(The Liberator Today is now published on the far side of the Peace Bridge, at the terminus of the Underground Railroad.)
Former Kansas Governor Mike Hayden is voting differently in 2018, but he is not really voting differently. A lifelong Republican, Hayden is voting for a Democrat in order to prevent Kris Kobach from obtaining the Kansas governorship. The Des Moines Register, known for its balance, is advising its readers to vote differently in 2018 (but not really). The editors write:
In becoming the party of Trump, the Republicans have forsaken traditional conservatism and given voters no rational alternative to the Democrats. The party needs to be voted out of power and spend a few years becoming again the party of Lincoln, not the party of Trump.
All across the country, people are voting differently, but not really, because they are merely voting for a different party’s candidate, or for a different person than the one--the incumbent--that they sent to office two, four, or six years ago. That’s voting for a different WHO. We need to vote with a different HOW.
I’m resurrecting the Naaman’s Voters Guide in time for the 2018 midterm elections.
You may recall the 2016 story of the Guide. Some people who were genuinely perplexed by the dilemma of the two parties’ two candidates in a two party system came to me and asked, “Lowell, how should I vote?” I deliberated for a bit and then told them that I would answer their question, but not in the way they intended. They had asked “How should I vote?” by which they meant “For whom should I vote?” Instead, I would attempt to answer the question “[In what manner] should I vote?” I was going to focus on the adverbs. And so, as you can read if you care to jump back, I advised people to vote freely, peacefully, quickly, worshipfully, and dolefully and hopefully. (And by the way, puhleeeeze don’t vote for Donald Trump.) I got both affirmation and rejection. One church in my hometown sent weekly links to their congregants. Another church printed out my “worshipfully” issue and passed it out the Sunday before the election. I do not believe I changed any minds, and Heaven knows, I swayed nothing in the election outcomes. But I do believe I faithfully shepherded some of my readers who were feeling distressed and downcast.
You may also recall the story behind the name of the Voters Guide. Naaman had an impossible situation, as recorded in 2 Kings 5 in the Old Testament. Healed from leprosy, he vowed to worship no god but Yahweh. However, Naaman had civic responsibilities. When he attended to the King of Aram, his boss, he was afraid that he might have to bow when the king was in his temple bowing to the idol Rimmon, if the king was leaning on his arm. The prophet Elisha responds, “Go in peace.” In the run-up to the 2016 election, we were all in need of a similar benediction.
Finally, some of you may also recall my previous experience with a midterm election, 2014. I prayed that the Lord God Almighty would turn five incumbents out of office. One was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (of Trump’s voter fraud commission infamy). Another was Mitch McConnell. I wasn’t a Kentucky voter, but McConnell had an autocratic stranglehold on a Senate that the Constitution said belonged to all people. Anyway, long story short, all my prayers went unanswered. All five of the candidates were returned to office. McConnell has caused so much damage in the last four weeks, let alone the last four years, that historian Christopher Browning recently wrote in the NY Times Review of Books: “If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell.” The morning after the election, I walked down to my favorite coffee shop—Radina’s in Aggieville. Parked right outside was a car with this bumper sticker in the back window: “Proud white American English-speaking male. Don’t like it. Leave.” I went into Radina’s, ordered a decaf coffee, and wrote the first sentences which would become The Liberator Today and eventually the Naaman’s Voters Guide.
But what is our dilemma in 2018? No one is asking me this time around, “Lowell, for whom should I vote?” There have been numerous crisis points in the past two years that everyone, it seems, has made up his or her mind months in advance. Nonetheless, I would argue that now more than ever it is important to keep our focus fixed on HOW one should vote? In what manner? With what attitude or perspective? The reason I say this is because none of us have ever been asked to vote in an era where one’s vote has lost all meaning.
What I more precisely mean is that your vote has lost its traditional meaning, the meaning that we ascribed to it before 2016, the meaning that our fore bearers generally brought to it, the meaning that was embodied in the US Constitution. Russian meddling, gerrymandered districts, voter fraud, voter suppression, disenfranchisement, unmatchable PAC money, voter apathy, Senate filibuster rules, the strength of incumbency, a politicized judiciary. . . these are just some of the developments that has changed the meaning of your vote. It used to be that voting was our way to staff the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It was meant to make the will of the people known, to reward those with the skills, knowledge, and commitment to advance what George Washington called The American Experiment. Now your vote is no longer able, nor even meant, to accomplish those purposes.
