Elections are a critical part of a functioning democracy. They are the method by which individuals can voice their beliefs and, in turn, create tangible change in the societal structures in which we reside. In my 2020 H1 Review I committed to actively participating in this year’s presidential elections. There are 78 days left, so it’s time to start participating - to voice my beliefs and push for change.
In this post I’ll explore my beliefs, the issues I care most about wrt government, and the stances that the leading parties have taken on each issue. By the end of it, I hope to have explained why I’m voting the way I’m voting and provided an example of how you might go through a similar comparison process.
Before diving into how I’m voting, I want to reflect on the core values and beliefs I hold with respect to the government. By starting here, I think it will be clearer why I hold different positions on issues.
I believe that all humans are created equal. This doesn’t mean that all people are the same, but it does mean that we’re all just human at the end of the day. We come with all the pros and cons of our species. As such we should each be afforded the same treatment and opportunities as the next person.
Doing anything else would mean that we don’t believe that all humans are created equal.
I believe the best governments are those that are run and supported by the people it governs and that work for the betterment of the people. Ultimately this creates a positive feedback loop, which is critical for complex systems to flourish.
If a government is not by the people, then it’s unlikely the incentives and priorities of the ruling class will align with that of the common person. If a government is not for the people, it means it’s siphoning off the products of the people’s labor for its own means - essentially a parasitic relationship.
It’s not practical to be 100% good 100% of the time. Life is about tradeoffs. But it’s not hard to be more good than evil. We should always make sure that the effect we’re having on the world is more positive than negative. If it’s not, we need to stop and change some things.
For this ranking process, I’m going to list the issues that are most important to me right now, how each candidate plans to address them, and how they compare.
I’m only going to be researching and ranking the views of the Democratic and Republican parties. I’m doing this because I think one of them is going to be the party that wins with a very high probability - like > 99% probability. I don’t think this is how our government should work as I’m rarely 100% aligned with either of these parties. I believe this is a factor of the 2 party system we’ve created through winner-take-all elections (you can learn more about this in Hasan Minhaj’s We’re doing elections wrong). I think we could solve this by moving to ranked voting, but I also don’t think such a large move will happen before November 3rd. Thus the most impactful thing for me to do is focusing on winning the game by its current rules, then pushing for a change of rules once the round is over. One thing at a time.
To compare the candidate platforms I’m going to implement a simple system:
Let’s get to ranking.
For me, the biggest issue facing our world today is the destruction of the environment and climate change. If the world dies, we all die. I don’t want to die. I’d guess most people don’t want to die. So I want a government that pushes hard to prevent this inevitable doom in a way that leaves as few scars as possible.
While this environmental destruction affects everyone, I also want to point out that it’ll likely start affecting poorer people sooner and with greater magnitude. Because the world already has entrenched wealth gaps along racial and geographic (among others) lines, this means that environmental destruction is also an equality issue.
I’m voting based on environmental issues because it’s an equality issue, will adversely effect the people if not stopped (gov’t for the people), and research seems to suggest that we’re causing it which means we’re being evil.
I tried finding the official Trump campaign’s platform on the environment but was only able to find a single Energy & Environment page on the Whitehouse website. I don’t know if this is because my search history skews progressive or if they don’t actually have much published content but it doesn’t bode well for my process if I can’t find official platforms. In its place I’ll try to pull from official sources as much as I can.
Biden’s environmental plan has a whole page dedicated to it.
The Trump campaign seems to have no interest in making moves to protect the environment or combat climate change and in fact seems to be pushing legislation that hurts the environment and exacerbates climate change. The Biden campaign has made one of the most aggressive environmental protection plans in recent history (though it falls short of the full Green New Deal). For this issue, the choice is between one side that is damaging the world and another with a grand plan to save it. I’m siding with the latter.
Score: -2 - strong lean Democrat
I wasn’t really sure what to call this category of policies I support so I went with the belief that I thought they were most related to. My belief is that the government we create as the people should be working for the people.
What this means to me is that the government should make moves to protect those that need protecting, help those in need of help, and raise the standard of living for everyone. Ultimately, it means it takes on problems for which it is best positioned, prioritizing those issues of highest urgency, highest import, and lowest availability of alternative quality, pragmatic solutions.
I think this is important because, if done correctly, it can create a positive feedback loop by pulling those up who have fallen and setting them on a path to live their best lives, creating net positives to be reinvested elsewhere in the system. I think this is important because, at its core, it’s about helping people and I think helping people is good. When we factor in the health and wealth gaps that exist between races in the United States, we can also see that helping those most in need is intimately tied with equality.
I think healthcare is one of the standout examples of America doing something wrong. I think it’s ridiculous that the US pays almost 2x per capita on healthcare vs other wealthy countries without achieving better health outcomes (source: Peter G. Peterson Foundation). I think it’s crazy that health issues could seriously compromise or even wipe out someone’s entire net worth - hospitalizations cause about 4% of all bankruptcies among nonelderly adults (6% for uninsured) (National Center for Biotechnology Information), a 20% annual decline in earning power, and 15% decline in employment probability (National Center for Biotechnology Information).
Providing healthcare to those in need is good. Its availability to you shouldn’t be predicated on how much money you make or how you make it as wealth is already an issue of equality which would make healthcare an issue of equality, too. Quality healthcare is critical to living a life to its fullest which means policies here could make or break the ‘for the people’ feedback loop.
