On voting in the 2016 U.S. presidential election

My fellow Americans, we’ve found ourselves with the rotten choice of Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump for President.

Political parties aside, many of us don’t think that either Clinton or Trump would make a good president.

Yet these are our options. So, how should we vote?

Well, John Quincy Adams wrote, Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.

I love the idealism, Mr Adams, but practically speaking, voting is a zero-sum game, where for one candidate to win, the other candidates must lose.

A vote for a losing candidate may not itself be lost, but it ends up being worthless. The worth isn’t in the vote itself, but in the relative volume of each set of votes for each candidate.

Today, if I take advice from Adams and vote for principle, I cannot vote for either Clinton or Trump. Yet, I must vote, if I am to always vote for principle. And yet, if a vote for a losing candidate is worthless, is there really any other option than to cast a vote for one those two candidates, one of whom is bound to win? Where did that fabled principle go?

As I’ve reflected on our current situation with Clinton and Trump, it has finally struck home that the more important election is the primary, not the general election. Sure, more people vote in the general election, and it does on the surface seem to influence who will become president, but, given our two-party system, the primary is where we really get to make major selections in who will go forward. After that, so much of it becomes a matter of party politics, regardless of the actual candidates.

Americans, we must become more interested and rigorous in our primary elections, much more than we are in the general election! We need to establish the principles we want our elected officials to protect and promote, and hold our candidates to those principles, instead of getting wrapped up in the personalities of the candidates. Principles first, candidates second. This is an election, not a popularity contest.

I think we lost great options for presidential candidates in the primary season, and I have to ask myself if the best America had to offer for presidents really was represented by those in the running leading up to the primaries. I cannot believe that, I have more hope than that.

Americans, the best among us may be shaking our heads at the circus of politics: the backbiting, betrayals, mud-slinging, slander, grand-standing, name-calling, and cost of it all. Are our best getting into the ring? Obviously not, if you look at the leading candidates. This country must have better options than those two. We need leaders of true character to step into the ring, and we need to support them in their fight for the future of this nation.

We tend to pay attention to the last leg of the election race, but the real winnowing happens early on. There is a very early divergence, a convergence culminating in the primaries with fewer of us paying attention, and then we do it again with an extremely thinned out set of candidates for the general election. That’s a risky process, if you ask me.

I’d rather the Democratic and Republican primaries didn’t happen, honestly, so that we could keep our options open through the process, with more and more information for a broader set of candidates.

What we have isn’t the best system for an election, because we don’t get enough exposure early enough to the spread of candidates compared to the principles we care about, but it is what we have to work with.

The fact is, this is what we have to deal with. In the primary, we had a broad swath of candidates, grouped by party. We had more opportunity to vote for principle. But now we essentially have two candidates to choose from, regardless of how well either of them reflects a principle. That is our present option. We don’t have an infinite set of candidates, we have two candidates who have a chance.

Just two. This is the present outcome, the truth of our political system.

How well is our system working?

To cast a meaningful vote at this stage, it must be for one of the two main candidates, informed by discerning the principles by which each will govern. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to, as much as I dislike it.

Tell me, am I wrong?

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