I’ve been studying the life of Martin Luther King this summer. I discovered that at the end of his life, King was moving more in the direction of seeking revolutionary change. Or more to the left, if you will. A few days before he died, he was planning a major march on DC to protest poverty. A federal judge issued an injunction that forbade King from conducting or leading the protest. King retorted, “That’s unconstitutional,” and he stated that he was going to go to DC despite the judge’s order. A day or so after announcing his determination to disregard the judge, King was assassinated.
King said something else of note just before he died:
Violence or nonviolence is not the issue . . . the issue is poverty and neglect.
To be clear, King was not advocating violence or anything tantamount to clear political rebellion with this remark, nor he was a member of or supporter of the revolutionary Black Panther Party. He was, however, observing that the civil rights movement had fallen short of ensuring equality and freedom to black Americans. King was concerned that the legal revolution overturning the Jim Crow laws in the south had not resulted in revolutionary or even meaningful political or social change in either the south or the north. Black America still lived in “the Other America,” to coin a King phrase. This Other America was an impoverished one, where families suffered from neglect and lacked true opportunity in the economic sphere.
As I studied King’s final days, I also was watching the current political conventions. And I kept thinking that the promise of American democracy is belied by the nomination of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively, for the Democratic and Republican parties. The nomination of these two individuals suggests that true and meaningful democratic choice is dead.
How? The political system promises to guarantee individual rights, protect American liberties, and provide for the common good, but the electoral process has instead become a corrupt vehicle for the wealthy and the influential. In the absence of strict enforcement of campaign contribution and lobbying laws, only politicians with wealth and influence can court the voters via a system that resembles a gravy train of graft, corruption and undue influence.
As it stands, we’re left with two wealthy and influential candidates, and neither possesses the moral character requisite to lead our beautiful nation. Trump, the billionaire, lacks sincere desire to take a stand that would protect our economic freedoms. While he blusters about making America “great again,” he flip-flops on economic and social policy, and when asked to elucidate his positions, he resorts to ad hominem attacks on his real or imagined detractors. Trump would sooner hand American jobs to countries with horrific civil rights records than he would actually follow through on his racist and lowly threats to deport all believers in the Muslim faith from our nation. Trump will work for the institutional behemoth that empowers his corporations while feeding hate candy to the uninformed.
Clinton at least espouses a traditional and seemingly compassionate creed, which, if followed, would hopefully result in a better outcome for at least some minorities and embattled members of the lower classes. And as several friends of mine have pointed out, Clinton does preach acceptance of gays and a commitment to protecting social liberties. And while I distrust her veracity, I don’t find it impossible to believe that Clinton will follow through on some of her campaign promises. But I cannot stand by and support a candidate who so clearly lacks moral probity, a willingness to follow the laws that other citizens are bound by, and who so obviously is the choice of the rich and influential.
Clinton, after all, garnered lavish fees for speaking to corporations and took money from any and all corporate donors. She chased down the nomination through whatever means necessary. She undoubtedly leaned on investigators and somehow dodged indictment for national security breaches that would have resulted in the indictment of almost any other American citizen. Clinton seems to wear an invisible coat of Teflon when it comes to criminal activity. She gets help from powerful actors in institutional as well as corporate spheres.
It is obvious from the latest Wikileaks that leaders of the Democratic party did everything in their power to undermine the campaign of her main opponent, Bernie Sanders. And immediately after the Chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned in ignominy after said actions were detailed, Clinton appointed Schultz to a position within the Clinton campaign. Clinton released the following statement:
“There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie–which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states.”
Schultz, mind you, was supposed to have been an unbiased leader within the DNC. Now her lack of impartiality is being rewarded.
As best I can see, Clinton has been nominated undemocratically. Trump, while nominated somewhat more democratically would, if elected, pass measures that would undermine the best of American democracy. Our American democracy is founded on securing the individual’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Trump does not concern himself with such ideals. He rarely speaks of free markets or economic liberties or lowering taxes or reducing the size of the federal government, or any of the central ideals that prior Republicans have made part and parcel of the party’s narrative. Why, after all, did so few Republican leaders attend the RNC Convention? In part because Trump does not preach traditional Republican values, and in part because Trump’s pronouncements are filled with vitriolic appeals to divisive populism.
Despite his version of his own rise to greatness, Trump is no Horatio Algers. He’s a spoiled rich kid who inherited and then mismanaged a great deal of wealth. Trump is no individualist, nor does he possess a consistent set of ideals whatsoever. He doesn’t speak of any principles beyond his own questionable excellence. Most importantly he does not speak to matters of liberty. He speaks in bromides about making America great again, but appears to be willing to sacrifice the rights of unpopular minorities to that pursuit of greatness. There is no American greatness absent the securing of each individual’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Indeed, the best feature of American democracy is its protection of individual rights. All Americans should be equally protected by the American government. And all Americans should possess an equal role in governance and in the electoral process. Under the current system, corporate interests have much more power than the lowly individual citizen. Until this changes, we will be left with candidates who represent corporate interests (in the case of Clinton) or with populist candidates with demagogic appeal (in the case of Trump).
It is said that a vote for a third party candidate is a vote cast into the wind. It is said that failing to vote for the better of two evils is a failure to vote, period. While I understand this position, I view my choice as somewhat different.
I am exercising my American choice to protest the current two party system. I refuse to be a slave to a system that is broken. I refuse to waste my precious vote on a candidate I feel lacks the proper values to represent my liberties and defend my freedoms.
More than fifty years ago, black Americans protested the political system they found themselves chained by, and surely their small refusals, their tiny whispers made at the twilight of a long workday, seemed of little value. But when enough black Americans refused to move to the back of the bus, or when enough black Americans refused to frequent a certain store, or when enough black Americans marched to the beat of their own dreams, a movement was begun.
Each small step taken in furtherance of individual liberty matters. Refusing to cast a vote in favor of Trump or Clinton for moral reasons is not a wasted gesture. I will vote my conscience, and I will not regret it. I will unfurl my vote into the breeze that flies with the wave of every flag our hearts and minds hold dear.
- Photo credits: Martin Luther King. By Minnesota Historical Society – http://www.flickr.com/photos/minnesotahistoricalsociety/5355384180/sizes/o/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19183908
- Hillary Clinton By Chad J. McNeeley – http://www.defense.gov/PhotoEssays/PhotoEssayImage.aspx?id=3093&name=Mullen,%20Cartwright%20Confirmation%20Hearing, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3408496
- Debbie Wasserman Schultz By U.S. Congress – Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Congressional Website, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36700236
- Donald Trump https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_5.jpg
- Rosa Parks with King By Unknown – USIA / National Archives and Records Administration Records of the U.S. Information Agency Record Group 306, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4344206