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What it Means to Vote Your Conscience

Vote your conscience. Like many, I have struggled with the choices we face in the coming presidential election and the tone of the campaigns. I am increasingly disturbed and distressed by the political environment – in some ways similar to what we experience every four years, but amplified to an unprecedented degree. The Trump campaign, in particular, has gone beyond the bounds of what is normally deemed acceptable. Even in politics.

“Vote your conscience,” we have been urged by the disparate voices of Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. The idea is not a new one, and may originate with John Quincy Adams, who once said: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

As founder of The C-Plan (“C” for Cooperation, Consensus, Compromise and Civility), my mantra includes respect for those with whom we disagree. I stand for civility in public discourse and consideration for all sides of an issue – the importance of listening to what others have to say. This includes listening to and following my own conscience. A willingness to compromise helps us maintain an important balance between conscience and ideology.

From the Founding Fathers to modern times, democracy in America was built on compromise. Not division. Yet there is far too little talk of compromise in the 2016 campaign rhetoric. The candidates claim they want to unite America. Yet one seeks to unite us in battle against the countless individuals who have spent their lives in public service, attacking the very institutions that define our great nation.

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.
John Quincy Adams

How can we be open to these views, and respect those who offer them, when they are founded in disrespect? When free speech becomes hate speech, we must draw the line. When free speech is no longer a tool, but becomes a weapon, it serves only to divide and undermines its own foundation.

Donald Trump says only he can fix a broken America. But what is broken about America, what makes it not “great” isn’t the system, nor those committed to service, but the idea that it can only be fixed by war – a war on those with whom we disagree. Not through conversation nor attempts to build consensus, but a decisive battle where only one side can come out on top.

The sad truth is that it is easier to divide than unite. The Trump campaign has continued its use of verbal assault as a primary tactic to garner support as we march toward November. This is unacceptable.

There are many key issues on which Americans disagree: gun control, abortion, immigration, to cite just a few. Like most Americans I take a side on these issues, but I refuse to accept that the views of the other half can simply be dismissed. Lasting solutions begin with respect and ends with compromise. When we find common ground among a clear majority of the population, democracy takes a huge step forward. If instead, when 51% claim a mandate and impose unilateral change, we await the inevitable turn of the tide in the future. This is not progress.

Former secretary of state, General Colin Powell, offered this advice:

“Our founding fathers intended for people to argue and have strong views on both sides of an issue. But just as they did in Philadelphia when they were writing the Constitution, sooner or later, you’ve got to compromise.”

The upcoming presidential election has clear choices, which transcend the issues themselves. Do we work together toward a future of optimism, or promote division through blatant attacks? Which side is more likely to embrace compromise?

This November, my vote will be cast consistent with my principles – to the candidate who shows respect, welcomes our differences, and does more than simply offend. I have no struggle with making that choice.

Photo Credit: Castleski / shutterstock.com