The Protest Vote and White Privilege

“You may not have much but at least you have, as W.E.B. Du Bois said, ‘the psychological wage of whiteness'” – Tim Wise

In my last post, I wrote that I worried that the polls showing large leads for Hillary Clinton might encourage people “to skip voting or ‘vote their conscience’ in protest of Hillary, the system, etc., giving Trump, whose supporters WILL SHOW UP, the victory.”

Call it the “Nadar Effect” if you will; the result is potentially devastating (for those who thought there was little difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore, let’s look at the statistics from the – ongoing – Iraq War). 

The collusion of Clinton and Trump as equally bad is dangerously petulant.Votes matter. And protest votes are a statement, yes. But they bring little solace to those impacted by the fallout.

My nephew is a BernieBro; in FaceBook posts, he has expressed revulsion for Hillary Clinton. He has taken the “never Hillary” stand as seriously as any die-hard radical Republican and has vowed to vote for a third party candidate in protest: his rejection of the “lesser of two evils” brand of candidates he feels wrongly subjected to, convinced as he is that Bernie was robbed of the Democratic nomination.

I understand the disappointment in Bernie’s loss; as a progressive, I supported Sanders in the primary. But I did not think Bernie was the perfect candidate (there is no such animal) and, given his somewhat myopic focus on the middle class and his (at times) isolationist rhetoric, I had concerns about his ability to effectively reach out to People of Color (despite his Civil-Rights-Era bonafides) and to act on the world stage (a necessity in this global community). I understand the frustration with the two-party status quo and the sense of business as usual that gave Bernie Sanders great appeal as an “outsider” (despite his decades in the same political system that birthed Hillary Clinton). It is a brand of the same dissatisfaction that has lifted Donald Trump’s little boat (or perhaps more accurately, yacht).

But I also recognize the inherent privilege of being able to cast a “protest” vote. Immigrants, African Americans, members of the LGBT community, Muslims, and women of reproductive age do not have that same luxury. They cannot afford “ideological purity” when they face the rollback of decades of progressive policies that recognize their status as full members of American society: ground hard won with blood and commitment and lives – literally lives – lost struggling to validate what every heterosexual white male in these United States was granted at birth and never once thought to challenge as privilege.


The War on Hillary

The media lately shows the polls have tightened. How much of this is based on the need of a competitive horse race so we’ll keep watching is hard to say. Push polls can sculpt the response needed, and spin is alive and well even in (perhaps particularly due to) this insane campaign season.
But without a doubt, 30+ years of character assassinations on Hillary Clinton have been effective, demonstrated by polls that consistently rate her as “untrustworthy” despite analysis that shows she is fundamentally honest (more honest than Bernie Sanders, yet often vilified by his supporters). The label “crooked” has stuck (which is why Donald Trump employs it, like an eight-year-old bully at recess, every time he mentions her name). Hillary’s scandals are legend while her exoneration at the end of investigations is dismissed: from Whitewater to the Clinton Foundation, the only thing that could be said of her was that she was “careless” (the email scandal), an un-indictable crime. Did she handle those issues well? No. Should she be labeled a criminal because of that? No.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, who Politico found to be the biggest liar of all the candidates, is heralded as someone who “speaks the truth” – in part because he’s perceived as an outsider, unpolished and therefore untainted by the dissembling of more practiced politicians. He has no experience in public service, no concept of diplomacy, and no actual policies or plans for the country beyond hyperbolic proclamations of greatness, yet he’s been held largely unaccountable for his heinous behavior and libelous treatment of others (he avoids direct responsibility by deflecting his accusations with the precursor “people say,”) and his many scandals have surfaced and then slipped below the tsunami of his latest outrageous statement or stunt – and his scandals are many, and of deepening concern, particularly his financial ties to foreign countries and his unwillingness (or inability) to grasp the necessity of establishing a blind trust for his business should he assume the role of Commander in Chief (shudder).   

The Debates

We are preparing for the lowest bar yet in the first of the Presidential Debates.
If Donald Trump doesn’t completely melt down and set the stage on fire, he wins by default. His status as a novice to politics will insulate him from too much harm over ignorance on the issues. His deplorable behavior has already been normalized while his aversion to the truth has evidenced no perceivable consequences; his bullying tactics are celebrated and he’s only further enamored his supporters with his character attacks and name-calling, so don’t expect that to disappear.
Meanwhile, Hillary must somehow be warm and yet sternly resolute; she must smile more but not laugh (and risk she can’t be taken seriously); she cannot attack but she mustn’t be too defensive; she should avoid appearing bossy or shrill, but she can’t risk appearing weak or too accommodating; and every statement she utters will be relentless analyzed for a hint of misrepresentation. And her appearance – her posture, her makeup, her tone of voice, and her pantsuit – will bear equal gravity to anything she says.  
It’s a little like the American female gymnasts at the Rio Olympics, where commentators complained over the lack of real competition and the foregone conclusion of all-around golds for the five young women who worked exceptionally hard for years to achieve that level of skill. Even if Hillary sticks the landing she’ll only get, at best, an “as expected.
The debates can only keep her level or hurt her; she cannot gain ground. And by further legitimizing him, the debates can only help Trump (provided he doesn’t devolve into shrieking incoherence and rend his hair or, worse for him, cry – but don’t count on his supporters to abandon him even then).

That should not be the standard we accept. As Ezra Klein reminds us, this is a job interview, not a reality show, and “being President is a really fucking hard job.”

The Civic Contract

We need to move past the selfish notion that a candidate for our vote should meet only our wants and needs. Representative government means everyone – we vote for our community, for our society – and that means we cannot get exactly what we want on every issue because there are always competing values and ideologies. But the president must represent everyone: those who voted for him or her, and those who didn’t. And we should remember that. And also that there is no such thing as a “perfect” candidate. 

There are people who will be profoundly impacted by this presidential election. If you want a third party, then take Dan Savage’s advice and don’t START with the office of President – start on the local level, where politics have the most impact on our daily lives. The “electoral locusts” that rise up every four years and enter the pageant of presidential politics will always fall short of the percentage needed for serious contention until they seed the fertile political ground of local politics. Get your third party growing from the ground up so it has the foundation of support to compete in and even win a Presidential bid.

But this November there is too much at stake to indulge the ideological purity and self-congratulatory hubris of a protest vote. One candidate is flawed but unparalleled in her qualifications for the office of President of the United States; the other, a narcissistic and petty blowhard who celebrates his lack of empathy, is the least qualified candidate this country has every seen. Even if you dislike Hillary Clinton, this should not be a contest.

Appointments to the Supreme Court are a life-long position. They extend well beyond the four (or eight) years a President holds the White House. We should endeavor to think beyond our own concerns and consider the impact of our actions on others: people who are different than us, whose struggles we might never see and whose needs might be greater than our own, and yet who justly deserve a voice in our society and a place at our abundant table.