Anne Katz: Seat belts and voting

Sunday, March 6, 2016 - 7:10pm

Growing up, one of the first things I remember learning was to buckle my seatbelt when I entered a car. It was so heavily emphasized that I totally freaked out in the second grade when a friend cheekily admitted that sometimes, he purposefully forgot to buckle up, just for the thrill of it.

As I was riding in the back of an Uber earlier this week, I realized that the mentality behind wearing a seatbelt is kind of like the mentality behind voting. Wearing a seatbelt, much like voting, is something the vast majority of us know we should always do. Sometimes, however, we rationalize not doing the “right thing” in the name of convenience or perceived necessity.

For example, I consistently put on a seatbelt whenever I drive anywhere, whether I’m the one actually behind the wheel or not. However, I recently realized that when I’m in the backseat of a cab, more times than not, I don’t wear a seatbelt. And I’m not alone — according to a survey from the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, “only 38% of passengers reported they were using the taxi’s seat belts” during their ride.  

For me, this dangerous phenomenon reflects a somewhat contradictory perception of both control and convenience. I subconsciously trust the cab driver to be safe (he is a “professional” driver, technically), and I’m only in the car for a short period of time, so I rationalize not wearing a seat belt.

This logic is totally backward, by the way — just because a man is in a car more hours than others doesn’t make him more adept at avoiding accidents. But to save the “hassle” of wearing a seat belt, I knowingly surrender an element I control based on the assumption that the cabbie will drive safely and not be an idiot on the road. In the back of the cab, I’m not behind the wheel, and I’m only in the car for a few minutes. Chances are I’ll get to my destination safely, so I stay unbuckled. Deliberately.

Not wearing a seat belt in the back of a cab is like not voting in an election, but still having a vested interest in who wins. You’re in a situation that could either go your way (you arrive at your destination safely) or not (you crash and get hurt). By not voting, you voluntarily forfeit an element of democracy in which you do have control. As a result, any future complaint you might have about our government, our leaders or their policies, becomes invalid.

All too often, I hear from my peers that they hate all the candidates and that they don’t even know if they’ll vote. This is not OK. The freedom to vote free of intimidation and violence is a right many Americans have died to protect. The least you can do as a citizen is to perform your civic duty and vote.

But in this election, failing to vote has been imbued with an unprecedented sense of urgency. In 2016, when you don’t vote, you play with fire. This election season, not voting means knowingly increasing the chance of having a deplorable, race-baiting demagogue — the utterly unqualified, misogynistic and bigoted Donald Trump — represent our nation.

Trump uniquely alienates both Democrats and Republicans in his hateful, condescending speech and his inconsistent, inarticulate policy proposals that he calls a platform. Trump exploits fears of some of America’s most intolerant voters, and his racist policies have earned him the enthusiastic endorsement of renowned white supremacist David Duke, whose approval Trump at first failed to disavow.

Trump blatantly lies all the time. He earned the 2015 “Lie of the Year” award from PolitiFact, which ruled 78 percent of his statements as “mostly false,” “false” or “pants on fire.” And for those who say all politicians lie, it should be noted that some do so more than others; PolitiFact ruled just 28 percent of Hillary Clinton’s and 31 percent of John Kasich’s statements negatively.

Fellow millennials, not voting means knowingly forfeiting any attempt to stop this man, Donald Trump, who lies and manipulates while white supremacists cheer loudly on the sidelines. This is unacceptable.

We need to put up a fight, particularly after this past Super Tuesday’s results. We can’t throw our hands up in the air and forfeit our chance to sway the outcome of the presidential election, because if we do, there’s a very real chance that Trump could be elected. So much of deciding the ultimate winner depends on who actually votes, and if we, the young people, don’t show up, then the markedly intolerant white, middle-aged men who do cast ballots for Trump will make that decision for us.

Dying in the back of a cab because you failed to wear a seatbelt is tragic. However, it’s undeniable that you could’ve done something to reduce the likelihood of the outcome. If Donald Trump is elected president of the United States, we — the young, more compassionate voters who failed to vote — are partially at fault.Trump has tapped into a dangerous and ugly vein of hate and intolerance in his support base, but I want to believe it can be diluted if more rational voters pay attention and participate. So please, don’t let your lackluster enthusiasm for the candidates serve as an excuse to skip voting today, even if there’s a line out the door at the Michigan Union. Pay attention. Check back in. Wear a seatbelt, even in the back of a cab. Vote.

Anne Katz can be reached at amkatz@umich.edu.