There are only two good flavors of Goldfish: Original and Flavor Blasted. Yet when I entered a gas station this summer in search of a nice, fish-shaped cheddar cracker, I found neither of the acceptable varieties of my favorite snack were available. Instead, the shelves were lined with flavors that, frankly, were disgusting. “Xplosive Pizza” and “Bursting BBQ Cheddar?” No, thank you.
Ideally, the tried and true options are available whenever you want them. But sadly, we do not live in an ideal world, and sometimes, you need to seek out a more palatable option than one that is an unnatural shade of orange and sounds vaguely threatening to your well-being.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are wholly unsuitable options for the presidency of the United States. Hillary is less so than Trump—at least she is experienced in government affairs and is not overtly racist—but she is still a terrible option for the presidency. Her track record of insincerity, dishonesty and overall air of corruption (not to mention poor policy choices) will make her the most unpopular president on Inauguration Day in American history. If you want to ignore these candidates’ traits and vote for either on November 8, you are more than welcome to do that.
But as a steadfast opponent of both major party candidates, I have been recited a laundry list of reasons why I, and others, should not or cannot vote for a third party candidate on Election Day. “A vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Killary.” “A vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Trump’s bigotry.” “He has no chance of winning.” Folks, if you aren’t supposed to vote for someone that has no chance of winning, why did anyone bother voting for Bernie?
None of these arguments against supporting a third party candidate hold any merit or even seem logical in the slightest. There are a slew of reasons, however, that elucidate the honorability that comes with voting for Gary Johnson, or even Jill Stein (though I have some major concerns with the qualifications of the latter and the legitimacy of the Green Party as a whole).
We should all be able to agree that American politics are broken, especially at the federal level. Congress had an approval rating of 11 percent in 2014 but a reelection rate of 96 percent (!). Both major party candidates have unfavorability ratings of approximately 60 percent. No matter which of them winds up in the Oval Office, they will be wildly unpopular—not necessarily a harbinger of a poor first term, but it will be difficult to galvanize the American public around their agenda.
Moreover, the two party system fails to encompass the spectrum of views that exist in the United States. I am a registered Republican, though I have major qualms about the platform of my party and the direction it’s headed. I am certain that this is the case for millions of Americans, yet they are left with no clear alternative to blind party loyalty.
Voting for a third party is unlikely to have any ramifications for this election cycle, especially with Gary Johnson a few points short of the 15 percent national polling threshold to make the debate stage with only a few weeks left. But the platform of the Libertarian Party gaining traction can inspire both the GOP and DNC to stay true to their supposedly defining characteristics of small, responsible government and social progressivism respectively. Down the line, however, there is certainly room for a third party to sprout up. 42 percent of Americans identify as independent. That group surely contains a great deal of fiscally conservative, socially liberal people who just don’t know what to call themselves.
The word they’re looking for is ‘Libertarians.’ The party is by no means perfect, but likely encompasses the general sentiments of a percentage of Americans that would rival the amount who identify as Republican (26 percent) or Democrat (29 percent). Democracy is not centered around the principle of voting for the lesser of two evils. Nor should it be based on telling people for whom to vote. Yet those who are opting for a third party on principle are constantly forced to defend the validity of their choice. The argument that “you’re wasting your vote” is a flimsy one, as if to say that voting for someone you dislike is the only way you’ll find fulfillment. The only wasted vote is for a candidate you do not believe in.
The concept of voting against someone is not conducive to creating honorable and insightful politicians. Simply making sure the worst one does not get elected is beneath America. It’s like walking into a final exam and considering any result above a zero an unmitigated success.
The problem is that the stringent two party alignment breeds these types of candidates. Why should either party seek out a more palatable option if who they have got is good enough to win? The only long-run progress will come from principled candidates who represent the best of America, not those who simply manage to be less bad. And that process starts with sending the message that the two major party candidates do not embody the values we want our society to reflect.
This means we must talk about policy, and reward the candidates who do. The two months that remain before the election should be filled with substantive debates on the myriad issues that are facing this country. By supporting ClinTrump, you send the message that the head of our government belongs to whomever can make the best disparaging meme of the other candidate. Even a reluctant vote for either Trump or Clinton ultimately makes you indistinguishable from their most ardent supporters. You know, the ones who think white genocide is real.
It makes sense for Donald Trump to have a campaign based on generalizations to mask the fact that he is altogether unprepared for the highest office in the land. But even Hillary is speaking in platitudes and can’t seem to make a case for her election strictly on her own merits. The whole dynamic between the two reads like a bad pros/cons list wherein the only ‘pro’ is that they’re not as bad as their opponent. (See Trump’s pitch to minorities: “What the hell do you have to lose?”)
I understand that Donald Trump’s potential to be a catastrophically bad candidate adds some urgency to this election—he is more unacceptable to left-leaning Americans than a typical Republican. It is clear to the #BernieOrBust crowd and moderate Republicans alike, though, that an entirely different set of concerns about Hillary are similarly valid.
The #NeverTrump movement started out as a fight for the face of the GOP, and now exists as if to say anyone would be a better representative of the United States than him. Sadly, Hillary does not make this an easy distinction. I want my president to be someone who makes me proud to be an American and treats the office with the dignity it deserves. While I may disagree with policy decisions, I can be proud of the values they display. Barack Obama accomplished this, despite my disapproval of the majority of his policies. I will not be able to say the same for Clinton or Trump.
The reformation of American politics will not happen overnight. But it is a process that is truly crucial to the welfare of the Republic. No successful society has ever been built around the lesser of two evils, but rather around the person who emerges as the best option from an already exemplary set of individuals. Going forward, Americans must vote for the candidates who they believe epitomize their own set of ideals. Often times, this will mean voting red or blue, and that’s completely fine. But this year, for a record number of Americans, that is not the case. No one should feel bound to historically awful candidates when other options exist. A genuine vote for a third party in 2016 is just as meaningful as any other vote, and must be respected as such.