On Politics

Sorting Out Moral Righteousness At The Ballot Box

Kamala Harris

Let’s talk about politics for a second (well, I say a second). Sorting out one’s political beliefs isn’t always easy, but I’ve been intrigued for a while by the idea of putting my beliefs into words. This is partially for my own nerdy benefit, but partially because I’m intrigued by what I see on Twitter from other regions of the country and other people. I feel like some of the ways I approach politics are so deeply misunderstood. So many are filled with their own righteousness, but how does one determine righteousness? Twitter is, alas, a wretched place, so this is mostly for my benefit. It is not exhaustive, but hopefully you at least find it thought provoking. If not? Well, who am I to judge?

Sidebar: the politicians included are simply some of those I look up to and try to emulate, not all.

Politics is inescapable; it is inevitable. It is intertwined into decisions we make every day, even benign ones. Whether we like it or not, politics is part of the social fabric of our lives. It is necessary and important which is why it confuses me so many do not pay attention to it. Perhaps it is precisely because it’s so demanding of attention that so many choose not to engage.

Politics is not an easy thing. Many issues demand knowledge of complex problems and premises (some rather esoteric), nuance, empathy, compassion, time, engagement, the ability to listen and hold one’s tongue if necessary. One has to be aware of history and what and who came before. Compromise, while not always necessary for the betterment of platforms and policy, is inevitable. Politics is full of frustrations, bad actors, and unfulfilled agendas. It requires investment of all kinds, to believe in a cause or a campaign, and to accept loss. It is paradoxically unifying and divisive. When put like that, it sounds like a daunting endeavor. It is no wonder so many choose to not engage or do so only marginally. To remain ignorant, the saying goes, is bliss. The thing is, though, that’s only part of the story.

Politics is how we better our society. Politics is how we can improve people’s lives. Sometimes politics is simply people living their lives or merely existing. The ability to ignore what’s happening in the political realm and still be perfectly alright is a privilege too many Americans don’t have. Without politics, too many things we take for granted today wouldn’t exist. Even basic things like food safety standards would not be around without political action.

Cory Booker

It is too simple of an answer to say all politicians or people who seek political action are bad. Politics is not simple because politics is often a proxy for morality in regards to social issues and morality is not a simple thing. To presume absolute correctness in terms of morality is to be naive and, I think, perhaps one of the only ways to be wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s perfectly ok to have a guiding moral compass that includes definitions of right and wrong; I just think it’s unwise to never not leave room to be wrong. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have all the correct answers. I’m skeptical of anyone who always finds what is, in their view, the right answer to a problem without deliberating, without second thought, without the worry that maybe they could’ve done better. After all, if you’re a public official, your job is to make decisions that greatly affect the lives of others, often people who might have competing needs. When people’s lives are at stake, it is your responsibility to consider all possibilities until you have found the one that does the most good. That takes time. That takes effort. And it takes a leap of faith, faith that the decision you’ve arrived at is the right one. It’s not always easy and shouldn’t always be easy. It is one of the greatest challenges, one of the greatest hills to climb, yet can reap the greatest rewards.

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

Pete Buttgieg

To decry all politicians as crooks is a self-defeating prophecy. It is a way to disengage without even trying to be involved. After all, if they’re all bad, why even bother? This notion discounts however, that just about anybody could run for office and surely if you ran for office, you wouldn’t be a crook, right? It may be true that the politicians you know may all be crooks, but as Amanda Gorman said, “there is always light if we’re brave enough to see it. If we’re brave enough to be it.”

It’s the simple, sometimes thoughtless statements and attitudes such as “all politicians are crooks” or the so called “purity tests” politicians like to issue that ignore a hard truth: a person’s vote doesn’t make them good or bad. One policy position is not enough to judge the character of a person. Look at it this way: you believe your positions are right. You have labored over ensuring the morality of your stance for years, and finally settled. You’ve done the best you can and now firmly believe in the moral righteousness of your stance. You believe opposition to your stance is therefore morally wrong. You go to the voting booth and cast your vote based on your views.

The trouble is, there is somebody else who has gone through the exact same process as you and come to the opposite conclusion. They labored and prayed and sought guidance all the same as you. You have the same God, the same belief system, and they reached the opposite conclusion and they cast their vote in opposition.

Who’s right?

Such is the quandary that faces us. For me, the answer is “who am I to decide?”

I don’t think it’s my place to discount other’s guiding principles (or in this case with two people of the same principles, my own) nor would I say it’s others’ place to discount my own. I think the answer is ultimately to accept others have different beliefs, different outcomes to their moral deliberations. I can firmly believe that I’m right- I am not advocating for abdication of personal morality- I just don’t know I’m the one who should be deciding whose values are correct, if such a thing as a “correct” value exists. For every judgement I make of others, someone could easily do the same to me and we’re left at an eternal standoff. Personally, I have better things to do than be the moral police. I have better issues to solve. I can and will try to convince others of my position. I can and will firmly believe in my positions. I might choose not to associate with certain people because of their stances. But ultimately, arguing about one person’s morality versus another and seeking to find a clear answer is a pointless and often painful exercise. (Note: this practice of mine does have its exceptions. For example, I will not tolerate someone debating the morality of genocide, murder for the sake of murder, racism, homophobia, sexism, etc.)

It’s through this view that it’s possible for people of opposing political parties to be friends. It’s how someone who voted for Pete Buttigieg might respect someone like Mitt Romney. Respect for someone else’s position doesn’t necessarily diminish your own. If it does, perhaps your position isn’t as firm as you’d like to believe or a re-evaluation could be useful.

Barack Obama

When you live amongst, and socialize often with people who have opposing or differing views, it gets harder to see them as evil or simply bad people. There is…more to a person than what they think about politics, no matter how important politics is (never mind the fact that had a person been educated more or differently, they might have reached a different conclusion. Most voters are woefully uneducated about policy specifics). After all, I doubt many people would want to be judged on their politics alone. So why do we do it to others? It often confounds and frustrates me when I see such judgements rendered. In general, I choose to operate in good faith and try to avoid making those judgements, especially on people I know personally. After all, I’d like to think that my love for someone or our bond is strong enough to survive debates over something like tax policy. While love has limits, I’d like to think I could always at least try to see beyond something a person says and does. Empathy and forgiveness are a big component. Sometimes, however, despite my wishes, those run out and the differences are too great.

“Judge not that ye may be judged.”

Hillary Clinton

Politics, at the end of the day, is difficult and gritty. Despite what demagogues and others may say, there are no magic wands. Even achieving basic things often takes a long and grueling process. It shouldn’t always, but that’s a reality. That’s why some progress is often better than none. Letting perfection kill what is good is a mistake most of the time.

Some I’m sure will read this and think I’m insane or deluded. Some will vehemently disagree. Some might even agree! All of which is perfectly well. At the end of the day, I’m just like you: trying to make the best decisions and do all the good I can. My views may change and that’s ok. I’ll just still keep trying to do all I can, all the good I can and from there the only thing to do is see what happens.

Take care.

Follow me on Twitter @GenZUniteNation. Or @Jakob_TheGayOne.