So, what’s on your calendar for March 15? Be at work by 8:00? Take the grandchildren to daycare and pick them up? Get your form 1040 in the mail? Watch March Madness?
If you don’t have “vote” penciled in you are like 82.1% of you neighbors. That’s the percentage of Illinoisans who vote in the presidential primary four years ago.
People give lots of reasons for not voting—I’m working that day. There are so many candidates running for so many offices that I can never get to know them well enough to vote intelligently. I’m too busy.
There are good responses for all of those excuses. There is absentee voting, early voting (for us in Oak Park’s village hall on Madison St., independent endorsements—Independent Voters of Illinois for example.
But I’m going go out on a limb and say that the main reason people don’t vote is our national philosophy—Pragmatism. According to the website philosophybasics, “Pragmatism is a late 19th Century and early 20th Century school of philosophy which considers practical consequences or real effects to be vital components of both meaning and truth. At its simplest, something is true only insofar as it works.”
One example is Plessy vs. Ferguson. In theory, separate but equal sounded fine. But after about sixty years of seeing is separate could be equal, the Supreme Court in 1954 declared that it wasn’t working and declared it unconstitutional. That’s Pragmatism. Another example is your best friend’s advice on how to lose weight. It sounded like a great idea, but after six months of following the regimen faithfully and not losing a pound, you decide that no matter good the plan sounded in theory, it didn’t work and so you quit. That’s pragmatism.
Here’s an irony. The mood in the country now seems to be “It’s not working.” That’s one thing Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders agree on. It’s not working. And lots of people seem to be responding, “You’re darn right and I’m not going to take it any more.”
The only trouble is that the tactics used by most candidates are emblematic of the very polarization which is paralyzing our society. To which pragmatists respond, “Well, maybe, but the ends justify the means. Political campaigns are brutal, but that’s what I have to do to get in office where I can operate by different rules and do some good.”
Along with pragmatism, there has always been another philosophy/theology influencing our public life. Along with what works is true we also look up to people who do the right thing whether it’s popular or not. We hold up characters like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird
who lost the trial but won our respect by the way he played the game.
Kent Keith wrote a poem titled Anyway which I’m told hung on Mother Theresa’s wall. Following are a few lines:
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
There is, in my opinion, something more at stake on March 15 than who gets nominated by the two parties. What’s at stake is greater than who gets elected president. What’s at stake is the moral fiber, the integrity, the values—our identity as Americans.
I hear a lot of candidates declaring that they are going to make America great again, and I say to myself, “Not the way you are behaving.”
“That’s just the way it is,” reply the pragmatists. “It’s what you have to do to get elected.”
“That’s why I’m not going to vote,” say 80% of the residents of Illinois. “It my vote won’t change an anything.”
And I hear a quiet yet compelling voice telling me, “You might vote for the best candidate, and a demagogue might get elected; vote anyway.”