Much of the dialogue surrounding the upcoming presidential election often reverts to the personal merits or disadvantages of the individual candidates. I regularly encounter discourse that resembles the following: “I can’t believe anyone could support someone with the personality or character of Donald Trump,” or “How could you ever vote for Biden? He comes across as so weak and incompetent.” Undoubtedly, considerations of personality, character and moral standing should play a significant role in our political decisions; however, we must avoid the tendency to oversimplify presidential elections, and by extension, people’s political positions. Doing so destroys deliberation between different parties and fails to recognize the complexity and nuance behind an individual’s political decisions. Elections are far more than referendums on the personality or character of a particular individual. Ultimately, we vote for platforms and groups of people, not single candidates.
A simple overview of a typical presidential administration showcases this reality. As of 2016, an administration must review or appoint around 4,000 positions, including the 15 department heads comprising a president’s cabinet, and the various judges and justices nominated for court positions. This does not include the various unofficial advisors and strategists that influence an administration’s policy. A vote for president is not merely a vote for a specific person, but for thousands. A person casting their vote for Trump or Biden may not be particularly thrilled with their candidate, but views their vote as a vote for a whole group of influential men and women who will shape the administration.
In fact, our founders intentionally constructed our government to restrain any one person’s influence on the whole of the government. Elected officials are limited by their positions and are accountable to many others. Their personal preferences and personalities can only make so much of an impact. Portraying an election as a choice between the personal qualities of two people paints a false narrative that gives particular candidates unrealistic amounts of power.
Further, when we cast a vote for president, we are voting for a much larger platform and agenda. A vote for a particular candidate is, in reality, a vote for a particular worldview, a set of value commitments, that determines how they approach fiscal and social issues. During a recent conversation with my grandfather, I asked him about his reasons for supporting President Donald Trump’s candidacy. His answer testifies to the fact that this election involves far more than a two person face-off. “Personally, I don’t particularly care for Donald Trump’s persona or everything that he says,” he admitted, “however, I am choosing to vote for Trump because I am voting for a particular worldview and policy positions far bigger [than] him as a particular candidate. And if a Democrat came along who more fully represented my worldview, I would vote for him.” Many other conservatives share his perspective.
Other supporters of President Trump cite the importance of the Supreme Court or his pro-life policies. Still others admit that while they do not agree with his more protectionist economics, they find even less comfort in Biden’s democratic-socialist proposals. Those on the other side of the aisle often provide similar reasoning for their support for Biden. Presenting the election as a simple competition between two people leaves no room for this nuance and misrepresents the complex views of millions of voters. Civil discourse and deliberation depend on the ability to recognize nuance. We must seek to understand the multi-faceted elements of an individual’s support for a particular candidate rather than depicting someone’s perspective as total affirmation of the character of a specific candidate and everything that he or she may support.
As we navigate the final weeks of this election, we must resist a candidate-centered approach. This simplistic attitude destroys conversation and denies the reality of how our government functions. Instead, we must take a step back and recognize the bigger picture. The specific characteristics or personalities of President Trump or former Vice President Biden will only play a miniscule role in the future of this nation. The 2020 election is more than a face-off between two people.