I generally think it’s good practice for journalists to be maximally transparent about their voting behavior. Or at least, I don’t think arguments that journalists should conceal their voting behavior from readers, viewers, and listeners are particularly defensible. The general need for transparency extends beyond mere voting to other domains of political belief, although I do have to say that my views about the desirability of journo-transparency have been challenged by the past four years. Journalists and everybody else who today operates under the putative banner of “media” generally have no compunction whatsoever about being 100% transparent regarding their burning hatred for Donald J. Trump — which often gets expressed through self-involved, self-pitying narratives about their supposed “lived experience.” Like going through the Trump era as well-compensated, socially and culturally cloistered employees of major media institutions was so deeply traumatic and personally endangering. I almost don’t need to know anything more about the interior lives and political beliefs of journalists; we’ve been overloaded with them. Sometimes I wish they’d just shut up.
Still, that doesn’t negate what I at least view for myself as something of an obligation to be transparent. In 2016, I wrote here on the ol’ Medium page that I would not be voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I didn’t vote at all, in fact, out of what I called “conscious abstention.” Because declining to vote need not be the product of apathy. Anyone who tells you that making an informed decision to not exercise the franchise automatically constitutes an abhorrent abdication of your citizenship duties is very morally confused. There’s nothing inherently virtuous about the act of voting — voting is a mere instrument to achieve certain ends. Unless you’re of the view that voting for a “Literal Nazi” would be a laudable act of civic engagement, just because it involved taking the act of voting.
I’ll also note that as someone with a semi-prominent public platform, I’m constantly ascribed by detractors with views I do not hold, and alleged to be taking actions that I will not take. Most of the time I’m accused of being a secret Trump voter because of my tendency these past four years to focus on the stupidity, mania, conspiracy-obsession, and general psychological derangement of Trump’s opposition. (Although to say that I’ve never written or spoken critically about Trump is a total lie.) There was also an amusing interlude earlier this year when I was briefly accused of being a shill for Joe Biden because I correctly helped dispel an obviously fake rape accusation leveled against him, but most of the time my secret motives are declared to be pro-Trump. Ultimately you can never please everyone, and the only real remedy by my lights is to at least be as transparent as possible.
So with that in mind, allow me to inform you that this year I didn’t vote for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. I left the presidential field on the mail-in ballot blank. I did vote, but for local matters in New Jersey such as a provision on marijuana legalization (voted YES of course). My thinking is that if I cannot make a specifically affirmative case for why voting for a given candidate is desirable, I’m not going to vote for that candidate. I understand that others have other rationales like “harm reduction” or whatever, but that’s my rationale.
Let me also add that I don’t think anyone should particularly care about my voting preference. The melodramatic announcements of “endorsements” by various online media personalities is something I find extremely grating for how self-absorbed and self-satisfied it is. I’m writing this for the purpose of transparency-maximization, not because I think my voting decisions are of some profound national significance. An additional benefit is that the explanation I lay out here may help clarify the thinking of others potentially in a similar position.
Since I was first eligible to vote in 2008, I’ve considered myself a Foreign Policy First voter, because there are so vanishingly few such voters in the United States, and last I checked the United States has the most powerful military in world history — which it freely deploys across almost every continent (would need to check on Antartica) in its nonstop projections of insuperable hegemonic power. The widespread lack of awareness of this fact, and the meager role foreign policy generally plays in presidential elections (including this one) is a huge indictment of US political and media culture.
Before you say I should’ve voted for Trump due to my prioritization of foreign policy, “He hasn’t started a new ground war” is an extremely low bar, and in my view doesn’t justify offering an affirmative vote of support. Besides, Trump has been proclaiming for years now how sincerely he supposedly wants to “End Endless Wars” and it hasn’t happened. Instead, he filled his administration with unreconstructed neocons and virulent hawks like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. Meanwhile the Afghanistan War isn’t over yet (in fact, Trump escalated the war in 2017 on conspicuously similar grounds that Obama escalated it in 2009) and he supposedly ordered a withdrawal of US troops from Syria on several occasions, but this too never happened. He launched a failed coup attempt in Venezuela at the behest of people like Marco Rubio and Elliott Abrams. He’s engaged in total, across-the-board fealty to Benjamin Netanyahu. How much more can you immiserate Iran at this point? I could go on.
