For those who have been with me on this decades-long journey of saving animals, you know I have worked with legislators from both political parties to pass animal protection laws at the local, state, and federal level.
You also know that I have worked with Democrats and Republicans to create No Kill communities in both blue states and the reddest parts of the reddest states.
And you know that I have not shied away from criticizing members of both parties when their actions harm animals. On the political Left, this includes California Governor Gavin Newsom, Long Beach, CA, Mayor Robert Garcia, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and South Bend, IN, Mayor and one-time presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg; and, on the Right, Virginia Delegate Bobby Orrock, and President Donald Trump.
As someone in the political middle — a registered independent — I’ve voted for candidates from both parties, depending on the election and depending on the issues. I oppose the identity politics and illiberalism of the far Left and Right. I abhor racism, but I do not want to defund the police. I would not object to the abolition of the death penalty, but as a criminal prosecutor, I worked on death penalty cases. I believe that regulated capitalism, and not socialism, is the greatest economic system in the world and the one best suited to lift the most people out of poverty. I believe the answer to bad speech is good speech, not censorship. And every morning, I diligently start my day with a cup of coffee and news from sources across the political spectrum, including The New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist. My first allegiance is not to party or personality, it is to the animals. For this reason, I’ve largely kept my own political preferences separate from my advocacy and off this page. For this reason, too, I do not endorse candidates for political office. But this election is different.
This election is not, at its core, a choice between the incumbent and the challenger. It is not a choice between a Republican and a Democrat. And it is certainly not a choice between capitalism and socialism, despite the conspiratorial narrative to the contrary. It is a choice between healing and further division. It is a vote to commit ourselves to rebuilding American institutions and, in doing so, progress on behalf of animals. It is a vote for a future Mr. Trump would render impossible: a kinder, gentler world for ourselves and our fellow non-human Americans who now suffer in myriad and unimaginable ways.
Over the last four years, it has pained me to see the pillars underlying our democracy, the very tools used so successfully by prior social movements – our free press, our dedication to the equal application of justice, and the very American belief that a better tomorrow for everyone is both desirable and possible – under siege by and at the direction of the President of the United States; A president who:
- Attacks objective facts as “fake news,” a free and independent press as the “enemy of the people,” and cheers assaults on reporters as “a beautiful sight”;
- Refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election;
- Coddles dictators and autocracies, while disparaging our democratic allies;
- Underplays a pandemic that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans;
- Ignores bounties on American troops set by Russia;
- Incarcerates children and suggests their mothers should be shot at the border;
- Appoints unqualified people prone to conspiracy theories and who are hostile to the very agencies they are tasked with governing;
- Has no language for empathy or healing (Compare Mr. Trump’s address to the nation after the tragedy at Charlottesville, with that of President Ronald Reagan’s after the Challenger disaster); and,
- Uses crisis after crisis of his own creation or the result of his indifference to divide, rather than unite, the country. (Compare, too, with President Reagan who was so upset when the Klan burned a cross on a Maryland family’s lawn that he took Marine One from the White House to their home. “I came out to let you know that this isn’t something that should happen in America,” he told them, sitting on their living room couch.)
In short, Mr. Trump is failing at the three basic tasks every president has had: providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing for us the blessings of liberty. Because of that, many things no longer work as they should in America, leaving the rest of the world baffled and our adversaries thrilled.
Beyond what his tenure has meant for the erosion of our American way of life, I am also concerned with what another term would mean for the most vulnerable interest group of all: non-human animals. As the president, Mr. Trump has:
- Decimated their habitats by undermining environmental protections;
- Lifted restrictions on trophy hunting, and cruel methods of wildlife killing;
- Removed what little protections currently exist for animals in factory farms;
- Hid abuse in puppy mills and other industries that harm animals;
- Returned abused animals to those industries;
- Subserved agencies meant to protect animals to the industries that abuse them; and more.
For the animals’ sake, we cannot allow more of this.
Working to help animals is predicated upon several important factors that four more years of Trump will continue failing to foster: a belief in science and objectivity, civility and social cohesion, respect for – and expansion of – the rule of law, and impartial, functioning instruments of government.
The tools of our democracy and the shared values that have allowed us to work together to form a more perfect union are under immense strain. After two centuries of progress expanding the rights celebrated in the Declaration of Independence to every disenfranchised group of humans, the 21st century should be the era in which non-human Americans also achieve the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet the last four years have shaken my faith in the inevitability of such an outcome. That we should devolve so openly into what we have become is a terrible setback and one — as an advocate who has dedicated his life to speaking for the rights of animals — I would be derelict in my duty to ignore.
As Americans, we should be optimistic. We should be prosperous. We should lead the world both in how we treat and care for each other and how we treat and care for animals. But we no longer are and we no longer do. There is, however, hope. Our institutions and our values are strained, but they are not yet broken.
History reveals that social progress does not occur in a steady, linear fashion. Often, the most groundbreaking change occurs in response to tragic events which throw an issue into stark relief, and thereby give us an opportunity to define as a people what it is we stand for, as well as what it is we don’t. This election is one such opportunity.
Most of us will not be remembered long after we are gone, but what we do in this election will. If we recommit ourselves to the American ideals that gave our country immense (soft) power across the globe, that allowed us to influence the world for the better, that allowed us to raise millions out of poverty, and make tremendous progress for animals and animal rights, we’ll have done our duty and we’ll have done right, not only for ourselves, but as previous generations of Americans did for us, for our posterity as well. As George Eliot once wrote,
…the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
That is what your vote in this election means. Please join me in casting the only vote that will preserve the promises of our beloved country for one another, for the animals, and for the generations of each to come.
Please join me in voting for Mr. Biden.
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