A friend of mine — well, not really a friend. An acquaintance, really. A guy I know only from brief discussions online or through email. Anyway, this guy tells me he’s disappointed and dejected about the election. He was an early Bernie or Buster, and vowed he’d never vote for Hillary Clinton. After she got the nomination, he moped for a while, then decided he’d vote for a third-party candidate — which, of course, he has every right to do.
He attached himself to Jill Stein. She was a progressive, he said, and she’d gain a LOT more supporters if only she was given a chance to be heard. Then, sadly, she was given a chance to be heard. He heard her praise the Brexit vote in England; she called it “a victory for those who believe in the right of self-determination.” Then, after she drew some flak from folks who pointed out the Brexit vote was driven in large measure by Islamophobia and racism, he heard Stein revise her opinion and speak out against it. He became disillusioned not just by her swift change of heart, but by her attempt to disguise the fact that she changed her mind. He became even more disillusioned when she appeared to stake out positions that were both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine, depending on the audience she was addressing at the moment. Then she appeared to suggest that wi-fi might be hazardous to the physical health of children. And finally, she refused to release any of her tax records — which, of course, she has every right to do.
So, my disillusioned friend (acquaintance, whatever) decided to support Gary Johnson instead. Okay, he admitted Johnson wasn’t exactly a progressive, but he was a libertarian who believed in legalizing marijuana. My friend said if Johnson was given a chance to be heard, he’d gain a LOT more support from progressive Democrats. Then Johnson, sadly, was given a chance to be heard. And what did my friend hear? This: “Aleppo? What’s Aleppo?” That was bad, but probably forgivable. But failing to be able to name a single foreign leader he admired? Well, that’s pretty much inexcusable. I mean, Johnson has the absolute right to be ignorant of foreign leaders, but it’s not exactly a quality that inspires confidence, is it.
So here’s my friend — he sure as hell won’t vote for Trump and he’s pretty much lost faith in both third-party candidates, but he’s sworn he’ll never vote for Hillary. What to do? Now he’s talking about just staying home; not voting at all — which, of course, he has every right to do.
He has an absolute right to stay home, sit on his ass, and let other folks shoulder the responsibility for choosing who’s going to run These United States. He has an absolute right to see this election only in terms of himself. If he can’t vote for the perfect candidate, he has the absolute right to sit in a dark room and pout.
And why should he vote? I mean, he’s not gay — so really, what does it matter to him if a Trump administration fights to limit the civil rights of gay folks. And he’s white and middle class, so it won’t disrupt his lifestyle if a Trump administration makes life more difficult for poor black folks. He’s already got a Master’s degree, so if a Trump administration makes it harder for regular folks to go to college, it won’t affect him. And he CAN vote IF he wants to, so who cares if a Trump administration makes it harder for minority communities to vote? And hey, he lives in a red state, which means Trump is almost certain to win his state anyway — so his vote doesn’t really matter, right?
No. Wrong. Very wrong. It matters. Of course it matters. The popular vote may not determine who wins the presidency, but the popular vote matters in terms of authenticity and legitimacy. Even if Trump DOES win that state, the size of the victory matters. It matters whether the victory is by a large majority or by a slim margin.
It also matters in terms of respect. I don’t really care if my friend hates Hillary Clinton. I DO care if he fails to reject Donald Trump. If his reaction to a Trump victory in his town, in his county, in his state is a noncommittal shrug — then I lose respect for him. If he has a chance to voice his disapproval of Donald Trump and fails to do so — then I lose respect for him. Let me be clear: I think Trump is a popcorn fart; I don’t think he has any real chance of winning. But it’s not enough for him to lose; it’s important that he be soundly rejected by the American people.
If my friend/acquaintance/whatever goes to the polls and votes for Stein or Johnson — or even just writes in the name of Bernie Sanders — I’ll think he’s wasting his vote, but it won’t cause me to lose respect for him. But if he stays home and refuses to cast any vote at all, that makes him a narcissistic, self-centered prick.
Of course, he absolutely has the right to be a narcissistic, self-centered prick.