I don’t know anyone who’s happy about the election in November. Some are angry at the system and are looking forward to upending the status quo: “That’ll show ‘em.” Some are angry at their fellow citizens and desperate to stop the opponent, regardless of who that means they wind up voting for: “Anyone but her.” “Anyone but him.” Even the comedians, who usually thrive in ridiculous politics are exhausted: “This isn’t funny anymore.” Most people seem downtrodden, doubtful that democracy ever really works. After all, it’s a winner-takes-all system, so people in solid red and blue states know their vote won’t make an impact. And the oligarchs and lobbyists will choose anyway. Voting only feels important if you think your vote is counted; that’s why voter turnout is so low.
Resigned, some of us will go to the polls: “hold your nose and close your eyes.” No one seems to actually like their candidate; they just hate the other more. Every election, but especially this one, people complain that they are choosing between the lesser of two evils. That’s just politics, right? You pick the less evil option and hope the part of their platform you agree with actually gets done.
But picking a lesser evil is still picking evil. By choosing one over the other, you’d already surrendered yourself to the system which offers you no good options. C. S. Lewis wrote, “He [the devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites…He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”
In Star Trek, Kirk defeats the unbeatable Kobayashi Maru test. He says it’s because he doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios (he does believe in cheating). Elections have become no-win scenarios. A vote against war is also a vote for abortion. A vote for security is also a vote against liberty. Voting your conscious between two evils is difficult, because your conscious knows that you’re voting for evil. I think a lot of us want to pull a Captain Kirk—find a way to beat an unbeatable system.
I don’t know the Kobayashi Maru cheat code. I don’t have a solution (other than a dream of a comprehensively pro-life, distributionist candidate). But I do know we can’t continue choosing our least-hated evil, for that only perpetuates evil, and it strips us of our morality. The moral choice isn't on the ballot, so there's really no choice at all. That doesn’t mean stepping away from democracy, leaving the politics to evil politicians. Staying at home and doing nothing is silent endorsement of a broken system. The USCCB encourages Catholics to be involved in civic matters. In a democracy, even a broken one, one is called to be an active citizen, to participate. People fought long and hard for suffrage and the Voting Rights Act. With the latter stripped away in the past few years, it’s even more important to continue to fight for and use the former.
It’s difficult for me to navigate how to follow my conscious and participate in my civic duty. I don’t know how it will play out in the following months. I don't know what I'll do a few Tuesdays from now. I know I have to pay attention, even when I don’t want to. I know I need to be well-informed, both on the issues and on my conscious. I know my vote shouldn’t be about winning or anger or fear but about asserting my civic rights and contributing my voice to a democratic system, even a broken one.