“Elections are terrible these days”
All over my various social media feeds, the politically themed posts are increasing in number and in nastiness. Some of them go too far, I think. It tends to be a meme sharing, insult hurling, meanly mocking mess. Rational discussion about politics is hard to come by. But it’s definitely all part of the political process. Contemporary society didn’t invent ugly politics, and it’s certainly not limited to American politics.
You should still vote.
First, a few examples of ugly American presidential political races that will demonstrate that the current one is no uglier than others in history::
Thomas Jefferson vs. John Adams (1800)
“The Election of 1800” is even a song in the musical Hamilton. When Federalist John Adams ran for president against Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson, (whom Hamilton endorsed for the nomination) many in the country believed the future of the young nation was at stake. People promoting each candidate used wildly colorful and insulting language to attack the opposing candidate, according to news reports at the time. A writer at the time called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Jefferson’s political opponents labeled him “nothing but a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father,” They claimed that he enjoyed the taste of fricasseed bullfrog, as an insult to the fact that he enjoyed fine French delicacies whenever he could.
Andrew Jackson vs. John Quincy Adams (1828)
In research I have seen multiple historians cite this presidential campaign as the dirtiest in America’s history. Andrew Jackson was accused of multiple murders and acts of violence by supporters of Adams. Meanwhile, Jackson supporters claimed that John Quincy Adams spent his time as the first U.S minister to Russia, procuring young American virgins for the Czar. Jackson’s mother was even in newspapers and was referred to in an editorial as “a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers.” Jackson’s wife, Rachel, was vilified, too. She was accused of being “a loose woman” and a bigamist, and of marrying Jackson before a divorce from her first husband had been finalized. The press called her the “American Jezebel.” She suffered terrible anxiety from the barrage of vicious attacks from the press during the campaign. She actually died of heart failure shortly after her husband won the election.
Abraham Lincoln vs. Stephen Douglas (1860)
Abraham Lincoln was not a handsome man. If you research it a bit, you can find descriptive accounts of his appearance in the newspapers of the time. I noted one in particular that described him as a “horrid looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly (sic) in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse swapper and the night man.” Douglas described Lincoln as “the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms and hatchet-face ever strung upon a single frame.” On the other side of the matter, Lincoln supporters lambasted Stephen Douglas’ appearance as well, frequently holding it on his lack of height. They derided him as “the little giant.” Flyers were distributed saying that while on the campaign trail, Douglas was a lost child whose mother was very worried about him.
As you can see there is a long-standing tradition of ugly rhetoric in presidential elections. You don’t have to engage in it. You can tune it out. It doesn’t mean you throw up your hands and say this is all ridiculous, and then choose not to vote.
OK, so it’s always been this way. Why does that mean I should vote?
“Voting is your civic responsibility.” You probably heard that expression before. This is a pretty common sentiment, especially each November as Election Day approaches. But what does it really mean? And what does it mean for Americans in particular?
Well, think about the history of voting in the United States
Constitution and Voting
Today, most American citizens over age 18 are entitled to vote in federal and state elections. Voting was not always a right for all Americans. The United States Constitution, as originally written, did not define specifically who could or could not vote. it did establish how the country would vote.
Article 1 of the Constitution established that members of the Senate and House of Representatives would be elected by popular vote. The president would be elected by indirect vote, via the Electoral College. The Electoral College assigns a number of representative votes per state, usually based on state population. This procedure was to be a balance between using the popular vote and using a state’s Congressional representatives to elect the president.
The Constitution originally did not specify who could actually vote. That determination was pretty much originally left to the states to decide for themselves. In most cases, landowning white men were the only people eligible to vote. White women, all black people, and other minority or disadvantaged groups of the time were not allowed to vote.
In 1869 the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, giving in black men the vote. Many black people who wanted to vote had to contend with obstacles set up by the states intended to stop them from exercising their new right to vote. These obstacles included things like poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation measures. The 24th Amendment passed in 1964, a full 95 years later, eliminated the poll tax. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, finally ended Jim Crow laws. While all that was slowly proceeding, women were being denied the right to vote until the women’s suffrage movement resulted in the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Examples of Why Your Vote Matters
If you ever think that your one vote in the midst of millions can’t make a difference, take a moment to consider just 2 of the closest elections in U.S. history, both of which took place in the last 2 decades.
In 2000, Al Gore lost the Electoral College vote to George W. Bush by a very small margin. The election was so close it actually came down to a recount in Florida. In that state, Bush had won the popular vote by such a tiny margin that it triggered an automatic recount, and a Supreme Court case (Bush v. Gore). When it was all over, Bush won Florida by 0.009% of the votes cast in the state. 537 votes. If just 550 more Gore supporters had voted in Florida that November, we very possibly would have had a different president from 2000 until 2008.
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a close Electoral College win. Clinton won the national popular vote by almost 3 million votes. The concentration of pro-Trump voters in key districts in several “swing” states helped give him enough electoral votes to win.
Your vote won’t directly elect the president, or any other public official. But your vote joins others in your voting district. It matters when it comes to electoral results. Remember, your voting habits also matter when it comes to state and local elections, which usually have far fewer people show up to vote than do in the same area for the presidential election. That makes even a single vote even more statistically meaningful.
What about coronavirus?
What about it? Polling places will have appropriate measures in place, as per area requirements. If you go to the bank, schools, supermarkets, restaurants, the library, the mall, the hairdresser, coffee shop, the gym … then just use the same precautions. Or request an absentee ballot
If she could do it, …
Elections are decided by the people who go out to vote, or who arranged to have an absentee ballot mailed to them and mail it back in time to be counted. I went to a Ford dealership in Valley Stream and voted every year I could from the time I was old enough to cast my ballot. When I moved, my voting place became a local school. When I became disabled, I amended my voter registration to have my ballot mailed to me.
My maternal grandmother was an amputee. She worked long days standing on her one good leg and her prosthetic leg in a bakery, waiting on customers from behind the counter. I vividly remember her going back out after dinner on a freezing cold day because she had to vote. I wasn’t old enough to vote yet and I didn’t really understand why it was so important for her to do it when she was tired and sore from working all day. She basically told me that “If I don’t vote, I can’t complain about the results.” If I wasn’t until years later that I really understood what she meant by that.
We have the benefit of living in the digital age, a time where information is literally at your fingertips. Find some time to learn a bit about the issues and the candidates. If you don’t vote, someone else is choosing for you. Your vote is part of your power. Why waste it?