It’s not as popular of a moniker as it was about a decade ago, but political punditry sometimes uses the term “values voters” to describe voting blocs that cite their particular understanding of morality as justification for their political affiliation. It’s a term most especially used to describe religious conservatives.
Of course the term is problematic with that narrow of a scope; politics is about values for just about everyone. Now, I would contend that we often aren’t aware of which values are really driving our identification, opinions, and actions. We may state and truly believe that one particular conviction is the central one, but the truth is more nebulous. We learn what our core convictions are only when they are exposed.
A personal example: I have fancied myself a feminist for a while in that I believe men and women should be regarded as equals. However, I began to notice that I’m far more quick and willing to interrupt or talk over my female friends than my male friends. What does that mean? Well, it means there’s some sexism in me. My behavior confronts me with my true beliefs. The story I have been telling myself is incomplete, and now I have a choice. I can ignore this realization excusing it as a relatively minor infraction, or I can incorporate it into my awareness, use it when I’m tempted to repeat similar behavior as a checkpoint, and reflect on it to find and confront its roots especially in specific instances – Why did I want to interrupt her then? Why didn’t I interrupt him when he was saying something quite similar?
I think 2016 has been an election of exposure. We don’t know ourselves nearly as well as we think we do. I have seen a fair amount of progressives scoff at the irony of some religious leaders who once condemned Bill Clinton citing character as integral to leadership and who now support unabashedly character-impoverished Donald Trump. This shouldn’t surprise us though. It simply demonstrates that for those leaders character was never the core though they may have genuinely believed it to be. Something else drove opposition to Bill Clinton that also now drives support for Donald Trump. I can’t paint with too broad of a brush, but I suspect that driver was and is resentment at a perceived loss of cultural prominence.
Now progressives are not innocent either. Progressives often consider themselves to be the champions of oppressed groups. Yet they rarely consider the plight of poor white folk in coal country who have been forgotten. Progressives also love to celebrate religious pluralism. Yet they frequently also impute bad faith on people with certain genuinely held moral convictions.
My values are conflicting in this election season. My actions and attitudes will then demonstrate what I privilege. I generally tend to favor what is often called a more progressive agenda. But I want to value justice over “my team.” I voted for Barack Obama twice. If I want to value justice over agenda, it is my duty to remember that under his administration our nation bombed an MSF hospital in Afghanistan, has amassed massive collateral damage in authorized drone strikes in Yemen, has done relatively little for an American city with lead-contaminated water, and has largely ignored the Native American peoples which have been advocating for the land long before there was such a term as environmentalist. The Democratic Party does not embody justice.
So shall I turn to the GOP? Well, in my view their record is likewise lacking. Rather than taking the responsible role of an opposition party by investigating the MSF bombing, our use of the drone program, our treatment of oppressed peoples around the world or even here in the US in a place like Flint, they’ve chosen to investigate Benghazi five times. Not to diminish a tragic occurrence with some significant government failures but it’s become clear that the GOP’s primary motive is political embarrassment of the Democrats not true accountability. Additionally, the GOP nominee has spent the majority of his campaign painting Muslims, women, black people, and Latinos as “others” to be feared with not very subtle rhetoric. Sure some of them are alright – the ones who don’t really challenge my position.
An aside is warranted here. I do understand that the issue of abortion is a genuine crisis of conscience for a great number of people. It remains a deeply troubling issue to me. I recognize my gender limits my perspective, but I continue to believe that it is unethical to choose to abort except in circumstances where the life of the mother is at risk. However, I am skeptical that Donald Trump who has been on the record as pro-choice cares much about this issue except as a political rallying cry. Additionally, making abortion illegal does not solve its underlying causes. The majority of women who get abortions do so out of desperation.
I’m going to ask that you vote on Tuesday. I’m also going to ask that you choose not to vote for Donald Trump. Of course my perspective influences that request. Be skeptical of my agenda but be skeptical of your own as well. Personally, I voted for Hillary Clinton a little over a week ago. It was one I wrestled with more than I thought I would. I considered voting for a minor party candidate or a write-in selection because there are a good number of things that trouble me about her and about the Democratic Party. I vigorously disagree with those who say a minor party vote is a vote for Trump or Clinton. I told myself my vote was a choice to oppose a man who I see as a threat to my friends he would treat as “others” and that it was a choice to oppose the baser elements of our collective nature which he has exploited. I’m sure that’s at least a contributing factor. I’m also sure I have a pretty deep-seated anger toward perceived bullies.
Ultimately, I think we can all use this election as an opportunity for self examination. Why am I supporting this candidate or that agenda? I ought to be skeptical of the first answer that comes to mind and examine the moments that excited me or infuriated me – the moments where I reacted without thinking for they hold the truth. What do I really value? Is the story I tell myself about myself true? Is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves true? Who does my picture of justice leave out?