Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Ethics of an Election

Here are my thoughts this election.  Not to convince or smear, but to clarify...

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Bias and Division

Firstly, a self examination of three questions:
  1. Do you find it easy to believe the bad things about the candidates you oppose, and hard to believe the bad in the one you're currently supporting?  If so, perhaps you're not as unbiased as you think.
  2. Can you articulate your position on the majority of the key issues of the day?  And if so, can you express why, that is to say: can you identify the principles? 
  3. Is your motive in arguing someone with the opposite view based on your desire to compare ideas, or to prove the other person wrong? If it's the latter, perhaps you're promoting division more than understanding.
Whew!  Now that the quiz is over, let's consider a few trends this election season:

Ad Hominem

This little bit of Latin is key to a lot of my frustration with politics.  "Ad Hominem" according to Oxford: 
(of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.
Essentially, we've lost respect in our political conversations.  Debates used to be comprised of formal expressions of an idea, along with defenses of it by relating historical observations and/or inferring meaning.  Now they've been reduced to name-calling, truth-policing, and calculated attempts to get "zingers" in akin to the "yo mama" battles of the 90's. 

Why can't we express an idea, stand it up on its own merit, and then proceed to debate its value using reason and feeling without it turning into some type of personal attack?  Facebook, Twitter, etc. are filled with ad hominem.  We echo the style of the debates - or more precisely, they echo us.  They put forward what they think the American people want.  And apparently, all we care about these days is who can get in the best zingers, and get the biggest laughs.  At this rate, we'll trade the town hall format for a series of meme posters by 2020...

One of the best methods I've found to consider my position on policy is to take the topic that should be properly debated, and go find a debate from 50 years ago on the matter.  Most of the debating back then was more respectful.  It was proper debating.  And it has caused me to see the ad hominem culture of today all the more prominently.

Reflect back on those three questions above - does ad hominem play into your introspection at all?  Check yourself.  Do a bit of a journey up the old affirmative domain.

The Media's Lost Role: Investigative Journalism

The press is the only industry identified in the constitution that has particular freedoms afforded it.  Think about that for a minute - they didn't mention the horse & buggy (our automotive) industry.  They didn't mention the lumberjack or the coal-worker.  No special freedoms for those guys... just for the press.  Now why would that be so important?

I had a friend who grew up in mainland China.  He told me that the news is different here.  He said in China, the news always showed three things: 1) the greatness of China, 2) other nations looking destitute, and 3) China's benevolence in helping those destitute nations. 

In John Mayer's words:
And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want
The press were afforded freedoms to keep a check on those who represent and serve the people.  Theirs was the privilege of Sherlock Holmes-ing out the scandals, and holding the elected officials' feet to the fire.

But times change.  Gone are the days when a story broke at the rate of a week... we live in the information era - if you're not the first to type it up that hour, you may as well not type it at all.  In the breakneck speed of the internet, which media outlet can afford to properly investigate the rumors and be a week late to publish?  The more I read, the more I tend to think WSJ is the closest to maintaining some form of "investigative journalism".  Most outlets have been reduced to echo-chambers, with their services to the American people being squandered in favor of the funds of the highest bidder. 

So today, the burden of investigation lay on the consumer of the information, not the presenter.  Laziness then becomes our mantra.  To consume, and then immediately regurgitate the information on Facebook, shows no value of filtering or deducing meaning.  No reasoning is conveyed - just a propagation of the nonsense by the mainstream media.  We've all been guilty of this, of poor actions based on the first question above, where we spewed out a news brief that supports our bias with that "aha!  I knew it!  Told you so!" kind of attitude. 

Perhaps our laziness coupled with the media failing their role as investigative journalists is a perfect recipe for ad hominem and division. 

Voting 3rd Party in a FPtP

Speaking of Facebook posts, there tends to be a bigger push than normal this round for us to "finally vote in a 3rd party".  Here are some things to consider:

We follow what is referred to as a "First Past the Post" (FPtP) voting system.  That means we pick one.  Or for local elections that have a certain number of seats, we might pick three of seven possibilities.  But each pick is weighted the same.  In other words, they're all our "first pick".  And as soon as the candidate with the most first picks clears a threshold (aka "the post"), they win.  Meanwhile, all other preferences recorded in the voting system are discarded because their candidate didn't come in first.

I won't get into the details of FPtP's weaknesses here, as there is a great little video that conveys it better than I can, but let me summarize it this way: First Past the Post will always, ALWAYS, converge to a two-party system.  The nature of the voting system causes people to anticipate how others will vote, and strategize their vote against it.  A 3rd party will never be successful until we break out of the FPtP system.  I'm still learning about alternatives, but currently, I'm a big fan of Single Transferrable Vote (STV).

