A Presidential Ballot Conundrum

Kathryn Tompkins


The Democratic and Republican national conventions are over. After much mudslinging and verbal attacks, one candidate from each party has been chosen to represent for President of the United States. Nasty rhetoric, name calling, and insults have always been a part of political discourse. To observe the ugly side of politics, one must only examine the anti-segregation rhetoric George C. Wallace, former governor of Alabama uttered during the Civil Rights Movement. In his inaugural address in 1963, Wallace declared “segregation now, segregation today, segregation forever”. I like to believe that we have come a long way since the 1960s regarding racial discrimination, although it may simply be more hidden than it was then. That being said, this election cycle is the first in which I have personally observed such violent protests, spousal bashing, and racial divide.

The deontology perspective states that it is my “duty” as an American citizen to exercise my right to vote. This November, when I exercise that right and step inside the voting booth, I will have to choose someone for President who I believe will best represent my personal moral beliefs. As of now, I do not know who that person will be. Presently, both candidates have serious blemishes and potential red flags regarding their respective moral integrity. Both may have used highly unscrupulous tactics to ascend to their present station. One might possibly be a pathological liar, while the other may be a racial bigot. I must consider the facts. I must ignore the strawman fallacies and “cut and paste” rhetoric that plague each candidate’s campaign speeches.

In the text Consider Ethics, Waller states, “First, ethics is based on pure reason: Neither our feelings nor our empirical observations of the world play any part in ethics. Second, the capacity to follow the purely rational dictates of the rational moral law must come from the special capacity of the human will (and not from emotions or inclinations)”.

I do not care whether someone has small hands, an orange complexion, horrible pantsuits, if they drink too much water during a debate, how much they sweat, or if they eat pizza with a fork. Even if these things are rooted in truth, they are not rational arguments for how that person will perform in the White House. It is the ethical choices that both the Democratic and Republican candidates appear to embrace that I am having a difficult time accepting. We have one candidate who is involved in an email scandal that tarnishes her moral character. We have another candidate who has no filter and seems to enjoy the “shock and awe” campaign that he is running. I ask myself “Do I want either one of these people speaking for me and representing my values to the world? Do I trust either of these candidates, if elected, to enforce and implement policies that are in the best interests of my own and my family’s liberty and livelihood?”

Given the information I currently have, my answer would be a resounding “No!” As Waller, explains “You may have some doubts about the perfect reliability of reason, but you are choosing whether to entrust your ethical decisions to your reason or your emotions, most philosophers have believed that reason wins. There are just too many cases where our emotions have led us astray”.

Perhaps we would be able to make a more informed choice if journalists adopted a deontological perspective on the content they report. I’m sure most of the American public is aware of which news outlets are biased toward which side of the aisle. Unfortunately, most adhere to a consequentialism style in which the end justifies the means and agenda trumps ethics. As Professor Sweeney states, “…we can justify an act or a public policy on the basis of how it produces the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of persons.”

The definition of deontological ethics is, “Any ethical system that judges right and wrong acts in terms of principles or duties, rather than on the basis of the consequences of the acts”.  In other words, the results are not based on whether the moral principle is right or wrong. Journalists have an obligation to report the news in a factual and unbiased manner. Power, wealth, and agenda in today’s society have tremendous influence over what information we are given.

Do we have a moral obligation to vote for the candidate who we think will better represent our own personal moral beliefs, even if that candidate does not have an apparent chance of winning the election? In deontological ethics, the answer would be “yes.” In this case, perhaps the concept of voting for a third party candidate becomes a more viable option.

Alternatively, are we morally obligated to vote for the “lesser of two evils” if we were to reason that it is more important to prevent the candidate with the greatest potential for damage from being elected? Some people believe and argue that it is a critical function of government to set examples and pass legislation in the interest of defining moral principle. Others contend that it is absolutely not the function of government to legislate morality, and that for the most part moral principles are an individual choice. To them the role of government is simply to provide the greatest amount of freedom or liberty to all people.

If the election were held today, I suspect I would vote for the third party candidate Gary Johnson. Democrats might argue that a vote for Johnson is a vote for Trump. Republicans might argue that a vote for Johnson is a vote for Clinton. I disagree with this logic. My argument is based on deontological ethics which demands that I must vote my conscience regardless of the outcome.



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