This excruciating election is less than a week away, thank God, and no one can wait for it to be over. Even those who are excited about their candidate are counting down the days until we can stop getting daily news about a presidential nominee insulting yet another woman or someone trying to foment a frenzy about emails.
Some of you have been so demoralized by this whole process that you’re thinking about sitting this one out entirely. You recognize that Donald Trump is a racist, sexist, Islamophobic, narcissistic monster who is completely unfit to lead the free world, but you don’t like Hillary Clinton either – so you’ve decided not to vote at all. Or you’re going to vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Or you’re going to write in Mickey Mouse or Alfred E. Neuman.
Here’s the thing, though: This is a race between Trump and Clinton, and any of the above options are basically you lighting your vote on fire. The only realistic way to save our country from a Trump presidency is to vote for Clinton. Some of you have significant hangups about this, however, and I want to take a moment to address the ones I’ve heard most often.
What about abortion?
I am fully in favor of getting the number of abortions performed in America as low as possible. I think most Americans are. But here’s the thing about abortion: Research shows that making it illegal does nothing to actually reduce the number of abortions. Making abortions illegal simply drives them underground, to back alleys and bedrooms with coat hangers, where they can no longer be monitored and regulated and where they become wildly unsafe. Research also shows us two things that do decrease the number of abortions: increasing access to contraception, to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, and increasing resources for poor women and families so they can afford to raise children. Only one of the two major parties is currently invested in these things. The other is trying to outlaw abortion, shut down Planned Parenthood — the only option for affordable birth control for many women — and slash funding for social services. They’re trying to criminalize abortion while also limiting the only things we know to reduce it, which puts women, especially poor ones, in a terrible bind. So if you’re genuinely interested in reducing the number of abortions that are performed in this country, and not simply punishing women who are in the awful position of having to decide whether or not to have one, the Democrats are doing the work you want.
Not to mention that the Republican nominee was pro-choice until his first presidential bid in 2012. So if you’re looking for a candidate with a long-standing commitment to the pro-life movement, he’s certainly not it.
What about the Supreme Court?
Many people who find Trump distasteful are nonetheless voting for him because they believe that he’ll nominate conservative Supreme Court justices, fearing that a more liberal court will limit their religious liberties or do something else they don’t like. This is a weak argument for many reasons, the most significant of which is that it treats hypotheticals as though they are facts. We don’t know if there will still be a vacant seat on the Court come Inauguration Day, at least if Clinton wins. We don’t know if any of the justices will retire or die in the next 4 years. If one or more or them does, we don’t know whom either candidate would nominate as a potential replacement (given his behavior throughout this campaign, the idea that Trump will feel obligated to choose from the list he’s provided is wishful thinking), how liberal or conservative they’ll be, or how they’ll think about any particular issue, because not all liberal or conservative justices think the same way. We don’t know what cases the Court will choose to hear in the next four years or if any of them will have to do with whatever topic people are worried about. And if they do choose to hear a case in this area, we don’t know its particular circumstances or nuances. (Contrary to what many people seem to think, the Supreme Court does not weigh in on every legal or business decision ever made.) People making the Supreme Court argument talk as though a worst-case scenario is inevitable, which it absolutely is not; there are tens of decisions that would need to fall in very specific ways in order for their doomsday predictions to come true.
Alan Jacobs, a longtime professor at Baylor and Wheaton, put it best:
Vote for Trump because
IF he nominates to the Supreme Court one of the judges that he has put on his shortlist and
IF that judge is confirmed and
IF certain cases happen to come before the Court and
IF the specific issues that the Court is asked to pass judgment on are the specific issues that conservatives care about and
IF that justice votes in the way [conservative radio talk show host Hugh] Hewitt expects and
IF at least four other justices agree
THEN certain unpleasantly liberal policies will be averted.
And it is on the grounds of his complete and unshakable faith in the stability of this astonishingly fragile house of cards that he ignores, and wants us all to ignore, everything we know about Trump’s ignorant and belligerent narcissism.
In other words, those who are voting for Trump in order to guarantee a specific Supreme Court ruling are voting for a certain monster for the sake of preventing something that does not have a high likelihood of happening anyway.
What about third party candidates?
I can appreciate the notion that you should vote for the candidate who most closely matches your ideals. Certainly you have the right to, but then you run into the question of whether you should use your vote idealistically or realistically. You can choose ideological purity, but when it comes to pragmatics, you’re essentially throwing your vote away, because this race is really between the two candidates who have a shot at winning.
Not to mention that, by voting for your third-party candidate of choice, you actually make it easier for the candidate you dislike the most to win. If you decide to vote for Stein, you’re splitting the left vote and increasing the likelihood of a Trump victory. And this is not a hypothetical fear. I’m old enough to remember the 2000 election, where the electoral count between George W. Bush and Al Gore was so close that the election came down to a single state — Florida — where the race was so tight that the winner wasn’t confirmed until weeks later, after recounts. In the end, Bush won Florida by a mere 537 votes — while Green Party candidate Ralph Nader collected over 97,000. Fewer than half a percent of Nader’s votes would have been enough for Gore to win Florida and thus the entire election. And it’s almost painful to speculate how differently the first decade of this century could have gone: The invasion of Iraq, supposedly to neutralize weapons of mass destruction that never materialized, that cost trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and left the region less stable than when we invaded — which we probably wouldn’t have started in the absence of a Bush vendetta and a Cheney payday. (And had we skipped this war, perhaps we’d be open to sending troops to Syria now, where a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions is currently taking place.) The simultaneous war in Afghanistan, which also cost trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and thousands of civilian lives; failed to accomplish its stated goal under Bush’s watch; and — you guessed it — left the region less stable than when we invaded. The failure to regulate banks that eventually led to the crash of the global stock market and the worst recession in 80 years. Opening Guantanamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners were held indefinitely without specific charges or due process. And all of the torture and illegal surveillance, and the tax cuts for the wealthy as we were pouring trillions of dollars on the aforementioned wars, and the debacle that was No Child Left Behind, and reneging on the Kyoto Protocol, and the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, and on and on and on. It’s hard to overstate the negative and lasting ramifications of Bush’s presidency. And most of them could have been avoided if people hadn’t voted for Ralph Nader.
