A new graphic surfaced in the New York Times showing, apparently, why we are in the position we are in with Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton.
In every major election year, you will encounter hipsters too cool to vote. They don’t do it for the same reason they don’t read Stephen King — because everyone else does. Of course they could save us the agony of their rambling by refusing to breathe because everyone else does, but I suspect their pride of first dibs will halt right at the moment of first death since everyone else also dies. In fact, everyone else does just about everything else a hipster would ever reject on terms of populace. And it’s because of this very dilemma — the dilemma between popularity and individuality — that I hope they also reconsider their stance on voting by either registering to vote or finding a better reason to abstain: voting, though popular by one stance, is new to those who abstain, also popular, and eventually the newness of voting for the first time will overcome their reasons for abstaining simply because many people do both. And if you want the proof of this, simply look at how many of these same hipsters grew up in the purity movement and have now embraced lechery as if Elon Musk himself had just invented it. We all begin as virgins and some of us abstain and some of us indulge. Of those of us who indulge, some of us keep our vows and some of us cheat and so on. Therefore voting — even simply voting for none of the above or voting for unregistering to vote — will never determine a moral choice. We The People are good. We The People are bad. Which is to say the one thing everyone overlooks in a democracy is that The People are, in fact, people.
But certainly every hipster does not abstain from voting simply because it’s cool to not do what’s popular. (Even though, as shown in the graphic above, that most popular thing is to abstain from the allegedly popular thing.)
Often the more informed brand of hipster will refuse to register to vote because their vote means nothing. Depending on the state, this may or may not be true. In Washington State, for instance, it’s absolutely true: the caucus picks its delegates and voting in the primary is a stubborn formality meant to appease the masses like bread and circus. In other instances such as millions of votes purged or the sheer fact that never in American history has the entire — and in most every case, not even the majority — of the populace participated in elections. Were rampant election and voter fraud not pocking the face of American politics, one might argue that the votes of those participants counted even more through a higher percentage. But alas, fraud is. Again, we might move to the two-party system and that stubborn second word in the idea of Democratic Republic, which prohibits us, legally, from ever having a pure democracy and works out in myriad ways from judicial counsels to corporate lobbying. Assuming, of course, democracy is the chief end of man. The Westminster Confession has its doubts. So did Churchhill. After all, the man who is often quoted as saying, “Democracy is the worst form of government, but it’s the best one we’ve found, ” also said, “Democracy is more vindictive than Cabinets. The wars of peoples will be more terrible than those of kings.” Looking back on the 20th Century, he was not wrong.
But a critique of Democracy per se is still insufficient for the American Christian who insists voting is your civic duty.
Certainly if you’re a member of the American brand of the Imperial Cult, you consider punching the ballot a politireligious sacrament: something like lighting candles to the saints or taking the eucharist, taxes and tithe forever entwined. But for the Christian, that will not do. We pledged our allegiance to Jesus when we were baptized into his death. Siding with a new king like the Israelites of 1 Samuel is tantamount to treason in Christ’s Kingdom. Some of you do it every four years. As one Turk recently said, “In Turkey, when we want a change in leadership we have a coup. In America, you have an election.” The difference is Americans have more paperwork — about eighteen months worth.
Of course at this point, the American Christian who would more quickly die for their country than their Christ will object, “Yes, but shouldn’t Christians invade every sector of society?”
I suppose it depends. If by invasion you refer to the women of Southland Christian Church who have baked lasagnas for the strippers at local strip clubs, then yes. But if you believe those women should sign up to start stripping at said clubs, then no. Some sectors are irredeemable and must be pulled up by the root. Herein lies the idea of the “nations on the threshing floor” we find in scripture: that God overturns nations and determines the times and places where people live that they might reach out and find Him. Babylon to Persia to Media to Greece to the Maccabeans to Rome to Saxony and so on to Britain and America and whatever empire follows the one you and I are stuck inside. No, I think God’s quite disinterested in propping up any specific government and that’s because, as we say every Christmas, capital “G” government rests on Jesus’ shoulders. We are ambassadors to boot.
But the heart of the question “Should we invade?” gets at the hearts of those who truly purse devoir civique in their lives and these people have the only legitimate critique. Having addressed all of the others, what follows is, I believe, the only legitimate answer to their sincerity:
Yes, you have a duty to the city in which you find yourself as an ambassador from another country as we read in Jeremiah 29. You seek the good and the peace and the prosperity of the city in which you find yourself, but at no point do you become one of the Babylonians. Gospel equals green card. You’re a Resident Alien as Hauerwas has it. Your job is to take good care of your city.
“But Lance, that means voting!”
Look. I get it. You really believe people should vote. Or so you say. Let me ask you: in your lifetime of preaching “You should vote! It’s your civic duty! People died for you to vote, ” how many times have you registered someone to vote? Because for all of the sixty-two million people who aren’t registered to vote, you’d think they’d be covered by all of these people who truly believe, deep down in their bones, that it’s a civic duty.
Oh you haven’t registered anyone? Well perhaps you don’t believe as much you claim.
Many of you, of course, have indeed registered others—even hundreds of them–so for this last and final crowd, here I will tap in two American philosophers to speak to good American citizens. First Thoreau:
“All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceed that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.”
And then his mentor, Emerson:
“We never make much account of objections which merely respect the actual state of the world at this moment, but which admit the general expediency and permanent excellence of the project. What is the best must be the true; and what is true—that is, what is at bottom fit and agreeable to the constitution of man—must at last prevail over all obstruction and all opposition. There is no good now enjoyed by society that was not once as problematical and visionary as this. The true interest of man becomes his desire and steadfast aim.”
We might add that there’s no good we enjoy now that was not once inconvenient, for it was very inconvenient for Martin Luther King Jr. to rebuke his fellow pastors from inside that Birmingham Jail, even more inconvenient to get shot. But as Chesterton would say, an inconvenience, rightly considered, is an adventure. And an adventure, wrongly considered, is an inconvenience. That applies to black protesting pastors who believe in resurrection and local middle-class laymen in the midst of an empire. We now rest on the backs of the inconveniences, visions, and good of other men who engaged directly with their city, their polis. That is your duty, your politic.
To vote is to gamble with your civic duty. The energy we spend on voting and the horse race every year is the exact opposite of what it means to be a good citizen — not civic duty but civic treason, as the Turk would put it, or at best civic apathy. Do you feel more secure with all of the fighting we’ve seen over two candidates? Does this election seem like something done in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity ? And if it does not, than what makes this election American at all?
But nevermind all of that, we’re talking first to Christians:
I am a Christian who sees that title as more than spiritual — Christianity is also my race, also my political party. For over a decade now I have identified with those who call themselves “Christian anarchists” and who have practiced the Benedictine Option of direct action in the midst of whatever broken empire I find myself inside. One of my undergrad mentors once responded to my voting abstinence by saying, “That will change when you get a mortgage.” Meaning, of course, that money or debt could change my convictions. Well money has changed my convictions because I’ve found I do not love money so much as I love love. Love for my neighbors made me sure that local sovereignty and the power of the parish will always trump the will of the people for the very reason that Father Zossima, and not Father Fyodor, was the source of goodness for The Brothers Karamazov. Zossima acted. Fyodor gambled with his voice. Oh yes, direct action is the only way to make your city better.
Evil prevails when good men do nothing.
To vote is to do nothing.
Panem et circenses et suffragium.