In November of 2016, I faced a fundamental choice as a voter. Voting for Donald Trump was out of the question, but should I vote for a candidate who didn’t reflect my values as strongly as I would have liked? Like most progressives, I chose to compromise, ignoring my serious reservations about Hillary Clinton. It was similar to compromises I had made in most prior elections.
With the 2020 election looming, voters like myself will once again face a choice between the two major party candidates. After seeing the immoral behavior of the Trump administration these last few years, I’ve realized something important. Compromise may be a good thing in governance but when it comes to elections, values cannot and should not be compromised.
The consistent rallying cry among those on the left is that, in order to defeat Trump, we have to support whoever the Democratic nominee is. It’s been argued by some that voting for a third party is akin to casting a vote for Trump.
It’s an argument that would seem to appeal to me as the Ethical Humanist and clergy leader of the Northern Virginia Ethical Society. But I’d argue that there is nothing more unethical than betraying your moral values as a voter.
This election season, I call on voters of all backgrounds to not just think about the policies proposed by the candidates, but to examine their values and character.
Your only moral obligation as a voter is to choose the candidate that best reflects your values.
In 2016, 95 percent of voters who had consistently liberal values voted for Clinton – 98% of conservatives voted for Trump (Pew). This polarization is likely to continue no matter who becomes the Democratic nominee for President.
To be sure, finding a candidate who agrees with you on 100% of the issues is not realistic. I even have policy disagreements with the candidates I connect with the most. For instance, none of the current candidates are speaking out against America’s endless wars and drone assassinations.
But when faced with the choice of voting for Donald Trump and a Democratic candidate that I have fundamental ethical disagreements with, the most ethical thing I can do is to find and vote for a candidate who most accurately reflects my values.
In 2016, many conservatives and Republicans compromised their values as well, choosing to vote for a candidate who openly expressed racist and misogynist views in order to achieve other goals – such as Republican control of the Presidency and Congress, or changing the composition of the Supreme Court. This “ends justifies the means” position is deeply, morally flawed. Mohandas Gandhi believed that the ends and the means cannot be separated. Morally compromising your means inevitably corrupts your end results, as the actions of the Trump administration have amply demonstrated.
I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, yet my deeply held ethical religious values influence how I vote. I am sure that yours do too. My humanist values inform my actions. My ethical decisions and actions can’t stop after the election. I have an ethical duty to continue to advocate for my beliefs.
Defeating Donald Trump is not an end in itself. Trump is a symptom of the power of white supremacy, corporate greed, structural economic inequality, unchecked militarism, and corporate control of a system that values profits over people.
As the world faces a global climate crisis, Americans will be called to reimagine our future and change our lives. We will be called to live out our deepest ethical and religious values – how we relate to our planet and how we relate to each other. We must create a future where the lives of everyone are valued. Our world is rapidly changing. We cannot meet these challenges by clinging to a mythical past or by supporting marginal changes to the status quo. We need to transform our lives and our consciousness to meet these challenges, to create a sustainable future where no one is left behind.
No matter who wins in 2020, Americans must continue to advocate for positive change. Take Ethical Action by not just taking part in marches, but actively changing your lifestyle. To combat the rising threat of climate change, bike to work rather than taking a car or public transit. Support businesses that take a stand on important social issues – and abandon those that fight against those same issues.
Ethical Humanism is reaching toward this future by educating our members about the climate crisis and climate justice, America’s systemic racism and the need for reparations, criminal justice reform, human rights violations of immigrants at our boarders, working toward peaceful solutions to global problems, and voting our values.
Voting is a fundamental right and one of the things that defines us as individuals. Who we vote for says a lot about who we are and what we value. Yet at the end of the day we are not just voting for policies – we are voting for people. Consider who these candidates are as human beings and whether their values reflect yours. We may have a two-party system but voters should not be afraid to look elsewhere if the choices presented to them don’t match their beliefs. That’s not just the most American choice. It’s the most ethical choice.