Nobody Ever Asks, “Who Didn’t You Vote for?”

Photo by Spyros Papaspyropoulos

Last week in GOP-land, the Republicans had their come-to-Jesus moment and embraced Donald Trump as their nominee. “Sure, he’s a lunatic,” some suggested, “but look at the alternative.” They shuddered at the thought of Hillary Clinton, who, in addition to (or perhaps because of) her political leanings, was seen as corrupt, untrustworthy and prone to poor judgement. (Yes, all of these things have also been said of Trump, but I digress.) This left those of us on the Left scratching our heads: “How can anyone support Trump just because he’s from the same party as them? He’s done X, Y and Z! Hell, he’s invented his own letters and done those, too. If you vote for him, you’re embracing fascism.”

Ah, how I miss last week. It was a simpler time, before we had to go and have the same conversation within the Democratic Party about whether we liked our nominee. Hillary Clinton, after all, is not perfect, as many of her supporters admit with phrases like these: “Yes, she’s hawkish on foreign policy, which hasn’t always gone well.” “No, she hasn’t, whoops, been upfront about the whole classified email thing.” “Yes, she’s handled #DNCLeaks by hiring Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to her team, which seems like a bad PR move.” “No, she hasn’t released transcripts from her Wall Street speeches even though she intimated she would.”

And, in response, some GOP voters are saying to us, “How can you possibly vote for her just because she’s from your party when she’s done X, Y and Z ? If you vote for her, you’re for corruption, dishonesty and a lack of transparency.”1

You can argue that I’m making a false equivalency, and that might be true, but that doesn’t mean people on both sides don’t feel like the other candidate would be the end of the world. So let’s be honest: If we choose to vote for a flawed mainstream candidate, it doesn’t mean we agree with them on all counts or condone every action they have made or will ever make. Nor does it mean if we vote for Candidate A that we are opposed to everything Candidate B stands for.2 Our political system is bipolar, but it isn’t black and white. We understand this reflexively from our notions of how politics works. There are compromises to be made at every level, and these compromises begin in the voting booth.

Our political system is bipolar, but it isn’t black and white.

However, if we individually feel compelled to compromise too many of our own values at the outset by voting for the least-worst option, we are not really endorsing what we want. We are merely preventing what we don’t (and then trying to move forward when a more opportune moment strikes). To many, that is what a wasted vote feels like, not choosing to vote for Jill Stein (Green) or Gary Johnson (Libertarian).

Just as we all approach the question of who to vote for using a different set of values, we navigate the question of how to use our vote based on a different set of priorities. If you choose to give your vote to a third-party candidate, it will not magically reappear in another candidate’s column. To suggest otherwise is like saying, “Your vote matters, but only if it’s for the leaders.” Instead, whoever you vote for will be a reflection of what is most important to you this election  — whether that be your values or your fears, your hopes or your pragmatism. All of these factors are equally valid. But what your vote can never be is a reflection of everything that is important to you. It’s just one vote.3 So when you choose the metric that fits you and decide who to vote for — whether it’s Clinton, Johnson, Stein, Trump or none of the above, you don’t have to explain yourself — I’ll understand why you did it.

  1. Which was a shocking revelation for me. []
  2. That’s why we have gay Republicans, the unicorns of the political world. []
  3. Unless you’re the person that all those voter ID laws in Texas were written for. []

8 Comments Nobody Ever Asks, “Who Didn’t You Vote for?”

  1. Peter Bramley

    Hey Jeff,

    I’d ask you to consider this: In 2000, Ralph Nader ran on the Green Party ticket for President of the United States. He won tens of thousands of votes in Florida while Gore lost in Florida by less than 600 (yes, those numbers are still a controversy.)

    What isn’t a controversy is the damage done to our country by George H. W. Bush, in my opinion, by the appointment of Supreme Court Justices Souter and Thomas. Not to mention setting up the Bush dynasty that created all manner of global chaos.

    I totally get the drive to shake up our American political system and create a new and modern state that does a better job of taking care of its citizens. However, in my view, this election is truly about the generational damage that might well be done by Trump and his nomination of SCOTUS Justices.

    Please consider.

    Reply
    1. Colleen Swehla

      I voted for Nader in 2000. I had been wanting progressive change since I was in college and the Democratic Party wasn’t making it happen fast enough! Now that I am thinking about this, it was you, Jeff that told me that change happens slowly and I have always remembered that and tempered my expectations for what others can and will do to make this a better country. Now, I know my part: I will certainly vote for civility, respect and diplomacy because I truly believe in those attributes for our leaders. I also believe that our system is faulty and I will work and “hope” for that change. But I’m afraid this election is more about the attributes we DON’T WANT in a “leader”. And Donald Trump personifies those. Thanks as always, for your thoughtful essay.

      Reply
  2. K Brian Swehla

    Well put Jeff, this is a real interesting election.
    There are two reasons for becoming a politician. :
    1. Cushy job with lots of perks, assistants to do most of the heavy lifting, and lots of TV time. (Self Indulgence)
    2. To try to do something for your country and neighbors. (Patriotic)
    No it’s not always black and white, and the money that gets thrown your way by lobbyists and Corporate campaign donations can lead even the best intentioned person to make some bad choices. (speeches for Goldman Sachs)
    No president can make substantial changes by themselves. No matter what they promise on the campaign trail, without congress behind them they are just wishful thinking.
    So your vote will be more for an ideal than a human. So go with the party that best represents your core beliefs, not the person necessarily.

    Reply

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