Except for the occasional sidelong crack, I rarely write about politics. Those who know me know that this isn’t because I’m without partisan opinions, some of them pretty passionately held.
It’s rather because I’m skeptical of the power of editorializing discourse to do much apart from entrench those who disagree with you, and also because I’m not confident of my command of my own arguments, even if I’m confident that they’re right (which I’m not, always). I’m generally pretty sure that there’s somebody else, more knowledgeable, more eloquent, who could back them up more effectively.
But even that’s a cop-out. I suppose I must also admit that I don’t spout off politically, especially online or in print, because I’m a coward. I have friends and relatives and coworkers of all political stripes, I have opinions that could alienate any of them, I despise confrontation, and I have neither the time nor the desire to spend hours of my day arguing with somebody whose position is no more likely to change than mine.
This long-winded preamble is a build-up to this: I want you to vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election.
Now, if you honestly, in the depths of your soul, believe that Donald Trump would make a better President of the United States than Hillary Clinton—if you think he would make a better President than Roger Clinton, or Hillary Swank, or Donald Duck—then it may be that there’s nothing more I can say to you here. One of us, I’m afraid, is deluded. I can only urge you, as Donald Trump urged his followers in Florida a few hours ago, to get out and vote on November 28.
But before you go, Trumpians, I do have one thing I’d like to ask you to consider. Without even referencing the reprehensible Access Hollywood recording that surfaced last weekend, in which Trump boasted that his celebrity status privileges him to violate women (he describes this as “locker room banter”), go down the list of other remarks for which Trump has been criticized over the last year, and ask yourself: What if Obama or Clinton had made them? If either of them had dismissed John McCain’s heroism and said they preferred people who didn’t get captured? Had said they knew more about ISIS than the Generals, “believe me?” Had praised Putin and Kim Jong-Un? Had compulsively interrupted a debate opponent, dozens of times? Would you have cackled happily at how they “tell it like it is,” and how they weren’t constrained by “political correctness?”
Beyond that, I’m at loss where wholehearted Trump supporters are concerned. If, however, you’re part of the larger number of people whose feelings for Hillary Clinton range from indifference to dislike to visceral disgust, then I’m asking you to get over it.
Much of what follows here will sound like all I’m saying is: Oh well, I guess she’s the best we can do. Though I do think Clinton’s the best candidate who has any chance of being elected, and probably the best period, and galactically better than Trump, I don’t mean to suggest that it’s only by negative criteria that I support her. I understand that there’s a solid case—within the context of moral compromise that always accompanies presidential politics, that is—for admiration of and enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton.
I’m just not going to make that case here. If Clinton wins the election, I’ll rejoice, not only from relief but in my sense that she has a decent shot of being a capable president (but mostly from relief). But I’m addressing those who feel like they can’t stomach voting for her, so for my purposes here, I’m going to stipulate that she’s a flawed candidate, and that not all of the objections to her are baseless or trivial.
You should still vote for her.
Not to be coy about my own leanings: I’ve been a registered Democrat since I was eighteen. I’d call myself a moderate liberal, but even so, like many Democrats, I regard myself as to the left of Hillary Clinton. I voted for Bernie Sanders this year in the Democratic primary here in Arizona, not because I thought he had a chance of winning the nomination (though I would have eagerly supported him if he had) but because I thought his candidacy would help move the Democratic platform in a more progressive direction.
And so it did, but even so, I’m wondering if his candidacy hasn’t done more harm than good. The disappointment that Bernie supporters felt at Clinton’s nomination has led to the same petulance that gave us, via Ralph Nader, George W. Bush a decade and a half ago. I fear that some of this “protest vote” impulse, or the impulse to abstain from voting altogether, comes from feeling too morally rarefied, or maybe just too cool, to vote for an establishment candidate like Al Gore or Hillary Clinton.
And I realize that Hillary Clinton fits that bill. I’m not particularly a fan of her—I get that, at least on TV or at the podium, she’s not a terribly charming person. She’s certainly not a soaring, riveting orator, like her husband or even Obama, and there is something about her public persona that almost always seems forced and self-conscious.
But I also keep hearing about her supposed great and sinister corruption, and I have to say I’m not impressed. I don’t mean to suggest she’s pure as the driven snow, of course, but the buzz-word scandals that get thrown up—the e-mails, Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, not to mention dredged-up old stuff from Arkansas—seem pretty un-heinous by the standards of national politics. I’ve heard her referred to as a “war criminal,” and that’s probably fair enough—except that you could probably make the case that every American politician in the last two centuries, at least, who’s held anywhere near the level of international covert and military influence that she has would qualify as a war criminal, if only by consenting to accept such power within the sort of bullying, rapacious superpower that we are.
Anyway, even if her culpability in these scandals (not counting the plainly fake ones, like the death of Vince Foster) were all true and uncontested, I’m pretty sure I’d still rather have her as President than Donald Trump.
You can say, if you like, that “pretty un-heinous by the standards of national politics” is a sad standard by which to judge the candidate to whom you’re going to give your vote. And you’d be right, but I’m not aware of another standard that has any actual political efficacy. It may be a bitter pill to vote for someone so far away from your values, but grownups—like Bernie Sanders himself—understand that this isn’t a game, that voting isn’t a gesture of personal style, like what music you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to. Voting is a tool.
