The other night, amid a disappointing series of losses for the Bernie Sanders campaign, I made a comment on Facebook — something to the effect that, no matter the outcome of the primaries, I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton. Over the next few hours, I received a handful of messages from various friends and acquaintances asking me how and why I had made this decision. Isn’t not voting for Hillary the same as casting your vote for Donald Trump? You’re not a Trump supporter, are you? Wouldn’t you rather vote for the lesser of two evils? These three questions in particular seemed to be the common theme among those who didn’t understand why I’ve taken the position I have, and rather than respond to each of those people individually, I thought I might more effectively communicate my intentions by taking the time to refine my thoughts and present them to everyone in a single post. This is that post.
To clear the air: no, I am not a Trump supporter, and no, I do not believe that deciding not to vote for Clinton is the same as voting for Trump. It’s no secret to those who know me that I am a Bernie Sanders fan; I believe in his message, I agree with his politics, and his vision of the United States that could be is one I stand behind. Unfortunately, while it’s still mathematically possible for his campaign to come out ahead, it’s not looking very likely — even if he were to eke out the small lead in pledged delegates that it’s still possible for him to get, there’s the very real possibility that the superdelegates can swing the vote for Clinton, especially when the numbers are practically neck and neck as they would be in such a case. The possibility of a Hillary Clinton nomination is looming very large in front of us, and I’ve accepted that it’s the likely outcome at this point, as much as I would prefer otherwise. Why, then, have I decided not to cast my lot in with my party of choice? Why not toe the line? Why give Donald Trump a chance at the presidency?
My generation is jaded and cynical when it comes to politics, which historically isn’t uncommon among younger voters. We often feel misrepresented by politicians who largely come from a generation we see as having created the very problems we want them to solve; we often feel as if our votes don’t really matter, as if the system is rigged against us from the outset and that our voices go unheard amidst the cacophony of the modern-day political game show. There’s an overall sense of apathy toward the entire system among my peers, and consequently many of them forego voting altogether. I think this is a mistake, like ignoring a deadly illness because the treatment is itself painful and difficult. It is, of course, naive to think that changing a system as entrenched and monumental as the American political machine could ever be easy — no, it will never be anything short of a herculean task undertaken over many long years with a lot of effort and sacrifice — but it’s equally naive to think that turning a blind eye toward it and failing to participate out of apathy and disgust will ever result in anything but the further regression of the nation. That sort of passivity and political lassitude is what has allowed the issues plaguing our country to fester so drastically in the first place.
There is a lot of anger, too — a sense of having been betrayed by a promise of real Hope & Change that has failed to materialize — which is not to say that no progress has been made in the last eight years. Same-sex marriage is now legal, after all, and while the Affordable Care Act isn’t quite what many had hoped it would be, it did at the very least open the door for further discussion and progress in that area later on down the road. However, there are what I consider to be deeper, fundamental issues rotting away the heart of the American nation that have gone unaddressed: issues of basic human decency, conflicting ideas of what exactly it means to be an American, and what this country stands for as a people. It’s not always easy for people to concern themselves with these sorts of problems, because they require a great deal of introspection both personal and as a collective, and it’s hard to look so deeply inward when you’re concerned about closer, more immediate things like getting your next paycheck in time to feed your children or make your next car payment or pick up your prescription — all of which are very real, very legitimate worries facing tens of millions of Americans today. The reality, at least as I see it, is that these personal, pressing fears are fundamentally linked to the deeper national issues that we have largely turned a blind eye toward.
The American people aren’t altogether unaware that there are severe underlying problems plaguing our nation, but ask five people what those problems are and it’s likely you’ll receive five different responses. To some, it’s undocumented immigrants crossing our borders and stealing jobs from otherwise hard-working American citizens; ask others, and the real issue is Islamic fundamentalism threatening our way of life; still others will tell you it’s God being taken out of schools, or the pushing of secular principles corroding the Christian foundation upon which the country was supposedly built. My perception is that these concerns, while perhaps genuine to those who espouse them, are being greatly exaggerated by the the media and the government to both divide us with fear of external threats, and to serve as a distraction from what I see as ultimately the true cause of the predicament in which the American spirit has found itself: rampant, unrepentant, unjustifiable greed and lack of concern for our fellow man.
