Is The Ability To Vote For A Ruler Truly A Virtue?

vote-1As of this writing, it is currently an election year. With an election year comes much rhetoric, including slogans such as, “Don’t waste your vote!” or “Not voting is a vote for (insert the candidate that you do not want).” They will tell us that if you waste your vote, then you have no right to complain about the policies that follow. All of this flows from the fact that one of the central virtues that is ingrained into the American mindset is the ability to vote for candidates who are running for political office. Whether you want to be a judge, the Major of a small town or of New York City, the Governor or even the President of the United States, you need to convince the people that you are qualified to do the job. Many of us just take it as a given that the practice of voting for officials is an inherent virtue. But is that the case? Is the ability to vote for a ruler truly a virtue?

vote-2There are a few reasons that many people feel that it is. People feel that they have the right to vote for rulers. They feel that voting gives them a voice, that the will of the people is being done. They feel as though they are standing as a bulwark against the big government who might impose unsavory policies and restrictions on their freedom. Many feel that voting is an expression of their freedom. Americans often have a romantic perspective of the foundation of our nation, to which voting was ingrained into the core. In this article, I will outline why I think that this perspective has a few challenges. Notice, though, that I am not advocating for some drastic alternative. I am not saying that what we need is a benevolent dictator. I might even vote this year. I am suggesting that the process of voting is subject to reflection, and I have some thoughts that might be worth sharing and considering.

A Successful Brander Can Become A Ruler

What would make a successful ruler? What attributes does a ruler need to possess to keep the peace of the nation, to cooperate with other nations, to contribute to the flourishing of mankind and to go down in history and a greater leader, beloved by all, his or her memory cherished by all? One would think that he would need to be devoted to the concept of servanthood, to regard himself as serving his nation as a ruler, akin to how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. He would need an intricate understanding of world affairs, domestic issues, the economy, the military, when to use force, to take the counsel of wise men and women, and he would need to be a person of principle and values. But when the people can vote for their rulers, the ruler does not need to possess all or any one of these attributes. He only needs to convince people that he possesses these attributes.

In fact, the only attribute that a person needs to possess to become a ruler is the ability to sway the masses. He would need to be a master brander, to convince people that he possesses the attributes ideal for ruling. The ability to run a successful political campaign is a far cry from the ability to rule a nation. Yet it seems that this is the only attribute that one needs to possess to become a ruler when the people decide their leaders. This is perhaps no more evident than the presidential campaign of the 2016 Republican nominee Donald Trump. Despite lacking the majority of the attributes listed above, he was able to defeat over a dozen qualified candidates and become the nominee. In a stroke of irony, this life-long liberal stands as the only alternative to another liberal President.

How was he able to do that? He is brander. He knows how to sell himself. Of course, this article is not about Donald Trump. I am not saying that you should join the ever-fading #NeverTrump movement. I am using him as a prime example of one of the detriments of the election process. Sometimes a brander can become a ruler. The only attribute that is required is the ability to sell yourself. Even if you disagree with my brief assessment of Donald Trump, the point that I am making seems to stand.

The People Do Not Know How To Assess The Issues

(I will now abandon the controversial example found in Donald Trump and the contemporary election season, and proceed as more of an abstract thought experiment. However, you may find that there are directly overlapping themes in the points that I make and his and other campaigns.)

How could a master brander persuade the people that he or she has intricate knowledge of the issues at hand? Think for a moment of a motor vehicle. If you are not trained in the intricacies of an engine, the mechanic could charge you more money than he needs to, and you would be none the wiser. In fact, that is a common tactic. Many people search for awhile to find a mechanic of high moral repute, who will not lie and will not try to scam people out of their money. If you do not know anything about an engine, a trained mechanic could just say something and you would not know the difference. A dishonest mechanic may tell you that your transmission needs to be replaced, while the honest one will tell you that there is a frayed external wire. The former will cost you thousands of dollars while the latter will cost under $100. The same sort of scam can be run with complex political issues.

One of the problems is very poor research methods. People tend to think that they understand an issue because they have heard somebody recite a one-liner. They saw a meme on the Internet and the issue is resolved in their mind. A politician can oversimplify an issue by providing a soundbite for the people to cling to, and that method generally prevails. The people do not know anything about foreign affairs. They do not know much beyond that soundbite. If somebody is campaigning, how will the people know the difference between a brander using a soundbite and an informed, experienced politician, possessing intellectual curiosity about the relevant issues? It can be difficult to avoid the conclusion that most people who are casting their vote do not know the difference. In voting for rulers, the people are trying to find somebody who possesses the attributes that are necessary. But the people are not competent enough to assess the issues and cast a vote. They are more likely to be taken in by a soundbite.