Even those who are advising us to vote for a different WHO (and I still think Atlantic’s March 2018 article “Boycott the Republican Party” is the best argument for this) are proof that voting as we have known it has lost its old meaning. The subtitle of the Atlantic article is “If conservatives want to save the GOP from itself, they need to vote mindlessly and mechanically against its nominees.” In other words, unlike how you used to do it, don’t weigh the issues. Don’t choose the “best person for the job.” Don’t honor old loyalties. Instead, we are being asked to vote in such a way as to put a band aid on the next two years of governance, to provide “checks and balances” on an autocratic faction (Trump, McConnell, Ryan’s replacement, a 5-4 politicized SCOTUS). The opposition party was never meant to be the “checks and balances” in the system. There is a story--possibly attributable to Rep. Al Swift of Washington, possibly apocryphal, quoted on TV’s The West Wing: a freshman Democrat looked across the aisle in the House of Representatives and called a Republican his enemy. “Republicans are the opposition,” a veteran House colleague corrected him, “the Senate is the enemy.” As per the Federalist Papers, the two houses of Congress and then the other two branches of government were all supposed to view each other with suspicion, to cooperate but not collude. As per the Constitution, the system of checks and balances was never supposed to be dependent on an election cycle.
So people are already ascribing new meaning for your vote, encouraging you to use it in ways that you may not even be aware of. It’s your vote. Just as you are free to cast it for WHOMEVER you wish, you are also free to cast it HOWEVER you wish. In other words, reassert control over the new meaning of your vote. The problem is that the old meaning for voting still has a mathematical justification. If enough people of good will can be convinced to turn out and vote for the best candidate—and if this phenomenon is replicated across enough states and districts—then, yes, the autocrats could be thrown out of office and reform of the system could commence. I concede. It works on paper. Browning’s article “The Suffocation of Democracy” is a worthy read, in part because it argues that dictatorships in the 21st Century will look and smell like democracy. Dictatorships in the 21stCentury will continue to present an inarguable mathematical legitimacy. But Browning writes:
The most original revelation of the current wave of authoritarians is that the construction of overtly antidemocratic dictatorships aspiring to totalitarianism is unnecessary for holding power. Perhaps the most apt designation of this new authoritarianism is the insidious term “illiberal democracy.” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Viktor Orbán in Hungary have all discovered that opposition parties can be left in existence and elections can be held in order to provide a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy, while in reality elections pose scant challenge to their power. Truly dangerous opposition leaders are neutralized or eliminated one way or another.
Total control of the press and other media is likewise unnecessary, since a flood of managed and fake news so pollutes the flow of information that facts and truth become irrelevant as shapers of public opinion. Once-independent judiciaries are gradually dismantled through selective purging and the appointment of politically reliable loyalists. . . [And that is only a portion of Browning’s analysis of what is becoming true in America.]
We have never had to cast votes in an illiberal democracy before. If our vote has lost its traditional meaning, then it is the responsibility of all freedom-loving people to construct new meaning, if only for our own survival, health, and liberty. Our best chance of finding new meaning is to stop fixing on the “Who?” of the act of casting a ballot, and instead explore the “How?” Another way I might say this is that the mechanics of voting physically have not changed, but the dynamics of voting spiritually must. There are only two weeks left before Election Day. Let’s see if I can generate three new articles in the Naaman’s Voters Guide: How to vote faithfully; How to vote resiliently; and How to vote unexceptionally.
(I was tempted to end this article with the line: “And puhleeze don’t vote for Kris Kobach,” but my audience is truly those who are voting differently than Kobach already, but who have yet to explore that simply voting for the Democrat is NOT the health and freedom available in the concept of voting differently. I am writing to those who have had heard the same call Jesus issued to his disciples: “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matt 8:22)).