I’m again having trouble finding any official plans from the Trump campaign on their Healthcare plan. It appears they may not have released it yet (WSJ). So I’m going to keep using whatever sources I can find.
source: Joe Biden
Trump doesn’t have a plan out yet but his record does share several things with Biden’s plan like lowering drug prices, protecting healthcare patients from surprise billing, and expanding service availability for more Americans. I think where the Biden plan outshines Trump’s is in its efforts to fight for better healthcare for low income people, equality in healthcare for all, larger efforts to curb the ridiculous health prices in the US, and support for women’s health - specifically the power to choose.
Trump’s plan is fine on paper, but it doesn’t go far enough to fight for the people in the most need and there are a lot of implicit effects of doing things like rolling back the Affordable Care Act, removing us from the WHO, and defunding Planned Parenthood that adversely affect these groups which I think makes it a step in the wrong direction. For that, I’m strongly siding with Biden on this one.
score: -2 - strongly lean Democrat
The unequal treatment of people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and other categorizations by the justice system is rampant in the United States. This summer’s protests after a string of murders of Black people by state police forces is just the latest example of this inequality.
I’ll be voting based on justice policies because getting this right is directly related to equality in America and ensuring the government is for the people, not against them. I’m voting based on justice policies because getting this wrong is evil.
Some data on the current justice system:
It’s again tough to find Trump’s official plan of action for Justice system changes, so I’m going to be relying on whatever sources I can find.
As for Biden
Trump’s policies did reduce sentences for non-violent drug offenders and help people get a second chance at life. But some policies like the death penalty and keeping private prisons seem like moves in the wrong direction and overall there doesn’t seem to be that much promised that will actually have significant impact on issues of incarceration rates, particularly in their racial and socioeconomic disparities. Biden’s plan includes line items that specifically try to reduce the number of people entering prisons by solving for common factors, attempts to make the judicial process itself fairer and less negative, and to help people reenter society successfully. I think this array of small, highly targeted steps focusing on making the justice system more about rehabilitiation than punishment has a higher chance of success than Trump’s.
score: -2 - strong lean Democrat
Foreign policy isn’t the most important issue to me but I think it’s one of those things, like money, that is important to keep in mind. This is how we interact with the world and my stance here is that we should be a force for good - building cooperative relationships with the people of the world and helping out where we can.
I think national security is important and understand that having a large military force at your disposal gives you more leverage on the world stage than not having it. But I also believe that doing so has its own repercussions and the military isn’t always, and maybe mostly isn’t, the right answer. I think we should be focusing on lending a helping hand, only using force as the last resort. We’re at a point where we can literally destroy the entire world - the answers to our problems isn’t to keep getting better at destroying it, it should be to get better at keeping it alive.
I’m voting based on foreign policy because doing it wrong is evil. Doing it right can support governments for the people, by the people and equality beyond our borders.
I, again, can’t find an official Trump platform for foreign policy. Falling back to whatever sources I can find.
sources: Council on Foreign Relations
sources: Joe Biden
Both Trump and Biden seem to value the ideas that national security is important and sometimes force is necessary. I think where Biden’s platform outshines Trump’s is in the recognition that force can only go so far and that we must first build trust and cooperation around the world. Big issues like climate change, denuclearization, and social stability can’t be ignored and they can’t be solved alone. We must be willing to work with others to solve our problems, and that oftentimes means making concessions, otherwise we perish.
score: -2 - strongly lean Democrat
To be honest, I thought the split was going to be much closer. But the score is -8 over 4 issues which means that I’m leaning as far towards Biden as possible.
I think some of this has to do with not having access to Trump’s official platform. I don’t know if it’s just not available yet or if Google isn’t letting me search for it, but I think the lack of specific policies to help solve each issue was a major negative for his platform. I’ll keep an eye out for any new releases and update my findings here.
If you’ve got thoughts on my process or findings (or know where I can find Trump’s official platform), please let me know! Part of my writing this was so that I could refine and test my ideas on how I want to vote before I actually vote.
Before I let you go, I want to again encourage you to vote. Registering is super fast (< 2 minutes according to vote.org) and it really does make a difference.
If you’re on the fence because neither Trump or Biden was your favorite candidate, I think you should still vote. I’m in a similar boat - I was a much bigger fan of Bernie and Warren in the primaries. Although neither of them are options, it doesn’t mean that I can’t work towards the things I value.
I found this quote to be a great description of this:
Time to remember the best voting advice I ever heard: voting isn't marriage, it's public transport. You're not waiting for "the one" who's absolutely perfect: you're getting the bus, and if there isn't one to your destination, you don't not travel- you take the one going closest.— Debbie Moon (@DebbieBMoon) October 29, 2019
…voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transport. You’re not waiting for “the one” who’s absolutely perfect: you’re getting the bus, and if there isn’t one to your destination, you don’t not travel- you take the one going closest.
I’ve got two buses. Neither are going exactly where I want. But I’m still gonna take the one that gets me closest. I think you should too.
We’ve got 78 days. Learn as much as you can, encourage all your friends to register, go vote.
Hi I'm Hamilton and I wrote / built this! I like doing lots of things, but mostly I like to build (and then share those buildings). Some things I'm currently building: art, software, and prose. To stay up-to-date with my latest buildings, subscribe to my email list or follow one of my many other accounts. #buildit #shipit #justhamit