I am one of those people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. And while I lived in a “safe state” at the time, Connecticut, I would have voted for Nader had I lived in Florida. Given the many heated conversations I’ve had with acquaintances and colleagues about the 2000 election over the years, I know how infuriating many Democrats find my position. So let me be perfectly clear about where I’m coming from. I voted for Nader in 2000, and would have no matter where I had been registered to vote, because I am a progressive Democrat. I sat out the 1992 and 1996 presidential races because of my opposition to Bill Clinton’s New Democrat agenda. And since Al Gore represented a third Clinton term, I could not bring myself to vote for an administration that had signed into law the Omnibus Crime Act, Welfare Reform, NAFTA, and HOPE VI and had also deregulated the banking, pharmaceutical, and telecommunications industries. Likewise, Senator Joe Lieberman, Gore’s VP pick, was so conservative that he prompted me to vote for his Republican rival in Connecticut’s US Senate race in the very first election for which I was old enough to cast a ballot. Lieberman’s Republican rival, Lowell Weicker, was a Rockefeller Republican and was far more progressive than the putative Democrat. So considering Gore to be Clinton part II and then comparing Gore’s and George W. Bush’s platforms, Bush/Gore overlapped far too much for my comfort (well before outrage over mass incarceration was politically acceptable, I might add).
Though Democrats frequently blame Nader and people like me for Bush’s 2000 victory, I’ve never felt any guilt about Bush’s victory in 2000, and not simply because Gore didn’t do anything to earn my vote. Frankly, it’s kind of hard to say that Nader cost Gore the election. Why’s that? Well, if Gore hadn’t lost his home state, Tennessee, he would have been President Gore no matter how Florida broke. Moreover, Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris purged the rolls of Democratic (disproportionately black) voters; she was behind the confusing butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County; and she was campaigning for W. in 2000. And then there’s SCOTUS’s unprecedented verdict in Bush v. Gore. So Nader didn’t cost Gore the election. Gore lost the election himself, with a lot of assistance from the Bush machine in Florida and five conservative Supreme Court justices.
This is all to say that, even though I’m voting for HRC in 2016, I know, as in insider, that sitting out and protest voting are sometimes the only good options we progressives have. I also know all too well just how frustrating it is to be hassled by Democrats who feel entitled to the votes of progressives, even when the Democratic candidate is selling him/herself as Republican “lite.”
I have no delusions about the problems with HRC’s politics. I voted for Sanders in the Illinois Democratic primary. And for the first time in my life, I actually felt really good about the ballot I cast. Sanders’s candidacy afforded me the opportunity to vote for a viable candidate who was truly a progressive Democrat—something between a New Dealer and a 1960s-era labor liberal in the vein of Bayard Rustin. Hillary Clinton is definitely not that. Her dispositions are more like her husband’s or Al Gore’s or, frankly, President Obama’s. Progressive groups would have to apply a lot of pressure to HRC to get her to pursue something in the ballpark of a progressive domestic agenda for working people—as opposed to an agenda that benefits a diverse collection of privileged elites. And we know this because it took a Sanders insurgency along with rank-and-file unionists, activists (like Black Lives Matter), and social-media campaigns to push her to reconsider her neoliberal trade and higher-education policies and her attachments to draconian welfare and incarceration policies. And the fact that she touts her husband’s record as a job creator doesn’t engender confidence that the Sanders insurgency has pushed her to the left beyond convenient rhetoric.
So yeah, there is nothing in HRC’s record to indicate that she’s a progressive—one who gets results or otherwise. And frankly, I hate that some HRC supporters call upon those who do understand her as the lesser of two evils to imagine that she is something other than what her record reveals. In fact, I—like a lot of Jill Stein and even Gary Johnson supporters, I’d bet—find this tendency of particularly zealous HRC boosters insulting.