The RP's (Ross Perot, Ron Paul) may have been the most successful 3rd party candidates in recent history.  And I see their candidacies as more than fruitless attempts (frankly, I think some use the race as a chance to promote their values - and I consider that to be as fair as any motive).  However, if jaded Perot or Paul fans really want to give 3rd parties a chance, they should start by campaigning to change the voting system from FPtP to something that gives their voice proper representation. 

Voting with our Hearts vs our Minds

I hear a lot of people who believe in a candidate based on how they feel about the person.  They may know nothing of the platform, but can simply say: "he/she just seems sincere.  I like that, so that's who I'm voting for."  Or they may resonate with a phrase or given solution, without reasoning whether that solution is feasible. 

Heart Voters

I consider these people referred to above to be voting with their hearts - that is, based on feelings more than reason.  I don't believe it's a bad thing to be led by your heart, generally, but I do believe these voters are more easily led.  Conviction and sincerity can be dangerous reasons to follow someone if they're not accompanied by questions such as: "this FEELS good - but will it DO good?  What ill be the effect?"

Let me give an example to substantiate that last line:  say a politician wants the votes of the poor.  He or she is likely going to echo their emotional sentiments: "life isn't fair", "you don't have the same opportunities or privileges", "there's no ladder to climb"... sound familiar?  It should.  While those phrases get the crowd nodding their heads in agreement, each phrase falls into this one category: "victims of circumstance".  What is the effect of telling someone they're a victim, or that they're powerless?  How does that jive with the "all men are created equal" line? 

In the example, if another politician came by and said, "yes - your lives are miserable.  But they can get better.  Educate yourselves.  We're going to invest in the steps to get out of poverty - the steps to get out of the dangers of the inner cities, but you have to be the one to walk up them..."  That phrase may seem mean.  Tough love doesn't always go over well, but think about which politician is truly trying to help?  Which path - the "give a man a fish" or the "teach a man to fish" is empowering them to pursue the American Dream?

Laziness once again plays into the voting calculation...  If the poor are led by how they feel about the message, and not how it thinks through, they'll likely be promised the world (however infeasible), and election after election, they'll be farmed for emotional votes while they remain in poverty. 

Mind Voters

That's not to say that we can all reason our way into good policy.  The issues today are extremely complex.  Remember those commercials from Franklin Templeton investments?  They're always claiming to know the financial impact of some random links like the relationship between Indonesian cheese and the fracking industry.  Those who try to remove all emotion from policy, and only act on their own thinking are what I'd call "mind voters". 

Mind voters tend to fall into different types of traps.  There's a trend called "astroturfing", or the creation of a fake grassroots movement.  While they rely largely on Saul Alinsky tactics to mobilize based on emotion, astroturfing is particularly fueled by the mentally haughty.  Snopes is a great example of this... how many times do you see someone cyber-slap another person across the face with a Snopes article?  (e.g. "Check your sources!  Here's a Snopes that proves you're wrong, and what you quoted is all lies!!!  May you die a thousand deaths!!!").  Turns out Snopes is about as far from "investigative" as any random googler.  But yet, the intellectual mind voters feel that they have the high ground because they unraveled the mystery - all along, they've been played by astroturfing. 

Here's my position regarding voting with your mind or your heart: do both.  Vote for policies that make you feel good AFTER you've searched out the "how could this really work?" and "what else would be affected" type of questions.  For example, consider this: maybe you're for a big military - the old "talk softly, but carry a big stick" position resonates with you.  But you're also big on education.  Here's the kicker - both defense and education have to be paid from somewhere... so you can't max out both.  You have to have trades.  Which brings us to the question of what is most ethical?  Should the US be the powerhouse of the world?  What if that costs us a few generations of illiteracy?  Where would you draw the line?  Wherever it is, I'd hope it's a place that feels good as well as reasons out.

The Players this Time Around

I'm no political expert.  And frankly, I wouldn't be doing anyone much good telling them how to vote if I was.  But here's what I've felt and thought about the candidates this go around...

Evan McMullin

I know a lot of LDS people in Utah have a craze for him right now.  And they see a narrow shot for him to win if neither of the two-party candidates reach 270.  It's admittedly a long shot.  His polices are good, and he emphasizes the constitution as well as principled leadership.  My biggest beef with him is that he's single.  It seems petty, sure - but having just made the transition from bachelor to husband and father of two - there's a distinct difference in who I don't care to impress.  And consider this: the most powerful man in the world as an eligible bachelor.  He'd get an awful lot of tinder swipes in his favor.  That has to affect him in some degree. 

That being said, we've survived several Commanders in Chief who used the office to womanize (dating back well before Bill).  So the concern of Evan being single needs to be put in perspective. 

I've heard friends from both sides of the political spectrum try to warn their Evan supporting comrades (especially those in Utah) that a vote for Evan is a vote for Trump/Clinton.  I've heard Evan's response to this several times, such as: "I'm giving the people an ethical choice.",   "Something they can feel good about.", "Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil.".  And I'd agree with him more if we had a STV system.  But with our current FPtP - you can't decouple the strategy of voting from the desired vote. 