And not to mention that both Johnson and Stein have significant flaws of their own, as well as highly problematic policy plans. Both of their cornerstone promises are untenable, as John Oliver explains in his fantastic and thorough look at these two candidates.
What about Bill Clinton’s policy that I didn’t like?
First of all, if we’re holding Hillary Clinton responsible for bad policies enacted by her husband, then we should also be giving her credit for the good ones. Yet I don’t see these folks saying that Hillary balanced the budget and gave the country a surplus in the hundreds of billions of dollars. If you’re going to blame her for his failures, you have to credit her for his successes, too.
If you still want to go down that road, it’s true that some of his policies did not turn out well and had real negative consequences on real lives. I don’t want to dismiss that. But I also think it’s easier to make those judgments 20 years after the fact, with the benefit of hindsight. We’re in a different place as a country on a lot of issues than we were then, and Hillary has demonstrated a desire to listen, to learn, and to craft proposals based on feedback from different communities.
If you’re still holding a grudge, that’s your prerogative. But I would ask if you think that Trump would do a better job of handling that issue — and if you’re willing to risk that possibility by not voting, voting for a third-party candidate, or writing in a name.
What about last week’s news about emails?
Seriously, what about it? After James Comey, director of the FBI, dropped this bombshell, all of these important details started coming out: The emails aren’t to Clinton or from her. The FBI doesn’t know what’s in them. Democrats and Republicans alike have blasted Comey for calling attention to these emails when at this point, there’s nothing implicating any wrongdoing on Clinton’s part.
Not to mention that it’s absurd that we’re still talking about Hillary’s emails — for which she’s been thoroughly investigated and cleared of any illegal activity — while her opponent has openly acknowledged not paying federal taxes and not paying his workers; has been accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women; uses his charity to buy things for himself and pay his personal legal bills; encourages voter intimidation at his rallies and invited our biggest geopolitical adversary to hack our government; and has court dates set for scamming people through Trump University and for the rape of a child. That much of the media presents Hillary’s emails as though they’re comparable to Trump’s litany of offenses, only a few of which are listed here, is journalistic malpractice.
What about the fact that she lies?
The argument that Clinton lies as much as Trump does is completely indefensible. Clinton may stretch the truth from time to time, but her lies fall in the range of standard politician lies — or lower, as this chart using data from PolitiFact (the non-partisan, Pulitzer-Prize-winning organization) suggests. In this campaign cycle, PolitiFact has rated more than 75% of Clinton’s statements to be true, mostly true, or half true — and 70% of Trump’s statements to be mostly false, false, or pants-on-fire false. Trump’s lies are not only far higher in number and frequency, but they’re also pathological and mind-blowing, because he lies about saying and doing things that we’ve seen him do and say, as he did in all three presidential debates. Given her opponent, saying that you’re against Clinton because she’s a liar is either ignorant or delusional. (Or naively optimistic, if you think it’s possible to elect a person who never lies.)
All this to say that if you’re thinking about staying home on Tuesday, voting for a third-party candidate, or writing in Theo Epstein or your favorite cartoon character, I posit that you should strongly consider voting for Hillary, if nothing else to prevent a Trump presidency. If you’re a white person who has the luxury of not caring who wins, whose life won’t change much regardless, I encourage you to think about the women, people of color, LGBT folks, and religious minorities in your life and think about how dramatically different the country under Trump would be for them, not just in terms of policy but also climate. We’ve already seen how people have been emboldened to say the hateful rhetoric that they were previously too embarrassed to say and how horrible that’s been for all of the groups mentioned above. How much worse could it be, and how much more empowered would these racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic people be, if Trump actually became president?
Is Clinton a perfect candidate? No. The downside of her long record of public service is that there are many decisions to criticize, which people on both sides of the political spectrum have done with abandon. But you know who else wasn’t a perfect candidate? Everyone who’s ever run for president. And not nearly enough time has been spent on the significant strengths that her record illustrates: She’s smart as hell, she’s incredibly hard-working, she has undeniable and unparalleled domestic and foreign experience. She has solid working relationships in the Senate and with heads of state around the world. She’s a very skilled politician and knows how to get stuff done. She’ll make a competent president and, if she can enact even a fraction of what she’s proposing, possibly even a great one.
On Wednesday, barring some major catastrophe, all of this will be over and we can all take a deep breath and try to move past this long national nightmare. But on Tuesday, I hope that you go out and vote. And I hope that you aren’t willing to risk a Trump presidency for the sake of some moral high ground. The stakes in this election are too high.
The opinions in this piece are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Salt Collective or its other writers.