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Tiffani Goodell “Value-Based Ethics: Why I Voted Independent in the 2016 Presidential Election”

Headshot of the author, Tiffani Goodell

Tiffani Goodell

Tiffani was born and raised in the country outside Caldwell, Idaho, but she has lived in both a tiny Oregon coastal town and in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district. Tiffani has gone to four different schools and had four different majors ranging from Psychology to Media, Culture, & The Arts out of her desire to learn as much as humanly possible. She was planning to enter the publishing industry in New York as an editor, but she settled on Computer Science at Boise State when she took a philosophy course that taught propositional logic and found she had a knack for it. Tiffani thinks Idaho is the most underrated state in the country, and she plans to stay and work in Boise after graduation. When she is not studying for school, Tiffani likes to travel, crochet, solve logic puzzles, and read as much as she can about as many subjects as possible. She likes to think she’s basically Hermione Granger, but without the magic and stuff.

Value-Based Ethics: Why I Voted Independent in the 2016 Presidential Election

Last November I voted in my second presidential election. Although I had voted in 2012, I knew I hadn’t been a very informed voter and I was determined to do better the second time around. I took courses in ethics, politics, and economics by way of preparation, forming my own views along the way and developing my own personal code of ethics. At first I was excited to exercise all my newfound knowledge, but as the Primaries came and went I found myself disappointed with the two choices we had left. How could being well informed help me choose a good candidate if I didn’t believe either candidate was good?

Many people take a Utilitarian approach to elections, seeing them as situations where they must choose the “lesser of two evils.” These people’s goal is to maximize good while minimizing harm overall, and they will often view their vote as being cast against one candidate, rather than for the other. Utilitarianism was therefore the first approach I considered. Was there a candidate I felt would do less harm if elected? For some this question may have been easy to answer, but my personal code of ethics made it difficult.

Much of my personal code of ethics comes from my upbringing in Evangelical Christianity. Although I heard people from both sides of the spectrum throughout the election accuse the opposition of being “un-Christian,” the truth is that the teachings of the Bible are not tied to any one political party. I believe this misunderstanding happens when people assume their entire code of ethics comes from their religion, rather than recognizing other areas of socialization which have influenced them. [1] For instance, I was homeschooled as a child, which led me to attach a higher importance to the value of personal freedom than many other Christians. Teachings such as “love your neighbor” can be supported by different people in different ways, leaving me to puzzle out for myself which candidate supported them in a way which aligned most closely with my social location and its influence on me.[2]

Logically, I marveled that either candidate had gained any support at all. Among other concerns, Donald Trump had admitted to tax avoidance and refused to release his tax returns,[3] and Hillary Clinton was under investigation by the FBI for mishandling sensitive information on the job.[4] However, I asked myself how they stacked up in other, more subjective areas. One of the prime directives of my personal code of ethics is to protect and care for human life at all stages. According to this standard, both candidates failed. I could not look past Trump’s attitude toward women and minorities, and I knew his stance on refugees would lead to the loss of many innocent lives. Likewise, although Clinton is a woman, she had acted in ways which were troubling coming from someone who claimed to champion the cause of women.[5] Additionally, because I believe “life at all stages” extends before birth, I saw her pro-choice platform as having as much potential to end innocent lives as Trump’s anti-refugee platform.

When the Utilitarian approach failed to help me decide, I briefly considered not voting at all. However, I knew that my right to vote was hard won, first in the American Revolution and then by women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. My social location as an American woman will not allow me to take that right for granted. Where did that leave me? What sort of ethical standard should I use to make my decision? I remembered a friend who was vocal about voting for a third party in the previous election, but I was afraid that doing so in the 2016 election would simply be avoiding the need to make a tough choice. I decided my first step needed to be research.

I learned several fascinating things during my research. First, I learned that there were never supposed to be parties in the political system of the United States. Founding fathers such as George Washington warned about the dangers of political parties and hoped they wouldn’t form. In his farewell address, Washington said that parties “are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”[6]

Second, I learned about the Electoral College and how it is a valuable part of the United States’ system of checks and balances. Not only does the College keep cities with large populations from unfairly influencing the vote, but it can also help to keep parties from dominating the election when there are more than two front-runners.[7] This means a vote for “the little guy” is more practical than many believe.

We have been socialized to believe that only two parties matter. If you do not vote Democrat or Republican, your vote is wasted. If your views do not fit into this political dichotomy, you should give up hope of representation and simply vote for the lesser evil. The privilege these two parties hold is evidenced by the way presidential polls and debates are run. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), although officially nonpartisan, is jointly chaired by the former chairmen of the Democratic and Republican National Committees.[8] Moreover, candidates wanting to debate must be polling at 15% in five polls of the CPD’s choice. However, one of those five—the CNN poll—entirely excluded voters 18-34 years old, a demographic shown in other polls to have higher support for third parties.[9] These biases keep voters in check by leading us to believe that a third party or independent vote carries no weight. However, my research showed that it does not need to be this way. As more people vote with their conscience, rather than merely party loyalty, the checks and balances in our government are able to work as intended.

