A means to an end

Kantian ethics relies on a few basic principles, one of them being that we cannot use people as means to an end, but we have to see humans as ends in themselves. In other words, you cannot use individuals to see through your own intentions, but you must respect individuals for who they are. 

It’s an idea that keeps coming back to me as I follow the current standing of the U.S. elections. This past Tuesday I kept the NPR website open on my computer as I finished off a philosophy paper (can you tell I am a philosophy student?) watching the results of the Super Tuesday primary elections, which ended in a fairly good night for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders picking up two of the states that went to the polls this week. It solidified the Democratic race as a competition between these two men and ended Bloomberg’s short campaign. Although this year’s election is going to be different, I can’t help but think, “We’ve been here before!”

Sanders was a prominent face four years ago during the 2016 election, complete with armies of supporters from across backgrounds delivering a socialist message about how much fairer the United States could be. Though his message spoke to many, it didn’t speak to enough people. Perhaps it’s no surprise that figures like Sanders are popular among large groups of individuals in the Northeast, but the Northeast isn’t the entire electorate. 

I followed the U.S. election last time from across the pond, watching the kind of rhetoric being pursued by the candidates. Besides being incredibly personal, often descending into a Trump v. Clinton debate, the phrase “Middle America” kept emerging; a political background upon which the parties faced the final battle. Was it any surprise that when it came down to it, upon a bedrock of promises and soundbites about the state of affairs across the forgotten regions and towns of the United States, it was Trump who appealed to Middle America the best? 

Even if one subscribes to Sanders’s ideals about the ways in which the world should work, it seems ludicrous to suggest that such policies and ideas can be implemented in one fell swoop, one all-encompassing move to pull in the entire United States into a quasi-Marxist utopia. Marx himself, it is worth noting, talked in terms of gradually shifting society towards how he envisioned society should be run. 

Perhaps it is the case that one day student loan debt will crash the economy on the whole, and we’ll see no choice but to start offering universal healthcare in the United States and forgive debt and make college more affordable and introduce all kinds of changes that the likes of Sanders and Warren, to some extent, are calling for. But these are long term ambitions that, however necessary to fix, are not going to be the things that win the 2020 election for the Democrats. Why else did Biden win so many states across the South, and why else did he manage to win Warren’s home state, right here in Massachusetts? 

I’m no political scientist, but I think the answer might be because Democrats face a very important choice when they evaluate this election. Offer Sanders-ism and its ideals to the electorate, which may be perfect and exactly what the United States needs, or pay attention to ignore Kant’s feelings and start using Biden as a means to defeat Trump. If the goal is to improve society for the nation, the Dems can’t do that with no Oval Office from which to command the battleships. 

There is almost no doubt that it’ll be Trump who becomes the Republican nominee, standing for a second term in office, so all that remains to be seen is how the Dems choose to fight that. The answer, to me, is simple: ignore Kantian ethics. Use him as a means to an end.

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