By Kent R. Kroeger (May 26, 2020)
I stopped counting at 50 — the number essays that came up in Google when I searched on “Why I am not voting…”
And that was after filtering down to essays focused on not voting for president, as opposed to not voting for a particular candidate or party.
So when I decided to write this essay, I knew I wouldn’t say anything new or novel. And that is not my intent.
Rather, I believe the more people who extend their voice into the public arena about their disaffection with the American political system by posting on Medium.com, Facebook, Twitter, or their personal websites, the stronger our message to the two major parties and the news media will be that our political system doesn’t represent our interests or values well enough to inspire voting.
In writing this, I understand that the news media and the social media platforms consciously choose to exclude voices outside their definition of the mainstream. [To be fair, this has been the case since the invention of the movable metal type printing press. Gutenberg printed the Bible after all — what was more mainstream in 15th-century Europe than that?]
Facebook explicitly bans paid ads that suggest voting is useless or advise people not to vote, under the justification that they are fighting voter suppression and interference. More ominously, Facebook announced last year that their “systems are now more effective at proactively detecting and removing this harmful content. We use machine learning to help us quickly identify potentially incorrect voting information and remove it.”
[A Facebook public relations representative did not reply to my inquiries over whether Facebook’s machine learning algorithm censored posts promoting or describing personal reasons for not voting.]
However, Facebook, Google and Twitter’s track record suggests they feel legally and ethically justified in targeting and suppressing a broad range of political speech that deviates from a mainstream consensus. [Comedian Jimmy Dore’s magnificent, towering rant against Twitter over its censoring of tweets suggesting Democrat’s should not have voted in their primaries during the coronavirus pandemic is worth a look-see here.]
My reason for writing this essay focuses on my own sentiments and I am not suggesting people who feel represented under our current political system should stop voting just because I’m not inclined to do so. In fact, if such a person were to do so, it would dilute my message to the two political parties.
But I know there are people like me (if past non-voting behavior is an indication), and if they read this essay, perhaps they might realize they are far from alone.
There are three issues that I expect my preferred presidential candidate to address in a coherent, credible way. I don’t necessarily expect the candidate to know the specifics underlying these issues, but I need to trust their broad intentions. [The only candidate to make me feel that way since Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 has been Tulsi Gabbard.]
Here are my issues:
(1) Ending our nation’s forever wars,
(2) Reversing monetary and fiscal policies that have helped to increase income inequality over the past 30 years, and
(3) Moving this country significantly closer to a universal health care system.
I could have easily added education costs and climate change, but those issues wouldn’t change my decision not to vote for President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden. From my perspective, they are bad on all these issues, and its not even close. You are free to disagree.
Ending America’s Forever Wars
This is an easy one. The Obama-Biden administration continued George W. Bush’s occupation of two countries (Iraq, Afghanistan) and decided to bomb five more (Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan), eventually putting troops in Syria and leaving the country so destabilized that 400,000 Syrian civilians would lose their lives in a civil war which started in 2011.
Barack Obama was the biggest disappointment as president in my lifetime. I feared George W. Bush’s oil buddies would lead this country to a near apocalyptic disaster in the Middle East and they didn’t disappoint, but at least they kept their unwinnable wars down to two.
Biden has been a stronger defender of the Obama war record, even suggesting during a trip to Turkey in early 2016, as the U.S. turned its military focus off of arming anti-Assad jihadists and towards rolling back ISIS, that the U.S. should use its military to take out Assad. The Obama foreign policy team and U.S. military leaders quickly distanced themselves from Biden’s informal remarks, forcing his staff to promptly issue a clarification saying “there is no change in U.S. policy (in Syria).”
If you are tired of Trump’s “off-the-cuff” U.S. foreign policy changes, Biden may not be your relief.
As for Trump’s national security policy, it looks remarkably similar to Obama’s but with the palpable threat of a war with Iran to make my blood pressure even higher.
Trump has not ended any war during his first term and there is no reason to think he will in a second term.
Decreasing Income Inequality
Trump’s administration has spurred real income growth among working class and minority Americans. Whatever damage the coronavirus pandemic has done to the U.S. economy, up to that point, Trump had been successfully in lifting incomes across all income groups.
But in terms of economic inequality, the Trump administration has continued and amplified the same monetary and fiscal policies that have led to the secular increase in U.S. income inequality since the 1980s.
Figure 1: Share of Total Net Worth Held by the Top 1% in the U.S.
Trump didn’t cause income inequality, but the economic growth during his administration has not reduced it. In fact, in addressing the economic damage done by the coronavirus pandemic, Trump and congressional Democrats have mothered one of the most unbalanced economic rescue bills in U.S. history — the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which includes a tax provision that allows taxpayers to use some business losses to reduce taxes owed on non-business income, such as profits from investments.
Roughly 80 percent of the benefits of this CARES Act tax provision will go to roughly 43,000 taxpayers who earn more than $1 million a year, according to the analysis conducted by the U.S. Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.
Biden, like most congressional Democrats, has expressed support for the CARES Act and its tax provisions. And while Biden’s campaign has issued nebulous policy proposals that would extend direct financial support to some Americans affected by the coronavirus, Biden has offered no ideas on the scale of Change.org’s Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposal where monthly payments of $2,000 would go to everyone in the U.S. while the pandemic continues. [The CARES Act distributed $1,200 to some Americans based on income.]
