The Lesser of Two Evils: Choosing Between Ethics and Practicality
I was watching the elections from one of my local bars, The Daily Refresher, with my friend, Rizzo, who was the barista there. We switched on and off between chatting about an issue I was having and getting updates as the votes were being counted. One of the other bartenders would come by every few minutes through out the night and update us and usually his news was not good.
Obviously known now, as the night went on, more and more states went to Trump and there was a sense of shock that you could almost touch in the air and in my chest. Rizzo commented hat she thought that we had gotten past the days when a misogynistic racist could hold an office of power. And by the nights end, history was made.
Jumping the Gun
Over the next 48 hours, news, social media and every other location where people gathered in Rochester were outraged at Trump’s win, but more so at half the country voted for him! So much for progress. Immediately calls went out that everyone who voted for Trump was prejudiced as there were increasing reports of hate crimes occurring in Rochester and Buffalo.
My friends from the LGBT community were both angry and scared. One said that she was afraid it would be “open season” on them and women as well. Rochester can be a very liberal city, and many here seem to have grown comfortable because of so many progressive achievements had occurred this year. It seemed impossible that the country could actually go back to a time where women and LGBT rights could be suppressed. Trump’s victory was more than just a shock, but a ice cold bucket of reality…or a reality other than what it seemed.
I started looking at the reasons behind voter’s decisions to vote for Trump. Some of it was informed by people who voted for him at work, others was from people I met across town who voted or knew someone who had. The one common thing they all shared was that none their reasons had anything to do with race or Hillary Clinton being a woman. I am not really going to go into who was at fault here but suffice it to say that the reasons basically fell to a choice between ethics and practicality.
It’s obvious that there are violent, xenophobic, hateful elements among trump supporters. However as the days went by after the election, it increasingly became known that many of the people who voted for Trump had in fact been the same who voted Obama into power before. This was something even Jon Stewart recently acknowledged. So it made no sense why they would suddenly turn a 180 in the worst possible way.
The reasoning though had much to do with the fear of job loss, of further harm coming to business owners who were already struggling to get by. Many did not trust Hillary Clinton. Trump was a businessman and therefore of the two evils, was the one who best understood their situation. Trump maybe personally an awful person, but they hedged their bets that either he wouldn’t actually follow through on his campaign promises against immigrants, Gays, and Muslims. That or if he did, the other branches of government would swiftly veto those proposals down.
But honestly, whether Trumps plans were stopped or not, these people voted for him because their needs outweighed their morality….Or perhaps more so that the morality was one of empathetic, but distant connection. Beliefs are great as long as you got food on the table and a roof over your head the next day and this could be applied both ways.
The Devil You Know
This election brings up the question if it is right to choose practicality over morality. It’s a philosophical question that’s been around since World War Two. Would you help the Jews escape if it meant being captured, tortured, and killed by the Gestapo? There’s a great scene in the beginning of the movie, Inglorious Bastards, where a SS commander, Hans Landa, tracks down fugitive Jews to a French family’s home. They are hiding them from the Nazi’s and the commander arrives with his men but is courteous and polite to the father, disturbingly so.
Then he switches to English and tells the father that he knows the Jews are under the floor and tells him to show him or have his own family face the consequences. With his own family right outside surrounded by guards, he does so, and the commander has the guards fire into the floor killing all but one of the Jewish family members.
Clearly, businessmen and struggling workers weren’t dealing with racist officers’ threatening to kill their families if they didn’t vote Trump. However, losing one’s job and not being able to support your family could arguably be seen as just as bad. Progressive Americans have the right to be concerned about their hard earned rights and to be angry at their neighbors who may have voted in the man trying to remove them. But if the places were switch, would they choose the same?
This is a situation played out often across history of people put into extraordinary circumstances to make hard choices and take large risks for the sake of their morals or survival. And there are large numbers on both sides who have made either choice, and often condemned or glorified by later generations who view their efforts as spectators rather than participants who were actually there. Both sides judge the other, but that comes easy when you have no investment in the other side.
The most tragic element about the 2016 elections: It forced Americans into a rock and a hard place to choose who was going to be left paying the bill for their own legitimate concerns. There is no easy answer to the question of is it right to choose your own economic survival over the human rights of fellow Americans because it unapologetically begs the question of sacrifice. Only the ones in that position have any true say and there still maybe no resolution to it, nor understanding because neither side may not want to understand concerns that are not their own and understandably so.
What can be said though is that it is leaving a wound in American society that is going to be difficult to heal. If it is a situation of choosing the lesser of two evils, how do you choose and still be able to sleep at night?
Daily Show comedian/correspondent, Hasan Minhaj summed up best this divide when he said during his skit after the elections, “Hey man, I don’t hate you. I just don’t care about you.” Back to the election night, Rizzo pondered this conundrum and understood the implications of it, but at the end of the night could only cry. I could hardly blame her.