By Annlinn Kruger
Words shape our world. Regarding the election, there’s no shortage. We often give commonplaces short shrift. I’d like to give one its due.
‘Vote Your Conscience’ is used by the Right and Left. What does it mean? In “Hamlet,” one is advised to be true to oneself. By the end of the play, in which a transfer of power is corrupted and a prince chases ghosts under the illusion he is pursuing justice, the body politic has self-destructed and a foreign power takes over. John Quincy Adams advised, “Always vote for principle, though you vote alone, and you may cherish the sweet reflection that your vote is never lost.” Reflection on how our political choices scuttle our social causes may suggest other voting tactics. Henry Thoreau, that king of purity tests, wrote of different drummers; he was a misanthrope who eschewed reading newspapers and believed charity started and stayed at home – his home.
Conscience is the voice we hear in our heads. We use the word interchangeably with inwardly held principles, values and beliefs. It often involves a leap of faith where examination ends and acceptance begins. We leave behind the contingent truths of history, the provisional truths of science and the necessary truths of logic, for the absolute truths of doctrine. We also leave behind reasoned debate of evidence and are tempted to leave behind strategy. Absolutes are reassuring, but tricky to enforce. There are contradictions.
The word socialism was coined by a French aristocrat who fought in the American Revolution. Our founders enshrined enslavement while asserting equality. Social progress was in the air. State craft demanded unconscionable expediencies. The Constitution invites social reform. So–called conservatives overturn constitutional protections. Their ‘originalism’ pretends to divine the framers’ intent and their ‘textualism’ pretends dictionaries fix words rather than trace their trajectory through the social landscape.
Kingmakers and different drummers have used the call to conscience in different ways. For the Right, which identifies with individualism, the call is to collective undertaking. The Left, which identifies with collectivism, has taken it to mean independent action.
The term kingmaker traces to an English aristocrat, who, in contradiction to the Divine Right of Kings, established a monarch. American revolutionaries gave God’s blessing to their assertion of equality. Religion in government has bedeviled us ever since. The Right has ditched religion’s Golden Rule ethics and kept its irrationality and authoritarianism.
Whatever I may think of their agenda, I bow to their strategy. They volunteered, ran for office and voted – as Republicans.
Right–wing extremists did not swallow the GOP whole. They ate it bite by bite before spitting the elephant out in their own image – the travesty of the President of the United States raising the Confederate flag as a symbol of freedom.
Karl Marx wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways: the point is to change it.” Republicans have done just that. They’re not monolithic, they’re united. There is a lesson. Vote your conscience to make common cause.
Annlinn Kruger resides in Bar Harbor.