Arguably the most unique and troubling presidential election in the history of the U.S. is one week from today. So, as I barely maintain a tri-weekly commitment to this still-in-the-hospital baby blog, I won’t pretend there’s something more important to write about.
I’ll still try to pay lip-service to my blogging content goals. Here’s a link to the constantly-updating 538 election status. Last week Trump was hovering around 16-17%. Today he’s inching toward 30%. I slept easy on a 16% (sort of). Now I’m tossing and turning. Add to that some other unsettling articles:
My only response to this can be to continue urging votes for Clinton. At this point, there seem to be too many types of “not voting for Clinton” to keep track of. There are those who legitimately think Trump is better. There are those who see the candidates as two sides of a bad coin. There are those who aren’t voting because they hate the system.
I don’t have the skill or knowledge to respond to all these dispositions, but I’ve come across some genius work from folks who have a few important ones locked down. So in this post, I’ll give my official call-to-action, some responses I’ve received in person, and some materials for you if you happen to be inclined toward one of those responses.
Dear not-voting-for-Clinton: I don’t care about your political stances or moral attitudes. This is not a partisan issue. The blatantly obvious choice in this election is to vote for Clinton. A Trump presidency is a threat to national security and international peace. Clinton has faults, but you’ll never vote for someone who doesn’t. It’s always true that you’re either voting for the lesser evil, or you’re supporting the greater. In this election, the greater evil will be a systematic impediment to progress, democracy, and an open society: whereas the lesser will, at worst, be an annoying reminder of opportunism and cronyism that has plagued our government for a long while.
“Sure, but ugh, I’m so tired of this election, and I don’t live in a swing state. I’m not voting. Or I’m voting 3rd-party.”
Check out this great piece by Greta Christina:
She links to another related piece that is also well-worth the read:
To be honest, until a month or two ago I was in the habit of not pushing the swing-state issue, mainly because I didn’t think it was an issue. But the above posts changed my mind: every add to the popular vote makes stronger the message that the Trump phenomenon was unacceptable. If your personal queasiness about voting is more important to you than the millions who would benefit from that message being as strong as possible, I think you’re being selfish.
“The electoral system is broken. I’ll vote for local offices, but I can’t respect the presidential race. Especially not with these two candidates.”
I feel your pain, but by not voting for Clinton, you are increasingly the likelihood that we’ll have a president who will actively work against the change you desire. At worst, Clinton will be a boring and disappointing bystander to social justice movements. The choice is clear.
This response often reaches me with a distinct flavor of “I’m sending a message by abstaining or voting third party.” You’re really not. Nobody will hear it. The only way to affect this election is to vote for a front-runner. Both the articles above and the podcast below spend time on this issue.
“I know Trump’s an asshole and a bigot, but Clinton’s political dealings and abject dishonesty disgust me more.”
I get it. It’s hard to hear about how deeply and secretively Clinton has played the game, for decades, and then imagine her being president. Maybe you’re also center-right, so the notion is even more difficult to stomach.
If that’s the case, I strongly encourage you to listen to this conversation (“The Lesser Evil”) between Andrew Sullivan (a conservative Roman Catholic) and Sam Harris (a liberal atheist), in which they spend almost a full 60 minutes lambasting Clinton in the context of asking you to vote for her. Of course, they also spend a good amount of time on Trump and the real danger he represents.
Their message is simple: the Clintons are a political operatives with unmatched potential for power-grubbing and deception. But in this election, the only pragmatic decision, if you’re interested in maintaining an open, democratic society, is to vote for Clinton. It’s unlikely that you hate Clinton the politician any more than these two individuals (especially Sullivan): yet they are still voting for her. Do yourself a favor and understand why.
I’ll end by saying that the Sullivan-Harris conversation should be great for those who support Clinton, as well. They provide some extremely well-put insights into the Trump phenomenon, and some interesting historical perspectives on the Clintons. Here are some outstanding excerpts from their conversation:
SH: “The next president of the United States will either be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. And if you think that one of them is far worse than the other, your voting for a 3rd-party candidate does absolutely nothing, except reduce the margin by which one of them will win the popular vote. If enough people do it, it could swing the election, but not in the direction of the 3rd-party candidate whom your conscience told you to vote for. There are two choices here: they are quite distinct, and I think there’s no question the difference matters.
And they are, in certain respects, both bad choices. But the lesser of two evils is less evil. And it is often much less evil. And when placed alongside true evil, it’s the only thing standing between you and it. In that case, the less bad option is like a life-preserver thrown to you when you’re drowning: it doesn’t matter if it’s dirty.
So the ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ argument is not a fallacy. It’s a totally legitimate way to think when you have no truly good viable option. In fact, it’s the only legitimate way to think at that point. Voting for Gary Johnson, who can’t get through an interview without embarrassing himself, is not sending a message to the system. The only protest vote you should care about sending at this point is that one of these candidates is totally unacceptable: not merely disappointing, not merely someone you can’t be idealistic about, but totally unacceptable. And the only way to send that message is to vote for the other one.”
SH: “She will take money from even odious people because she actually knows she can do good with it. And her heart is in the right place insofar as what she wants to get done in the world. If she had all the power, what do you think the world would look like? It would not be a world of shocking inequality, and children working in sweatshops, it would be a world very much like the one you hope to have realized at some point.”
