The Trolley Problem and the Presidency

We as a nation are facing a scenario like that of the Trolley Problem this election cycle. For those of you who are not well-versed in ethics, the metaphorical dilemma consists of a runaway trolley barreling down the tracks towards a rail switch. If the switch stays where it is, the trolley will continue down the track and run over a large number of people. If the switch is thrown, the trolley will be directed down a different rail where a smaller group of people has been trapped.

We the voters, are the switchmen. While every voter is a switchman, due to the nature of the electoral college, not all switchmen have the political power to actually throw the switch and redirect the trolley. Indeed, only voters in ten states really have the muscles necessary to redirect the trolley.

If you are still following me, let me define more of this analogy’s elements. The trolley represents the presidency. You may be tempted to compare it to the Trump train, but it is nothing of the sort. That which actually represents the candidates is the track pre-switch. The rail is the direction in which the presidency will head. One way is down the Hillary Rodham Clinton Railway, while the other is under the authority of the Donald J. Trump Railroad.

The switch is the outcome of the election. A vote is a unit of force required to throw the switch or hold it true.

The scenario is nuanced if you’re a Clinton supporter who believes that there are more people on Trump’s track than on Hillary’s. Trump supporters adamantly disagree. Both acknowledge that catastrophe is coming, no matter which track the trolley goes down, but at this point the only concern seems to be making sure that the switch is thrown in one’s favor.

Without realizing it, this allegory is what millions will use to justify voting for one of the two major party candidates next week.

Why are these switchmen so dumb? Why do they think that the only impact that they can have on the lives of those trapped on either track is to throw the switch from one side to the other? Why are they not talking about why this trolley even has the speed and destructive power it has? Why are they not looking for or building alternative sidings down which to direct the trolley, while daring to disregard those who suggest it? Why do they even think that it is their moral responsibility to sanction the progress of the trolley down either of the tracks? For goodness’ sake, why are they not trying to stop the trolley in the first place?

When you go to the polls next week, remember that your vote is an action. You are responsible for the outcome of that action. Moreover, remember that voting is not the only power you have. Arguably, it is one of the least significant ways you can influence those in power over you. Rather than reducing yourself to a simple throw of a switch this election and in future elections,

put your mind to use thinking of ways to stop the trolley, redirect the trolley, or rescue those on the tracks.

Because if all you do is click a box, you may save some, but you are certainly guilty for whatever tragedy may befall those tied to the tracks of your candidate’s presidency.

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