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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

I Voted Today: How and Why


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My Legitimate Mail-In Ballot

Last Sunday I filled out my California mail-in ballot, signed it and put it in an old school mailbox as a symbolic gesture of my trust in the Postal Service. It felt good to exercise my right to vote even though it would be all too easy to be discouraged or cynical about the fact that as a Californian my vote does not count as much as those from some other states because of our flawed and outdated Electoral College system. At least I can have a more significant voice in “down ticket” races and the 12 state ballot measures put before us this year.

As for the presidential race I voted for Joe Biden and Kamila Harris for several specific reasons. Stated briefly these include:

· My Orientation as a Political Moderate

· My Conviction About the Importance of the Separation of Church and State

· Caring About the Integrity of Our Leaders

· The Economy, Taxes, Trade etc.

· International Issues

· The Need to Rationalize our Health Care System

· A Rational Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, and

· My hope to see our Country Make a Meaningful Response to the Threat of Climate Change

My Orientation as a Political Moderate

I find myself both in agreement or disagreement with both major parties depending on the issue. I don’t often have the opportunity to support a candidate who is a true moderate willing to rise above partisanship. I believe that the nature of our primary system is to blame for this issue along with the irresponsibility of many voters who fail to engage during that voting option. I was relieved this year when Joe Biden was able to overcome this barrier and defeat his more liberal competitors. I think that our current president’s efforts to demonize Biden and Harris as representatives of the “Radical Far Left” is not only inaccurate, it is irresponsible and intentionally divisive at a time when that is the last thing we need is to fan the flames of distrust in government. Mr. Trumps rhetoric about “widespread voter fraud with mail-in ballots” and his implicit encouragement of a violent response to his likely defeat are deeply disturbing. I just hope that cooler heads will prevail and that we will really find out what the American people want from this election.

My Conviction About the Importance of the Separation of Church and State

I believe that one thing our founders “got right” was to establish the first nation without a state sponsored religion. The idea for that goes back to early movements and groups like the Waldensians, Anabaptists and Mennonites. It was the Pilgrims who first implemented that kind of separation among some of the American colonies. As a person of faith, I do believe that political power was “instituted by God” as part of “Common Grace” for the benefit of society, but I also take very seriously the words of Jesus when He said, “my kingdom is not of this world.” That is why I don’t look to our political system to be the driver for true “Kingdom” goals — something that far too many of my fellow Christians seem to desire. I don’t believe that we or anyone can legislate morality and that our efforts to play a positive role in society should be more of the “salt and light” variety, not the power of any government.

Caring About the Integrity of Our Leaders

I definitely do hope that we can elect leaders with a strong moral compass since we want them to strive for fairness, decency and mercy and to do so with honesty and integrity — a non-trivial aspiration in the messy world of politics. I feel good about Biden and Harris in this regard and it certainly does not hurt that they are people of faith. I had the opportunity to meet Biden in person in the 1980s when I lived in Delaware and he was running for senate and was coming to small local gatherings (one upside to living in the “49th largest state”). I had a very positive feeling about him back then and I’ve not seen any reason to believe otherwise since then. I think the fact that he has had to go through so many personal crises over the years has given him a kind of humility that also ends up being of value in the political realm. Now many of the terms I have just been using (decency, mercy, honesty, integrity, humility…) don’t in my mind describe Donald Trump. My place isn’t to judge anyone in this regard, I’m just saying that for someone who claims to be a Christian I don’t really see much in the way of “fruits of the spirit” that Jesus or the Apostle Paul told us would be the sign of true believers. “Just sayin…”

The Economy, Taxes, Trade etc.

One of the pro-Trump assumptions before the 2016 election was that as a “successful businessman” he would know how to foster a strong economy. The last 4 years have certainly not confirmed that narrative. According to a rare warning from the chairman of the “FED” we are on the verge of a financial crisis which will further strain the lives of millions of Americans. Part of that is about the pandemic, but there is more to the story. We really need a more rational and fair tax system that does not just favor the rich as has been the case with Trump’s agenda and the legislature’s failure to fix anything. Someone who has the lawyers and accountants to work the system and only owe $750 per year if anything does not understand how the rest of us feel. Then when it comes to trade wars our president said that they were “easy to win” as he initiated several. We are now looking at a record trade deficit with China and US farmers have been seriously hurt — something I care about a lot since I work in agriculture. Maybe globalism ended up hurting the people who work in our manufacturing sector, but Trump really has not delivered for the agricultural or industrial worker parts of his “base.” I don’t expect any magic solutions from a Biden presidency, but it would be unlikely that it could be worse than what we have been seeing.

International Issues

The world is facing extremely serious problems like the humanitarian and refugee crises stemming from the repression that continues in corrupt Central and South American countries as well as in Africa. Middle Eastern conflicts are seemingly never done, and we have been uncharacteristically absent from the diplomatic sphere about that. Our current president has been alienating our long-term allies while being bizarrely “soft” on dictators in places like Turkey, Russia, North Korea and Belarus. No, we don’t want to be the world’s “policeman” or continue endless wars, but we need to be serious and creative about these conflicts. We need to have an active strategy to deal with mass migrations and refugees as people around the world flee oppression and hunger. Back to my Christian convictions, these victims deserve love, not imprisonment, family separation or other forms of demeaning treatment. Can a Biden presidency easily resolve these complex problems? No, but we clearly need to pursue new and different approaches.