The People Are Not Concerned Enough With The Welfare of The Nation

When assessing potential policies, people will generally ask the question, “How will this affect my life?” While that is certainly a worthy consideration, that consideration is often over-extended. A policy may cause an inconvenience to the people, but generally would be good for the overall health and future prosperity of the nation. Think, for example, of abortion. It devalues human beings, drastically and radically compromising the proposition that we are made in the image of God, that human beings have rights, and truly reduces us to animals that can be killed if the circumstances are correct. Yet people stand opposed to any policies that would overturn abortion because it would inconvenience them. Abortion is one of the great evils of our time, yet the people are in favor of it for selfish reasons. Similarly, the people will oppose a policy that does not allow welfare benefits for adults capable of working into the indefinite future. They might oppose a healthcare system because the immediate costs would rise. Now, these are not the only reasons that people oppose or support these policies, but they are definitely prevalent.

So, not only are the people not competent enough to assess the relevant political issues, but they are also too self-centered to assess the political issues. They are not asking whether something will have a positive impact on the future prosperity of the nation. They ask if a policy will cause them an inconvenience. But the point of voting for rulers is to elect somebody who will hoist the nation into greater prosperity in future generations. If the people are not accomplishing that and are not willing to accomplish that, then it seems that they are too selfish to be able to cast a vote.

Voting Does Not Necessarily Guard Against Corruption

One may be inclined to point out that by allowing the people to vote, we will guard against corruption in the government. The government does not have the freedom to just take control, for some nefarious ruler to rise to the top, refusing to cede power. There is a sense in which that is true and another in which that is not. An election process may guard against some attempts of corruption, but it certainly does not guard against corruption. This point can be easily proven by answering one question. Are there any corrupt individuals who have been elected to a seat of governmental power? Most people will say, “Yes, there are.” With that being the case, we recognize that the vote of the people will not guard against corruption.

But why is that? Is it because there are so many evil people in the world and they are actively trying to spread evil? Certainly not. Most people think that they are doing a good thing, that the corrupt ruler is not corrupt. They think that they will bring positive change into the world. Again, an unqualified or even a corrupt individual can achieve political office through branding. When a nation has an election process, rising to political power will have different (not necessarily more or less) complications, but it is still achievable. You might say, “But the people can assess the history and merit of the individual and discern whether he or she is corrupt.” Is that the case? Think of a politician with a corrupt past who has won over a majority of voters. A rhetorician can downplay the significance of their past mistakes or lie about them.

Money Is Central To An Election Process

We have probably never heard of the people who have had the most potential to be great world leaders. Somebody could be an ideal candidate but be unable to convince the American people of that. They were unable to brand themselves for a number of different reasons. Perhaps one of the most powerful reasons is that they do not have the funding to run a political campaign. If a politician wants to spread their message, focus on their attributes, show the people who they are, then they will need to have support from well-funded organizations. But if the organizations do not like their message or find something unsavory, then the organizations may pull support. There is a sense in which they will be subjected to the will of donors. In 2016, one might suggest, “Ah, that is why we need very rich people to run for office.” That means that the people who can run for political office without the demerit that I mentioned are those who are very rich. Only the powerful can be elevated to those heights.

Why do I bring this up? Well, many might suggest that we will voting is a virtue because it allows us to vote for who is qualified without any other considerations. That is far from the case. For you to vote for somebody, you have to know who they are. For you to know who they are, they need to make speeches, pay advertisers, hire campaign managers, and have a staff of employees. All of this requires a lot of money, often millions of dollars. Often, qualified candidates will win one or two of the first states in the primary election and collapse shortly after as they the run low on funds. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that the people are deciding the election. The rich are deciding the election, either by running themselves or funding those who they would like to run.

What Is The Solution? Should I Vote Or Not?

I do not want people to misunderstand me. I am not advocating for a benevolent dictator. I just do not want people to have a rosy view of voting as if there are no other considerations. Americans tend to hold firmly to American values as though the Constitution were divinely inspired. It is very easy for us to be conned. A wicked ruler could rise to power with the consent of the people by running a successful campaign, pretending that he or she is not a wicked ruler. We ought not think that just because we are voting, that we are not doing the will of the rich and the powerful. There are two wills at work when a person is being conned. The man who hands his money over to a conman does so freely, thinking that he is making a wise investment. The same can be said of voting.

Yet in the United States, we find ourselves within this system of government, with an election process that we need to work with. What is our duty as citizens? We certainly do not have a duty to vote. Voting for one wicked ruler because he or she is not as wicked as the other is still voting for a wicked ruler. There are a few lines of advice that I will provide before concluding.

1 – Make their values central.
2 – Do research. Read books. Understand the issues. Understand the rebuttals to your favorite one-liner. Do not allow yourself to be conned.
3 – Assess what it means to be a ruler. What attributes does a ruler need to possess?
4 – Do not allow yourself to be blindly devoted to one candidate.

Recommended Reading:
Should Christians Endorse Freedom of Speech?
Does God Expect Christians To Vote? From GotQuestions.Org (Opposing Perspective)
Why My Pro-Life Convictions Will Always Prevent Me From Being A Liberal

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