By JOE McMAHON
The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world. This “nation of immigrants” has people of all different religions, ethnicities, cultures and ideologies co-existing in the melting pot we call home. And yet, with all this variety, the United States is still one of the few developed countries in the world with only two major political parties to represent such a broad array of people.
With significantly more differing viewpoints and ideologies than there are parties, people have been told for decades not to pick the candidate who represents their views the best, but to vote against the candidate that represents their views the least. If you’re a far left liberal who only agrees with half the platform of the moderate Democrat who’s running for office, you’re told to suck it up and vote for him/her anyway because at least it’s not as bad as the Republican option. If you’re a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government but is appalled by socially conservative views of the religious right, it doesn’t matter. You have to vote for the Republican anyway because the Democrat is even worse. In a system where two parties have to try and represent vastly more ideological viewpoints, a large number of people are forced to compromise on their values to support the candidate they dislike least.
Never has this been more apparent than in this election cycle. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have two of the highest disapproval ratings for presidential nominees in American history and, because of this, they have spent more time arguing against their opponents than arguing for themselves. This is why the major theme of the Republican National Convention was not “Donald Trump will fix this country” although that message was half-heartedly touched on. The major themes were “Crooked Hillary” and “Lock her up.” The Trump campaign correctly realized that the best way to win the presidency was not to convince the American people that their candidate was the best man for the job but to convince them that Democratic nominee was even less fit to be president.
This strategy is a depressing reflection of how far our political system has fallen, but it’s also a strategy that has a good chance of working. All you need to do is read the comments section of any political story that mentions third party candidates and you’ll find a litany of comments arguing that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote and that the country needs to do whatever it can to keep Trump/Hillary out of office.
We can’t have a political system where people are discouraged from voting their conscious out of fear. We can’t have a democracy where we tell large groups of people to suck it up and vote for a candidate that they don’t believe in because the single alternative offered is terrifying. We need to have a system where there is a large enough number of viable candidates that Americans can go to the polls and cast their vote for a candidate they believe in. And the options are out there. For those far left progressives who feel that Hillary is too moderate of a candidate, Jill Stein’s Green Party is a competent alternative. And for fiscal conservatives who are more socially progressive than mainstream Republicans, look no further than Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party for a candidate who more closely represents your views.
Whatever you, as an individual, happen to believe in, the goal of a democracy should be to make sure that you have representation in government. And to do that, there needs to be an adequate number of parties to represent the vast number of ideologies and beliefs that the people of this country have. No more can we endure what we’ve seen over and over again in this election, where members of the two political parties try to scare people who don’t believe in their platforms into supporting them by demonizing their opponents. We can’t call this a strong, representative democracy if large numbers of voters are going to their polls with the mindset that they need to vote against a certain candidate rather than for one. We need to change the mindset in this country that settling and compromising on our values out of fear is acceptable. We need to stop trying to convince the far left that they are betraying Democratic principles by refusing to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton. We need to tell Republican voters that it’s okay to be appalled by the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and want to look for another option. First and foremost, we need to make sure that every American can go to the polls in November and vote their conscience; that they can vote for a person who they think represents them. We need to make sure that no one is bringing fear to the ballot box.
Because if we, as a nation, send the statement that it doesn’t matter who the major parties pick as their standard bearer, then it’ll just get worse. If we tell the Democrats and Republicans that all they have to do is terrify us and we’ll vote for whomever they want us to, the American people lose their power to ensure that competent candidates lead their parties into November. 2016 brings us a unique opportunity to show the two major parties that our loyalty is dependent on nominees that reflect the values of the parties they’re supposed to represent. If we don’t now, when will we?
For all those undecided voters trying to figure out for whom to cast your ballot this fall, don’t let anyone tell you that a vote for a fringe candidate is a wasted vote. To summarize Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, the only wasted vote is a vote for a candidate you don’t believe in. Vote your conscience this November; vote for the candidate you think will be the best for America and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe one of the fringe candidates will be competitive. Maybe they won’t. But at the very least, the major parties will know that our support has to be earned. And that’s a victory in and of itself.