Exit, Voice, and Presidential Elections

In spring 2003, I was living in Japan.

That’s where I was when the Unites States invaded Iraq for “Operation Iraqi Freedom” as it was colorfully named by my government.

Throughout the months I lived abroad, I tried to keep up on the news from home; daily scouring reports from the U.S., the U.K., and Japan. The flavor of news coming out of each country was markedly different – the U.S. blindly patriotic, the U.K. supportingly reserved, Japan politely disapproving.

The details and word variation between articles told remarkably different stories, and I hoped, I suppose, that by reading multiple accounts I could somehow triangulate the truth.

The news coming out of the U.S. was particularly disturbing.

It was as though the whole nation had gone mad.

Other countries reported stories of schools being bombed by U.S. troops; my country was on some tear about Freedom Fries.

This was in the infancy of the blogosphere, so apart from the few people I kept in touch with over AOL Instant Messenger, my only sense for public opinion back home came from the sycophantic mainstream media. A media which has, in fact, somewhat reformed in recent years in response to its catastrophic failure of that time.

And perhaps this is why I’m inclined to sigh whenever someone declares that they will move to Canada, or, perhaps, the moon, should someone they strongly dislike be elected President.

I heard that a lot when President George W. Bush won reelection, and I’m hearing it a lot now.

It’s hardly a solution.

I hardly mean to imply that the Iraq War would have played out differently had I not been abroad; but it seems fairly certain that such warmongering tendencies would only be worse should all progressives decide to leave.

At the very least – I have to say – let’s not leave the nuclear launch codes behind.

In Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, Albert O. Hirschman outlines the three ways in which a person might interact with an organization, community, or state. As you may have guessed, the options are: exit, voice, and loyalty.

A person might stay loyal to an organization and support it’s views and actions; a person might exit an organization, leaving its undesirable policies in search of greener pastures; or a person might exercise voice: speaking up and fighting to make the organization the way they’d like it to be.

There are, of course, many instances throughout human history where people have been forced to exit for fear of their lives and wellbeing. One report estimates that there are nearly 60 million refugees in the world today. Theirs was not an exit taken lightly.

But the situation in the United States – while disheartening – is hardly so harsh.

I know most people are joking when they speak of plans to move away, and yet – it is a troubling sign of resignation.

We may not be the unparalleled superpower we might fancy ourselves to be, but we are still a nation which wields the potential for great harm or good.

If elections don’t go the way we like, it shouldn’t be cause to flee, but rather a call to action: our voices would be needed more than ever.

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