There is one point Donald Trump likes to make that I find it hard to disagree with. His slogan is Make America Great Again. A friend of mine hates this because, as he pointed out to me, it implies that America isn’t great already — “that we suck,” as my friend put it.
Maybe we do suck, though. Maybe “The Donald” has a point there after all.
In 1977, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey said “the moral test of government is how the government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” Put simply, the measure of a nation is how it treats its most vulnerable — kind of like a grander version of that age-old dating advice, that you can always judge a person by how they treat the waitstaff at a restaurant. It’s a litmus test I cannot with a straight face imagine modern America passing. We have become a nation of greed, of self-indulgence, and of disregard. Instead of Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we have instead embraced a new, more self-serving philosophy: Well, I’ve got mine.
We stand almost entirely alone in the developed world as a country that does not view access to health care as a fundamental right. We are a nation where genuine efforts to legislate the reproductive rights of women still occur. We are a nation where a deep vein of religious fundamentalism — and hypocrisy — still holds sway over significant portions of the population. We are a nation where people are regularly voting corrupt politicians into office against their better interests while voting evolution out of textbooks. We are a nation that represents only 4% of the world’s population, and yet houses nearly a quarter of the entire world’s prisoners, over 20% of whom are housed in privately-owned, for-profit prisons.
We are a nation that celebrates ignorance and stupidity, that espouses the idea that a personal opinion is just as valid as objective fact, whether talking about anthropogenic climate change, vaccinations, or any other contentious topic of public interest. We are a nation whose media treats every anecdotal opinion as worthy of consideration, turning any and every discussion into a he-said, she-said grudge match to drive up ratings at the cost of dissemination of legitimate information.
We are a nation that worships at the altar of personal gain, where people concern themselves only with their own well-being with nary a care for that of others, all while the majority claims to follow a philosophy whose core tenets include a command to love thy neighbor. We’ve become a bloated, corrupt nation of underachievers always looking for the quickest, easiest short-term solutions with no forethought or concern for long-term consequences.
Perhaps worst of all, we are a people who have allowed ourselves to be deluded into believing the claim of so-called “American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States is a special place, a unique place that rises above the lesser, inferior nations of the world to shine as a beacon of excellence, a glowing example of what all other nations could be if they dared to strive, to desperately reach for our level. At one point, maybe, there was a degree of truth to the idea — we were, after all, the nation that once landed 12 people on the surface of the Moon itself. We were the nation that could have any problem placed before it and, through sheer ingenuity and force of will, see it solved. There was an America I have read about in school, that I’ve seen in movies and on television, that I have never witnessed for myself — but we are no longer that America. Instead, we have become an America that measures greatness in its ability to wage war on as many simultaneous fronts as possible, in our attempts to forcibly export Freedom™ wherever it best serves our interests at any given time, and in our willingness to ignore the real, internal issues that are threatening our country while we pretend we are still that shining beacon of hope.
As a nation, we are the sexy high school football star who graduated and managed one or two semesters of college before dropping out, getting fat, and having too many kids. Now, we get together with old friends and reminisce, “man, remember those glory days when I threw that touchdown?” The rest of the world looks on and shakes their head, dismayed, wondering what could have happened to someone once so promising.
Of course, Donald Trump is correct in insinuating that America is no longer great, but he conveniently ignores the fact that he is not only part of the problem, but perhaps the very embodiment of everything that is wrong with our once-proud nation: an unethical, immoral, hypocritical bigot who inherited and repeatedly squandered his wealth, distances himself from reality through a lifestyle of decadence and materialism, and pretends to hold the solutions while offering only shallow, substanceless appeals to emotion. The fact that so many are buying into his game of political theater only serves to emphasize the aforementioned fantasies that so many Americans have embraced in lieu of a harsher reality: that the grand United States of old is dead, and they are living in the Corporate States of America.