But pandemic stimulus packages aside, the causes of income inequality are rooted much deeper within U.S. public policy. For example, following the worldwide financial crisis of 2007–08, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (QE) policy — where it buys long-term securities to push down long-term interest rates — resulted in the Fed accumulating $4.5 trillion worth of assets by late 2014. The QE-era Fed policies have been on “as expansive a setting as it ever has been — not only in this recovery, but arguably in the history of the nation,” according to the New York Times.
The Fed’s QE policies during the Obama administration helped grow the Top 1%’s share of total net worth by almost 25 percent (see Figure 1), and that is not just the opinion of people like U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Fed itself acknowledges the connection. In May 2013, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher acknowledged on CNBC that “cheap money has made rich people richer, but has not done quite as much for working Americans.”
More recently, former UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the same thing about similar monetary policies in her country: “”Monetary policy — in the form of super-low interest rates and quantitative easing — has helped those on the property ladder at the expense of those who can’t afford to own their own home.”
And where do Trump and Biden stand on these Fed policies — which are relevant again given the pandemic-caused economic slowdown? Not a word.
How about their policy proposals addressing other causes of inequality, such as CEO compensation or capital-friendly tax policies? Crickets.
Universal Health Care
On his campaign website, Biden posts his five-point plan to improve the U.S. health care system. Among his proposals are lowering Medicare eligibility to 60 years old and including a public option available to individuals not happy with the employer-based health plan.
I could forgive Biden for putting his health care ideas 24th on his list of priorities, if I thought he was willing and capable to push for his health care proposals once elected. But I don’t.
The Obama-Biden administration had two years where the Democrats controlled both congressional chambers and, while letting Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats craft what would become known as Obamacare, rolled over like a love sick puppy when a public option was taken out of the legislation.
“Ultimately, the public option failed as a result of many factors, including lack of support from moderate and conservative Democrats, opposition from Republicans and health care interest groups, and ultimately an absence of strong support from the White House,” according to Helen A. Halpin and Peter Harbage of HealthAffairs.org.
Will things be different if Joe Biden is elected? Not likely, according to Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive turned private healthcare whistleblower. “Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer know the health care special interests can plow millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates they favor or think they can influence. Because we have no real constraints on that spending, the special interests, as always, are contributing to candidates in both parties, and Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer and others who raise money for themselves and other Dems want to keep as much of it flowing to Dems as possible.”
Given that so many health care insurance, medical equipment, and pharmaceutical executives orbit around the Biden campaign, it is safe to assume they have his ear on health care policy and any real reform ideas, such as a public option, will not make their way into a Biden administration health care bill.
When judging candidates, more important to me than any single issue is whether I trust a candidate to do what they say. In the case of Biden on health care reform, he’s earned my lack of trust.
As for Trump on health care reform, he’s earned a D- up to now, and there is no reason to believe a second Trump term would be different.
It’s a two-party system, but is it my civic duty to pick sides?
Barely a week into my first political campaign job as a canvass coordinator for Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin’s 1984 Senate run, I was once told by my boss, longtime Democratic operative, Teresa Vilmain, “Don’t let people tell you they are not voting or are supporting a third party candidate. We are a two-party system. That’s the choice.”
Her logic was nonsense then and sounds worse today.
For one, we are not explicitly a two-party system. The Constitution doesn’t even mention political parties, and for good reason, according to historian Sarah Pruitt:
“This was no accident. The framers of the new Constitution desperately wanted to avoid the divisions that had ripped England apart in the bloody civil wars of the 17th century. Many of them saw parties — or “factions,” as they called them — as corrupt relics of the monarchical British system that they wanted to discard in favor of a truly democratic government.”
Secondly, non-voting is a legitimate voting choice that carries with it, in the aggregate, significant information that the two major parties can use to increase their chances of winning the next election.
I believe that strategic use of my vote choice in 2020 is more impactful than voting for a candidate that does not come close to representing my interests or values.
Not voting is not a wasted vote when done for this reason. If enough people who feel the same way consistently do not vote, at some point, one of the two parties — probably the one that loses consistently — is going to get their act together and start representing us disaffected non-voters.
I can dream.
I use this analogy when talking about my decision not to vote:
Imagine a country where there are only two movie studios and the people in this country have the habit of going to the movies one weekend every month, regardless of what movies are showing or their quality.
Imagine in this same country the two movies have found it easier to make bad movies, and since the people keep going to the movies regardless of quality, the two movies start making only bad movies.
The only way the two movie studios will start making good movies is if people stop going to see the bad movies.
A similar process has been at play with our two political parties. And, today, I see two presidential parties that make no effort to appeal to my interests and values and, instead, prefer the dark art of propaganda to make their candidates attractive to voters. The parties would rather put lipstick on pigs than modify their core ideas.
For my tastes, the two parties have been nominating gussied up pigs for decades and I’m tired of the farce— which today feels more like a straight up con job. Farces are at least entertaining.
So, President Trump and Mr. Biden, I’ve listened to your words and studied your policies, forgive me if I sit this one out.
Send comments to: email@example.com or tweet me at: @KRobertKroeger1