(With apologies to all of my friends who are fervent Hillary supporters. I get it. And I don’t hold it against you.)
First off, yes, I will vote for Hillary Clinton. I have always voted defensively anyway, except for my votes for Nader in 2000 and Obama in 08. I don’t view my vote as an extension of my true beliefs or ideals—it is just a tool for participation in our democracy. I’ll never forget my father telling me, “You can vote to put someone in office, but you can also vote to keep someone out of office.” When it is a choice between a lesser of two evils, as it often is, I use my vote to keep the worst candidate out of office. It is not a pledge of loyalty or a stain on my soul.
But something very interesting happened this election cycle, thanks to the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Issues I had long cared about and railed about, but had dismissed as quixotic, were suddenly driven to the forefront of our public conversations (frequently despite the lack of coverage in the mainstream media). Suddenly, the idea that the biggest bags of cash guaranteed who ascended to the highest office was exposed. Not only was it exposed, the candidate pushing the problem into the spotlight was running a campaign financed entirely on donations from people like me. He showed us campaigns could actually be driven by ideas and ideals, not six-digit checks from murky sources.
Instead of thinking, “Well, that’s just the way it is—big money runs the show and there’s nothing I can do about it,” I was made to realize I actually could do something about it. And not only that, it became quite clear that an enormous number of people shared my desire to fix this problem—a problem that I believe is essentially destroying our democracy and limiting any chance of meaningful change.
The scales began falling from my eyes.
I’ve always challenged friends who said “There’s no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans.” I still believe there is an enormous difference, especially if you are poor, a minority, a woman, LGBT, a child, disabled, or a threatened ecosystem. Which is why I continue to vote for Democrats.
But I watched as Bernie Sanders’s candidacy was marginalized by pundits, the DNC, and especially the major media outlets, who spent more time detailing Trump’s latest insults than covering the huge crowds who packed auditoriums and stadiums to hear Sanders’s progressive message. I watched as lies about violent “Bernie Bros.” were trumpeted from the front page of the New York Times and blasted across CNN. As his campaign brought in an enormous number of new people into the party, many of them young and idealistic, I watched as the party dismissed them because, well, their well-heeled leaders had picked its anointed candidate and them’s the breaks, kids. Get with the program and give up your silly support of the unelectable socialist Jew.
But what really opened my eyes was the idea that true progressivism—the principles and ideals that I believe in and try to teach to my kids, like the fact that the government can provide health care to everyone, that wars are not mandatory, and that the upper crust of the 1% should not buy our elected officials and loot our collective bank accounts—was not just a silly pipe dream but an actual politically viable possibility. And that I was not alone in feeling rejuvenated by this realization. Even better, many of those who shared this newfound optimism were young and hadn’t yet had their idealism steamrollered by the cynicism that their elders equate with “realism.”
And as the scales fell further from my eyes, I was forced to acknowledge a very uncomfortable and unpalatable truth, a truth I have known for a long time but have pushed against. My party, the party of my father, the party I had always voted for, often with great fervor, had been slowly but near-fatally corrupted. That corruption was driven by big money but also by the slide from FDR-style populism into the fetid morass of neoliberalism. That shift resulted in things like welfare “reform,” mass incarceration of black people, rampant Wall Street speculation that wrecked the economy, trade deals that destroyed the poor and the working class at the expense of the salaried class, and the unprecedented transfer of wealth from all of us to a tiny minority of entitled billionaires.
So yes, the Democrats are far better than the Republicans, who smile like cartoon villains when stating their desire to starve poor children. But shouldn’t we be more than just better than these cretinous monsters? I applaud what the Democrats have done on social issues, especially gay marriage, reproductive rights, and LGBT equality. As an environmentalist, I couldn’t pull a lever for a Republican if you held a gun to my head. But the Democratic candidate I now need to vote for has very recently advocated for fracking across the planet.
You might see why that concerns me.
I have always been politically engaged from an early age. In my teens I fought against nuclear power and worked to get the U.S. out of Central American when Reagan’s beloved contras were raping and murdering nuns. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18. I’ve worked for a number of candidates. I’ve marched against two Iraq wars.
Now I’m supposed to cheer for a candidate who voted for the most horrific public policy disaster in my lifetime. Just today, 28 people, including women and children, were killed by bombs in the Iraq she voted to invade and “liberate,” despite millions of people like myself around the world screaming “No!” at the tops of our lungs. I could list her actions in support of further wars and regime changes but, frankly, I’m too depressed by it and you can find it all elsewhere.
Now that my eyes are wide open I’m ashamed at how long I’ve ignored reality, preferring to simply go along with my gaze averted rather than dealing with the cognitive dissonance of my complicity. Now that Bernie Sanders has shouted “The Empire has no clothes,” I can see that our empire is sickly and diseased to its core. Business-as-usual has led us into endless war, a catastrophically warming planet, and the looting of wealth for a tiny minority who don’t give a damn about any of us.
Business-as-usual is not going to fix the things that desperately need fixing. Incremental economic and social changes are not going to stop the planet from warming. Mainstream, establishment democrats are not going to turn away from the obscene piles of money offered them by Super Pacs that have become business-as-usual, which in turn influence how they vote. Incremental change will not stop our addiction to fossil fuels, and it most assuredly will not stop our bombs raining down on poor, brown people across the world.
It’s painful to realize how long I have been pretending business-as-usual would make things better. It’s embarrassing to realize how long I’ve been complacent as my party drifted away from its noble ideals into the embrace of the toxic ideology of neoliberalism.
Now that my eyes are open, I can’t go back.
So, for those of you who have actually read this far, I will be voting for Hillarly Clinton as a defensive measure to keep a narcissistic, xenophobic racist out of the White House and away from our nuclear weapons. I could never look my daughters in their eyes if I didn’t use my vote defensively this election.
But you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not at all happy about it. You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t share your euphoria that a woman has finally been nominated for the presidency. Because now that the scales have finally fallen from my eyes, I can’t look at our broken, corrupted, soulless system and imagine that it is the best we can do.
So while the lucky among us are happy pretending things are just fine and going to get better if we just tweak the settings every four years, the train we’re riding is about to head off a cliff.
We can do better, and we need to do better.