By now, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably asking yourself: OK, Aaron, maybe you have some points, but what does all of this have to do with Hillary Clinton? If Donald Trump is so bad, and America is so dumb, why won’t you vote for the better candidate? The answer is simple: because Hillary Clinton represents the status quo, and the status quo is what has allowed people like the Republican leadership, Donald Trump, and his fervent followers to gain such a strong foothold in this country, and twist and corrupt the idea of America. The status quo has seen greed and injustice proliferate through the USA like mold on stale bread.
The same friend who hates Donald Trump’s motto also said, earlier in the electoral cycle, that Hillary Clinton is the most experienced and most qualified candidate running. He’s absolutely right, and that is exactly why I cannot support her: because she is the product of a system that is absolutely, irredeemably broken. She is a career politician operating proudly in a political machine that no longer functions. Disregarding even her ongoing email scandal, there is no denying simple, objective fact: that she is a typical, bought-and-paid-for politician, owned by lobbyists and the corporations and conglomerates they represent. Her entire career has been funded by corporate interests and big banks. Of her top 10 donors, seven are massive corporations or part of the financial industry, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup, with donations totaling nearly $5,000,000 over the course of the last 17 years. With that kind of cash in play, is it really likely that she is not looking out for the interests of those who keep her in the action? Do we really believe she will come down on Wall Street, or that she will go after those within the financial industry who played a role in the Great Recession?
How can I, personally, justify supporting a politician who has so readily changed her positions so many times, even going so far as to embrace the talking points of my preferred candidate when it benefitted her in the polls? How can I trust her to follow through on those promises when she is financed by those in direct opposition to them?
This brings me back to Bernie Sanders and voter apathy — because Bernie is more than a politician and more than a candidate for the presidency. He has become the figurehead of a movement, the representative of an idea: that our political system has been bought by corporate interests, that our nation has been lead down a dark path by corruption, and that despite this, it is still possible to enact change in our flawed system, but only if we take action; the idea that if we stand up, work together, and actually make our voices heard through the power of our votes, we still have the capability to demand change from our government. We only have to get up, get out, and make it happen. The entire basis of his campaign has been that we are not voting for Bernie Sanders, but for ourselves — that in supporting his campaign, we are demonstrating to the powers that be that we will no longer stand idly by and tolerate their continued raping and pillaging of the American people, nor their corruption of what it means to be an American. He has reminded millions of Americans that by uniting together, we can force the government to remember that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” doesn’t end with “at the expense of others.” Supporting Bernie Sanders and his message, even in the face of insurmountable odds, is making a statement: your game is rigged, your system is broken, and we are not playing along anymore.
You’d be wrong if you think I’d ever considered Bernie a likely winner, or thought he could single-handedly usher in a shining new era of American excellence — but he is the only candidate who has genuinely demonstrated his intention to be the first of a new generation of presidents, a generation that works for the people, that motivates the people, rejuvenates us and urges us to come together as a nation to demand change from those in Congress who purposefully pursue partisan agendas at the expense of their constituents. He has lit a fire in millions of voters, younger and otherwise, pointing to the last congressional election cycle — which saw its lowest turnout since 1978 — and saying “no more,” reminding us that it is our duty as Americans to participate in the process if we desire change to occur. As a result, his campaign has far surpassed all expectations, clearly demonstrating that millions of Americans are sick and tired of playing the game and will no longer tolerate it. He is a symbol of the power of the vote and the voice of the individual to enact change in a corrupt system they no longer have faith in.
For that reason, even should he lose the nomination, I believe it is imperative to maintain the narrative, to refuse to play along. Offering support to Hillary Clinton in the face of a Bernie Sanders loss proves only one thing to the powers that be: that when a fever overcomes the people and they demand change, the party needs only to weather the storm just long enough, and in the end, the voters will toe the party line regardless. Then, it’s business as usual.
