What Does it Mean to be Neutral in American Politics Today?

August 11, 2018

During the 2016 election, it seemed as though  there was only one question everyone wanted to ask each other: Trump or Clinton? It felt like nearly every interaction online or in-person somehow evolved into a discussion of politics and your preferred candidate. And inevitably, every so often you would meet someone who would say “I don’t like either of them, so I’m not voting at all!” And predictably, when the November 2016 election rolled around, the voter turnout was a measly 58%. So while it seemed as though the entire nation was up in arms about the candidates, ultimately 42% of America’s registered voters didn’t help decide who the next United States president would be.

 

 Photo: Thomas Kelley on Unsplash 

 

In my opinion, this should mean that 42% of these registered voters were neutral on the issue of who should become President. In reality, most of that 42% can be attributed to people who just didn’t feel like going to the poll, or people who refused to vote out of spite. However, there are some people who didn’t vote because they did truly feel neutral on the issue—often called “centrists” - people who declare that they stand entirely in the middle on political issues, and can understand both sides to any political debate. But what does being neutral or centrist really mean in 2018?

 

As a journalist for my college’s newspaper, my social media is supposed to be somewhat neutral when it comes to my political opinion. After all, my online presence is a representation of my school’s paper, and we pride ourselves on being a quality, professional news source. So when I joined the paper, I had to purge my social media of all political posts and opinions (which took a very long time). I try to put myself in a neutral position on issues, for the sake of journalistic integrity and ethics, although sometimes this can be quite difficult. For the most part, my Facebook consists of shared articles from various news sources, although I never comment on or give my opinion of the subject of the article. So while I avoid giving public online commentary on politics, I am still very much involved and informed.

 

I see lots of Facebook posts and tweets, mostly from opponents of President Trump and his policies, that say things along the lines of “If you are neutral in situations like this, then you are just as bad as the oppressor/instigator/enemy.” For the most part, I do tend to agree with that sentiment—that being neutral in situations of, for example, human rights violations, is in itself an act of violence. However, I do believe that there are both ethical and unethical ways of remaining neutral in America today.

 

He shut himself off from society completely Here’s an example of being unethical: A 53-year-old man named Erik Hagerman who lives in Ohio decided that after the 2016 election, he wanted to remain completely ignorant of anything going on in the world for the foreseeable future. , cutting out any news sources. He knows Donald Trump won the election, but doesn’t know anything besides that. He isn’t aware of the violence that has occurred in Charlottesville, doesn’t know anything about the current midterm elections, and has never heard about the devastating Las Vegas mass shooting. This is not an informed, ethical way of maintaining of neutrality or centrism; he is instead willfully ignoring the world around him and insisting on staying within his bubble of isolation. Not only is this an incredibly privileged position to take, but it is also morally wrong. As a citizen with the right to vote and an obligation to inform himself of current events, his refusal to participate in civil society undermines the entire idea of running an effective democracy. If every citizen were to react with this level of willful ignorance to an unfavorable outcome of an election, our democracy would cease to function.

 

Ethical neutrality means being informed, and understanding the nuances of politics before deciding to stay in a middle ground. It’s one thing to say “I don’t care,” and another to say “I care very much, and for that reason I want to avoid polarizing opinions and identity politics.” There’s danger in leaning too far to the right or left in American politics, but there’s just as much danger in refusing to engage at all—so if you do choose to remain neutral, make that an intelligent choice, not a convenient one.    

 

Abigail is a rising sophomore at Emerson College studying for a BFA in creative writing. She spends most of her free time during the year working for her school newspaper, but also enjoys going to poetry readings, spending time with friends, and cheering for her hometown Philadelphia sports teams.

 

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