Gary Johnson

I'll write the least of any candidate here.  I think Gary is a fish out of water.  His lack of international affairs is disturbing.  I struggle to find why he's running - with the exception of it being a stunt.  I was much more impressed with Austin Petersen (Libertarian Primary) than I was Gary - simply because Austin seemed to be driven by constitutional principles, and had a genuine interested in the office.  I can't help but to think that Gary would be lost his first day, and probably his first year. 

Gary also falls into the same 3rd party with FPtP issue that Evan has. 

Donald Trump

Trump is crazy - and has said and done some bizarre stuff.  However, I find that most people who have a distaste for him wouldn't be able to answer the questions at the top of this post admirably.  So take his behavior with a grain of salt.  Again - investigative journalism, not ad hominem. 

Beyond his celebrity status - I believe one of the reasons why he draws such large crowds is due to his message resonating with the American people.  He represents a certain transparency that they've longed for (and I know most Hillary supporters here would be thinking about his tax returns).  The less we have checks and balances, the more the American people feel like their elected officials don't represent them.  They feel the disparity, and Trump feels like one of them - not one of the politicians they're tired of. 

One big concern I've had with Trump is his thin-skinned history.  He tends to take offense more so than other practiced politicians.  His interest in rewriting the libel laws is disconcerting - those laws are intended for the press to be able to perform their proper investigative journalism.  Nobody should be exempt from scrutiny from the press and accountability to the people. 

I also worry that Trump will lean a little too far to protectionism regarding international trade.  However, I'd consider that less of a problem than the continued gutting of American labor for cheap foreign labor. 

I believe Trump genuinely cares about America, no matter where that value was first founded.  I feel like he was initially running mostly to improve his brand, but that as his chances have improved, he's finding other - more noble - reasons to want the office.  I also consider his vice presidential pick to be a solid man.

Hillary Clinton

She's been in the game for so long, there's a lot written about her.  I consider the "it will be Obama's 3rd term" concern to have some merit.  Her policies have echoed his, with some being even farther left.  I think she'd double down on ObamaCare - which is horrendous.  As a rule, the more that government gets involved in private industry, the less effective it becomes.  Premiums are already skyrocketing - and Hillary is stuck with pretending it was a good idea, or offending her base. 

Ethically, I think Hillary is motivated differently than Obama.  Dinesh D'Sousa stated on the radio the other day that while Obama is interesting given his conviction to progressivism, Hillary has no such conviction - Dinesh put is this way, "anyone in the world can have an audience with Hillary, given they come with a suitcase full of cash".  Obviously Dinesh has a long history with Obama and Hillary - but I think he makes a good point.  If you do "follow the money" to understanding Hillary, she makes it pretty simple: she's wherever the money is.  Be it geographical, political, or ethical movements, she goes for the cash. 

This leads me into my biggest concern with Hillary - there's no accountability, and especially no interest in a balance of power.  She fosters this attitude that she's above the law.  Her pay-to-play history show that she's willing to trade policy for favors, essentially aligning the money and will of Wall Street with the government.  You consider that the marriage of money and politics is all secured by an obedient, manipulated media, and there's a real recipe for disaster.

These concerns might seem outlandish - but they're more than merely possible.  Nixon's Watergate was based on an abuse of the FBI, CIA and IRS - he was using them to punish his enemies.  Obama has been accused of using IRS audits to target liberty groups that oppose his stretching of executive power. 

Bill and Hillary have amassed some hundreds of millions of dollars since Bill left office.  It's interesting to note that Bill's speaking fee quadrupled from $150k a pop to $600k once Hillary became Secretary of State.  Was his speaking ability suddenly magical?  Or is it more likely that he was offering policy - and with his wife as the Secretary of State, bidders knew they had more access than before?  Is it ethical to put someone into the high position of the executive branch when they have a history of selling influence and abusing their power?  Consider that Hillary sees her worth proportional to her ability to sell influence, not proportional to the principles she cultivates.


In short - I see third party candidates as not feasible due to our current voting system.  I see Donald Trump as a definite risk, with some traits that align him to be a dictator-in-training.  However, I see Hillary Clinton as a larger risk - her candidacy constitutes a known pattern of abuse of power, motivated by increasing her personal power and wealth. 

Reflect on those first three questions, and go make your vote count.  Remember that voting is a right.  Your motive to vote should be your own convictions, having done your homework and having felt good about your selection for both your mind and your heart.  Nonsense about voting being a "duty" is merely an attempt to lead heart-only voters to support a set of campaign promises. 

1 comment:

bethany said...

Loved reading this. You're a good writer. And offered points I've never thought of. Well done.