radical platforms, who stand to shake up a sclerotic electoral system. I’m highly tempted, as I was tempted in 2012, to cast a ballot for Jill Stein, but there are a number of other interesting minor candidates out there who are just as good (if not in some cases better) on the issues which I tend to care about – reining in our amok foreign policy, reining in Wall Street cupidity and reining in our cultural proclivities to a nominalist and atomist libertarian social ethic. Henry F Hewes, who is running as a Democrat on a paternalistic Peace and Life platform, and Joe Schriner, who is running as an Independent on a radical Catholic platform, are each of particular interest to me – though any of the above will have to be written-in on our state ballot, I believe.

Voting here is therefore only useful as a form of protest. I do hate to sound pessimistic, but the 2016 election is overwhelmingly likely to go to a candidate who will do precious little if anything to curb the long idealistic-militaristic slide of our foreign policy toward the brink of World War III; who will continue to support the Gulf States in despite of their utterly wretched and debauched deportment; who will do nothing to break up the big banks and institute a fairer and more just monetary policy; who will preside over the continuing slow, quiet death of organised labour; and who will do nothing to check the drift of our culture into paralysing, isolating individualism and its attending licentiousness and despair. All I can say is that in any event, the best I can hope to do in the near future is to do better work on-the-ground than I have been doing, both in advocacy and in more mundane ways. It strikes me that bringing my family over and caring for them here, engaging in local action, shoring up the institutions we’ve inherited and rebuilding ones we’ve lost, and attempting to live a reflective life are ultimately more formative in the long run.

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