Does this election present a binary choice?

On Friday, Ammo Girl (hereinafter Susan) wrote a characteristically excellent post arguing that conservatives, and in particular elite pundits, should rally behind Donald Trump. Basically, she argued (1) that Trump is clearly preferable to Hillary Clinton and (2) that the election presents us with a “binary choice” between the two major candidates.

Susan wrote her article before the Access Hollywood video was made public. But for me, this development does not detract from her argument. The video revealed nothing about Trump that I didn’t already believe.

As for Susan’s argument, I agree with her first point. Trump is clearly preferable to Clinton, in my view. I won’t make that case here except to say that I prefer a terrible person who will deliver a partly liberal and partly conservative administration to a terrible person who will deliver a mostly left-liberal one.

I question Susan’s second point, though. She is right, of course, to say that at times we must choose between two, and only two, unattractive options. In the example she cites, she and her siblings must decide whether their elderly father will stay in Minnesota, where he is lonely, or move to Arizona, where he will be in unfamiliar surroundings. These apparently are the only real options and the family must pick one.

A presidential election is different. An individual voter doesn’t pick the president. One of the two candidates will become president whether I vote for Trump, vote for Clinton, or vote for neither.

Individual voters don’t have the power over the presidential decision that Susan has over the decision about where her father shall live. In reality, the individual has no effective power to pick the president.

All the individual voter really has the power to do is make a statement. For someone who sees the election as I do, that statement can be “Trump would make a better president than Clinton.” But it can also be “neither candidate is remotely fit to be president.” Both statements are true, in my opinion. If I face a “binary decision,” it is to select which of these two statements to make.

The presumption is in favor of making the first statement. If citizens routinely cited the futility of their individual vote as a reason for not voting, the system wouldn’t work. Democracy in a mass society depends on citizens pretending that their vote is influential.

Nonetheless, our democracy also permits citizens not to participate in selecting the president. Thus, the choice in this presidential election, as in all others, is not binary. It includes the option of voting for neither candidate — an option that shirks no obligation and will not cause the greater of two evils to prevail.

My inclination is to vote for Trump as long as the race is competitive. However, if by Election Day he’s toast, my inclination will be to vote for neither candidate.

In a scenario where Trump’s prospects are only marginally better than, say, Gary Johnson’s, it won’t make much sense to behave as if the choice this election presents is “binary.” And the statement I will want to make with my vote in this scenario is one of disgust with Trump and protest against the Republican Party.