If the choice this year was between Hillary Clinton and, say, any of Trump’s Republican primary opponents, refusing to vote for her on the grounds that she isn’t Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein would still, I think, be a tantrum response. It would be something like when a kid is told “OK, tonight we can go to Pizza Hut or McDonald’s,” and the kid says “No, I want to go to Chuck E. Cheese.” And when the kid is told “Not tonight” he pouts and refuses to choose until the choice is made for him.
But the analogy changes when the choice is between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Then it becomes more like a choice between Pizza Hut and a flesh-eating virus (an orange-skinned flesh-eating virus who hates Rosie O’Donnell, in case I’m not making myself clear). And there appears to be a segment of the American left so determined to maintain a non-mainstream pose that they’ll take the flesh-eating virus over the cure for it.
Of course, there are those who, while disliking or even loathing Trump, still have the vague idea that a shock to the system like a Trump presidency would be preferable to things continuing as they are, that it would “shake things up” in some way that would be beneficial to the country in the long run. A friend of mine says that this is the equivalent of “burning down the house to fix a clogged toilet.” I might admit that the problems of this particular “house” go well beyond a clogged toilet, but I still find it a useful comparison.
Many Bernie Sanders supporters seem to feel betrayed because, since leaving the race, he has suggested, essentially, trying a plunger first, rather than burning down the house. He’s been quoted as saying “…let us elect Hillary Clinton as president and that day after let us mobilize millions of people around the progressive agenda which was passed in the Democratic platform.”
Makes sense to me. Democracy isn’t about getting exactly what you want, exactly when you want it, especially not in a pluralistic republic of three hundred million people. The vast majority of the time, it’s about voting for the candidate who is two inches closer to your values than the other candidate, and who has some chance of being elected.
I’ll be told that this attitude holds back the possibility of third parties achieving political relevance. That seems, first of all, like a small short-term price to pay to avoid a Trump presidency, and second of all I don’t think that is what holds third parties back. Third parties could perhaps gain some clout in the U.S. if they received long-term advancement on a grassroots level—if supporters devoted slow, serious effort to electing, say, Green Party candidates to city councils or corporation commissions or state legislatures, and over decades paved the way to a national profile.
But grabbing for the White House would be an overreach even if it was possible. I’m skeptical that, even if Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or whoever somehow could be elected President, they would be able to function effectively even as reformers, plopped down in the Oval Office within the current system.
I’ll further be told that the essential thing is to “vote my conscience.” But my conscience tells me that I ought to put the consequences of my vote to actual human beings, both here and around the world, ahead of ideological purity.
Right now Donald Trump is the right-wing’s fault. He’s an embodiment of how much a segment of the American electorate resents having had a black guy as president for the last eight years (among other social shifts, of course). And the Republicans picked him. They fucking picked him. Nobody forced them to. They listened to his incoherent rambling and blustering and sneering and thought, this is who we are. But if the rest of us—Democrats, Independents and for that matter responsible Republicans—dither and fail to participate in flushing him away, if we hold ourselves superior to such dirty practicalities, then he becomes ours.
Finally, I’ll also be told, no doubt, that my position on all this is craven. On that one, you got me. I don’t have any taste for sudden political upheaval. I want stability, in the hope that it may allow things to gradually get better and the prayer that they at least won’t get worse. Thus the idea of Donald Trump as President scares the crap out of me, scares me so badly that I’ll settle for almost any alternative.
I don’t say this lightly. In the first decade of this century thousands of people died who didn’t have to die, thousands more were maimed or left homeless, the economy collapsed, and this country’s international reputation was severely damaged, mostly, in my opinion, because of the reactionary, reckless, immoral and inept administration of George W. Bush. But if my only choices—my only viable choices—in the upcoming Presidential election were George W. Bush and Donald Trump, the W. would get my vote without hesitation.
So if voting for Clinton means voting for continuing drone strikes and covert assassinations and coziness with Wall Street—as, alas, it does—show me the slightest evidence that a Trump presidency would result in less irresponsibility, less bloodshed, less war crime, less corporatism, less bigotry, less environmental abuse. Otherwise I’m voting for Clinton with a clear conscience, or as clear a conscience as I think is possible in our society.
Indeed, to take the idea as far as I can, I suppose that if my only viable choices were Donald Trump and David Duke, I’d vote for Donald Trump.
Come to think of it, David Duke’s political career offers a lesson for this year’s election. In 1991, Duke managed to secure the Republican nomination for Governor of Louisiana, and ran against scandal-plagued Democrat Edwin Edwards. A bumper sticker showed up in the state that read: “VOTE FOR THE CROOK. IT’S IMPORTANT.”
Louisianans did. Years later, after he had left office, Edwards was indeed convicted of multiple racketeering charges, and went to federal prison for years. But before that happened, a scumbag Klansman didn’t get to be governor of Louisiana.
I’m not saying, necessarily, that I think it’s fair to call Hillary Clinton a crook. I’m saying that if you do unshakably think so, then…vote for the crook.
It’s really important.