You may be so unhappy with your major-party choices this year that you are voting for a third party, or not voting at all.
Let’s examine what your choice actually means.
Why people would rather not choose between Trump and Biden
When offered two suboptimal choices, the mind rebels. You think, is there really no alternative?
This year, here are some reasons you might prefer to vote neither for Donald Trump nor for Joe Biden:
- Biden is uninspiring and Trump is horrifying.
- You are a traditional conservative and but you don’t like the way Trump governs.
- You are a progressive and you don’t think Biden goes far enough in addressing the abuses of unfettered capitalism.
- You are a libertarian and you feel neither party is going far enough to clear government regulations out of the way of citizens.
- You think taxes are still too high and you don’t think either candidate will cut them sufficiently.
- You think people who are suffering need help and you don’t think either candidate will do enough for them.
- You want free trade but both candidates are likely to put up trade barriers.
- You want to end the Fed, and neither candidate has says he’ll do that.
- You think the military budget is way too high and neither candidate has agreed to rein it in.
- You’re for reparations for slavery but neither candidate has endorsed the idea.
- You think the deficit is dangerously high.
- You want a candidate less than 74 years old.
- You want to vote for a woman for president.
- You want to vote for someone for president who is not white.
- You think the American two-party system is fundamentally corrupt and feel you cannot participate in it.
- You feel your vote, counted for someone other than a Democrat or a Republican, will send a message that the country needs an alternative.
- You like Jo Jorgensen.
- You’re a fan of Kanye.
That’s a whole lot of possible reasons. And I feel you. I want better choices, too.
So what should you do?
Realistically, no matter who you vote for, either Trump or Biden will win. What would that look like?
If Trump is reelected, he is likely to continue his policies and behavior. Put aside the traditional policies, like tax levels and spending levels. Consider a few other things.
His officials defy subpoenas from the Congress. There is not enough oversight of his policies.
He can’t get stuff done. Other than tax cuts and conservative judges, the country has done very little of consequence for four years.
There is no plan to fix the economy or address the COVID crisis. There is, quite literally, no Trump platform.
There is a constant push back on electoral mechanisms — allowing states to reduce voting sites, denigrating mail-in voting, supporting gerrymanders that favor Republicans — that fly in the face of fundamental fairness.
There is a massive fiscal deficit that threatens to undermine the government’s finances and the value of its currency, with no suggestion of addressing it at all.
He constantly speaks and acts as if he serves, not all the American people, but only those who support him.
As I’ve argued in this space for 21 posts now, this is it. Once Trump wins, there is no reason whatsoever for him not to do whatever he wants to cement his policies and his personal power in place permanently. He could sweep aside all the remaining norms about what a President is allowed to do.
In the past, when presidents have gone too far beyond what their voters wanted, we’ve failed to reelect them. We did it with George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford.
The difference is, this time, if voters don’t act to throw Trump out, it’s not at all clear that the Republic, as it currently sort-of works, will withstand the next four years. We will slide into autocracy, with no chance to fix it.
Now consider what will happen if Biden is elected.
Taxes will increase.
Tariffs will decrease.
There will be some sort of a plan to deal with COVID, one that may include some restrictions on Americans and how they gather in public.
There is likely to be an economic bailout, as there has been in previous crises.
At some point, there may be liberal justices appointed to the court. There might even be a couple more justices added.
We might see DC and Puerto Rico as new states.
Joe Biden may not be the most vigorous of presidents physically, but he will be surrounded by professionals who know how governments work.
You will survive all of these things. The Republic will survive all of these things, even if you would prefer something different.
What will not happen is the end of America. The politics will swing back, but we will have reasserted our control as voters over the excesses of the presidency. This will not be the end of the American Republic, any more than eight years of Barack Obama was.
There is a reason so many prominent Republicans have endorsed Biden. They value the continuation of government with its normal give and take as the most important thing. They value sane governance over policy.
I like the way that David Sedaris formulated this (he was actually talking about the 2008 election, but no matter).
I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”
To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.
The only way to preserve democracy and American governance is to toss Trump and elect Biden. Voting third-party will not accomplish this. Failing to vote will not accomplish it. Only voting for Biden will accomplish it.
But just because you vote for Biden does not mean you have to go along with everything that happens after he is elected.
What to do next
If you are a reluctant Biden voter, here’s what you can do after the election to make your choices heard.
- Sway the Democratic party. Joe Biden’s coalition will be composed of never-Trump Republicans, centrist Democrats, and progressives. Which direction will he go after the election? You can have a say in that.
- Remake the Republican party. The Tea Party movement vastly changed the Republican party during the presidency of Barack Obama. Your movement could change the Republicans of 2021 and beyond. The defeat of Trump will create openings for traditional free-trade conservatives and libertarians in the post-Trump Republican party. You can influence that.
- Support electoral forms that boost third parties. Foremost among these is the rise of ranked-choice voting, which is in place now in Maine and is on the ballot in Massachusetts. In ranked-choice voting, you can vote for a third-party candidate without throwing away your vote, because if your candidate doesn’t win, your vote can go to your second choice. This will free people up to vote for third parties, which means some of them will win.
- In primaries, boost local candidates that will sway the parties. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has influence because her Bronx and Queens congressional district elected someone far more socialist than the typical Democrat. And a decade ago, the same thing was happening with Tea Party candidates in Republican districts. It is far easier to elect a candidate with your viewpoint regionally than at the state or national level. Once they are elected, they can help build a movement.
- Recruit and support politicians who don’t identify as Democrat or Republican. Former Republican Representative Justin Amash was sick of President Trump. He voted for impeachment. And now he is a Libertarian, the only one in Congress. Maine Senator Angus King is an independent. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a Democratic Socialist. Former Alaska governor Bill Walker was an independent. At the local level, politicians outside the two-party system can win. And with enough support, they can, at least potentially, form a movement that can change the system.
- Protest. If enough people agree with you, your protest will show people you are a force to be reckoned with. Don’t protest with your vote. Protest with your feet.
If you feel impotent in your disappointment with the two-party system, the way to show it is not with a meaningless protest vote in an election that could solidify the Trumpist hold on power for a very long time. Vote now for Biden to preserve your chance to have a voice. And then act on your emotions after the election, when things will be in flux and your actions will actually matter.