I read a Facebook post of a friend and I was deeply moved. In that post, she said that if elections were held today, she would vote for a particular presidential candidate. She knew that naming the person she was most likely to vote for (she did say her decision was not final) would create a controversy even among her own friends and network of social media allies. She was not wrong, of course.
She said she agonized over her choice, and concluded that many others agonized over their choices, too. And she then challenged others to disparage her choice if they were willing for their choices to be disparaged as well. It seems to me that no choice can escape being disparaged. Too bad.
This is a natural consequence of not being able to go beyond personalities to concepts and platforms. We devolve to choosing from character preferences instead of higher visions—because there is a lack of solid virtues and an absence of visions to compare. How sad.
What is worse and sadder, though, is the blatant hypocrisy of the noisiest among partisans. In that dimension of partisan politics, I think it has become the norm to simply shoot one’s mouth off in defense of his or her choice as though the words that come out are intelligent or objective. Noisy partisans would become the laughing stock of an audience that is truly intelligent and objective.
We are having elections and the attendant campaign period before Election Day. It is about partisanship, but many among us are ashamed of being partisan. We then try to justify our preferences with all sorts of reasons, usually the good traits or deeds of our choices, which is what it should be, but we cannot help but put down the other candidates. As though our preferences have done no wrong, have said nothing wrong. The debate then moves to what is the graver sin, killing or stealing, lying or adultery, stupidity or not caring enough. Wow.
What have we done to ourselves? We are not elevating the good and noble to dominate our value system, to be the primary guides for decision-making. Pitifully, we choose on the basis of the lesser evil.
There is no lesser evil, no mortal or venial sin. A little wrong is the beginning of a bigger wrong, the angry thought the beginning of a violent act, the insult a preface for a slap. Even if the candidates who present themselves to us all have their dark secrets, so have we. And what is more important is the good they have and the good they can do, from their past performance as proof of what they are most predisposed to do. Because the good they are and the good they can do must be the basis of our choice—the good and not the nonexistent lesser evil.
We are in a democracy. That same democracy has incorporated a system of systemic change through elections, and elections via popular choice. It is, for all intents and purposes, a popularity contest. It is a popularity contest by intent, by design, and by law. The challenge is how to make what is wise to be popular, too. And if we as a people cannot go nearer towards this, then our popular choices will bring us regret after regret.
I had written in a previous article that decisions of people are dictated by the number and intensity of their fears, their basic needs and their deepest aspirations. There is nothing that changes this principle substantially except substantial changes in fear, need and aspiration levels. Everyone enters into a coping mechanism depending on what threatens or attracts. And our preferences for particular candidates are grounded on this fundamental behavioral platform.
Our partisanship, therefore, is rooted on the dynamics of our fears, our needs and our dreams or aspirations. It is logical but logical only in the context of what threatens or attracts us. If we explain why we prefer someone to another person who prefers another, our explanation will not be understood, or respected—just as theirs will not be to us either. It is simply because the context of our choices are intimately and directly related to an inner context of fears, needs and wishes.
I do not understand why we seem forced to intellectualize our reasons for our preferences to others. It is our right to make personal choices; in fact, it is mandated that we do. Unusual choices, the kind that surprises others, are built on unusual emotional and material conditions. In an election, there is no demand that we understand in the same way, feel in the same way, and vote for the same candidates. Whatever our choices, we can justify it to ourselves. What may be difficult is to justify it to others who understand and feel differently. So why even try to justify what you have a right to do in the first place.
What is extremely difficult for many is to respect the right of others to choose whoever they please. It is a simple word, a simple virtue—respect. In the heat of partisanship, however, respect is next to impossible. It is so much easier to resent and insult others who do not agree with us, so much easier to condemn the weaknesses of candidates we do not prefer, and so hard to simply respect our differences.
When we hide our inability to extend respect to those we differ with, we naturally point to the weakness of their choice, either the character or the record of their preferred candidates, or question the very intelligence or integrity of their fellow voter. Yes, there can be unbridled hypocrisy in the midst of partisanship. And the hypocrites are the last ones to recognize their hypocrisy as they are too busy pointing to the wrongs of weaknesses of others.
The end result is a divided nation, weakened by its own internal bickering. Yet, we seem to want more.