The Need to Rationalize our Health Care System

Having reached retirement age I am now taking advantage of the “socialized medicine” that is Medicare and the “government funded income” that is Social Security. That kind of “socialism” has long been a benefit enjoyed by a major part of Mr. Trump’s base among older people. Before I was able to access those benefits, I was for many years in the unfortunate position of being self-employed with “pre-existing conditions” so that I had to buy my own insurance at ridiculous cost. Once my kids had their own insurance, I simply went without for several years and was blessed to have been healthy (I guess I got by with any violation of the “individual mandate” that is so controversial). What we need is a hybrid system where people can either get good job-based insurance if they are so lucky or be able to buy private insurance that does not charge outrageously different amounts for different people. We should ably probably also have access to some sort of “public option.” I believe that is the sort of hybrid approach is what Biden and Harris would support, but we also need a congress that will actually do something on this topic with the goal of solving this problem, not using it for political mileage. President Trump promised a “repeal and replace” approach vs “Obama Care,” but that has never emerged over four years nor has the Republican party put forward such a measure. Again, its hard to imagine any administration doing a poorer job on this key issue.

A Rational Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic

There isn’t any specific government to blame for the Covid-19 Pandemic, but as we look around the world lots of countries have done a much better job of dealing with it than we have. Part of what makes this disease unusually challenging is that it is an RNA-virus rather than the more typical DNA-viruses that people and animals usually have. (Incidentally most plant viruses are of the RNA category and as a “plant pathologist” I can’t resist pointing that out) There is some serious irony about the way that President Trump has “dealt with” the pandemic, and how he and many in his inner circle have contracted this nasty new disease. Countries like Singapore, Taiwan and even China have been able to get much better control of the disease through simple common-sense measures like wearing masks in public and social distancing. I find it appalling that so many people in the US and in the EU have not followed these simple guidelines that would not only have reduced their own risk, but which would have kept them from infecting others. I’m sorry, but wearing a mask is not some sort of freedom-denying ask. Its the practical and ethical thing to do. Unfortunately having a president who doesn’t see it that way has made things in our country much worse than they had to be. Then, when the president got the disease, he had access to treatments that are not yet available to most people. The irony is that the new anti-viral drug remdesivir that he received came out a cooperative research program between the pharmaceutical company, Gidead and the CDC and NIH that began during the Obama era. It is most effective when given very early in the infection as it was for Trump, but there are limited supplies so they are rationed to those with severe symptoms. The development of the drug and it’s large scale production was slowed because of Trump’s funding cuts to those agencies and the reorganization of the White House Pandemic Office. This is just one of the ways in which the Trump administration has mishandled the pandemic. That drug and the mono-clonal antibody therapy Trump received are probably not going to be available to most people for some time and both were developed using stem cell cultures from and aborted fetus back in the 1970s. Opponents of this kind of stem cell research today conveniently ignore this conflict with their agenda. Ultimately we need a good vaccine for this disease, but the long-time success of the anti-vax activists in scaring people away may mean that we don’t get enough people treated to actually get this disease under control. What we need from our highest public officials is an approachable and accurate presentation of the underlying medical science. We have not seen something like that from the administration on many topics which leads me to my final reason for my presidential vote for change.

My hope to see our Country Make a Meaningful Response to the Threats of Climate Change

Finally, I want to talk about how my vote involves my concerns about how our country will or will not take a more aggressive role with regard to finding ways to address the issue of climate change. As an agricultural scientist I am fully respectful of the consensus among climate scientists that this is a nearly unprecedented threat and that human activities play a role in why it is happening. I am most aware of the implications for farming as overall crop productivity is being compromised by extreme weather events and even by more subtle climate shifts. As it turns out, slightly warmer nights reduce crop yields because the plants are more active in terms of their metabolism and thus burn up more of the energy they captured from the sun the day before. Even moderate drought stress which has become more common lowers yields. I believe that there are things that can be done in ag and in many other industry sectors that simultaneously help to ameliorate climate change, and which are good for the economy. When farmers employ technologies that allow them to grow their crops without tilling their fields they are an important part of the solution to reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by sequestering that carbon in that undisturbed soil. There are now novel ways to use sunlight to generate hydrogen for use as a fuel alternative and/or to do that by converting the hydrogen to ammonia as a less dangerous option that retains the same benefits. The cost of solar panels is coming down, and that along with wind power innovations are both profitable businesses and positive steps vs climate change. Biden and Harris are committing to support job creating climate change alternatives and hopefully for not getting in the way of private industry and academic innovation that will enhance these efforts. President Trump on the other hand regularly denies the science around climate change and supports unsustainable energy policies. My hope is that the younger generations who know they will have to live with our actions or inactions will support the democratic candidates who at least aspire to finding viable solutions to this threat.

Conclusion

So, have voted as a way to make whatever difference I can through our electoral system. As small as that role maybe it is the best I can do as one person. If I can encourage others to consider these reasons and vote, then maybe I can raise the needle a bit. If you have read through this all, thank you for your time and your consideration.