Tag Archives: Vote Blue

America’s Trolley Problem

There’s a famous “what if?” used in classes teaching ethics: it’s called the Trolley Problem, and it poses a terrible dilemma. A trolley is bearing down on a group of five people, who are (unaccountably) unaware of its path. You are standing near a switch that can divert it–but if you do, it will kill a single person who would then be in its path.

What do you do? Do you resist taking an action that would make you, in effect, the person who murders that single unfortunate (and presumably innocent) bystander? Or do you shrug and let the trolley kill the five (presumably equally innocent) original targets, excusing your non-interference with the fact that your actions were not responsible for their demise? (Accidents happen…)

There’s no comforting solution to that dilemma, just as there is no “perfect” answer to most of the questions we wrestle with almost daily on this site and elsewhere.

I am one of the many former Republicans who is horrified by what that party has become, and I have been adamant about the importance of voting Blue in November. That advice has been criticized–on this site and elsewhere–by those who find both parties unworthy of their support. Democrats are far from perfect, they point out, so–as  advocates of moral purity–they refuse to draw any distinction between a fascist cult and an admittedly flawed political party.

Talk about making the perfect the enemy of the good!

May I suggest that the Jews living in Nazi Germany would have been grateful for a corrupt or inept or otherwise “imperfect” alternative to Hitler? (I don’t think that example is as far-fetched as it would have been in times past.)

We American voters are standing at that switch. We are watching the trolley come down the track.

Not unlike certain commenters to this blog, some number of progressive American voters entertain a firm belief in their own superior moral purity. Those voters exhibit disdain for the very idea of casting a vote in support of a political party that doesn’t meet their rigid and impossibly high ethical standards. They harp on the multiple failings of the political party that is–at this moment in history–the clearly preferable alternative.

That posture is particularly appealing to  American voters who are White, male and middle-class, and thus unlikely to be an early target of the Christian Nationalist cult that has taken over the once-respectable GOP.

The rest of us–women, people of color, non-Christians, immigrants, and others who don’t meet the Christian Nationalist definition of “real American”–are more likely to agree with President Biden about what is at stake this November.

Americans unwilling to make the perfect the enemy of the good will go to the polls and vote Blue No Matter Who because we care about reproductive choice, about protecting every citizen’s right to vote, about public education, about the economic well-being of working class Americans, about sensible gun laws, about genuine religious liberty (as opposed to the privileging of Christian religious doctrine), and about limiting the authority of government over our most intimate decisions.

Those of us who understand the choice before us aren’t blind– we understand that we won’t all agree about the policies that will be necessary or desirable to achieve our goals, or even, in some cases, the goals themselves. We are perfectly well aware that the Democratic Party includes plenty of lawmakers with whom we disagree, and some number whose behaviors are suspect and/or whose motives are impure.

It doesn’t matter.We can address those deficiencies once we save America’s admittedly imperfect democracy. Because–hysterical and overblown as it sounds–that actually is what is at stake. Moral purity from either the Right or Left is a pose and a fiction. Making the perfect (however one defines it) the enemy of the good is a cop-out–a defense for doing nothing.

November is America’s Trolley Problem.

No one wants to throw the switch that kills the single human on the alternate track, but refusing to do so will doom five equally innocent beings. The people refusing  to throw the ballot-box switch may not have been responsible for the trolley’s original path, but that fact doesn’t excuse their “pox on both your houses” refusal to distinguish between levels of harm.

Or perhaps, like the “Good Germans, they simply refuse to see the trolley…