Politics and elections are only vehicles, not destinations.
No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried . . . —Sir Winston Churchill
Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against. ―W.C. Fields
She kind of seems like a grandma who gives you candy but it’s not the kind of candy that you like, but you eat it anyway because it’s all the candy that there is.
—Stephen Colbert, talking to young kids about Hillary Clinton
This election season’s long, nasty, demoralizing slog is almost over. Soon we’ll return to the slow, tedious, disheartening slog of governing. Despite the last year of diverting spin, that’s the point of elections. When all the votes are cast and counted, there’s a job to do.
Government certainly isn’t sexy. It’s processes are slow and incremental by design. Checks and balances prevent Trump-like demagogues from using the presidency as a dictatorship. Most drama happens at the granular level of daily maneuvering, which requires—it’s the nature of the beast—backroom deals, glad handing, persuasion, and compromise. The immediate gratification of constant connectivity and on-demand services doesn’t translate to governing. Politics doesn’t neatly resolve itself in bite-sized segments like youtube memes and sitcoms. It’s not pretty. It’s not nice. It’s grueling, and often thankless.
Which is why your vote, and your continuing participation, matters.
Political parties are abstract coalitions of people who, at least broadly, share common values and opinions. But political candidates aren’t pristine embodiments of those values and opinions. They’re people like you and me, individuals with their own meandering histories, flawed sensibilities, unique personalities, priorities, and biases. Sometimes they’re passionate and inspiring, like Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders. Sometimes they’re ignorant and petty, like Donald Trump, or cagey and pedantic, like Hillary Clinton. Jill Stein, a Harvard-trained medical doctor, is inexperienced, fickle, and panders to anti-vaxxers. Gary Johnson shrugs off global warming and can’t find Aleppo on a map.
No candidate is perfect.
And yet, whoever wins the presidential election will steer a massive, powerful, and complex ship of state. The job of thoughtful, discerning, responsible citizens is to minimize potential damage by voting for the most competent, well informed, and best prepared candidate—warts and all. I wish that candidate were Bernie. Hell, I wish Obama could serve another term or three. But I live in a major swing state; given the very flawed options before me, I’m voting for Hillary. She’s no passionate progressive (and out of touch with issues I contend with personally) but she’s competent, prepared, and relatively well informed. She won’t revolutionize the country (or dramatically improve my life), but she won’t completely derail it either.
Donald Trump’s ignorance of the governing process is staggering (he seems to think he’s running for King), but it has also reminded me that governing is exactly that—a process. The sheer number of people and interests involved in constant checks and balances means there are no quick fixes, few dramatic upsets, and only gradual revolutions. It’s not sexy. It’s work. And while Hillary Clinton is a career politician—with all the distasteful business that entails—she’s also a workhorse and competent bureaucrat with enough flexibility and bipartisan experience to get some work done. In this election she’s the only candidate on the ballot who’s even remotely qualified for the job.
Democracy doesn’t guarantee candidates who reflect your deepest values and fill you with joy. Democracy—what we have of it—gives you the right—and the responsibility—to choose from the imperfect options before you. No matter how you feel about the candidates, one of them will be the next president of the United States. So don’t just vent to family and friends—make your voice heard at the ballot box. Vote for representatives at every level who are most likely to speak for you. And when the election ends and governing resumes, keep speaking. Hold your elected representatives accountable for their actions and advocate for the change you want to see. Spend the next four years working to make our next options better. It’s the only sure way to improve our political landscape.