Vote in Their Interests

In this election year, I ask that you vote in the interest of someone else. Rather than voting in your own interests, for what will most benefit you personally, consider how your vote can benefit others.

That’s not an easy sell. Many will reject the notion entirely. The tact of politicians is generally to appeal to people’s personal interests. It’s assumed that we, being self-centered people, prioritizing our own selfish wants and needs over all else, will respond positively only to that which benefits us personally. Hard as I try not to be cynical, I know this is the case for many people. It’s not irrational, to regard politics as a transactional enterprise: I give you my vote, you give me what I want. And of course there are those who buy votes. A handful of obscenely wealthy people are spending millions of dollars to convince others to vote in their (the obscenely wealthy people’s) interests.

Whenever pundits or journalists, or paid political operatives masquerading as same, go out into communities to get a sense of what matters most to them, the responses are generally the standard, expected ones of “a better economy,” “more jobs,” and something that translates to “a more just tax system.” In these boilerplate answers, collected, it seems primarily, at diner counters (Who the fuck hangs out at a diner, answering reporters’ questions? What year is this?) there may be some element of self-interest, but they speak too to a larger community context. Even if they don’t really understand how the economy functions, have a shaky grasp on how and to what extent creating new jobs will really help them or anyone, and few people can make sense of the asinine US tax structure without being enraged, they express an interest in improving things in a way that could ideally benefit everyone, not only them alone.

Despite what evidence exists to the contrary, I believe there is among most people some sense of empathy, even kinship. We all have our own goals, our own desires and needs, but most of us aren’t wholly solipsistic. We want things to be better not just for ourselves, but others as well.

Those on the left have often decried and mocked those on the right for voting against their interests. While undoubtedly true that plenty of people are bamboozled into supporting a figure or movement which can prove ultimately harmful to them, it doesn’t necessarily follow that their support for said figure or cause is entirely against their interests. We often take the tack of making judgments from a financial standpoint. Like those examples of people’s concerns for the economy, jobs, taxes, etc, we assume that the decisions of others are based on, or run counter to reality for, financial reasons.

Ie: It is stupid for anyone who is not obscenely wealthy to vote Republican. On its face, that’s true. While the Democrats are nearly as capitalistic as the Republicans, the Republicans still hold greater reputation for championing big business, giving tax breaks to the super rich, scrapping regulations at the behest of industry leaders, cutting social programs that benefit the poor and middle income. They’ve earned that dubious distinction, to be sure. They are utter garbage. But that’s not why their supporters, the poorer ones who don’t own companies, who rely on the land being non-toxic, and stand to benefit most from social welfare spending, back them. It’s for other issues. Perhaps we on the left are right in assuming that the Republicans’ cynical, pandering, and often hypocritical stance on issues of abortion and “traditional family values” is entirely a con to trick people out of their votes and their money. But perhaps too these people aren’t that naive, and they value that position more than other factors. Perhaps they’re fine with taking a personal financial hit if it means that their values are legally upheld. Strongly as we disagree with their values and know the results of them to be harmful and wrong, we can acknowledge that, in their minds, these people are doing a good thing. They seem to believe they are acting for others, voting on behalf of others.

It would behoove us all to think this way. Not as reactionary zealots denying science and reality, but as a people who can vote together on behalf of other people. Even when in so doing we may in a way be voting against our own interests.

I’m not rich, but apart from that I’ve won the privilege lottery. If all physically fit white male college graduates with steady jobs voted only for their own interests and based decisions only on those factors of “identity,” this country would be an unfair and horrible place. Of course, that was the status quo for most of the nation’s history, and it was unfair and horrible. You could easily make the case that it is still disproportionately that way.

For those who still think that way, with an inclination to protect what they have, uphold their privilege and the status quo, it may be their impulse to vote for someone like Biden or Buttigieg, or even worse, for Trump, champion and patron saint of whining privileged bitches. It’s unlikely they’d cite this as their reason, or even a factor in their political stance. Perhaps, it’s the product of subconscious bias, driving them without them realizing it.

Hopefully, they’ll come to some personal awareness and change their views for the better in result. But of course, as ever and always, we can’t rely on the self-awareness or goodness of crackers to prevail. Not en masse, anyhow.

So, it’s up to everyone. Everyone with a conscience, a sense of empathy, and the ability for a minor exercise of abstract thinking. Do the right thing. Do it for someone else.

For people like me, the person sitting in the Oval Office, or any seat of power, doesn’t and will not make too large a difference. Whether Republican or Democrat, fascist or socialist, unless they as a leader, and the actions they take, become extremely radical and far-reaching, I probably won’t be particularly affected. Horrible as someone like Trump is, as repugnant as I find him as a person, and however much I despise nearly every action he takes, the truth is that none of what he’s done has had an appreciable impact on my life, apart from mood and mental health in response to every idiotic and evil thing he does, and the fact that I can’t read or listen to the news without having to see or hear his name. Or the fact he and his cohorts are doing all they can to poison, burn, and flood the Earth, which will affect us all inevitably.

So when I vote, be it for president or passage of a local county proposal, instead of thinking how it might affect me, I make a point of thinking how it will affect others, or the greater good. I have a decent chance of not going to prison in my lifetime, but I’ll still vote for progressive prison reform or even to abolish the prison system. I have a social security number and US passport, but I’ll vote in favor of whatever person or act has domestic or foreign policy implications which benefit those that don’t. I don’t have kids or ride the train, but I invariably vote in favor of increased public school funding and the expansion of public transportation. Because when paying a little extra in taxes means actually doing something positive for others (rather than further stuffing the pockets of billionaires, or bombing poor people in foreign countries, which is where most of our Federal tax dollars go), I’ll do it. I encourage everyone to think of others, and how your actions, your votes, can positively or negatively impact them.

Imagine what life must be like for someone without your advantages, and vote for their sake accordingly. Imagine what it’s like to live in this country with physical or mental disabilities, as a poor person, as an ethnic minority, as a woman or a girl, as a sexually- or gender-queer person, as any person who doesn’t check all the boxes of the traditional Hollywood hero archetype.

Imagine you are a person who is all those things. Or imagine that that person is someone you love, someone you know deserves every right you’ve enjoyed or probably haven’t noticed you have. Imagine how you could in some small way help make life better for them, then do it. Vote for their benefit.