But the crucial point is this: Clinton-Trump is not Gore-Bush. Trump is not just talking about finishing off what’s left of the New Deal welfare state, which is essentially what both Bush and Gore coalesced around. Trump has dropped the bar much lower. Trump is actually expressing views antagonistic to the Reconstruction Amendments and due process—often enough in the same breath. Just a reminder, Trump not only opposes birthright citizenship, which was established by the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) to prevent Southern states from denying African Americans citizenship rights, but he is also in favor of de facto voter suppression, effectively nullifying the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870). Some may recall that just two weeks after a federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s voter-ID law, Trump ginned up supporters in a rally in rural Pennsylvania by telling them that only voter fraud could deny him victory in the Keystone state. According to the Los Angeles Times, Trump not only told that same group to “go down and volunteer or do something” to prevent voter fraud, but he went on to say: “We’re hiring a lot of people. We’re putting a lot of law enforcement—we’re going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”
Obviously, Trump is not the only Republican on board with voter suppression. But he has definitely upped the voter suppression ante by calling for the return of Red Shirts. For those reared on reruns of Star Trek TOS, I am not referring to brightly costumed TV-show extras with short life expectancies. I am referring to groups of armed and well-organized white conservatives (back then, Democratic) who used terrorist tactics, including lynching, to suppress the black and poor-white vote (back then, Republican and/or Populist) in the American South from the last days of Reconstruction through the turn of the 20th century.
Trump’s law-and-order candidacy likewise does not bode well for anyone who values the Constitution’s Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments (1791). Trump’s response to the mobilized opposition to police brutality and mass incarceration that has gained currency in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict has made clear that he has no problem with police officers’ serving as judge, jury, and executioner of “bad people.” Likewise, Trump’s take on the Second Amendment encourages vigilante blood lust of the sort that took the lives of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Darius Simmons, Renisha McBride, and God only knows how many others.
There are far too many horrifying things about Trump to chronicle here. But the bottom line is this fundamental irony about his candidacy. Trump’s mass appeal can be traced in part to the very legitimate concerns that many of his supporters have about the decline of the American middle class. Too many liberals and others who champion free trade or the gig economy as progressive, enlightened, inclusive, liberating, or just a fait accompli—let’s take Fareed Zakaria as an example— reflexively dismiss Americans’ concerns about declining wages, trade policy, and the implications of globally mobile capital, and the real consequences of H1B and H2B visas for working people and others forced to bear the brunt of the pain inflicted by bipartisan neoliberalism as simply ignorant, at best, or illustrative of the ravings of bad people (provincial, racist, xenophobic, etc.) at worst.
The faux-populist billionaire (or so he says) celebrity whom tens of millions of Americans have invited into their homes over the past quarter-century or so via TV and the Internet by contrast appears to actually care about people discarded by New Democrats and ignored by the Republicans who courted them and offered them a home. But while Trump’s crass, iconoclastic persona gives the impression that he is willing to speak truth to power—even as he is power— the fundamental truth of Trump is that he very clearly understands himself to be running not for president of the United States but for the job of CEO or maybe even emperor of a lawless nation.
This is all to say that there really is a meaningful divide between Clinton and Trump. It’s not that Hillary Clinton is fundamentally different from her husband or from Al Gore, John Kerry, or even President Obama. The issue is that Trump augurs something much worse than Bush, McCain, or Romney—all of whom were somewhere on the party-hack spectrum. Trump is existentially dangerous.
If we want a better politics (and I do), then a Trump presidency will likely portend a setback in the vein of Reagan’s 1980 victory. Reagan was transformative ideologically. Trump will not be that, if only because his motivations are egotistical rather than ideological. But the danger Trump poses is his obvious delight in the prospect of throwing vulnerable populations into the waters that Reagan Republicans have been chumming for decades.
If it’s not clear what I’m getting at with respect to the matter of the protest vote, then let me eliminate all doubt. In my view, voting for Johnson or Stein is not irresponsible nor is it childish. As I said from the start, I have sat out or cast protest ballots in nearly as many presidential elections as I have voted for the Democrat. I really do get the apprehensions about HRC, because I share them. I also get the disappointment that some feel about President Obama’s failure to deliver on a progressive agenda. I don’t share that disappointment, however, because President Obama’s record and platforms made clear that he wasn’t going to pursue a progressive agenda. I also presumed that the fact that President Obama is African American would undercut his efficacy, since the race baiters within the GOP were going to do what they do. So when I voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, I wasn’t really voting for Obama as much as I was voting against Sarah Palin and the Tea Party/Birther wing of the GOP. I guess in a way that means I was voting against Donald Trump even back in 2008 and 2012.
So, it’s true—Hillary is not a progressive, in the mold of Sanders or anyone else. HRC supporters should stop trying to convince those of us who assess Clinton’s politics on the basis of her actual record that she is anything but a neoliberal Democrat. Hey, am I the only one who’s noticed that that “I’m with Her” arrow is pointing to the right?
But while she may not be a progressive, Hillary Rodham Clinton is also not the candidate who is contemptuous of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, 14th, and 15th Amendments. That candidate is named Donald J. Trump.
Vote your conscience!