Finally, my research led me to a website called iSideWith.[10] This website allows you to take a quiz which asks about your political beliefs, then shows where they fall on a political chart and how closely each candidate’s views align with yours. The website is nonpartisan and its goal is not to say that any one candidate is more right than another, but simply to help you choose which one most represents your views. When I took the quiz I discovered that my views are considered “moderately libertarian.” This means I fall in the middle of the traditional left to right spectrum, but am moderately opposed to authoritarian stances, instead favoring personal freedoms. The website also matched me with an independent candidate, and after researching him I decided he was someone I could stand behind without violating my personal code of ethics.

Although the Utilitarian approach might still dismiss an independent vote as wasted, in the end my research led me to choose a Value-Based approach. This approach focuses not on the direct effects of my choices, but rather on their indirect effect on me. It asks, “What sort of person will I become if I do this?”[11] By voting independent, I elected to become the sort of person who stands by my ethical beliefs. I am the sort of person who acts to break the Cycle of Socialization.[12] And perhaps by doing so I will inspire others to do the same.

[Note: endnotes appeared as footnotes in the original document]

[1] Bobbie Harro, “The Cycle of Socialization” in Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, ed. Maurianne Adams et al., (New York: Routledge, 2010), 45-52.

[2] Gwyn Kirk and Margo Okazawa-Rey, “Identities and Social Locations: Who Am I? Who Are My People?” in Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, ed. Maurianne Adams et al., (New York: Routledge, 2010), 9-15.

[3] Steve Eder and Megan Twohey, “Donald Trump Acknowledges Not Paying Federal Income Tax for Years,” The New York Times, October 10, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html.

[4] Meghan Keneally Jack Date, and Cecelia Vega, “FBI Director Says Investigation into Hillary Clinton Emails Back On,” abc News, October 29, 2016, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/fbi-director-investigation-hillary-clinton-emails-back/story?id=43138105.

[5] Steven A. Holmes, “Reality Check: Did Hillary Clinton Attack Her Husband’s Accusers?” CNN, last updated October 12, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/11/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-bill-clinton-accusers/.

[6] George Washington “farewell address,” September 17, 1796, quoted on Mount Vernon, accessed February 14, 2017, http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/quotes/.

[7] Citation about how this can work

[8] “The Commission on Presidential Debates: An Overview,” Commission on Presidential Debates, accessed February 14, 2017, http://debates.org/index.php?page=overview.

[9] Steve Kerbel, “CNN Election Poll Excluded Millennials And Downplayed 3rd Party Votes,” Being Libertarian, September 7, 2016, https://beinglibertarian.com/cnn-election-poll-excluded-millennials-downplayed-3rd-party-votes/.

[10] iSideWith, isidewith.com

[11] Manuel Velasquez et al., “A Framework for Ethical Decision Making,” Santa Clara University, last revised May 2009, https://www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/a-framework-for-ethical-decision-making/.

[12] Harro, “The Cycle of Socialization,” 45-52.

Bibliography

Eder, Steve, and Megan Twohey. “Donald Trump Acknowledges Not Paying Federal Income Tax for Years.” The New York Times. October 10, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html.

Harro, Bobbie. “The Cycle of Socialization.” In Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, edited by Maurianne Adams, 45-52. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Holmes, Steven A. “Reality Check: Did Hillary Clinton Attack Her Husband’s Accusers?” CNN. Last updated October 12, 2016. , http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/11/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-bill-clinton-accusers/.

iSideWith, isidewith.com.

Keneally, Meghan, Jack Date, and Cecelia Vega. “FBI Director Says Investigation into Hillary Clinton Emails Back On.” abc News. October 29, 2016. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/fbi-director-investigation-hillary-clinton-emails-back/story?id=43138105.

Kerbel, Steve. “CNN Election Poll Excluded Millennials And Downplayed 3rd Party Votes.” Being Libertarian. September 7, 2016. https://beinglibertarian.com/cnn-election-poll-excluded-millennials-downplayed-3rd-party-votes/.

Kirk, Gwyn, and Margo Okazawa-Rey. “Identities and Social Locations: Who Am I? Who Are My People?” In Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, edited by Maurianne Adams, 45-52. New York: Routledge, 2010.

“The Commission on Presidential Debates: An Overview.” Commission on Presidential Debates. Accessed February 14, 2017. http://debates.org/index.php?page=overview.

Velasquez, Manuel, Dennis Moberg, Michael J. Meyer, Thomas Shanks, Margaret R. McLean, David DeCosse, Claire André, and Kirk O. Hanson. “A Framework for Ethical Decision Making.” Santa Clara University. Last revised May 2009. https://www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/a-framework-for-ethical-decision-making/.

Washington, George. “Farewell Address.” September 17, 1796. Quoted on Mount Vernon. Accessed February 14, 2017. http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/quotes/.