Just don't ...
Just don't vote
for Hillary or Trump.
consider Dr. Stein or
My Democratic Problem With Voting for Hillary Clinton
I'm turning my back on the party that turns its back on our most vulnerable
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., is the chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and the author ofDemocracy in Black.
I am not voting for Hillary Clinton, regardless of her endorsement by Bernie Sanders. My decision isn’t because of the scandal around her emails or because of some concern over her character. My reasons are pretty straightforward. I don’t agree with her ideologically.
Democratic values centered on economic and racial justice shape my own politics. I’m not convinced those values shape hers. Nothing Clinton says or intends to do if elected will fundamentally transform the circumstances of the most vulnerable in this country—even with her concessions to the Sanders campaign. Like the majority of Democratic politicians these days, she is a corporate Democrat intent on maintaining the status quo. And I have had enough of all of them.
What has Clinton offered the American people as a substantive alternative to the status quo? How would her position on free trade, her view of foreign policy, on immigration, her call for “common sense policing” in the face of the murders of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge or Philando Castile in Minneapolisredirect our course as a nation? Transform the condition of black and brown communities?
Given the state of the country and of black and brown communities, these questions must be asked. But for many, especially for Clinton supporters, these questions reek of the unreasonableness of the American left or of people like me: that somehow to ask them reveals that we don’t understand the incremental nature of American politics or that we have crossed over into some forbidden realm of politics.
Nothing of the sort is said when Republicans reject Trump on ideological grounds. Many, like Jeb Bush, argue that Trump isn’t a true conservative, and that they will not vote for him or Clinton. This is seen as reasonable, and pundits rarely question the integrity of those who hold such views. But to argue something similar about Clinton is immediately dismissed. We are labeled electoral nihilists.
That difference reveals the spectrum of American politics: that it moves from the center to the far right. There seems to be little room for genuinely progressive politics left of center in this country. (The legacy of the Democratic Leadership Council ensured that.) We are told that our only viable option is Clinton. Get behind her or risk the future of the nation, they say. Political hokum.
This narrowing of the political field joins with a celebration of an easy form of identity politics. Many laud the fact that Hillary Clinton would be our first woman president. But, beyond the symbolism, what would that mean for women at home and abroad?
We have seen a version of this movie before, right? In 2008, the country celebrated the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president. But that celebration did not come with a demand for actual policies that might substantively affect the lives of African Americans in this country. Many just felt good about the idea of a black president. Now, as Obama prepares to leave office after eight years, African American communities lay in ruins, and we continue to find ourselves engaged in this haunting ritual of grieving in public for another black life killed by the police.
It is not enough that Hillary Clinton might be our first woman president. Symbolically that would be significant, but the more important question rests with how her economic policies would affect the lives of working, poor women and children here in the United States and around the globe. How would she shift the frame of US aid policy and its impact on developing countries? How might her hawkishness affect the lives of vulnerable women and children? If none of that matters, then we might as well celebrate Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, because she was a woman.
Anti-racism and anti-sexism have become easy positions for Democratic political elites. We hear politicians talk about voting rights or Roe v. Wade, or stand in the pulpit with black preachers or express solidarity with women around the world, and we assume that their policies reflect their rhetoric. On closer examination, nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s just the latest instance of a puerile multiculturalism that changes little and allows a few people to feel good about themselves.
I am not suggesting that anti-racism or anti-sexism (or identity politics generally) don’t matter. But they can’t provide cover for business as usual—a version of neoliberalism dressed in multicultural Chanel.
Perhaps the most persuasive reason to vote for Hillary Clinton is Donald Trump. Trump is worse. I know that. The prospects of a Trump presidency—what would be a deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance—ought to frighten anyone. It frightens me. But my daddy, a gruff man who has lived all of his life on the coast of Mississippi, taught me that fear should never be the primary motivation of my actions. It clouds your thinking, and all too often sends you running to either safe ground when something more daring is required, or smack into the danger itself. (I learned a similar lesson after reading William Faulkner’s “The Bear” in Go Down Moses.)
The real danger goes beyond the demagoguery of Trump and the racist bile of some of his supporters. The danger is that the way we live our lives as Americans, no matter our optimism about the future, is no longer sustainable.
We can’t continue to live with the current level of income inequality. Hard working people are working longer hours for less pay. And politicians and their benefactors continue to argue for trade policies that have decimated the working class in this country. We can’t continue to lock up black and brown people or watch them killed in cold blood by people sworn to protect us or fail to publicly educate all of our children. We can’t continue to bomb people around the world into oblivion.
We can’t even approximate a robust idea of the public good when filthy rich people believe that the only role of government is to facilitate the transfer of public dollars into private hands, and the function of politicians is to make us believe that it is in our best interest that we allow such a thing to happen.
In the end, Donald Trump is just an exaggerated indication of the rot that is at the heart of this country. That fact of Trump alone, and the democratic anguish that goes with it, cannot be the only rationale to support Hillary Clinton. Something more substantive is required of us—of her.
Many, despite what I’ve written, will still vote for Clinton. I do not fault them—especially if they live in a hotly contested state like Ohio or Florida. Vote for Clinton to keep Trump out of office. I completely understand that. But I can’t vote for her.
I will vote down ballot, focusing my attention on congressional, state, and local elections. And I will leave the presidential ballot blank. I have to turn my back on the Democratic Party that repeatedly turns its back on the most vulnerable in this country, because the Party believes they have nowhere else to go. That false belief betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of this period of democratic awakening.
