Confessions of an ex-voter
The first vote I ever cast was for Bill Clinton in 1996, when I was 6 years old. I have been unable to discover a tally of the official vote from that year's Nickelodeon "Kids Pick the President" election, but I seem to remember a landslide victory for the Man From Hope.
My instincts have never been partisan. Four years later an article in that distinguished periodical Time for Kids informed me that Al Gore's wife supported "Parental Advisory" stickers on rap CDs and had hard things to say about Dr. Dre and Eminem. Armed with this knowledge I did as my conscience dictated and canvassed heavily for George W. Bush in my fourth-grade class's mock election. He won by a handful of votes. There might even have been a recount.
After this I did not return to the ballot box for many years. In 2008 I was a month shy of being 18 at the time of the Michigan Republican primary. The $25 I sent to Ron Paul's campaign represented about half of my net worth, but it gave me the pleasure of seeing my name appear on his homepage for about 30 seconds. That November I supported Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate, because I liked his mustache. Two years later I voted for my girlfriend's cousin in a Michigan House primary (she came in third) and a straight Republican ticket in the fall. At the straw poll held at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013 I wrote in my maternal grandfather and urged others to do so. He lost to Rand Paul.
This exhausts my personal electoral history.
There are any number of reasons why I have not voted since. One is simply that I cannot manage to fulfill the minimum requirement of keeping my address up to date. Appearing at my designated polling place on Nov. 6, 2012, I found myself turned away because my name appeared on the rolls of another ward. I later lived in Virginia for about five years. In half a decade I did not bother to change over my Michigan driver's license, much less put my name forward as a citizen-elector in that commonwealth. (While I cannot agree with earnest liberals who decry stipulations that voters register at their current addresses and present photographic evidence of their identities as "suppression," I do oppose so-called "voter I.D. laws," just as I believe that it should be legal to purchase alcohol and tobacco without presenting identification. One would expect those who consider the franchise sacred — or at least more important than beer — to take a somewhat stricter view.)
Another reason I have found for not voting is that in most cases it appears that my ballot will not make a difference. This is almost certainly true in presidential elections, where the slimmest margins — Florida in 2000 — still involve hundreds of votes.
In state and local politics the case is different. Here elections are often much closer and on occasion even a single vote matters. But there are other reasons for staying home. The decline of regional newspapers has made local affairs outside major metropolitan areas a matter of anagogic frustration to voters, who have only the faintest idea how and by whom most decisions are made in their states and cities. One simply accepts things as they are.
But my principal reason for declining to take part in elections is moral. It involves, I suppose, a private objection to democracy itself.
I believe that the burden of choosing leaders has been psychologically taxing for those upon whom it has been placed in the relatively brief period in which this arrangement has been common. The pace of modern communications has made it all-consuming. We are invited to witness the failings of politicians, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the seashore innumerable, for 24 hours a day, every day of the year. For most of history men and women enjoyed the luxury of knowing that the sovereign's rule was a brute fact about which nothing could be done. They went about the ordinary business of life — laboring, raising children, worshipping their creator — untroubled by futile expectations of change. Some of us continue to aspire to this happy ideal.
Popular elections are a recent phenomenon in human affairs. I do not expect the illusion that there is something nobler about choosing leaders than inheriting them to hold sway over our imaginations forever. The neoliberal economic consensus that has united both of our major political parties, and indeed most politicians in the industrialized world, is a more powerful force than democracy. So long as the supply of cheap consumer goods and crass entertainment continues without interruption I think the majority of Americans would not mind terribly if universal suffrage gave way to a more emphatic type of oligarchy. The Chinese arrangement of one-party capitalist tyranny probably lies somewhere in our future.
In a bland way I hope to see Republicans control various state and national offices. This arises from a single issue: the legality of abortion. But I do not trust members of the GOP to keep their promises, and I refuse to be implicated in the crimes of politicians whose views are otherwise repulsive and whose character I find dubious. While I have strong feelings about what is wrong with the country and the world I see no obvious means of putting things right.
Even those who do not share my views will understand, I hope, the sense of futility I am attempting to describe. Among other things it is the reason is that I am mostly sanguine about Donald Trump's presidency. His rule is nakedly imperial; his will, mutable and frivolous. His authority is lawful not lovable. The capriciousness of his decisions, the hideousness of his conduct, and the visible descent of his mind and body into a ribald senescence are easier to bear if one sees him as a decadent potentate late in the decline of an empire rather than as the tribune of a conscientious citizenry in a flourishing republic. I have neither the power nor the will to alter the reality of Trump's presidency.
This feeling of resignation, which once barely rose above the level of despair, has become a consolation. This is true not least because I earn my living by writing about politics, albeit from the detached perspective of the non-combatant. I like to imagine that my disinterest allows me to see things more clearly than partisans, but even if this is not so it certainly makes me happier. Our misrule is simply the case.