Current polling shows it could be very difficult for Clinton to triumph against Trump in the general election. There is a justified fear within the Democratic Party that Bernie Sanders’ supporters refusing to throw their weight behind Hillary Clinton could see Trump end up as the next President of the United States, arguably the most powerful man in the world. It’s not as if I want this to be the case, obviously — but I cannot help but think it might be inevitable, and maybe even necessary, in an it’s always darkest before the dawn sense. Let the American people reap what we’ve sown. Personally, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that a Trump presidency could see genuine civil unrest strike the nation in a way that hasn’t happened since the 1960s. After all, we are talking about a candidate who has made sweeping, bigoted statements toward significant numbers of the United States population, who lacks the support not only of the opposing party, but of his own as well, and who will never command the respect of another world leader on the diplomatic front. A candidate who has not offered a single legitimate proposal insofar as how he will enact any of his broad, vague campaign promises, and who embodies the all flash, no substance, reality TV mindset of modern day America.
Sometimes, an addict needs to land at absolute rock bottom before they can see the light clearly, before they realize they need to make a change or die trying. Perhaps a Donald Trump presidency, finally illuminating the sheer lunacy of modern America, might force the people to reexamine our once-great nation and tear down the broken system that has allowed so much greed and corruption to proliferate. Yes, it will hurt. Yes, it will take time and effort, and we would have to suffer through his presidency while it happens. One hopes we might emerge on the other side as a people rejuvenated, ready to fight for what America could be instead of looking toward an America that was, and no is no longer.
So, no — I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, and it’s not because I’m a Bernie Sanders fanboy, or because I secretly want Trump to win. I’m not going to support Hillary Clinton because I want to live in an America I can be proud of, and I want to be proud of my participation in our political system, and not feel like I am making the best of a terrible situation by pissing into the wind. I will support Bernie Sanders’ campaign until the bitter end, and should he lose the nomination, I will write his name in on my ballot because his campaign has never been about him — one of the campaign’s slogans is “Not me — us!” — but about the idea he represents, the idea of a United States of America where the people look after one another and care about one another, where the government serves its people instead of profits off of them, and an America that the rest of the world can once again look to as an example of just leadership, responsible government, and incredible achievement.
I believe in that possibility so strongly, and I believe in the idea of what America could be so strongly, that I feel if I am going to claim to be a man of conscience and principle, I cannot vote for what I see as another 4–8 years of minimal progress, 4–8 years spent laying no progressive foundation upon which future administrations can build. I cannot simply shrug my shoulders, accept the status quo, and vote once again for the lesser of two evils: a candidate who is not going to have my interests at heart, or genuinely work to make this country a better place for my future children, and for their children.
So, I won’t do it. I will vote for the one candidate I believe actually serves the interests of the huddled masses — and if that means Donald Trump wins, then I will stand by my decision, because it will mean that I stuck to my principles and made what I saw as the only ethical choice. I encourage all of my fellow Bernie Sanders supporters to write him in on the ballot if he does not win the nomination; imagine the possibility of Bernie making a statistically significant showing in the general election with his name not even appearing on the ballot; imagine the dawning realization on the faces of those who lord over us that the American people are waking up.
A recent Bernie Sanders voter-made ad was entitled “We Can Be”. That phrase has been on my mind a lot as of late.
America is not the great nation that we once were — but we can be.
We are not the proud achievers of the impossible that we were — but we can be.
We are no longer our brother’s keeper — but we can be.
The people, the middle class, the hard workers who built this country from the ground up, are no longer the voice of this nation, no longer the mechanism by which policy is shaped, no longer heard by those in control. However, if we stand up, if we refuse to play into a system that works against us any longer, and force the people in power to hear our voices, to recognize that we refuse to be taken advantage of any more — if we can do all that, well, then…
We Can Be.