We find ourselves in a peculiar moment in American history, crystallized by profound grief and the hard, pressing work of imagining a future under siege by the callousness and greed of the present. A renewed democratic faith in each other is required to change our course. Thin imaginations will seal our fate. But, I see that faith blossoming throughout the country (even with all the tears and anguish). The Sanders’ campaign was just one bloom. Everyday people are standing in democratic opposition, shouting with Melville’s Bartleby Scrivener, “I prefer not…”
I will say the same to Hillary Clinton come election time.
Berned Out? Don’t Mourn—Organize
Backers of Bernie Sanders are angry over his decision to endorse Hillary Clinton, a rival he spent more than a year critiquing and challenging, distinguishing his positions from hers.
I get it. There is a deep sense of betrayal for a faction of the American left who had probably given up on the U.S. political system, only to find inspiration in the progressive values of a white-haired senator from Vermont.
I admit I got caught up in the fervor for a while, especially during his short-lived string of primary election victories, when the possibility of his nomination felt real—before it all started to fall apart.
This election year began in an unexpected and historic way. Never before in recent memory had a candidate been able to run so far to the left of the centrist Democrat and garner such a high level of enthusiasm. It should have been a telling moment for all elected officials about the political views of a large chunk of American voters who feel disengaged from the political process.
We can blame our terribly designed primary election systems, or the media bias against progressive values and candidates, or the fact that some progressive voting blocs simply didn’t “Feel the Bern,” despite sharing his values. Regardless of what combination of factors led to Sanders’ losing the delegate count, the fact is that deal is done: The Sanders campaign is over, and we are left with the centrist Democrat as the only option to save the country from a rabid Republican.
In other words, we are back to square one. That which was unpredictable has become foreseeable.
Most “Berners” are disappointed by this turn of events—and the feeling is justified. But we must remember that in the political arena, pledging allegiance to any candidate is doomed from the start, especially for voters who want political change. Taking such an approach will almost always leave people with inevitable disappointment, for all candidates are flawed human beings with personal aspirations and failings, who draw their own lines in the sand.
Despite all of Sanders’ rhetoric about not letting the momentum of his “political revolution” stagnate, the only basis for his exhortation that “we must elect the Democratic nominee in November” is that he has extracted some promises from Clinton to be a better progressive. She has been dragged kicking and screaming leftward, and now we are to believe that she will keep her campaign promises.
Just as Obama did.
In Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton, he made a political calculation to extract as much leftward movement from Clinton as he felt he could, and then paid his price with an endorsement. That was his right—even if he may be proved wrong.
Now voters get to exercise their right to vote for the candidate who they feel best matches their values. Those who choose Clinton are settling for second-best, and Clinton knows it. She is nearly as unpopular as Donald Trump (and, according to a new poll, is losing to him in three swing states).
In endorsing Clinton, Sanders may be hoping he can transfer his backers to Clinton—like a corporation that has grabbed as much market share from a rival company as possible before merging with it when the wealthier one offers a buyout.
But voters are not market share. And both Sanders and Clinton may be surprised if the specter of a Trump presidency is not enough to scare all left-of-center voters into picking Clinton.
So what is left to happen between now and November? Trump’s disastrousness is Clinton’s biggest asset. We are trapped in a flawed electoral college system, where small numbers of voters in small numbers of swing states decide the outcome on Election Day. If enough people decide to follow their conscience and refuse to vote for Clinton, the Democrat’s loss will be no one’s fault but her own. And perhaps the next Democratic nominee will realize that voters are in charge, not political parties, and conclude that emotional blackmail as a tactic to win elections will not work anymore.
In our current system, elites have grasped the political calculus. They have gamed the system, and we are on the losing end.
Those Sanders backers who cannot bring themselves to vote for Clinton—and who can blame them?—will either abstain or vote for a third-party candidate like Jill Stein.
But rather than trying to find a new messiah to vote into office, imagine if presidential elections were focused on issues rather than people. Instead of a ballot with names on it, we would have multiple-choice questions that looked something like this:
1. What sort of health-care system would you like to see?
o a. Single-payer or Medicare for all
o b. Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)
o c. The status quo, i.e., semi-regulated private health insurance companies
2. What sort of public funding should there be for higher education?
o a. All higher education should be free
o b. Students should simply take out loans if they cannot afford college
o c. The status quo, i.e., a combination of government funding and private loan companies
3. What should our criminal justice system and prison industry look like?
o a. Reduce the prison population, decriminalize drug offenses and shut down private prisons
o b. Privatize all prisons and continue our current levels of incarceration
o c. The status quo, i.e., a combination of private and public prisons, and continue our current levels of incarceration
You get the picture. The answers that win majority votes would set the agenda for the country and offer a binding set of tasks for a public servant willing to take them forward.
Of course, we cannot run elections in this hypothetical and unrealistic way. And we should not even try, given that majorities can trounce the rights of minorities. But we shouldthink about our elections in this way and imagine the president not as a leader whom we follow but as a paid public servant who does our bidding.
Perhaps, then, candidates might flock toward the political positions that voters demand of them. Instead, every four years, we find ourselves pasting bumper stickers on our cars in support of our favorite personality, only to scrape them off in frustration years or months later. It is an experiment with repeatable results.
What if we metaphorically replaced “Feel the Bern” bumper stickers with issue-oriented messages like “#Black Lives Matter,” “Abortion Is a Constitutional Right,” “End War,” “Free Palestine,” etc.? Elections are one aspect of our political system, and voting on Election Day is the barest minimum we should expect of ourselves.
Vote Clinton, vote Stein, or vote not at all. That is your right.
But fighting to uphold our values is a lifetime commitment and requires year-round work. If we want Bernie Sanders’ stated goals and values to be realized, we have to work hard to manifest them.
Sanders will work to make Sanders’ dreams come true. We have to work to make ours come true, and that can ultimately, albeit slowly, be achieved through political activism and organizing.
It is our only hope.