The Myth Of The Binary Choice


There are very few good arguments for supporting Donald Trump. He’s a terrible candidate, a moral trainwreck, and a political charlatan. Perhaps the only truly strong argument is a simple one: this election is binary. It’s Trump or Clinton. Have your pick.

The argument has tremendous weight, and it ought to: when it comes to the winner, it’s true. One of these two cow pie avalanches will be president of the United States. It’s possible to argue that Trump will be a better president than Hillary (I agree); it’s possible to argue that Hillary will be a better president than Trump (I disagree, but understand the argument against the unstable narcissist with a childlike grasp of policy and the attention span of an addled gnat); it’s possible to argue that while Trump might be a better president than Hillary, he’ll disgrace the Republican Party and the conservative movement and destroy the future for both (I agree, and it’s already happening). All three of these answers work within the framework of the “lesser of two evils” choice – and all three dictate different answers (vote Trump, vote Hillary, unclear or abstention).

All of this works, so far as it goes. I’ve pointed out the moral problem with lesser-of-two-evils logic here and the silliness of the “not voting is a vote for Hillary” argument here.

But it seems that the real disagreement between those who insist that you must choose between these two hurricanes of horror and those who say it’s moral to stay home – perhaps even morally superior to do so – comes down to the role of the vote.

If you believe that a vote is merely an instrument of policy, a one-time ballot-punch that expires on November 8, it is simply unthinkable not to vote. All elections are binary; a choice not to vote is a wasted vote. In this view, a vote is the equivalent of an expiring coupon: even if you don’t like the store, it’s silly not to go buy something. What do you have to lose, anyway? In this view, elections are binary by nature, and you have an obligation to vote. We’ll call this view “The Instrumental Vote View.”

If, however, you believe that a vote is also a sign of moral opprobrium or approbation, then you are perfectly within your rights to say that no candidate has earned your vote, particularly not these two disgraces to humanity. Voting isn’t binary, in this view – it’s about you and what you choose to accept or reject. Let’s call this view “The Moral Vote View.”

My friend Jeremy Boreing, managing editor of The Daily Wire, recently posited a simple analogy for why he isn’t voting for Trump based on The Moral Vote View:

If someone presented you with two lotto tickets, and offered you the one of your choice, but one was already scratched off and revealed to be a loser while the other was completely scratched but for two remaining numbers – no matches so far, you would clearly take the chance on the later. Your chances aren’t good, but hey, it’s free and there’s still a chance!

But if they offered to SELL you one of the tickets, as opposed to giving it to you, you would probably keep your money. Why? Because the chances of BOTH remaining numbers matching one of the numbers already revealed is almost zero. But the dollar in your pocket has a quantifiable value. You would, rightly, conclude you could do more with the dollar than you could with the almost certain-to-lose ticket. You would hope someone would one day come along and make a better offer for your dollar, and you’d want to still have the dollar when that day comes….

If there was no cost whatsoever to my vote, I might vote Trump. Unfortunately, there is a cost.

I want my dollar. I want to be able to say, “My values aren’t just political posturing. I actually do believe in freedom. I actually don’t believe in racial determinism. I actually don’t support corrupt, lying tyrants.” Moreover, I want to create market pressure in the future. I don’t want people to offer me this same fool’s choice in the future.

The Moral Vote View suggests that your vote is like a dollar – it doesn’t expire, because it is an expression of your ethics. The Instrumental Vote View says, “Hey, who cares about your buck? It’s not worth anything tomorrow anyway. You can’t vote on November 9!”

The Instrumental Vote View is more popular than The Moral Vote View. And for those who don’t talk politics for a living or spend a fair bit of time arguing politics with friends and family, it’s probably more accurate – a vote is just a vote, and nobody cares how you voted.

But The Moral Vote View is certainly more accurate when it comes to public figures. The Instrumental Vote View makes my vote essentially meaningless – there’s no reason why a single individual on planet earth should care about my vote in the deep blue state of California. It won’t make one iota of difference. No, the reason some people get agitated when I say I’m not voting Trump or Hillary is because they know that I’m condemning both Hillary and Trump by not voting.

But these critics are making a mistake: they think that I am judging them for using their vote instrumentally. That’s not true. Your vote is your own. It’s a secret ballot. I have no way of knowing for whom you vote. But once you tell me that you approve of Donald Trump, you have entered the realm of the moral and ethical. And once we’re talking morals and ethics, it is incorrect to claim that my vote is simply instrumental anymore. It isn’t. It’s now a sign of opprobrium or approval.

We all compromise ourselves with our vocal announcement of our votes. But in The Moral Vote View, there is such a thing as a bridge too far, a cost too high to pay. In The Instrumental Vote View, there isn’t: Donald Trump can sexually assault women, and you’d be frivolous not to vote for him if you worry most about whether the president will lower your taxes.

Now, it’s possible to hold The Moral Vote View and vote for Trump. But it’s also possible not to vote for either and hold The Moral Vote View. There is no binary choice here. The Moral Vote View simply asks that you acknowledge that every vote carries a cost: how far are you willing to compromise yourself to show approval for a candidate?

The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  The Myth Of The Binary Choice