SH: “They all saw the tweet! How can you say it didn’t happen?”
AS: “Because in his mind, there’s only: are you with me, or against me. There’s no other paradigm in which he understands reality. So, he’s demanding in a way that someone like Hitler, or Mussolini, demanded, that you know it’s a lie, but you support him anyway. That’s the key thing. And that you willingly see this as an act of power, not in any way related to truth or reality.”
SH: “For months, Trump has been stoking the mob with fears about the illegitimacy of the electoral process, based on nothing but conspiracy theories. He’s preparing his followers to react badly, and even violently to defeat. So for him to stand on that stage last night and say ‘you know, I don’t know if I’m going to accept, I’ll have to see at the time,’ that was just a Chávez-level undemocratic moment.”
AS: “He hates democracy. It means that he will sometimes have to lose.”
AS: “I think the Hitler comparison is absolutely on. I really do. I know that it’s been, at this point, been completely de-valued, and it’s one reason we should never have cried wolf before, but I can’t think of a contemporary analogy in which someone is running in a democracy on the principle that democracy itself is so corrupt it must be undone or renewed by a single cult-leader figure. He has now said, and still has not recanted, that the current president was illegitimate because he was not a citizen. He’s said in advance now that Hillary Clinton should not have been allowed to run for president, because she’s allegedly part of a criminal conspiracy. So none of these [democratic] institutions have any legitimacy for him.”
SH: “Famously, you have lost the argument the minute you make a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis, but it is worth reflecting on how consistently Hitler was underestimated. He was treated the way most of us have been treating Trump: as a buffoon, as a clown, as someone who couldn’t do much damage because obviously the forces of reason are going to prevail, at the end of the day, in the face of this kind of guy.”
AS: “They made fun of the way he looked. They made fun of his hair. Look at Trump, he’s a ridiculous figure, by any stretch of the imagination. From the stupid orange spray tan, to the ridiculous, absurd hair… he’s actually a clown. But people forget: that’s what everybody said about Hitler. It’s what everybody said a bout Mussolini. And they do look ridiculous. Chaplin made a movie making fun of him as a complete absurd character.”
AS: “The hope is that the loss is so catastrophic that merely self-interest alone will help Republicans to understand that this direction for their party is poison: electorally poison, morally poison, politically poison, that where they have ended up is an absolute dead-end at the bottom of a sewer…”
SH: “He’s put the ‘banality’ back in to the banality of evil. He is a comic figure. He is an uninformed figure. He is a cute one: he can get a laugh, even out of me, in certain moments, despite my better better judgment. There’s something in the tradition of American buffoonery, just the fact that he has such colossally bad style…you look at the shots of his apartment, that look like Saddam Hussein’s palace: he’s comic, through-and-through…You watch this guy, and it’s difficult to imagine him being at the top of some political movement and some political apparatus, that reliably wrecks the American experiment, because he does not seem that sinister. But his incompetence and his lack of information, the marriage between his confidence and his incompetence is every bit as sinister as a real mustache-twirling evil person who is trying to destroy people’s lives.”
AS: “You’ve put it beautifully. In some ways, in a decadent democracy, isn’t that how such a tyrant would emerge? Isn’t it through reality television? Isn’t it through this fathomless vulgarity, in this common touch that he has? Isn’t that precisely how it would happen if you had to imagine it today? It’s not going to emerge like a classic Hitler with the fascist ideology, in a great movement, with people wearing uniforms, that’s not going to happen anymore. If it had to happen in our culture, this is something like how it would occur.”
SH: “I frankly was not aware of the details of how a President can initiate a nuclear first-strike…and that there’s really no intermediary and no thought process between what happens in his brain or her brain and what happens in the silos.”
AS: “All these people who think they can control him have to understand that if he’s President, you have to do what he says…he is the executive. In the end, it’s his decision, and no one can stop it.” (This is not fear-mongering. Earlier in the conversation, Sullivan made more substantive predictions that if Trump wins, it is likely the House and Senate will be Republican as well, or at the very least Trump as president will have enough of a stranglehold on the Republicans so as to render Congress useless. Not to mention the SCOTUS appointments.)
SH: “My experience of watching the debate last night was, with all that I don’t like about Hillary, and the list is long, and I share your feelings across the board about the Clintons, to see her standing there last night, well-prepared…I mean, her line, which was obviously self-serving: ‘I’m the one thing standing between you and the apocalypse’ can basically, I think, be taken at face value. But for her standing there, doing a good job, who knows how fully we would be fucked?…I really just felt incredible gratitude that she did as good a job as she could have done in that case, and hopefully it’s enough.”
AH: “I want to end on another slightly silver lining. She herself cannot really be a feminist icon, but this election, despite her, in some ways, has become an extraordinary moment in the relation between the two genders in this country. And if women elect, including Republican women, at what looks like currently a 20-point margin, the first woman President, against a figure who is beyond a parody of misogyny, sexism, and male privilege, then this is a cultural watershed just as powerful as the first black president…It’s not American to be this attached to catastrophe…If we get the election result it looks like we may get, there might be a way to turn this around. There might be a way to see in this the beginning of a new kind of America that sees what it nearly did, and never ever goes back there again.”