Trump’s also basically become a hardened New Cold Warrior despite his regular assurances that he’d like so very much to “get along” with Russia. Yes, I do in part blame the demented US political climate engendered by his opposition for creating such a perverse set of incentives in which he was forced to operate. “Russiagate” and its attendant hysterias poisoned the well for much of anything productive that could’ve come out of a Trump term. And no, I don’t consider some corporate tax cuts and regulation overhauls — stuff any GOP president would’ve done — to have made good on the heterodox pledges Trump made during his 2016 campaign. Trump’s communications style over the course of this presidency have been remarkably unorthodox, that’s for sure. But the policies haven’t been.
My political consciousness first really came to being during the Iraq War. Maybe that’s become a quaint, obsolete subject, but it really does say so much about the US culture of elite non-accountability that of all the millions of people in this country, the Democratic Party chose to nominate candidates in 2016 and 2020 who voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Some things ought not to be forgivable with the passage of time. While I don’t think Biden is necessarily quite as stubbornly interventionist as Hillary Clinton, I also don’t have much confidence in his decision-making abilities — I don’t have much confidence in his cognitive abilities, period. And I have no confidence at all in the staff he’d be surrounded with. Either way I’m not going to be browbeaten into voting for a onetime Iraq War supporter; it would almost be a betrayal of my younger self. I was able to raise the subject myself with Biden earlier in this campaign, and he invented a brand new phony explanation for his conduct in 2002–2003. So no, penitence has not been adequately made.
It gets worse from my perspective. Just this past weekend, Biden declared his intention to “pressure, isolate, and punish” China, and I have little reason to doubt his sincerity on that, given the nature of the Democratic Party “natsec” officials who are sure to flood his administration and be given an open portfolio to do as they please. I know it’s considered very “populist” nowadays to root for an interminable decades-long Cold War-style confrontation with China, but that sounds pretty disastrous to me. (My attitude toward Russia is the same.) However, I’m sure the military-industrial complex will have a field day with such a confrontation. The good news is they’re likely to get it in one form or another regardless of who wins the election.
More broadly, I think the comically overheated emotional appeals about the supposedly apocalyptic outcomes that will befall the nation should either Trump or Biden win the election are just that — pure emotional manipulation and propaganda. While the US is certainly on a downward slope of terminal decline, the idea that Donald Trump represents the last guardrail against the collapse of Western Civilization is a hilarious joke. So is the idea that Democracy Will Be Destroyed if he wins again. The fact that we’re flooded with such overwrought stupidity 24/7 is almost enough reason unto itself to simply abstain from the ridiculous process.
Trump’s first term has not been the cataclysmic world-destroying nightmare that was forecast in 2016, and his second term probably wouldn’t be either. The peddlers of that nonsense have a lot to answer for in terms of the psychological turmoil they’ve inflicted on the country. The tactics they’ve used — from Russiagate, to impeachment, to the unending waves of artificially-generated moral panic — have done damage to the polity that seem likely irreversible. However, if you’re asking whether disgust with those tactics should in turn justify a vote for Trump, my answer is no.
I’ll also say that voting for Trump on the ground that you want to punish liberals and leftists for their “woke” excesses is a take I find incredibly stupid. First off, you have no reason to believe that these “woke” excesses will meaningfully abate with a Trump victory — they could easily intensify. And either way I find it a stupid thing to prioritize, even if it’s true that the “woke” excesses of the past several months have been especially crazy. You don’t have to tell me how nuts people of this mindset can be. But the terrain on which to litigate that issue is not through a YES or NO vote for Trump. I tend to think people voting for Trump on these supposed grounds almost certainly would have done so anyway.
I further think it’s ridiculous to suggest that the federal government’s response to COVID has been effective as it might have been. And although gripes about Trump’s personal style and mannerisms are so wildly tedious at this point, it’s true that his personal communications about the virus in the early phase of the pandemic were extremely bad and discrediting. If this is really the best the federal government could have done to mitigate a pandemic, then the inevitable US hegemonic decline is happening at a much faster pace than I would have previously thought.
In short, there are rational reasons not to vote for either candidate — but rationality is not what you’re going to be bombarded with in the remaining days of the campaign. Instead you’ll be bombarded with shrieking emotional appeals that are completely divorced from reality. To that I say: no thanks.
Note from MT: Did you enjoy this post? If yes, please consider a contribution. If no, I apologize profusely.