Why America Needs Amash's Candidacy
This morning, I listened to CNN's Jake Tapper interview presidential hopeful, Justin Amash, who last week announced he's aiming for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination.
I've been wishing Amash would run since his Independence Day 2019 announcement that he was leaving the Republican Party. I was impressed with his principled stance, his deep respect for the separation of powers, and his call to all Americans to reject "the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us."
Yet, Amash's decision to enter the ring has not yet garnered support from the Never Trumpers. To the contrary, Evan McMullin, for whom I voted in 2016, responded by tweeting a call for "political sacrifice by all" so that we can be as united as possible in order "to defeat Trump." Democrats chose a more middle-of-the-road candidate in order to promote unity, he tweeted. "They did their part, now we must do ours."
Tapper was more direct. He asked Amash whether he's willing to be the spoiler who siphons off enough votes from Biden to tip the election to Trump.
Is there danger of that? Logically, yes. I know there are votes that would have been going to Biden that will now be going to Amash because mine is one of them. But the dynamic works both ways. There will be conservative voters who couldn't bring themselves to vote Democratic who will now be able to vote for Amash instead of Trump. If we go by history, as a libertarian, the net effect of his candidacy is likelier to hurt Trump than Biden.
But anguishing over the potential effect of a third-party candidacy on President Trump's electoral defeat is short sighted. It rightly recognizes President Trump's demagoguery and dictatorial leanings as a serious threat to our constitutional government, but it misses the broader and deeper threat posed by what Amash describes as a "partisan death spiral" that I believe threatens our very capacity for self-government.
President Trump would never have come to power if not for the deterioration of our national debate into two sides screaming epithets at each other. Group think is the order of the day. Bias reigns supreme, to the point that we can no longer trust our news media on either side. Siege mentalities thrive and so do conspiracy theories. We react, brazenly and defensively, to the supposed malicious intentions of our political opponents. We turn a blind eye to the depredations committed by our own side because we've got to defend our own or the bad guys will get (or keep) power. We become incapable of holding ourselves accountable for fear of serving our enemies. Dialogue and compromise become impossible. Civil debate devolves into a screaming match. And we are ripe for raising up a tyrant.
In his July 4, 2019 op ed piece declaring his independence from the Republican party, Amash described this larger issue as "an existential threat to American principles and institutions." With his campaign, he's taking that message into the nation's living rooms. I hope it's heard. I hope we open our eyes and take a good, hard look at ourselves. Otherwise, even if President Trump has to surrender the White House to President Biden, we're still on a collision course with tyranny.
Is Justin Amash's presidential bid a long shot? Absolutely. And it's vital. We need it, now.