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An Open Letter To My Cousin Who Plans To Cast A Protest Vote

Supporters cheer as Dr. Jill Stein, presumptive Green Party presidential nominee, speaks at a rally in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 27, 2016, during the third day of the Democratic National Convention. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Supporters cheer as Dr. Jill Stein, presumptive Green Party presidential nominee, speaks at a rally in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 27, 2016, during the third day of the Democratic National Convention. (Alex Brandon/AP)
This article is more than 3 years old.
COMMENTARY

Dear Sam,

The last time we hung out was in June. I remember, because Bernie Sanders hadn’t yet conceded the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton, and both of us were arguing a minority position: that he shouldn’t concede until securing Clinton’s support on key progressive goals.

I was deeply impressed by what you had to say in these discussions, your passionate and reasoned advocacy for Sanders.

In the months since then, however, I’ve received a number of increasingly alarming messages from you via social media. The gist of these messages is that you now believe Hillary Clinton is corrupt.

Actually, it doesn’t appear to be a belief. You seem completely consumed by this conviction and furious at anyone — particularly any woman — who defends Clinton.

I don’t get it.

...politics doesn’t offer us perfect candidates. We ultimately have to decide which imperfect candidate will be the best advocate for the policies we favor.

My support for Clinton has always been tempered by an awareness of her failings. I can’t stand that she earned huge fees delivering speeches to Wall Street firms. But politics doesn’t offer us perfect candidates. We ultimately have to decide which imperfect candidate will be the best advocate for the policies we favor.

I learned this the hard way, back in 2000, when I voted for Ralph Nader. Yep, that was me. I felt engorged with virtue for “voting my conscience.” And I also felt, a few months later, that my own feelings of virtue — my self-flattery, frankly — had overwhelmed my common sense.

Because a big part of the imperfection we contend with in our democracy is that only one of two candidates will win this election. Barring another recount — heaven spare us — we’ll wake up on Nov. 9 to President Trump or President Clinton. Period.

If we’re serious about our franchise, and the privilege of voting, that means we have to consider which of these two will best lead the country. For guys like us, this should be a pretty easy call.

Because Clinton, rather than running as a centrist, has advocated the most progressive platform in U.S. history. She wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and close loopholes for them. She wants to expand Obamacare, not repeal it. And she’s got a host of proposals cribbed directly from Sanders. These include:

*Increasing the minimum wage to $12, and if possible, $15 per hour

*Subsidizing college tuition, and helping students refinance debt

*Allocating $275 billion to improve infrastructure

*Providing a tax credit for businesses that take on apprentices

I realize these policies sound wonky.

But dude: You’re 25 and working hard at a low-wage job, trying to find your place in a tough economy, and hoping to attend college. These are the kinds of measures that would unequivocally improve your life.

Even if Trump doesn’t rule like a tyrant, the policies he advocates repudiate everything Bernie Sanders represents. The mass media has utterly failed to cover the policy implications of this campaign, but here’s a quick summary, via Vox’s Matt Yglesias, of what a Trump presidency would do:

The result would be a sweeping transformation of American life. Millions would be forcibly removed from their homes and communities as new resources and a new mission invigorate the pace of deportations. Taxes would drop sharply for the richest Americans while rising for many middle-class families. Millions of low-income Americans would lose their health insurance, while America’s banks would enjoy the repeal of regulations enacted in the wake of the financial crisis. Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gas emissions would end, likely collapsing global efforts to restrain emissions, greatly increasing the pace of warming.

That’s what’s at stake here, Sam. That’s what the election is really about, if you boil away all the ad hominem.

So here’s what I don’t get: Why is your Facebook page filled with links to documents that supposedly demonstrate how evil Clinton is? And why are these interspersed with posts advocating progressive causes — which Clinton herself supports?

Do you see why I’m confused?

Your interest in this election no longer seems to be based on issues. It feels much more driven by a personal animus towards Clinton.

If you’re so disturbed about corruption and secrecy, why aren’t you posting links to allegations of GOP voter suppression? Or demands for Trump to release his tax documents?

Your interest in this election no longer seems to be based on issues. It feels much more driven by a personal animus towards Clinton.

And why don’t you post about the candidate you do support, and why — what he or she hopes to achieve?

That’s what really troubles me. You’re a smart guy whose support for Sanders clearly came from a place of engaged idealism. But somehow, you’ve gone to this dark, angry place where what matters most isn’t finding political solutions, but vilifying one particular political actor.

Maybe this stance makes you feel intrepid and principled. But it’s the exact same paranoid sludge churned out by the alt-right bloggers who form Trump’s vanguard. And it exudes the same reek of casual misogyny.

I don’t expect this letter to change your mind about this election. But I do hope you’ll think about the issues that really matter to you, as a citizen, the ones you mention — in between bashing Clinton — on your Facebook page: income inequality, climate change, criminal justice reform.

But most of all, I hope you’ll focus on aspirations, rather than recriminations, when you do cast your ballot.

Onward, together,
Cousin Steve

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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