By Andrew Cohen
Well the first debate is over. There is no need to remark here about how crazy this election cycle is or how terrible the debate was. US politics has gotten more and more divisive since 1988, when The League of Women Voters stopped sponsoring the presidential debates because of what they saw as the Democratic and Republican parties move “to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions” (here).
Rightly or wrongly, each of the last several presidents has been called “the most divisive” in history.
The divisiveness might not be as bad if the nation had been willing to engage in honest conversation about important issues facing us. Instead, we get candidates who spout scripted lines, ignoring what their opponents say. There is none of the give and take that is the essence of genuine conversation. Unfortunately, this is now true of the majority of political discourse—not just the debates.
Supporters of Hillary Clinton are simply astonished by the behavior of people at Donald Trump’s rallies. Supporters of Donald Trump can’t believe how out of touch Clinton’s supporters are. And neither group really listens to the other. Neither of these candidates has the ability to end this cycle of failed communication. The two party machinery won’t let them. Fortunately, there is a better option available.
This year, with the stakes higher than ever, we have a candidate who is head and shoulders above the Democratic and Republican nominees in terms of honesty, humility, and integrity. Gary Johnson, running with Bill Weld, wants your vote – and given the other options, voting for Johnson and Weld is far from a waste. It’s a way to help improve the political dialogue and tell the Democrats and Republicans both that we need more civility and honest conversation about the issues that face us all. A further step might be for the candidates to sign on to the standards of conduct proposed by the National Institute for Civil Discourse.
Johnson is a libertarian; indeed, I think he is as close to a Bleeding Heart Libertarian as any national politician has ever been in my adult lifetime. He wants to work for genuine criminal justice reform, to end over-incarceration, end the destructive drug war that ruins the lives of many people and their communities, streamline our immigration policy, reduce the size of the regulatory state, increase participation in the workforce, stop the US bombing of innocent people while maintaining the most powerful armed forces the world has seen, improve and extend cooperation throughout the world with genuine free trade policies, and balance the federal budget. (Oh, and since people will ask: He takes global warming seriously, but is skeptical of the supposed remedies thus far proposed. Clearly, he prefers–rightly–to reduce the interference of the regulatory state so as to unleash human ingenuity–which might help find a better solution than those currently on offer.)
Putting all of that in place will not be easy. But Johnson and Weld have track records. They were both successful governors (of New Mexico and Massachusetts, respectively). Both ran as Republicans in heavily Democratic states. Both were re-elected by wide margins because of their success and ability to reach across the aisle to work with people from both parties. Neither is Republican in anything like the way Donald Trump is. Again, they seem to be BHLs, or at least kindred spirits along the same path. Both favor social inclusivity along with fiscally conservative policy. Both worked for the common good of their states as chief executive—something neither Clinton nor Trump can claim. (Admittedly, Johnson doesn’t know the name of every town in the world, including one that is the center of much suffering; importantly, his policies should be what matter to you–and I would suggest that they are likely to result in fewer places where people experience that sort of suffering.)
Andrew J. Cohen is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgia State University. He has published articles in journals including Ethics, the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, the Southern Journal of Philosophy, the American Philosophical Quarterly, the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, and the Journal of Ethics.